Dispatches from the road from our wayfaring travelers.
got lost yesterday. streets go in all directions here and
as far as i can tell, up is down, unless it´s not, as far as
i can tell.
did our last classes in the morning, went up the road to the
mountains overlooking town just in time for sunset, dazzling,
drenching the whole city of 3 million that i could see all of
almost in one eyefull. the mountains are red from all the iron.
roads are coated wih the red run-off, and every building and
vehicle has a dusty red patina.
we drove down the other side to the tiny town of casa branca,
and when i say down, i mean there were hairpin turns where
we went around and down at a 45 degree angle. and busses
and trucks use this road. i always wonder if there are people
careening off the sides of mountains all over the world every day
but it never makes our news, but, then what does? does
anyone know anything about the minas gerais state of brazil?
everyone here knows about obama.
at the bottom of the hill, as we rolled into the dusty red town square,
we turned a corner and had to slow as a horse and a calf on a rope
were trundling across the stone street. the calf was being pulled by
a young man. other than the simple rural pagentry of this task,
i thought nothing of it until we went around the square, which took all
of 20 seconds, and we spun arounf and the scene had changed.
in the near dark, at the yellow streetlight lit corner, the calf was
lying in the road, unmoving. we went by so fast, and i felt like we
should have stopped and found out what was going on, whether
it was fatigue or tragedy, but it was a day in the life that wasn´t mine.
i have to keep reminding myself that i am so far from home.
on the way back, myself and andrea got ourselves dropped off
on the south end of the city center so we could take our evening
exersize, strolling the hills and stone streets randomly. within one
block, we had found a scoop-your-own, 70 flavor ice cream shop.
so much for fitness, as i scooped random flavors into my cup,
vowing to walk an extra kilometer before we got the bus.
little did i know that it would happen that way, maybe a few more
kilometers even. i thought i had conquered the cities´ confusing grid,
where streets run every direction, and what seems like a
square is suddenly a triangle, and a couple of turns later,
you are wandering aimlessly in what could be any direction.
so eventually, we hit a street that looked familiar to me.
avenue brazil. this would take us to the big square and we´d be
all straight. but it was rue amazonias i was thinking of, and
it became clear after a lot of walking that we were, in fact,
heading the near opposite direction.
it was saturday night, and the bars and cafes were abuzz.
most places are outside, many on the sidewalk, music blaring,
laughter, people really enjoying the sweet night air.
i felt like i needed a cervega, but wasn´t ready to stop
my sweaty parade up and down the hills, and the bars were busy
we kept walking. the road started to curve and i realized
how bad a wrong turn i took. then we heard music.
it was an accordian, at least it sounded like it. at the end of
the long block of noisy bars, was a dingy bar with dilapidated
and scuffed plastic tables, just a few people sitting.
it was the neighborhood dive, and i mean that in the best way
in the doorway were two cowboys; hats, boots, cigarettes
aflame and big bottles of beer on the bar that they were standing near.
they were singing close male harmony in portugese,
guitar and accordian, with soaring and heartwrenching
they stood in the doorway, facing each other. we sat at a table
on the sidewalk and got some really cold beer and listened for a
long time. from the dark, they were almost a painting of smoky
shadows, framed by the harsh light on the inside of the bar.
we waltzed to one tune on the rough sidewalk.
they never really took a break. a slender, dark young man
with rasta hair, with had beads woven into it, had a small
shoulder bag with some bamboo flutes. he started
playing with the duo, sometimes on his airy, mournful sounding flute,
sometimes tapping the flute against the beads that were hanging
on his chest. i wanted so bad to have my fiddle and join the band,
but was so content listening and watching, late in the evening
at a bar on the street in the center of town of belo horizonte, brazil.
life kept feeling pretty sweet.
the 2004 bus back to our flats didn´t run too much past midnight, so we had to
start walking again. i twisted the map this way and that, took out
the 3x reading glasses and finally figured out where we were on the map,
and we started on what was maybe the right direction.
