Monday, August 19, 2013

Brazil, 1985 Part 3: Sleepless in Recife

January 24 - 3:37 am

Can't sleep.
First it was the heat.
Then the tinkle-wobble-whirring of the ceiling fan.
Turn off the fan.
Too hot.
Start to doze off and these itches erupt, one on the ankle,
another on the back
the arm . . . Scratch.
Gotta have a drink of water.
Get up, drink, lie down again.
Now I've gotta pee . . . . . . . . .
Back to bed.
Dreams start to take over but
they're nightmares of
kidnapping and rape
I force it out of my head and
now I'm awake again.
Itches pop up
this time in different places.
I'm convinced there's little
bed bugs; I've already felt
sand in the bed.
My mind starts to imagine
which soon turns to horrible thoughts:
What if a gang of gunmen
forced their way into the hotel and
pillaged the place, shooting everybody
dead with machine guns?
There's a little dog barking.
I'd slather his tail with
peanut butter and stick it
to a sheet of sandpaper
if I could.
The sound of a metal door rattling.
Oh my god, it's the gunmen.
Get up and look out the window
trying to see what's happening
in the lobby from a reflection
in a car window.
Can't see anything.
I couldn't jump from this high.
Listen at the door.
Back to bed.
Don't think any bad thoughts
Damn it!
Scratch Scratch
Fuck! Get out the
Calamine lotion
and feel around for bites.
WOW that's a big one
'bout the size of a quarter!
stop itching everybody
I refuse to scratch anymore . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
scratch scratch scratch
Now I've gotta go to the bathroom again.
What time is it anyway?
Scratch scratch
God, there's a big one right in the
middle of my forehead.
I feel like a triclops.
Head itches
legs itch
Oh no, what if I get lice?
Gotta check this out.
Light on, examining.
Find nothing but
that doesn't mean anything.
Can't sleep
might as well turn the fan
back on.
Oh great.
Sun's coming up.
maybe I can get up to the roof
to take pictures?
I'll have to take 'em from
my window here.
Try different shutter speeds.
one will come out.
Well, the birds are really
singin' now.
Guess I'm not
going to sleep
scratch scratch scratch

Brazil, 1985 Part 2: Thumbs Up

January 21
I have absolutely no idea what time it is. It's dark, that's all I can say, and we're hurling into the night . . .one more night, one more night, and I'll never want to get on a bus again. The highway we're on is full of ruts and I swear it's as narrow a one-laner. But no, it's two lanes and vehicles just slow down as they meet one another in opposing directions. We go slow, we go fast, we stop at a bus station in little roadside hamlets full of flies and it gets hotter the farther we go. A rolling dream of sleepless dreams and lobbing along this highway that seems to be going nowhere.

I like it here. One funny thing: I have a habit of flashing the OK hand signal when asked if I like something or it's the thing I'm asking for (which happens countless times each day). I've gotten a lot of strange looks and wondered what that was about. Until I learned that the OK sign in the U.S. means "fuck you up your ass" in Brazil. Not too good when you flash the sign to a merchant. I slap my hands a lot, now, and cover a grin and say, "no, no, I meant this." Here, it's thumbs up, that's the sign for "right on."

Another truck stop, here we are again. Everyone pile out, 15 minutes to get something to drink or to use the bathroom or inspect the wares of the local artisans: sandals, hats, t-shirts, dolls, etc. I'm looking for a new pair of sandals but haven't found the right ones yet.

January 22 - Recife
I'm here I'm here!! I'm in my very own hotel room and I took a shower and changed my clothes and put on lipstick and painted my fingernails. I'm gonna go to the bank and buy my return ticket for late Friday or Saturday morning. That gives me four days. I can take a bus to the beach or to town. My room is great, with a bathroom and a fridge stocked with guarana and beer and coke and a big fan and a window on the street. It's what I've always dreamed of!! My feet and ankles are all swollen from the bus ride. I'm here! In Recife by the ocean listening to Michael Franks on my headphones!! Oh long-awaited ecstasy!!

Brazil, 1985 Part 1: The Observer

[In December, 1984, I moved from San Francisco to Brazil to live on the beach in an exotic land and teach English, the ink still wet on my TESL certificate. I spent about a month in the interior with a Brazilian friend and work colleague named Julio (pronounce the 'J') who decided it was time to go back to see his family after a four-or-five-year absence. Julio's family didn't know (or didn't want to know) that he was gay and he tried to pass me off as his girlfriend. That, as well as my stubborn independence, caused friction between us, and, as much as I adored his family, I was anxious to be on my own and away from them. I had recently been offered two jobs in the small town of Rio Verde where Julio's father, a lawyer, lived. But I got on a bus headed for the coast to see what was what. I was to transfer buses in Belo Horizonte, about the halfway mark between Rio Verde and Recife, on the northeast coast of Brazil. These entries are from my journal.]

January 20

North by northeast - bound for Recife from Belo Horizonte.

"Strange sounding places
With strange sounding names
Calling, calling me"
Spent the entire day - 13 hours - in Belo Horizonte. Arrived at 8 am after an all night bus ride and wandered around the bus station for two hours, about ready to cry from needing sleep, seeing the long day ahead of me and not knowing how to kill it.

