Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Journals from Porto Alegre

April 20th, 2013

I meet Laurie on the bus going to the hostel. She has an average face but the hairstyle brings out something special in her. She sits down next to me and we start talking. She’s from Goiana, but lives in Porto Alegre working as a hairstylist. I tell her where I’m headed. Cidade Baixa. She lives in the same neighborhood.

She gets off the bus and offers to walk me to the hostel. Along the way we talk about philosophy and literature. She mentions Freud. I say something about Nietzche. She says she reads Agatha Christie. I tell her my favorite writer is Bukowski. She tells me she’s never read him. I tell her she should.

I get my first text message later that night while eating pizza and pasta engrossed in cheese, meat and salt. 

“Hello Dear. We might go out to the bar, ‘Dirty Old Man’ tonight” it reads. It’s from Laurie.

“That’s the name of a Bukowski novel,” I reply.

She sends me a laugh in return. “I had no idea,” the text says. “I’ll have to check it out.”

We try to go in later in the evening but it’s too packed. A cute girl with a feather earring is standing outside smoking a cigarette. I shake off the dust and try my best line. She makes an absolute fool out of me. Oh well, it’s been a while. We still got four days.

April 21st, 2013

I meet Tina Felice at the fair in Parque Rendaçao. She’s selling art at one of the stands and this large painting of a woman catches my eyes. The colors, the expression, the centering of light, all of it is just perfect. I walk up to the woman sitting behind the curtain and ask if this is her work. She nods. I notice that she has achondroplasia, her condition fated her to dwarfed arms. I wonder how she was able to create such art with the handicap, but a true passion to create art will surpass any handicap.

The painting is too expensive for me but I tell her that I’d like to see her other work. She hands me a card to her studio. I think I’ll go visit someday while I’m here.

I walk through the rest of the fair, pick up some some coasters made of paper-maché and a mask made out of a calabash shell. At this point I’ve lost all my friends so I find a tree and sit under it. I read some Bukowski and fall asleep for an hour. Probably the best rest I’ve had since I’ve been in Brazil.

I walk back to the hostel and I see the feather earring girl from last night sporting a “Dirty Old Man” t-shirt. Apparently she works there. She remembers me and is much friendlier this time. We have casual banter and she points me in the direction of Usina de Gasõmetro to see the sunset. A friend and I go to meet Grasie, another girl I met who is working as a clown in Rio. She’s quite lovely and her playful personality eases the day. The sunset is beautiful and we spend the rest of the late afternoon browsing comic strips pasted on the walls of what used to be a large shipping dock. We stroll the streets until we return to the neighborhood of our hostel. We all part ways, promising to reconnect in Rio. My friend and I return to the hostel and regroup with the others. We all head out to “Dirty Old Man”.

I see Laurie sitting at a couch with about seven other women. I walk up and tap her on the shoulder. She’s excited to see me, introduces me around the circle as “the guy she’s been talking about.” I look up and see a giant portrait of Charles Bukowski smoking a cigarette and talking to a person I don’t recognize.

“THAT’S Bukowski!” I say to Laurie.

She tells me the entire bar is based on his work. I look around and there are portraits of him plastered all over the bar. The bookshelves behind the couch are filled with his work. I’m in absolute awe. I run upstairs to my friends and babble like a child with excitement. I tell them about how I first discovered Bukowski from a promise to write someone a three page excerpt in the style of their favorite American writer. Being Austrian, she didn’t know any.

“Bukowski,” her friend chimed in. “You’ll like Bukowski.”

Alright. Bet. I went home and picked up Women, Love is a Dog from Hell and Ham on Rye as research material. The rest is history.

As I descend the stairs I see Laurie sucking face with one of the girls. Hm. Doesn’t really surprise me to be honest. I go back and talk to Laurie as if I didn’t see anything. Laurie grabs my arms and begins pointing at each girl on the couch like a game of "Duck, Duck, Goose". 

“Gay, gay, gay, she’s bi, and those two are hetero,” she tells me. She gives me a wink with the last two. I’m really starting to like Laurie.