we saw a street vendor, selling popcorn, hot powdered chocolate covered
peanuts, and sugar crusted fried coconut chunks. andrea got som popcorn.
the vendor, an older man, kept talking to us in portugese, even though
andrea kept saying “ne parle portugese, ne parle portugese!“. she kept
pointing at the popcorn, trying desperately to communicate what she wanted,
but he kept babbling on, in a very strident way, about something.
finally he scooped a bag of popcorn. she handed him a 50 reija bill.
he handed her back 40 and started talking about who knows what again.
there should have been change, at least 7 reijas, but he kept talking.
then he reached into his cart and got some bags of peanuts and coconut
and shoved them into her hands.
he may have been out of change, or maybe he just liked the feel
of the dough in his hands. whatever was the case, andrea said “okay,
okay“, accepted the goods and we walked away.
we were looking for our bus stop when we saw people walking through
a gate, and we heard music. hell with the bus. we went in, and there
was a small festival going on.
the was an older black man on stage with a guitar, and behind him were
two lines of beaufiful woung people, dressed in white with red trim,
playing big, thumpy, deep drums. he had the crowd worked up.
they were singing and dancing. sang along to everything. at one point
he was singng what sounded like might have been a patriotic anthem,
with the name of the state, minas gerais, repeated over and over, and
the crowd sang and clapped. andrea danced blissfully. i watched
the band and the crowd and felt the deep and powerful bang of
the mallets on the drums.
i guess we´re here on a cultural exchange mission. i hope anyone
we taught learned as much about us as we joyfully learned about them.
the people of this area are lovely and sweet, in every meeting, event and
transaction. having been to two other countries and ours in the last month,
i hesitate to compare, but this has been a wonderful experience, and
everyone we met here was part of it.
have i mentioned yet how nice eveyone is here in brazil?
and how delightful it is here? and how good the food and weather
let me work backwards from this moment, where i am typing
on a filthy keyboard and barely moving cursor in the hotel
ahem “business office“.
we walked back from the party, myself and andrea, up and down
the hills and darkened and desolate streets. for some reason, no one
at all parks their car on the streets at night. the sidewalks are broken,
ragged and uneven, and if you are wheelchair bound, do not make this
your vacation destination. besides the steep hills and our friend gravity,
there are sheer unexpected dropoffs everywhere. wherever there is a
driveway or corner, there is a steep plunge, a foot or two sometimes,
to the next section of sidewalk. did i say sidewalk? it is almost as if
each building has built its own sidewalk….cement, tile, brick, small stones,
dirt, patterns, crumbling pits, a patchwork.
so it´´s midnight, the streets are
empty and dirty, and we are walking. we actually get a little lost on
the way home, ending up on two spooky quiet streets ´we´´d never seen before.
bats were flying around the streetlights. not a soul driving. all houses
behind iron fences and gates, some yards surrounded by thick clear glass
fences, showcasing the yard like an aquarium, making sure you see but don´t
touch. electric wire or glass on the top. so much security here, neighborhood
stores with guards, malls with 3 or more security guards at each entrance and
more patrolling, in black suits like the secet service.
all that to say; for some reason, it seems not all that scary. any US city and
these streets would be certain death, but here, it seems alright. when we were
lost, on a particularly desolate and dark street of stone, the was a man standing
at the end f the street, in the middle of the T intersection, dark clothing and
sunglasses. andrea said he might have been the bat we saw earlier, but he was
a dark man who said nothing as we walked by with no panic. for some reason.
we were walking from a party and jam at a local music school, where
a local singing legend taught
mostly vocals. we started the evening attending a class in the (i suck at
remembering foreign words) rhythms of an instrument like a tambourine,
and were schooled in patterns for songs and capoera. we stood in a circle
of mostly beautiful and handsome brazilian women. i, resplendant in
my sweaty tank top from walking earlier in the day, may have stood out a little.
but learn we did. i was masterful at it not.
