So, I’m back in New York, freezing. And, I’ve written far less often than I thought I would since leaving for Brazil.
Perhaps it was the all-consuming language thing. Or, the heat and the culture. In all honesty, my mind felt kind of blank there, soaking up the details of my days without constant connectivity or distraction. Days of conversation passed around me unnoticed, Facebook fell dull to the colors of life before me. I rested.
But in my hours of work-less, task-less be-ing, I thought about things. Mostly, the things around me, and the questions my first-pass observations led to. Here are a few of the newbie-perception- coisas that stick in my mind, working themselves out, as my native conversation consumes and work restarts:
Brazilians smoke a lot. So many of them. Not just older Brazilians, either. I constantly seemed to see young, hip, artistic, intellectuals lighting up. They smoke like no one ever sent them the memo that it just isn’t legal, or like they can’t see the grotesque images plastered on their packs. It’s odd, though. I spent a month wondering why the message that seems fairly widespread at home, hadn’t yet arrived where I was down south: Money. It’s cheaper there to buy a pack of Derbys, than your morning pão de queijo. NY might be lagging in a lot, but our pricing thing seems right – perhaps habit truly does follow the dime.
Brazilians are incredibly nice. Incredible, to be treated so kindly, despite my minuscule understanding of their language. Never, in all my years as a nurse, have I tried so hard to help someone understand what I’m trying to say in a language that wasn’t mine. And I’m a nurse. Brazilians everywhere tried their hardest to help me understand the smallest things — to give me directions, help me order food, explain cultural nuances that this stupid American missed, and make me feel at home. Not once did I get the snippy – “Well, you’re in my country now, so speak my language,” that I’ve heard too often here. What I didn’t realize, was that their kindness, and attempt to speak in my words, came like cold, cold, cold water amidst blazing days. Beautiful, the generosity of this effort. Never again will I simply “raise my voice” in an attempt to help a foreign patient understand their care – off to the language line for me, from minute one.
Brazilians are weird about their public space. Many of the parks are ruled by the homeless, the drug users, and the prostitutes. People looking to sit on a bench and read aren’t welcome, or present. Granted, I’m generalizing. But a brief stint in a beautiful São Paulo park taught me my lesson: Within moments, I was sniffed out by a local lady…despite my school-girl attire and obvious disinterest for anything but my book, she made it clear I wasn’t welcome. This is sad to me, considering the strong relationship I have with my parks here in New York. Parks are a place to commune with your community – to listen, to watch, to meet, if you want. They are a place for exercise and solace, a benefit to life, and a chance for health in the busy city. To transverse a town without a desire to cultivate these spaces was odd…a strange testament to the community-less community there.
Brazilians are not really okay with bikers. Okay, I should rephrase. Paulistanos aren’t into bikers. Or, at least, not in the sense that New Yorkers are. I bought a bicicleta, and learned first hand that riding it wasn’t something to be taken lightly. Not only were most ruas not equipped for the physical presence of bikers, quick and reckless motor bikes whizzed by without as much as a honk, most bikers rode on sidewalks, and cars often made it clear that they resented my presence beside them. The lovely people who sold me my cool ride gave simple advice: “Just go for it. There are no rules.” Certainly, there weren’t. But it was fascinating to see the city at its initial state of evolution — New York must have been at a similar place once, before Bloomberg, before the Adventureland that Manhattan is today. Gentrification, at its earliest stages, is quite fascinating, albeit slightly dangerous.
Brazilians might not realize just how cool they actually are. I met countless Brazilians involved in the arts. Talented. beautiful, fascinating deisgners, and politicians, and philosophers. Every, single one of them said to me, “Oh my god, you live in New York? I love New York. I would die to live in New York.” My polite laughs must have translated adequately, because I never had to explain my inner confusion. Why would a country full of music, and laughter, and color, and fashion, and CULTURE that parallels, if not surpasses, that of New York, want to replace itself? The beauty of the land, coupled with the intriguing nature of the people, made me wish – so deeply – I knew the intricacies of the language. But as I saw exhibit after exhibit, I couldn’t help but notice that each and every one wasn’t sponsored by these interesting, connected, talented and sometimes wealthy Brazilians that I kept meeting, but by banks. Huh?! This world that seems só vibrant in its production of art and culture, also seems to have such little faith in itself. Instead of plunking down their reals in support of their museums and cultural ventures (like Americans plunk down their dollars), Brazilians let corporations finance their fair. A historic piece of architecture, like Casa Modernista, lays practically dormant, waiting for the funde for a restoration. I couldn’t help compare it to the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House that I grew up with in Buffalo, fully restored and functioning, largely because of the philanthropy of wealthy, interested donors. Perhaps Brazilians needs a bit of a pat on the back, or a kick in the behind: Vamos! There is work — really important work — to be done!
All in all, I loved my days in “America’s Backyard.” Which makes sense, I guess, because that has always been my favorite place to spend my time.