I ask her how gays are treated in this city. She shrugs and gives a so-so response. I ask her about her love life. She tells me the gay community here is all about sleeping around, that there is some preconceived notion that if one is gay, one must also be promiscuous. She says she’d rather be in a monogamous relationship, but it’s hard to find. I feel a sadness in her words, like she gave up on searching for meaning in a world and just settled for the way things are. I begin telling her my own sob stories of the heart. It’s funny how when the pretense of sex is taken out of the equation, people are able to be much more honest with one another. 

“She didn’t want to come,” I say to her. “I would have paid for everything, but she didn’t want to come.”

Laurie grasps my hand and stares into my eyes. They give a look of understanding and pity. 

“Human beings are not built to take rejection,” she says kindly. Something tells me she’s speaking from experience. 

The friend she with whom she was sucking face yanks her back into the frenzy. Laurie returns to the laughter, but this time I notice a falseness to it, like she’s performing in a play she never auditioned for. Someone taps my arm from below.

“I can’t believe you don’t like Austin,” the voice says. Right. Natalie. I met her briefly in the round of intros Laurie gave when I first arrived, and gave her a look of surprise when she raved about how much she enjoyed living in Austin. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Austin (I’ve actually never been there), it’s just surprising to hear that out of all the places in the US a Brazilian could go, they’d choose a city in Texas.

Natalie and I talk about TV shows for about an hour, mostly HBO dramas. Her favorite is The Sopranos. Mine is The Wire. I give her shit for never having seen it. She gives me shit for rating The Sopranos  a 7 out of 10. We agree that Game of Thrones  is the best show out at the moment. The conversation runs well for a bit, but then it starts to die off. I quickly make an excuse and leave the bar. The girl with the feather earring throws me a wink as I pass towards the door, but I do nothing. Human beings are indeed not built to take rejection.

April 22nd, 2013

I meet Marcella behind a book of Silvia Plath and a computer screen. I ask who is reading The Bell Jar. 

“I am,” she says. 

A pair of eyes behind some thick black rimmed glasses gazes towards me. They sit on top of a mousy button nose and she smiles with just the perfect amount of overbite, just enough to see the petiteness of her teeth. She looks exactly like the girl who plays Imogen on Degrassi, my favorite character in the show, or at least the one that I think is the cutest.

I ask her if she likes poetry. She says something along the lines of, “Well yeah, I’m reading it.”

A smartass. I love it. She’s 21 and publishing a novel in two months. She wrote a book of short stories back when she was 19. She speaks English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and god knows what else. Hm. This is interesting. 

Christian walks by and we begin talking about boxing. I met Christian in the stairway in front of our dorm room trying to stream the latest UFC fight on his iPhone, and from there we find out that we both love the Sweet Science. He really knows his shit, and I don’t say that about many people I meet who talk about boxing. 

We talk about the latest fights, the Pacquiao knockout, the legacy of Floyd Mayweather Jr. We both agree that Mayweather would have knocked the Filipino senseless regardless when the fight would have taken place, but it still remains a speculation. We talk about the state of the heavyweight division and how the Klitskcho brothers, despite having an underwhelming career due to lackluster competition, are decent, intelligent people. Both of them hold PhDs in sports science and Christian and I both respect that. He has the same sensibility about boxing as I do. 

I end the conversation with Christian and have this vision of going to “Dirty Old Man” with a pen and the journal. I envision this scene of me writing in a gift she gave me before I left Seattle, working the pen in the right hand, switching between a cigarette and a glass of red wine in the left, channeling the spirit of Bukowski while scribbling sappy love poems, or whatever horrible prose one writes with a broken heart. But when I walk up the bar is closed. I decide to call it an early night.

April 23rd, 2013

I get back early from playing capoeira in the park and I find Marcella sitting behind the computer screen browsing the internet. “Look,” she says to me. She points to an internet meme that reads, “My favorite exercise at the gym would probably be judging.” She smiles a semi-sinister grin. I like her style.

