Monday, November 28, 2005

Drink Cart Land

November 28
It must be a funny thing to grow up in Jericoacoara, Brazil. Six hours removed from the nearest large city, and more than an hour by 4x4 from the nearest ATM, Jeri is tucked along the north coast of Brazil. It’s as far south of the equator as Philadelphia is south of New York.

There aren’t exactly seasons this close to the middle of the earth and even the length of the days stay nearly constant, starting and ending just before six. But in Jeri the year is divided into windy and not-windy, and when the easterly gusts blow across the village’s giant crescent shore, the windsurfers come by the all-terrain busload.

A half-hour down the beach little groups of rickety houses sit empty from June to January, when the wind is strong but the fishing weak. Those villages come to life just for the fish, and Jeri wasn’t much different 20 years ago.

But in that way beautiful places become popular because they aren’t populated, Jeri has become a bold type Lonely Planet recommendation. It’s topped lists of the best places in the world to windsurf. It’s only because its so hard to get here that it hasn’t been ruined.

To be 18 and living in Jeri today, is to have grown up right along with the town, to live in a place where the population is still less than 3000, but it can seem like there are just as many foreigners.

Alex is 18 and has been working five nights a week for two years at the bottom of Rua Principal. He—like a dozen other men—rolls his small cart down to the stretch of sand between two beachfront bars sometime after sundown. (It is a peculiarity of the country that independent entrepreneurs are allowed to sell their goods on the grounds of other people’s establishments.) Pedro’s cart has fifteen bottles of liquor, a cooler with ice, a bucket with sugar, a basket with fruit, a drink shaker and a wooden mallet used for breaking ice and crushing fruit.

The national drink of Brazil is the caipirinha, and I met Alex on my first night in Jeri when I asked him if I could make caipirinhas for our group. Business is always slow for the drink-carts and he happily stepped aside as I replicated the steps I’d seen:

I cut the small limes into several pieces and removed the seeds, I put them in the drink shaker and added two scoops of sugar, I pestled the fruit and sugar with the wooden mallet until they formed a sweet paste. Then I added ice and a large measure of cachaca, the Brazilian sugarcane liquor. I put the top on the drink shaker and—following Alex’s demonstration—vigorously shook the concoction. Since there is no liquid in a caipirinha to dilute the 80 proof cachaca it’s important to do enough shaking to melt some of that ice. Despite providing the labor, I paid the full two Reais ($.90) for each of the drinks. All reviews of my effort were positive.

Alex’s brother Pedro is the liveliest worker in Jeri’s land of the drink carts. Maybe that’s because he’s been at it for just two months. Each night he grabs the wooden box that will sit on his hips for the next many hours, puts it’s strap around the back of his neck, and sets out to sell a couple cases of cigarettes. “Mi frangelo!” he says with a giant smile, “My brother!”

I mentioned to Pedro one night that he was always smiling and laughing. “When I started working my mom said to me, ‘Always smile, it will make the people buy more from you.’” At least that’s what I understood as Pedro spoke his Portuguese slowly and I listened hard.

There are two cigarette sellers in Jeri, the other a 60-something man who smiles and laughs and talks much less than Pedro. You can’t help but look at the two of them and wonder if they’re on different ends of the same life. Cigarettes in Brazil sell for less than US$2 so there isn’t a lot of room for profit.

Pedro goes to school from 1-5pm each day (allowing him to stay up nearly til dawn selling cigarettes each night) and has picked up a few phrases of English (“You smoke, yeah?” “My brother, he is a so gay.” “You from America, your name is a George Bush?”). But it’s unclear what career paths he could aspire to, how he might get out of Jeri, or if he would want to.

There’s a strange rhythm to places like Jeri, a type of erosion far swifter than that suffered by the giant dune of the western edge of town. It’s the erosion of faces each morning, the constant, incremental change of the handful of visitors, set against the static backdrop of the Brazilians who live here. You recognize a group of faces each night, but the group is slightly different than the night before. If you live here I imagine the group looks exactly the same every night of your life.

