I had a love so strong that nothing else mattered. Carissia was more important than anything else in the world to me – but had I made a mistake? I felt the longing of separation, like I had been ripped away from her at the heart. When would I see her again? I put down my notebook and looked out the window as we hummed along above a thin layer of clouds in a Gol Airlines 737. Luiz dozed off at my side.
How fortunate I was to have been invited to tag along and watch this film shoot behind the scenes with him. It was like being invited to accompany a well-known reporter of a major network doing a documentary in the U.S., O Bloco (The Block) was that big. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
I reflected back; Christmas and New Year’s had passed at a whirlwind pace. In retrospect the first part of my trip to Brazil seemed to have passed by so quickly, fleetingly, but while those precious times were “in the moment,” while they were happening, time had passed so slowly. At the time I hadn’t realized how important they were, but now I did:
We had gone up to the favelas (slums) at the outskirts of Fortaleza, as Carissia had organized for us to do. She had a big heart, and was always helping the needs of others before those of her own. With her brother, Francisco and his wife, Gabriela, her sister, Antonia and her boyfriend, Juliano, Carissia and I had taken baskets of donations given by her whole family and brought them to a church up on a hill in the heart of the favelas, on the edge of town. Padre Solário met us at the doorway on a bright Saturday afternoon, dressed in his formal priest’s collar. He smiled and led us into the church with an outstretched hand, beads of sweat glistened on his forehead in the midday sun. “Obrigado,” he nodded in thanks, as we set down the baskets of food and clothing on the cool stone floor. “Deus lhes abençoe (God bless you), he rubbed his hands together and then shook each of ours.
Francisco mentioned that what we were doing was only a small thing to help the poor.
Padre Solário smiled, “Não, não, não,” he said, “If everyone would do what you are doing, there would be no more poor and hungry people.”
“And then you would be without a job!” Gabriella offered.
Padre Solário’s smile broke into a laugh, the sort of chortle that makes everyone join in. Juliano, with his contagious hyena laugh couldn’t help himself, and as he guffawed, Solário answered, “Não, I would still have a job, because the rich need more praying for than the poor, the rich are full of pecados (sin)! In that department they are usually far worse off than the poor!
I laughed so hard there were tears in my eyes, their laughs were contagious, it was ironically funny, and the fact that I actually understood their Portuguese made it even funnier. All of us were laughing. I looked around at all of the childish, red faces sharing a moment of joy. Joy of life, of possibility, a wave of emotional high. I wiped the tears from my eyes. I had never thought of myself as wealthy. But in comparison to the people that would line up here outside this church in the favelas, these poor souls that collected recyclables from piles of garbage and begged for change because they had nowhere to work, nowhere to go, I most certainly was rich.
Up the street I saw a mangy dog scamper across the cobblestones; he began to hump a dirty female dog on the other side, whose nipples swayed as she panted in struggled acceptance to his sticky sex. A group of half-naked, filthy boys chased and kicked a can and beat it with a stick as they ran by, yelling and pretending to play futebol (soccer). The houses on either side of the hill were shabby and beat up, doorless and forlorn. The breeze wafted the stench of garbage and old urine up the cobblestone street. The atmosphere had changed from lighthearted to dark, although the sun still beat bright and hot. An uncomfortable silence fell all around us. As I shuffled my feet Antonia offered the first “goodbye” to Padre Solário, and one by one we embraced him.
“Tchau,” I said, as I got in the car. We had done a good gesture, but so much more needed to be done.
Luiz stirred at my side but did not awaken. A shaft of light covered half of his face. I slid the oval window blind down, looking out over the sun-glinted wing before I did so.
New Year’s Eve had been a blast. Most of the time Carissia’s family spends it at a beach outside of town, like at Taiba or Canoa Quebrada. This year, however, we passed the New Year in Fortaleza at the exclusive Clube Real. It was fancy and glowed with wealth. All of the men were required to wear white slacks with white button-down shirts, the women wore white or silver dresses. Waiters in black tuxedos circulated amongst the hundreds of tables, carrying trays laden with champagne, scotch and tira gostos (hors d’oeuvres). Beautiful Latina women in slinky evening gowns were all around. “Eye candy,” I thought, but I only had one love, I reminded myself, and she was right there clinging to my arm.
“Careful,” Carissia teased me, “there are lot’s of good looking men here too,” she read my mind.
We kissed and danced and toasted the New Year with champagne. We drank scotch whiskey and circulated through the crowd of well-to-dos. The shortest and ugliest of the men must have been the richest, they were with the most gorgeous of the women. Carissia knew many of the revelers, and introduced me as we went costurando (weaving) our way through the crowds of tables. A live band burst into song on the stage over by the pool, which had been covered by a translucent dance floor that was lit from below by colorful, underwater lights. There was no roof over most of the club, it was too hot and dry to be walled inside, and the weather was warm, even at night. The stars shined above and all around us, glittering jewels and smiles, the flash of sequins amongst the granite pillars of the atrium.
