The second leg of my journey led me to the northeast of the country, where I met up with my old high school friend who flew down from the states. Rio was a whirlwind and Olinda was the calm after the storm. I was left to pick up the pieces of my partied-out body and unsettled mind.
Every night before I went to bed in our quiet hostel, I would meditate. My mind quieted. I thought through some things. I prepared myself for the new semester and new experiences. I let go. I began reading a book that turned my mind toward Asia. I let that idea grow. I think I’ll go to Laos. Thailand too. Maybe India, if I’m feeling brave. I started studying Portuguese again, both on my own and in a class. I conjugated verbs and had entire mental conversations with myself over the macaroni and cheese my friend brought from the US. Never has such cheap food tasted so delicious. I sat, ate, and watched the palm trees swaying violently in the tropical storms, the deluge flooding the kitchen.
We found a cafe in the historic area of the city. Cobblestone paths and colorful houses led the way. It was if we had been teleported to a safe place, a place with water trickling over polished stones and a manicured lawn surrounding the square stepping stones leading to tables that were topped in paintings and flanked by heavy wooden chairs. It was an oasis, a reprieve from having to constantly be on my guard outside in metropolitan Recife.
As blondes, my friend and I drew more attention than we anticipated. A friendly bunch of old men stopped their dominoes game to ask if we needed directions, thinking we could be nothing but not from there. The cacophony of truck honks and sexual comments and unabashed stares was deafening. To be the object of desire in Brazil only requires that you be less than 80 and not obese, and even those criteria are muddy.
Ignoring these cries for attention, we walked up and down the beach, passing waves crashing on rocks, hippies selling their wares, and dozens of stray kittens eating an old cat lady’s food. It looked like vomit and it must have contained ketamine, because they just lethargically stared as we passed mere inches from them. Men smoked meat in shacks on strips of sand while fat women in thongs sweated on red plastic chairs. Men fished in the same water kids played in. Signs warned us to beware of sharks. I swam anyway, quickly and cowardly, on the same day a girl was killed by a shark five kilometers up the beach. I watched the video, watched the water bloom red and her being carried up the beach, leg turned into shreds of flesh, foot dangling.
One day we went to a beautiful and odd museum full of unlabeled old statues, armor, and nude paintings. There was an exhibit there about the Dutch in Brazil in the 1600s. What bravery, a bunch of blonde heads in a sea of palm trees and Indians, sweating as they tried to make a life for themselves. I found it eerie to imagine being in that exact spot 400 years ago. Without the buildings, it’s all just jungle, as easy to get lost in as the sea. While perusing the exhibit I saw a beautiful 18-year-old with the body of a varsity basketball player and shamelessly eye fucked him when his parents weren’t looking. He asked me for my facebook and the magic was lost.
We went to a street party one night, traditional music playing out of speakers set in a paint-chipped windowsill, people getting drunk off of cheap whiskey and light beer. People teetered in the cobblestone cracks while a crazy man harassed people and an old, toothless lady dressed in her Sunday best danced in the street for coins. A man breathed fire 15 feet into the air and walked on a cable suspended above our heads. We ooed and ahhed like a good audience while he hammed it up, pretending to fall. A girl puked while standing next to me and it splashed on my feet. An old ponytailed hippie from Iowa smelled flammable and started telling me how beautiful I was without makeup. I chatted with a guy with a google eye and kissed a stranger.