But the foreigners who all look the same never learn, they always act like its their first night here—because for them it is. And there’s a freshness to their naïveté that maybe lets you share their excitement over the squishing of the limes and the shaking of the shaker. Each night they don’t know that the local girls went home with other foreigners last night, or they don’t care. They don’t know that they’re prostitutes (or at least that the locals who resent them for hooking up with the tourists call them prostitutes) or they don’t care.

“That is a girl who has sex for money,” Pedro whispered in my ear one night. To Pedro of course it doesn’t matter if its true. Certainly, she’s a girl who doesn’t have sex with a cigarette salesman.

“You know those girls are only interested in these old foreign guys for a Green Card,” people like pointing out, especially female travelers who aren’t getting so much attention. No one seems to mention how many western women are interested in western men for what they can provide.

There isn’t much sadness in Jeri, and only an over analytical outsider could find so much to fuss about. There’s no poverty or self-pity and there’s some money to be made from people who come to town with a bunch of money. Small towns in the world’s poorest countries always seem to do pretty well. They take care of each other, maybe. Or maybe its just easier to provide for a small community than a large one. But there isn’t violence or hunger that I could find in ten nights in Jericoacoara anymore than there was in Jomsom, Nepal.

The great lesson for me about these places has been one about happiness. Everyone likes to say they live their life to be happy, which is a nice enough thought. But I’ve come to believe that absent overt, immediate suffering or chemical imbalance everyone gets a fairly equal share of happiness. I found it in the smiles of tsunami widows in Thailand, the songs of subsistence farmers in Nepal, and now the gait of an over-worked tobacco seller in Jeri. We’re all dealt different lots, but if we all end up with just as many happy days as sad ones, then that’s something to be happy about too.

Brazil Moments

November 27 – Fortuleza, Brazil
It might be early in the morning or late at night, you never know. But you can be sure at some point each day you will have a Brazil Moment. They’re unannounced but instantly recognizable.

After nine nights in sleepy Jericoacoara—where Brazil Moments are held in check by the mote of a six-hour journey—you almost forget what awaits you.

An hour before sunset one day I was walking along the beach wall in the Barro section of Salvador when a police van sped by. It screeched to a halt just in front of us and ten machine-gun toting cops rushed out. They stormed the adjacent bus and pulled out fifteen young men, who then laid down in a row on the sidewalk.

Just past 2am last night we were sitting at a café here in Fortaleza. A young, topless man sprinted up the street in our direction, then ducked into a parking garage across the street. Five seconds later a second man came running and behind him another twenty-five. “It’s a riot,” I observed while sipping from my glass of Bohemia beer. As the mob sped past us they threw punches at each other, then quickly disappeared down the street. Many of the café-dwellers rose from their seats to get a better look. Many didn’t bother. After five minutes most of the sprinters came strolling back, smiling and high-fiving for a job well done, whatever job that was.

Around 1am one morning I was mugged.

There was that time at sunset in Rio when the drug crazed beggar seemed to consider doing the same.

Brazil Moments are the clearest examples of the vibrant, often violent energy that pervades the country. It is a kind of cousin to India in that way—you know something strange and maybe dangerous is always hanging in the air.

Tonight Jason and I will go for a walk from Iracema to Beira Mar. There’s not likely to be a Brazil Moment on the walk because we already made the journey this morning. Along the beach road there were several cops huddled in a circle, joined by other onlookers. Jason and I walked around the group and the young guy sprawled motionless and bruised on the pavement a few feet away. “Do you think he’s dead?” Jason asked. We couldn’t be sure of that, but we knew we’d had our Moment.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

More Photos

Got an e-mail today asking for more photos. Too bad my camera is broken again. Anyway, I've stolen a couple from people i've shared boats or buggies with and here they are. Thanksgiving at the beach is a funny thing. Not so bad though since you don't really miss the stuff back home since it doesn't feel like its really happening.

A Nine Island boat trip with two Dutch girls in Maceio, Brazil.

