Sunday, October 18, 2009

meu coração esta radiante

after two weeks i'm settling into things and feeling less and less like an outsider. the landing has been a bit bumpy (sharing one room/bathroom with six boys and all...) but the rhythm of my life seems to have adapted quite effortlessly. read on to sample a slice of daily life here in rio de janeiro.

every day i take a 15min walk down the cobblestone hill of santa teresa, and if i'm buying groceries, i take a ride up on the back of a moto taxi. the other day i walked up and accidentally stepped inside a hippie art atelier while admiring the graffiti across the street. here, gorki (a peruvian artist and former andes tour-guide) and antonio (a middle-aged brazilian smoking a joint and wearing bob marley board shorts) make me a custom-made pair of leather sandals, cut exactly to my foot, and give me a run-down on the inner-workings of our universe through a hand-made, 3-D mandala. it cost me $25. winding my way back home i stop to watch the two stray puppies playing behind the fence, when suddenly i look beyond them to see one of the most spectacular views of rio.

night falls and here i am, walking down the street in lapa, through an absurd mix of people, buying caipirinhas from the street vendors, swimming in the sounds of live music on every corner, kissing each other like their lives depended on it. here come the transsexuals and their unbelieveably altered bodies, and just there lies a man face down in the street with no shoes. i don't know if he's alive. but the crowd keeps moving.

the next day those streets are empty. but hoards gather in the countless snack shops to drink large bottles of beer out of a glass and watch flamengo KILL sao paulo! the men scream and cheer, and the whole room collectively groans in pain when their keeper can't stop the goal. and the beggars move down the line, some selling peanuts, others just asking for change for their babies.

when the rain stops, my friends and i go to the beach. the beach! sand like sugar, coconuts to drink, beautiful people playing volleyball, beautiful people glistening in the sun, beautiful people swimming and walking along the crazy blue water. did i mention the beautiful people? and in the middle of the street running along the boardwalk sits a crippled man, shaking a cup that holds a few coins; all he has in the world. he tries to crawl forward but can't. he tries to speak but can't. i try to figure out what to do, but i can't.

walking through this city moves me to tears. at times my head seems to block out everything- i don't recognize a single word, my preternatural sense of direction fails me and i can't help but feel lost. but i keep walking. and suddenly i see hear smell taste this city and my body lights up. that fear and uncertainty and love just tumble out of me.

moving to a new place is just like anything- after a period of time, the new car smell wears off; the noises lose their charm. the smells stop being novel and start becoming offensive. the endless gropes and kisses of the boys in the clubs (and bars, and samba rehearsals) only serve to remind me of the fact that i'm a gringa.

but this city takes my breath away.

the impulse for writing this most recent entry was not the latest brazilian make-out session or beautiful beach day. perfect moments abound here; it's the dark moments that give this city its intensity and really keep my head spinning. war has broken out between the favelas and the police. people are dying. children are playing in the street. music is everywhere. people stop to drink fresh juice on the corners, and new friends open their arms and their homes to strangers every day. it's amazing to think that in a city of so much poverty and struggle and chaos, life can be so magnificent. i guess when you're living in the unknown every day, life truly becomes miraculous.

Monday, October 5, 2009

e a minha casa

my host's name is cornelius. he and his nephew, elias, wander around casa aurea all day, smoking cigarettes and, when the time dictates, drinking beer to feed their age-appropriate beer bellies, speaking an anglo-saxon-intoned portuguese. their german-by-birth, baritone voices fill the air with an audible expression of the city's strangeness. rio is beautiful. it's ugly. it's awkward and dirty and so awesome. and i really haven't seen much of it at all. what i have seen is grafitti and favelas that are more beautiful than the civic buildings.
what i've heard are gunshots from the neighboring police shooting range. or was it the favela?
what i've smelled is big city smells. exhaust. garbage. urine.
and what i've felt is a breeze so cool and sweet i thought i'd float away on my guesthouse hammock...
i don't think there's another country in the world that could affect me like brazil. i hear the language somewhere other than my brain. i understand it somehow, even though i struggle to speak.
i'm struggling to do a lot. but this is where i'm supposed to be. this is where i chose to be. and this is what i knew was coming. moving to another country is "exciting" and "glamorous" and really uncomfortable.
i'll continue asking my roommate how his day was until he looks me in the eye and smiles. i'll keep thinking up questions to ask leida and rose until the words actually come out of my mouth in portuguese. and i'll keep trying something new every day until i know which bus takes me to work, which shop has the best salgadinhos and which corner to avoid. this is my city.
thank god i have six months...