then we went and had a frozen dish made from the acai berry, like a sorbet,
covered with fresh bananas and granola. what a treat, and not the first one of
then the jam session. in the open air center of the school, which was in a
big old house. we sang a few songs. beer and wine were served. bacon brushetta
was served….toast, cheese, bacon and oregeno. introductions were made.
one of the women there was obviously someone important, a backup singer
with a famous pop star, and as far as i could gather from the conversation,
was on a soap opera. she held herself like a star. if you`ve ever seen the show
“just shoot me“, she was just like nina van horne. regal, self assured.
our hostess sat down with her sister (friend? not sure) and they sang the most
hauntingly beautiful duet ever. so sweet and pure. then another woman and
a guitar joined them for a trio, again, hauntingly sweet and beautiful.
the evening turned raucous, with drums and dancing and exhuberant singing
and laughter. i danced a little, until
i was dripping with sweat (again). it was a kind of magical evening. i wished
i had known any of the words to the songs, but i plucked and sawed and
drummed my way through the evenings brigadoon-like magic.
a delicious bean and sausage soup and some meat struedel were served
and the drinks flowed. another one of those can´t believe i´m here evenings.
the rest of the day earlier seems to pale in comparison, yet it was all kind of
magical. we went to an ecological park. i had the water from a big
green coconut, with a straw, through the hole they punched. it seemed
like a magic drink, neverending. i drank and drank. finally done.
then they split it open, gave it to me with a spoon made from a piece
of the husk, and we peeled out the gelatinous meat from the non scrapy,
non flakey kind of coconut.
on the way out of the park, we stopped at a roadside fruit place, where a man
with a machete carved up giant hunks of sweet juicy pineapple, and we stood
eating, sticky sweet juice flowing and dripping. we left, and in yet another
of many lovely gestures this day, he came running out to the car as we were
leaving, with two big hunks of perfect firm and ripe watermelon, and handed
them to us. not sure watermelon or pineapple ever tasted that fine.
i can´t even get into the wonderful lunch we had, one of many stupendous and
inexpensive meals we had.
but after lunch i took a walk, looking for the grocery store. i climbed hills
and was a big sweaty mess (what else is new) when i asked a woman
on top of a hill where the grocery was. she spoke no english, but understood
what i was looking for and pointed down the street. i thanked her and walked
down the hill. a few moments later i heard a voice, and she was running
down the hill she had just climbed up, just to give me better directions.
she pointed down the hill. “one, two“ then pointed her finger sharply to
have i mentioned yet how nice eveyone is here in brazil?
and how delightful it is here? and how good the food and weather
by the way, the weather is delightful.
of course i had the middle seat on the 10 hour flight from atlanta.
but we switched around. but still, 10 hours on a plane is a long time.
and that was after the 2 hour flight and before the mad dash to the
one hour flight. but now, like magic, i am in belo horizonte, brazil.
i am in brazil. the country.
everything went so smoothly until we reached rio. we had 90 minutes to
change planes. a big cushion. you might think.
as we slowly, a little too slowly, got off the plane, into the odd 70s groovy
design terminal, the first thing noticed was a cluster of lovely young women
on the jetway. all wearing complex facemasks and breathing apparatus, eyeing
suspiciously our emerging from the plane. exiting the plane, more people
in uniforms and masks watched our passage and handed us forms in only
portugese. ahhhh! H1N1. we were to fill out a form that said we hadn’t
sniffled or sneezed in at least two days. so careful they are! but all you had to do
was say no and they stapled it to your immigration form and sent you away.
in the meantime, the plane was full of sneezers, hackers and mucus coated
coughing, but no one was admitting it, because they all sailed through.
at this time, through the first checkpoint most officials wearing masks, i noticed that
the airport was filthy, falling apart and dingy. as we waited the 15-20 minutes for
our luggage to arrive from the plane that was parked about 100 feet away, i went
to the filthy bathroom with the dripping and broken fixtures and discovered no
soap to wash all the H1N1 off of my hands that i got from handling all the forms,
doors and counters that the masked and gloved officials didn’t have to.