Towards the end of our five-hour trip to and from the nearest ATM, the Brit on my right and the two Swedes on my left stopped for a photo op outside Jericoacoara, Brazil.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Year and Change

November 14 – Fortuleza, Brazil
Its worth asking the question now. Not just have I changed, but how. After ten months in varied environments some change is inevitable, but judging what is different is the hard part.

So this week I piled into a Land Rover with three American guys and got a sense of what might be different now than at the beginning of the year. We made the 500 mile drive from Natal to Fortaleza along the gorgeous shore, stopping in a small town each night.

Jon, 25, was our driver. He’s from Florida but lives in Brazil now. A few of us met him out on the beer-splattered streets one night in Natal. He was getting friendly with some local girls. “But I can’t do anything with them,” he told us. “I’m married.”

Jon moved down here with his wife, bought a Land Rover and now drives people up and down the coast. He said he’d take three of us to Fortaleza for 700 reais ($300), about half the going rate.

Along for the ride were Rob and Joker, a pair of early-middle-aged Californians. Rob fixes air conditioners and is here for a couple weeks. Joker grows flowers, was born in Holland, and has a month to spend in Brazil. They’re both members of a drinking club which boasts “Beer Olympics” that compel members to get drunk and topless.

From the outset, it was clear Rob and Joker were cut from different cloth than me, but we all wanted to ride along the beach and sharing the trip was the only way to make it affordable so we piled in together.

Rob and Joker have two discernable pursuits in life (or at least during their time in Brazil): women and beer. From dawn til dawn they chase these twin vices with singular focus. Readers of this blog might think I’m interested in women and beer, but after four days with this crew I felt sober and gay by comparison.

Sample sentences uttered during four days in Land Rover:

“So, where we going to get laid tonight?”

“Hey, pass me another beer.”

“Ask this guy where the best place to party is.”

“We should stop and get more beer.”

Any characteristic pushed to the extreme reveals its inherent absurdity and so I was faced with the ugliness of these pursuits. They were a kind of mirror for me; to someone else do I look like them? I don’t spend every waking moment hunting women, I don’t say “it’s 5:30 somewhere” as I crack open a beer each morning. But on some smaller scale am I much different?

“Its really good to be riding with some Americans,” Jon said. “I’ve been driving all foreigners lately.”

I felt so differently. At this point I don’t generally like traveling with Americans. Largely this is a universal feeling; travelers don’t want to hang out with people from home—Danes don’t want to travel with Danes, Canadians don’t want to travel with Canadians. It’s not a rule, just a vague preference that’s probably stronger for Americans because—generally—we’re bad travelers. We’re loud and over-opinionated and America-centric. (Brits and Israelis have equally bad reputations and maybe these are all unfair stereotypes but many agree that America, England, and Israel turn out the highest percentage of annoying travel companions).

A word more on Americans. Throughout the year I’ve heard variations of this sentiment: “You’re the nicest American we’ve met.” I take it as a backhanded compliment because it isn’t just a comment on me but on negative perceptions of Americans. Some American travelers seek to avoid the stereotype by claiming to be Canadian which I think is cowardly and stupid. I really believe being American is an advantage because people have such low expectations that by simply being an okay guy you seem like a superstar.

And there’s this: the “nicest American they’ve met” isn’t the Brook who left New York in January, he’s the Brook who is living out of a bag for the year. I am different. I’m quieter. I’m unbelievably patient. I speak slowly. My temperament is malleable to the temperament of those around me. So this is how I’ve changed.

And when I’m with Americans the slang comes out, and the references to American pop culture; I speak faster and more loudly. I revert to that spectacular American characteristic of inserting evidence of how much I know into every possible sentence. So maybe its not the Americans I don’t like, but how I become when I’m around them. Its the sad knowledge it gives me that Traveling Brook will die on the plane from Buenos Aires to New York.

If I wanted to feel better about Americans the Land Rover was the wrong place to turn. Jon was the first person I’ve met to confront me with the power of ADD. He’s unable to hold a thought from the beginning of a sentence to the end.

“Remember I was telling you about the kite surfers, well they go up the coast to, because, look at this picture, isn’t that amazing? I had to drive through this river I should probably get a snorkel, when I was in Orlando I got clocked going 148….”