I ask her what her next novel is about. She tells me it’s a love story within a love story, layered in some kind of Inception-style of format. She’s having trouble with the ending. She’s still trying to figure out how to settle the protagonist’s conflict. I ask her when the book needs to be finished.

“Two months,” she says. “But it’s going to be difficult because I’m going to Europe in July.” 

“Before you go to Europe, you should watch this one movie,” I say. “Before Sunrise.” 

“That’s my favorite movie,” she says. 

I raise an eyebrow, wondering if this girl really exists. She could destroy me, this one. One word. That’s all it would take.

She gives a quick goodbye and dashes off to her evening class. I go back inside and find Christian sitting at the counter browsing more YouTube fights. I offer that we go out. He agrees. “Dirty Old Man” it is.

I meet Lourenço behind the bar mixing drinks. A bald man with round glasses sporting a long fu manchu mustache. I find out later that he’s the owner. He tells me that he always envisioned a place where people could chill out, have a decent conversation without all the nonsense that most bars carry for distraction. He makes a round of shots and we all cheers to the bar. He wishes us a good time in the bar of Bukowski.

Christian and I head upstairs and we begin talking about something else besides boxing. 

“You’ve been traveling for 14 months,” I say. “What would you say is the one thing you’ve learned from all of it?” 

“Well, you learn about a lot of cultures,” he starts. “But you really learn about yourself. It’s reaffirmed a lot of the beliefs I previously had.”

I’m intrigued. “Like what?” I probe.

“Well, that my country is the best place in the world,” he says. 

I’m a bit surprised by that response, but sure, people have their opinions. We delve more into his theory of Norway being the best place in the world. Clean, efficient, great healthcare. It all sounds wonderful. Somehow the topic gets shifted to immigration. Christian believes that all immigrants need to assimilate into the society they are entering. I offer that new cultures are born from the fusion of immigrant communities intermixing with the old. Christian acknowledges my argument, but retains his view: if they want to benefit from the country, they need to conform. 

“None of this headrag shit,” he says. The last sentence lingers in the air a bit longer than the others. “I guess I’m kind of a racist,” he finally says to break the silence.

Kinda?” I think to myself. But at the same time, in some weird twisted way, cultural faux pas aside, I can understand the reasoning. And he stuck to his guns. I respect that above most else.

Lourenço comes to our table armed with three shots. I have no idea what kind of liquor is in those glasses. We drink to his bar. We drink to Bukowski. I point to my shirt and tell him he would like this place. The Cha-Cha Lounge. The best bar in Seattle and one place that has certainly changed my life, perhaps even saved it. It’s exactly what he described to me earlier about this place.

Christian mentions that after soccer matches the players change shirts as a sign of respect. Lourenço strips off his shirt and stands bare-chested beating his fist against his heart. I follow suit. Now the whole bar is going crazy. We hand over our shirts, put them on at the same time. “Cha-Chas” for “Dirty Old Man”. Hell yes. We close out the bar with a final shots all around.

Lourenço invites us out to a 24hr restaurant for some snacks and more drinks. He orders a round of beers to chase another round of shots. My stomach begins to grumble. There have been too many different liquors mixed in my belly. Beer, wine, liquor, and god knows what was in the “Bukowski” drink I ordered earlier. 

I scarf down the fried pastries of meat and cheese that Lourenço has ordered. Fried food. I remember once I had to take a mandatory drug and alcohol course and the instructor told us greasy food was the remedy to curing drunkenness. Bread? Fuck that. Mickey D’s all day.  

But at this point I’m drunk beyond return. I’m hardly able to walk straight and I stumble to the bathroom. I pull out my phone and begin drunk texting. Something about seeing the role she plays in my life here. It’s true. I’m starting to understand. She texts back something friendly-like. I tell her there’s a new photo essay on my site. I want to her to see it. I misread the next message. I thought it read, “Is there something between love and anger?  I shoot back,  “There’s you.

