A 6-hour overnight bus ride to Sao Paulo took me away from my downward slide in Sao Jose do Rio Preto and started my 3.5 weeks away from home during my winter break in July.
Sao Paulo is a city that changes faces every time I go. I met up with a friend that first morning in a chic business district, which set the tone for the day. We drank fancy coffee at Coffee Lab and went to an orchestra performance, where, with our not-quite-student IDs, we got tickets for half price. We walked past bums and crackheads pissing in the street in order to enter the sublime performance hall filled with Sao Paulo’s elite dressed to the nines. We stood out in our jeans and backpacks, but a glass of Merlot quickly helped us feel more at home. Listening to the violas (because they’re my favorite) through my wine-induced haze, I felt the potential of this trip, all the good and unexpected that had already happened in that first day and all that was to come, and was reminded once again why traveling makes one feel more alive.
That night we took another overnight bus to Rio de Janeiro. Rio, the city that had been talked up since I had taken my first Portuguese lesson years ago. I figured since I’d heard nothing but stellar reviews, I was bound to be disappointed. But it was this exact lack of expectation that let me love it.
Anyone who has the ability to google ‘Rio’ can see pictures of how beautiful it is, so I won’t bore anyone with that. But it is beautiful. Go to Pao de Acucar. You’ll feel on top of the world. Lying on the beach in Ipanema, listening to the ferocious waves, watching the mountains (as if they’d move), and looking out for talented beach thieves, I had another I-made-it moment, remembering when a friend used to call me ‘garota de Ipanema’ during our Portuguese classes in the states. That all seems like a lifetime ago.
And that’s what I’ve realized: time slips away here. It’s like the opening between the hourglass halves is bigger. My lazy days in Rio passed in a pleasant haze, all my past stresses dissolving and all my plans for the future seeming irrelevant. My time was a serene blur of beaches, boys, and baladas, spent with friends from all my different lives in Brazil. It was the easiest thing in the world.
One of my favorite nights with them was spent cooking dinner together at the top of a yellow-lit, narrow spiral staircase. The food, wine, and company was all that was needed to be content in that moment. Another night we all walked to the beach in Copacabana with a bottle of cachaca and leftover wine in tow. As we sat in a circle and watched the waves creep closer and closer, we talked about fears and the future, and how grateful we were to be receiving government funding to be in Brazil, ultimately leading to our sitting on a beach in Rio in the dark. No matter how different we may seem on the surface, I’m unlikely to ever meet a group of people with interests and aspirations as similar to mine. It’s a tiny part of what makes me feel grateful for this year, my 26th spent in this crazy place.
One small thing I love about this place is that men have no qualms about kissing strangers, in the middle of the day, no alcohol involved. We in the U.S. usually need to get good and drunk for that, but we could stand to learn something, because it’s surprising and lovely. I call these my 24-hour boyfriends, and where better to have one (or two)?
Another thing men are good for in Rio is dancing. To me there is no better place to drink a too-sweet caipirinha and get sweaty than in a room filled with Brazilians dancing funk. You will find no stiff hips or wallflowers there, only beautiful cariocashh who are far too willing to breathe their Halls breath all over you, girls tipping upside-down, doing quadradinho de oito on stage.
In Lapa, the trashy club scene neighborhood of Rio, there was no dearth of places to get breathed on. People were everywhere. They unabashedly pissed in the streets, transvestites ran around grinding on drunk foreigners as they slid their hands into their money-laced pockets, unseen faces grabbed our asses as we pushed our way through the crowd. Women sold drinks with names like ‘beijo na boca’ for $2 out of the side of a run-down building. Men came around passing out tequila shots. Funk played from one set of speakers set precariously on a window sill, rap out of another. Midgets ran around ‘black’ clubs. Political correctness did not exist. We got spilled on, hissed at, shouted at, and trampled on. And we came back and did it all over again.
I learned how to relax in Rio as much as I learned how to be feisty. I yelled at a girl who deserved it, stood up for myself to a taxi driver, bargained for everything. My personality in Portuguese is starting to show. I learned how to say no as much as I learned how to say yes, which is a lesson as important as any.