Eventually a story would emerge—often a story that was already told 15 minutes prior—and the stories often focused on girls. And so certain realities couldn’t be hidden for long. How many girls have you kissed since you’ve been married?

“At this party here I kissed 14 in one night, it was this party where all the…”

But in the four years you’ve been married, how many do you think?

“Oh, no, I have no idea. But I’ve slept with at least 20. I don’t know, at least 20 that I remember.”

So on Friday night in Canoa Quebrada we all went to work and soon my three companions had found female companionship—its not that hard around here. “If a girl is from a small village and she’s maybe 16 years old and has never been anywhere then I would never get with her,” Jon explained. “Because then its like I’m stealing her innocence, like she isn’t innocent anymore and I think that’s wrong. But with these girls its different because I don’t do anything. They come up to me. And they’re really aggressive, its just really hard because they’re so aggressive. But I haven’t been with a girl for a really long time. I mean like two months…You know, other than my wife.”

For a while the group was well fed and everyone was happy. Rob talked of retiring in Brazil as he massaged a new friend in the back of the Land Rover. Massage is a nice way to say grope which is what Rob did for the entire day we spent with three Brazilian girls driving around the dunes. Jon had his new girlfriend with him, and Joker had his. It would be unfair to say I was content being the seventh wheel but I just didn’t have the stomach for that level of fawning aggression.

But then Rob lost his girl and all of a sudden he was “happy” about it because, after all, he was trying to behave himself because he has a serious girlfriend back in California.

“I hate that,” Jon said. “I hate when someone gets blown off by a girl and then says he’s glad because he didn’t want to do anything anyway.”

But Jon is a prince of his own hypocrisies and claimed to hope his girl would blow him off too so he didn’t have her calling him.

And now I’ll figure out how all this relates…These faithless Americans and my trip; how I’ve changed and how I’ll revert when this is over….

I suppose we were all somehow changed by being where we were. The Americans in Brazil were acting differently than they would back home; I was acting differently than I would with other people.

We change for those around us. We become who we surround ourselves with, like a bag of water with a goldfish in it. You put the bag into a fish tank and after a couple hours the temperature of the water is the same, and you can open the bag and the fish swims free.

So I flew in my little bag to Sydney and the water was like this: everyone’s in their 20’s (or acting like it). People dress badly and party late. Multinationals, American politics, and having a job are uncool. Having money is less cool than not having money. Everyone is looking for a friend.

Did I change? Or was it just the water around me? And is that why Americanism bothers me now, because its just a temperature of water I’m no longer accustomed to? If that is the case, if we don’t change so much as respond, then certainly I’ll respond accordingly when I get back. But I think I’ll remember what the other thing was like, too, and I’ll remember why I liked it and what I didn’t like about the Americans when they came to remind me of some of what is waiting back home.

Message Home

This is a message to the folks in Portsmouth, RI...For the last three days all e-mails to the three of you have been returned by AOL, so i have no way to write you (except this). I am receiving your e-mails though so feel free to write.
Dad: The flights you mentioned are all finalized, right?
Do any of you have non-AOL e-mail accounts, maybe I can write you there.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Non-Episodic Post

November 6
So I thought I’d say ‘hi.’ The blog has become quite episodic and almost stylized to the point of being more travel essays than travel updates.

So what’s up with me? I’m working my way up the Brazilian coast. From Rio I flew to Salvador, and after a week there took an 11-hour bus to Maceio. Tomorrow I’ll head further north to the beach town of Praiya de Pipa.

In the last week my IPOD and digital camera have both stopped working and its not such a big deal. Do I feel that way because I’m close to the end or because I’ve embraced the non-materialistic backpacker culture? Who’s to say. (But I am now one of those many people with a broken IPOD who get annoyed when they read fawning articles about the IPOD. Has anyone considered the possibility that all these broken IPODs could be a serious problem for the Apple/I-tunes/I-everything empire?)