The texts stop coming after that one. I go back to the table and Christian and Lourenço are in the middle of a heated debate. Something about the historical evolution of societies and where we stand today, real Jared Diamond shit. I’m zoning out drunk in the middle of my chair, trying to feel the beats of my heart. Christian drops the crescendo and says something like, “In my country we are Vikings! All your countries are cowards!

Lourenço doesn’t find it amusing. Neither does his friend. They both stand up and push in their chairs. 

“We have to go now,” Lourenço says. He pays the bill and refuses to take payment when I approach the counter to offer my share.

“You’re cool,” he leans in to tell me. “But next time don’t bring your blond-haired-blue-eyed racist fucking friend!”

Lourenço gives me a hug and his friend shakes my hand. They give a half-hearted wave at Christian, who uncomfortably shifts back and forth alone in the street.

Christian feels bad, I can feel it. I know he didn’t mean it the way they took it, but his Scandinavian sensibility makes it sound like he did. We have a good talk on the way home about something that I can’t quite remember, but I know he thought less about what happened at the bar, so it must have been decent. We’re only four blocks from the hostel yet we somehow manage to walk eight. Some drunk homeless guy asks me for some change right as we approach the front gate of the hostel. I seriously lose my shit.

“Não temos nada!!” I spew. Fire is brewing in my breath. “NADA! NADA!” 

Spit is flying from my lips. My mouth is foaming with rabid hatred as I lunge towards the poor sap. I want to take his head off. I want to eat his heart. He has fear in his eyes and scurries away. I have no idea why I just did that. Even Christian is surprised.

“Dude. Calm down,” he says almost laughing 

I shrug it off and stumble up the stairs. I lay in bed absolutely drunk. The room is spinning. My thoughts are spinning. I put on my headphones and play Winter Song  on repeat. It’s the song that we used to wake up to together. I’d take off my wrists braces and hold her for ten minutes before she went to work, feel the softness of her skin breathe through her body. The music brings back pleasant memories that burn through my chest. I’m in a dark room setting myself on fire. I’m bent over broken crawling blindly on a jagged glass carpet trying to pick up shattered pieces of my heart. I don’t understand why we sometimes do this to ourselves. 

I get up and go into the hall. I sit on the stairwell and start reading Bukowski. I can hardly set the words straight. I read one poem: “The Night They Took Whitey”. Marcella’s name appears in the poem. It’s spelled exactly like hers. Two L’s.

My mind start wandering, but it quickly stops. No. Too soon. My heart is still too weak; it’s been trying for too long. I go back into bed and let the thoughts spin. Spin, spin, spin until I can take no more and have no other option but to fall asleep.  

April 24th, 2013

I wake up and decide to skip Capoeira in the park. I call Tina Felice instead. She happens to be in the neighborhood looking at a used car and offers to pick me up. She comes thirty minutes later.

We drive to her house about forty-five minutes outside of town. I watch her maneuver the steering wheel with her one moveable arm, in fact she really only has three functioning fingers. It’s clear that she’s learned how to adjust after all these years. She’s got it down to a science.

She unveils her workspace and it’s the shrine of an artist. There are open paint canisters everywhere, draped drop-cloths carpet the ground and catalogues of large canvases fill the room. Most of the paintings are of that same woman that I first saw in the park. She’s told me the image came to her 7 years ago and she’s been painting her ever since. She shows me her favorite one.

“I’ve been working on this one for about two years,” she tells me. “Every time I come back, I always take something away, and then I later add it back on. There’s something about this one that demands attention.” I ask her when she thinks it will be finished.

“Who knows?” she says. “Even when it finally sells, it will won’t be finished, not in my eyes.” I laugh at that concept. I tell her I’m starting to see that in my own work.

We slowly go through her collection and I sit for minutes with each one, getting a feel for our potential relationship with one another. I finally make my choice and drop more than a month’s rent on two paintings. But something about it feels worthwhile. Something about it doesn’t feel like I’m spending money at all.

We go back into the house and her maid is making lunch, so she invites me to stay. I meet Tina’s twelve year old daughter Elizabella. She’s a charming girl full of imagination and curiosity. I ask her if she’s ever thought about traveling. “Of course” is the response. Disneyland is first destination for the United States.