I asked a lady at a newspaper stand, where's a good place to go on Sunday? She gave me the name of a place. I got in a cab, traveled three blocks before finding out that the place was really far - about 15 kilometers - and got out of the cab at the bus station again. Went into the bus station, ate two slices of pizza, read a few pages of Jack Kerouac's "The Town and the City," about fell asleep, and decided to find out how much a hotel room would cost for few hours of sleep.

It cost 9000 [cruzerios, at that time, I think] so I got some nervous, weird dream-filled sleep in a funky, moldy-smelling hotel room, and felt much better and ready to head out into the world. I figured I'd get a juice and then catch the Hitchcock flick, "The Trouble with Harry" or "La Traviata" if I could find that theater. After my favorite liquada [fresh squeezed, blended juice] of papaya and orange, I kept walking until I found a park. Men eyeing me without conscience, people in row boats on a green slime pond, lush trees and palms everywhere, all wet from rain. I sat by a guy singing and playing guitar and tried to look Brazilian and casual in the environment. A girl of mid-late 20s walked past me and we smiled at each other. She sat next to me and commented on weather. We talked for a while until it started raining. Then we went and had a beer in a loncharia. I never did see the movie. At one bar, a guy winked at her and she showed him the tip of her tongue and he came over to meet her! So they talked and talked and I smiled and pretended to understand at least half of what they were saying. I had frango [rooster] and rice for dinner and they walked me to the bust station.

Now I'm listening to the Roches on a dark bus and my batteries are running low. I have so many thoughts and impressions but I tell myself, "don't think so much, just try to be here now." But I realize I am an observer on the wheeling journey called life. The other day, Julio's cousin, Nielha had a baby. There were several family members - about eight including the father - standing outside the room, waiting to hear its first cries. Everyone thought it was a girl when they heard it cry: "Chora de mulher!" (cries of a woman) they exclaimed. But when the baby was brought out into the waiting area, they saw that it was a boy because his ears weren't pierced. The father was about to cry, sitting on a bed in an adjacent room, and I went in to hug him and rub his neck, 'cause I was about to cry myself and I figured he'd appreciate the support. I was so surprised to see that nobody else touched him, until I understood that this show of emotion was not rare or something that needed comforting. It was natural and everyone was feeling it.

I got two job proposals in Rio Verde that I've accepted, one teaching kids between high school and university level literature and grammar, and the other giving conversation classes. With both salaries I'll be earning a million a month [about $200]. Sound great, eh? And I like Rio Verde and the family well enough to stay there for a couple or three semesters, until we save enough to move to the coast. My trip now is to see what the situations are, how much I'd be paid at a school there, how much is rent and the cost of living, etc. And, of course, to see the ocean once before I'm shut in by thousands of miles of land that takes so long to cross.

Saturday, August 03, 2013


The past two months have been a tumult. I spent all of June in a deep funk, with bi-weekly sobbing melt-downs and anxiety-laced dreams. My emotional state improved in July, getting trapped in the vortex of self-pity less frequently, symptoms of happiness persisting through the weeks. Now it's August, and I'm getting my mojo back if it kills me.

Reflecting on it (obsessing about it) - reading over my text messages and private Facebook notes, written to him, of course, when I was missing him - I see that I had already predicted our demise, almost from the beginning. My letters ache with pleas for more affection, for deeper connection. I read the signs of desperation, the knowing that he would never lust for me as I did for him. But the universe was responding to my request for a do-over, a re-igniting of my divine spark, and I accepted him as I would a gag birthday gift: not what I was hoping for, but given out of love, a shiny and delightful plaything all the same.

I miss him. Some moments I choke on the absence of him. It was such a whirlwind of music and laughter, life without him is a let-down. Banal. Pedestrian. Loving that manic-depressive was exhilarating. Everyone and everything else is boring by comparison.

We had an involuntary attraction, polar opposites pulled to each other like magnets. There were many, many happy days when he shined his light on me. I knew in my bones he was in love with me and I was euphoric. I was ageless and time stood still. Then the clouds rolled in and he would withdraw and shut me out. I became miserable, certain that he would realize the folly of our attachment, that he'd break the connection and I'd never feel him near me again.

The Brazilians have a word that intimately describes the feeling: saudade. It means missing someone or something, but there's an added sentiment of existential yearning that goes beyond the physical or emotional. Pronounced "Sow-DA-gee," Wikipedia says of saudade:

"A Portuguese and Galician word that has no direct translation in English . . . it describes a deep emotional state of nostalgia or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return . . . In fact, one can have saudade of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future." 
I feel saudade for my divine spark. I called him my divine spark, although I recognize intellectually that it resides within me, that he just brought the lighter. But, emotionally, I know that loving connections are the torch that lights a meaningful life.

My cup has been filled to the brim with loving connections. And I don't mean to sound like an ingrate: I love and appreciate my friends and all the beautiful people who have shared my life's journey; I don't trivialize or take for granted my friendships. But, while there have been many men who claimed to love me, no man has gone out of his way for me or made an effort to cultivate a partnership. No man has stepped up for me.


And letting go of yet another lover feels like letting go of the chance of love ever shining on me again.