Jason, my NYC friend who met me in Cambodia is meeting me in Fortuleza for Thanksgiving. I guess he’ll have to bring the turkey. My dad is meeting me in Argentina for the first ten days of December, then I’ll have a week in Buenos Aires to figure out what it all means before I fly home and lose my tan.

I’m starting to get the “What are you doing when you get home?” e-mail. I’m the kind of person who starts mourning the end of summer around Fourth of July so the end of the trip was bound to cause some distress and I guess it has. I first felt it back in Toulouse when I was staying with Anaelle, maybe because that was more of a homey existence, or maybe just because I could start to see the end approaching. It was four months away then, now its less than six weeks.

I honestly gave no real thought to 2006 when I left at the start of 2005. The trip was so audacious, so huge, so life-altering that the idea of a world after “the trip” didn’t seem relevant or possible. But now its approaching and of course I think (and dream) about it quite a bit.

Job one is to finish and sell the documentary; everything else is secondary. If I’m successful I’ll attempt to parlay that into another attractive project, maybe carving out a niche in travel programming but more likely moving on to a new subject. That’s a best-case scenario.

If I can’t sell the documentary to a TV network (or even if I can) I’ll sell it as a DVD; I think a market exists. I’ll also submit it to film festivals but I think it might be too light and commercial for most festivals, we’ll see. Publishing a travel book is impossible and I won’t attempt it unless the documentary succeeds and I can use that brand to sell the book.

I hope to have a solid rough cut by Valentines Day and a finished product by the end of March. So at least for three months I plan to live with my parents to save money and keep me focused. I’ll also be selling the stock footage I’ve shot in 20+ countries on-line.

When all this fails and I’m broke I guess I’ll get a job and hopefully that will be enjoyable.

Tonight Stefan and I are going to party here in Maceio. Stefan is a crazy Swede who never gets girls back home but has scored thirteen in two months in Brazil. It’s good to be blonde when you’re going out here. It’s good to look Brazilian when you’re avoiding muggers (not that its helped me that much anyway) but its good to look foreign when you go out.

On the porch here at the hostel there are two hammocks and a radio playing bad music. The beach is two blocks away. Its been sunny, hot, and breezy each day in the north. It’s a lovely, relaxing existence. I’m getting much work done and enjoying the familiar clockwork backpacker progression of new friends, fun activities and quick goodbyes. Yesterday, I took a boat trip with two Dutch girls and we cruised around the little costal islands near Maceio. I did what I try to do every day or two: I pinched myself to remember what a good gig I have.

That was day 300. There will be 342.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Pure Brazil

November 1 – Salvador, Brazil
We thought we’d surf. There are many things John does better than me and one of them is surfing. So he paddled out on the little rented board into the rough Salvador, Brazil chop and tried in vain to catch a wave. The waves were there and they were strong (as Brazilian waves seemingly always are) but they were breaking poorly and it was no use.

I was swimming with him and when we got back to shore we found we’d been blown 500 feet down the beach by the strong cross current. We walked back to our stuff, passing the plastic tables with the drinking Brazilians on the hot cream sand. Then I grabbed the board and headed for the waves.

“Iye,” a woman called after me. I looked back and saw she was calling after her child and kept walking. “Iye,” she called again but I kept walking this time.

“Brook,” John shouted from the shore and I looked back and then walked towards him. Another thing John does better than me is speak Portuguese and now he was talking to the woman and translating.

“She says you’re crazy to go out there,” John said. No one was in the water past their knees and red markers warned of the tide. But I trudged on with the rented board and proceeded to not come close to catching a wave.

When I returned to shore John was still talking to the woman, Jahnee. “She asked me to go to dinner with her tomorrow,” John said when we were alone. “I don’t know what to do. It’s a little strange. She’s divorced. She has three children.”

“That’s fantastic,” I said laughing.

“How old do you think she is?”

“I don’t know. It starts with a three.”

“Yeah, it does.”

We returned the surfboard and then John went over to her blanket to get her number and firm up plans. I waited by the water and then he came back. “So, do you want to come too and go with her hot sister?”

We walked back to their blanket and John introduced me to Jahnee and Danubia. The sisters didn’t speak five words of English and I don’t speak five words of Portuguese and we were going on a double date the next night.