Tina tells me that she wants to one day take her to Spain to live for two years. I tell her it’s a beautiful experience to live and learn the language of another way of life. I ask her when she plans to go.

She tells me that she can’t leave the country yet because her granddaughter is ailing from a rare disease that is supposed to kill her. The girl is seven. Tina tells me she’s been falling in and out of comas since she was five . 

“Every time the doctors say she’s supposed to die, but she just keeps coming back,” she says. 

“She’s fighting,” I say. Tina nods. 

“She wants to live."

Tina sits me down on the couch and pulls out three albums full of her past work. She’s not only a talented painter, in fact she’s more well known for her sculptures. She’s won national grants to do public works in Brazil. One of her pieces sits in the center of the city, and others throughout Latin America and Europe. Some have even hit the States. She was once married to her professor who was competing for the same grants, she told me after she won a couple back-to-back, he got extremely jealous and started becoming abusive. To what capacity, I’m not so sure, but either way she left him for that reason.

“You sacrificed love for your art,” I said. 

“What are you talking about? He’s the one that had the problem,” she laughed. I laugh in return. I realize that I’m talking about myself more than about her. That trade is starting to show itself the longer I stay here.

Tina and her maid begin packing up my purchase. I stand admiring a small white marble sculpture of what appears to be a woman sitting in a meditative pose. I move around it, analyze it from different angles. When Tina finishes the packing she grabs the sculpture and begins to sign it.

“I’m going to give this to you because I saw that you noticed it,” she says. It has to be worth at least a couple hundred dollars.

Tina drives me back to the hostel, telling me that I’m welcomed back anytime. I think about returning and purchasing the large painting if I can manage to save up the funds. I think I’ll come back either way.

I go back inside and see Marcella behind the counter chatting with Christian. She has this guilty look on her face. I already know what it’s about.

“You forgot it, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she frowns. 

“I swear, at first I was joking about your book being exclusive, but now I’m starting to think it’s true,” I tease.

“Shut the fuck up,” she smirks.

We talk more about Before Sunrise  and Before Sunset. I ask if she’s ever seen Waking Life  and the one scene with Jesse and Celine. Of course she has.

“You know it’s funny, but my ex-boyfriend is the one that told me I need to watch that film,” she says. “I told him he needed to watch Before Sunrise. But he never did. He said it was a chick-flick.” 

“They’re basically talking about the same thing. One is just embedded in a love story,” I say.


We arrive to a quaint bookstore tiled with hardwood floors, real wooden bookshelves - old school style - and a small cafe in the back. I invite her for a coffee, learn that an “Americano” in Brazil is called a “Carioca”. Funny coincidence.

We talk about literature, we talk about love, we talk about life. We make a pact to watch “Before Midnight” together one day in Rio. There is an unearthed strength about Marcella, something really grand if she looked deep enough. There’s nothing concrete between us, just a faint connection. It’s something that could go a million different ways. For the first time I’m not “taking this girl to the zoo”. I’m not jumping six steps ahead before anything even starts moving. I just let it be. I guess this is what I'm supposed to learn.

I have Marcella sign her book and we depart ways at the bookstore. I wait in the hostel for my friends to arrive to go to the airport. I see Christian sitting in the hallway and we start talking about boxing again. This guy is one of the only other persons I’ve met in real life that stays obsessively up-to-date on random boxing news like I do. At some point it feels like a way to gloss over saying to another man, “Hey, I like hanging out with you.” My friends finally return and Christian and I promise to see each other again in Rio.

I’m sitting on the plane and somehow managed to finagle on all my artwork onto the plane as carry-on luggage. I look across the passenger next to me and look out the window. I feel a renewed energy to take on the city of Rio De Janeiro. I’m ready to be thrown right back into the shitstorm. Something about this place has healed me. Something about this city has reminded me that I have options. I can be generous. I can be kind. I don’t have to be the person I think I'm meant to be. 

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