(our host here tells me that the display of flu concern is just for show, for the
rest of the world to see and that they have far worse mosquito carried diseases
that are incurable, have no vaccination and kill people often here that the
government doesn´t care about)
the delta lady in chicago told us our bags were checked “all the way through”.
which actually meant to the second to last stop. as we discovered as our bags
were nearly last. fine, there they were. so, after going through another checkpoint
where no one actually told us what they wanted from us, then into a long line,
which was strategically winding around two entrances of the duty free shop
that we had been handed swine flu laden brochures about earlier. the line snaked
around corners and down corridors, no end in sight. to add to our latened distress,
we heard tepid saxophone music and wondered if it was live. i suggested maybe
it was from the duty free shop, and as we turned the corner, there was a tired old
sax player playing along with an equally tepid recorded track, and wonder of wonders, wearing a uniform of the duty free shop. he seemed exhausted from his long gig
even tough it was 9am. as he launched into the retirement home version of
“the girl from ipanema” that would send the perkiest senior into a coma, we realized that we only had about 25 minutes to make our next plane. Bau went ahead around the
corner and down the hall to plead our plight to someone and they saw our problem.
so we rushed past all these waiting throngs scowling at us and cut in front of everyone.
that was never really clear what they wanted at this checkpoint, but they picked it out of
our sheaths of papers and off we went. we passed by currency exchanges. at the
end of the hallway were booths with people trying to get people to hire taxis.
as a welcome to brazil, a voluptous dark haired woman stood up in her booth,
leaned over to present her taxi selling “womanly attributes” to a group of arrivals,
smiled, waved and said “taxi! you want taxi?”
we turned the corner into the terminal. we were swarmed by money changers
and taxi hawkers, and all we wanted was to find TAM airlines. which we finally
figured out was in terminal 2, which was a LONG WAY. We did the rolling
luggage trot. none of the moving walkways were working to help nudge us
along even a little bit. rivulets of sweat were rolling down my face, soaking
my shirt, some of the long ramps were uphill. we were down to around 15 minutes
until the plane left.
finally we arrived at the ticket counter. for some reason, we could not get
ticketed all the way though to this flight in chicago, so we had to check in
and get boarding passes. bau showed the lady our itinerary. she said it was
closed. after some pleading, she checked with a supervisor, who agreed to
let us check in, check our luggage and get to the plane. we got our boarding
passes and ran for the gate. headed for the domestic gate. no! even though we
were flying one hour away in brazil, we had to go through another check
and security point at the intrnational gate. andrea, laura and bau
sailed through. i beeped.
back through the detector. removed things. still beeped. feeling like
jaques tati. through again and still beeped. soaked with sweat. shoes and
belt off; 4th time a charm. put my birks on unbuckled, belt, wallet, papers,
books clutched in my paws, i held my pants up as i shuffled as quick as
i could to the gate
where an anxious man was waiting. he shut the door behind me as i
started down the jetway. and with an exhausted gasp, i sat down,
my pile of suspect belongings on the seat next to me, twisted that
that pointy fan thing at my head and made noises like“phew´´ but more
gaspy, as the male flight attendant stood in the aisle miming a seatbelt
buckling in portugese to the 8 or so people in the back half of the plane.
for the first time in my life, someone held a bazillion dollar plane for me.
little old sweaty gaspy me. in brazil. never happen at o´hare.
but as it turned out, the brazilian people are wonderfully friendly and
accomodating. this day alone, two restaurants stayed open long past their
operating hours to feed us. literally refired the grills to cook us meat
and bring it to us with amazing abundance and bursting with flavor and attentive
but that´s a story in itself for another day. every single thing we have eaten has
been spectacular. but i do babble on. but.
full of beef, pork, chicken, bacon, chicken hearts, meat from every part of
every animal including toad, i say goodnight.