Loyal readers will say, “Hey, Brook, I thought you weren’t writing about girls in South America.” And I will say, “Well, that was the plan. But this was just too good.”

The next day John was getting cold feet. “I don’t know, something seems sketchy about all this. What do you think?”

I thought he was right. You do hear stories of friendly locals who spike your drink or abduct you or rob you or worse. But they were mothers—we had seen their kids—and they seemed genuinely friendly and genuinely divorced and what was the worst that could happen? Okay, the worst was pretty bad, but what was the worst that was likely to happen?

“I’m not bringing any credit cards, I can tell you that much,” I said.

So we got on the bus for our seven o’clock rendezvous. As we paid our bus fare I made a mental note of the 53 reais I had on me; just less than $25. “I have about the same,” John told me.

And as the bus rumbled away from our pousada, the wheels started turning in our heads. “If we go out for a Bahian dinner that’s going to be 50 reais for two people,” John said. “We’re not going to have any money left.”

We had been so worried about having little cash for the robbers that we brought too little for our night out. And of course, we were too smart to bring ATM cards with us either.

“I didn’t think this through,” John admitted. “Or I thought it through too much.”

I feared Danubia would do some thinking through too. Jahnee had met a nice, tall, blonde, American boy—John—who speaks good Portuguese; and then paired her younger sister with some idiot—me—who can hardly say “hello.” (By the way, its “oi.” I at least know that much.)

As feared, when we met Jahnee in the Pelourinho, Danubia was absent. She was finishing work, I eventually learned.

If you think its fun being the third wheel, try doing it while the other two wheels are speaking an incomprehensible foreign language.

“Are you getting any of this?” John would ask from time to time, hoping my miserable Spanish would be of some help.

We looked out over the city and warded off some beggars and walked through the area where I got mugged a few days prior. John and I tensed up a bit when we got there, and spent a good part of the night looking quite literally over our shoulders.

Then Jahnee brought us to a little bar. I was ready for a drink. There was a giant wooden barrel with 20 taps jutting out and the bartender poured a small plastic cup of one of the brews. Then he added a few clear drops from another spigot.

Jahnee handed us the drink. It smelled of spices and tasted like a strong mulled cider. The three of us shared the tiny cup and were still finishing it as we walked back out across the Pelourinho. The cup was still a quarter full and I wondered how we had drank so little and imagined Jahnee putting the cup to her lips but not swallowing any; I wondered what those clear drops the bartender had added at the end were.

“No more,” Jahnee said and poured the rest onto the ground. I wasn’t sure if that made me trust her more or less.

We took a bus to some other part of town and walked forever. “She used to work in the factory over here,” John translated.

“These train tracks are only used once a year for a parade,” he said later.

A sleeping homeless man stirred and walked towards us. We walked away. The streets were dim but not dark, sparse but not deserted. It was residential but still sketchy.

“This is like a lovers’ lane,” John told me when we walked out to a little peninsula just past a nighttime soccer game.

“You bored?” John asked, because we could speak English freely without being understood.

“No, this is hilarious. When will we ever have a night like this again?”

“You know I really like it, actually,” John said. “I know these are silly places to visit, but for the first time I feel like I’m seeing a real side of Brazil, where people live.”

We walked and walked and then finally, up a hill, having gotten off work and made it through traffic, was Danubia.

She looked good. She could be Ana Beatriz Barros´ ugly sister, which is quite a compliment. “Oi,” I said, using a quarter of my Portuguese vocabulary as way of introduction.

“No fala nada?,” Danubia asked John and Jahnee. No, they said, he doesn’t speak at all.

It was like swimming without legs, typing without hands, going out to dinner without any cash; I was hitting on someone without the use of language.

We tried speaking, of course. We tried the way you would try to fly a plane if the pilot was unconscious. You would try because there weren’t any other options and it was going to be a disaster anyway.

“Numero?” Danubia finally asked when I hadn’t understood three other versions of the question.

“Ah, mi numero? My age?!”

“Johhhnnn,” Danubia would call when we couldn’t figure it out ourselves.

“No John,” I would say, with patience. “Vente-seis.”

“Vinte e seis,” John corrected, translating my Spanish into Portuguese.

I was 26 and she was 25.

We sat at a table by the water and the three of them would talk for a while and then John would give me a re-cap. We ordered drinks and Danubia said she was surprised I drink.

“She said, you don’t look like a guy who would drink alcohol. I’m not sure what that means.” John reported.

I thought I knew. I was the wholly ineffectual, therefore imasculine guy who could barely say ‘hello.’ In that way, I was far to young to drink, even if I was vinte e seis.

But then we learned “cachacaero,” which means drunk, so I accused Danubia of being a “cachacaero” simply because it was one of the only words I knew.

“Noooo,” she insisted. “You are a drunk,” she countered in Portuguese.

I flicked her in mock-anger and she seemed to take offense to me touching her.

“You have a strange way of flirting,” John said, apparently unaware that I was employing the only means at my disposal.

Then we walked for a while and were at the bus stop. It was 11:30pm and felt much later. The girls said we had to be careful about which bus we took back to Barra because some of them aren’t safe at this hour. It wasn’t clear if we were waiting for them to get their bus or they were waiting for us to get ours. Eventually we got on the same one and then got off somewhere dark and scary. We were in Danubia’s neighborhood and she was trying to say something to me.

“It’s the eyes,” Jahnee said, betraying a bit more English than she’d let on. “She says your eyes are beautiful.”

“I think they’re asking if we want to stay at their place,” John said. “But really I have no idea what’s going on.”

There was a taxi nearby that would charge us 16 reais ($6) to take us home. The girls said that was too much, we should just go back in the morning.

So we walked down the long, dark hill, past gated front doors and shadowy allies. Then Danubia took a couple small rocks in her hand and looked up at a building. “Keep going, Brook,” Jahnee said, slipping some more English in.

Danubia tossed the rocks up at the gated window, and as we continued down the hill, she told the woman who appeared in the window to let her son spend the rest of the night there.

At Danubia’s gate the first key came out, unlocking the first heavy-duty padlock. We walked along a half completed (or half destroyed) brick wall to her front door where the second key opened the biggest padlock I’ve ever seen. Not even the Dutch Girls’ bikes are this well protected (or in need of such protection). Up a short flight of steps we reached a tiled patio with a view of a neighboring favela.

“There’s something strangely beautiful about the favelas,” John said. “The way they slope up the hill, the different colors of the houses, the geometric shape of them.” He was right and we were plenty close to get a good look.

Danubia warned us about the state of her apartment the way everyone who ever takes anyone home warns them about their apartment. In Manila and Delhi and Salvador, the homes of the third world middle-class have a striking similarity. They’re structurally modest and made of somewhat inferior materials. They feature the adult furnishings you’d expect (carpets, family photos, dining tables) but with the flimsiness and discord of a dollhouse. The door to Danubia’s bedroom was made of one narrow board, the width of a CD case.

“You must think we’re crazy, bringing people home who we don’t know,” the girls said.

“You must think we’re crazy, going home with people we don’t know,” I countered.

“Four crazy people.” Jahnee decided.

Danubia cleaned the dirty dishes in her sink but wouldn’t let me help. She offered us some food but we were full and tired. The sisters seemed to want to delay the bed thing. Finally Danubia grabbed my hand and led me to her room. Soon John followed. And then, as the sisters squeezed into a five-year old’s bed in the next room, John and I dozed off together. In the end, from the bar to the bedroom, the sisters’ intentions were pure.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Back in NYC Party

So last night I had the dream again. In the dream its December 17, I´ve just landed in New York and I realize I´ve forgotten to tell anyone that I´m coming back.

While I let you play Freud and decide what that means, I´m going to make sure the dream doesn´t come true and let you all know now that I´ll be back on 12/17 (or 17/12 if you´re from anywhere but the U.S.) and I´m having an "I´m Back" party that night.

So mark your calendars for the night of Saturday, December 17. Exact Manhattan location TBD.