The plane bumped a few times as we hit some turbulence. Luiz woke up next to me and rubbed his eyes. We began our descent into the city of Belém:
As we walked along in the revamped port of Belém, Estação das Docas (Station of the Docks) complete with new restaurants and shops, in the remodeled shell of an historic maritime building, Luiz explained to me, “We’ll only be in Belém for a couple of days. It’s the perfect starting point to film our documentary, being that it is the port of entry at the mouth of the Amazon River. This is the last city near where she flows into the ocean, this is where we must first get to know her.”
I nodded as we walked in the hot sun past orange and yellow flowers in the well-kept gardens between the buildings and the piers. Fishing vessels and tour boats were docked along the concrete promenade. The river was so wide and long that it appeared to be the sea. It disappeared into the haze off to the right and the far horizon across its width was a barely visible diffused line of the forest. “This river here is actually the mouth of the Rio Guamá, where it gives into the Amazon River, out there,” Luiz said with a wave of his hand.
“Why is the water so brown?” I asked, pointing out over the river and into the indeterminate distance.
“The Amazon and its tributaries are full of sediment,” Luiz answered. “It is the greatest river in the world, containing more fresh water reserves than anywhere on the planet. It dumps its huge load of sediment where it actually meets the sea, three hours by boat from here, at the Ilha de Marajó, a gigantic island formed by a millennium of silt deposits, and a natural wonder.”
We walked along, and the chic restaurants and shops gave way to a rustic market with tented roofs, full of hawkers selling their wares.
“And now, what is this?” I asked, taking in the sights, smells and sounds all around us.
“The Mercado Ver o Peso,” Luiz answered (Literally, the ‘See the Weight’ Market). Dozens of fresh herbs hung in bunches upside down at eye level, racks of powdered remedies and vials of potions were called out by the vendors as we passed; tables of mangoes, cashew fruits, ata, sapoti, pineapples, açaí, cajá and bananas were all brightly displayed. “A huge variety and quantity of natural products that come from the forest surrounding the length of the river are traded here. This one is especially popular throughout Brazil,” he grasped one of the hanging sacks that contained a fine brown powder. “Guaraná,” he said. “Very good at keeping you alert, like coffee, and it is said to have many other beneficial effects for the health of the mind and body.”
I had seen Guaraná sold as a soft drink in stores and restaurants, and even in the U.S. it had begun to make an entrance as an ingredient in smoothies and power drinks. “Quanto e?” Luiz asked the vendor, pointing to the sack he held in his hand (How much is it).
“Sete reais,” the vendor answered, and Luiz got out his money.
“Tomorrow I will make a vitamina, a breakfast drink of fruit, yogurt, milk and guaraná powder, to give us energy before we start a long day of filming,” he said.
“Sounds good to me,” I said, looking up to see two beautiful mulatta (brown-skinned) women smiling at us, who had been checking us out.
“Oi meninas,” Luiz grinned (Hello girls) as we approached them, looking over one in particular who wore an extremely low-cut purple blouse. It was unclear as to whether he was saying hello to the two of them or to her breasts.
“Olá,” she coyly returned, and her friend smiled at me.
“Tudo bom?” she offered.
“Tudo bem,” I said. They were lightly perfumed, clean as a tropical beach after a morning rain.
“Look here, girls,” Luiz said, “tomorrow my friend here, Serge, and I will be filming for television not far from here at Praça Dom Pedro II. You’re welcome to come and watch the action, we begin shooting at 9:00 A.M. But now we must go. We have a busy day tomorrow to plan for.”
The sky was tinged orange with the arrival of dusk and rain clouds were moving in.
“Até amanhã?” he asked, holding out his hand (Until tomorrow?).
She offered hers and they shook hands. “Até amanhã,” she confirmed, her perfect teeth shined brilliant white against her smooth brown skin.
“Como se chama?” Luiz asked.
“Fabiana,” she answered. “And this is Carmen,” she introduced her friend.
“Muito prazer” (Pleased to meet you), I said, taking Carmen’s delicate hand in mine and looking into her beautiful brown eyes. Her enchanting perfume reminded me once again of coconuts, citrus and the sun.
“Tchau,” they turned to go and Luiz winked at me.
“The women of Belém are pretty, and most of them are of very little means. I’m sure they will come to watch us film in the morning, they’ve nothing better to do.”
I saw the last flash of Carmen’s multi-colored blouse and Fabiana’s papaya-colored skirt as they gracefully disappeared into the throng of the market.
Luiz woke me up in the morning with a knock on my door at 6:30 A.M. “Tem que se aprontar,” he said, and went back to his room, shaving. I complied and got ready, then went down the hall to knock on his door. We were staying at a downtown hotel complete with kitchenettes. “C’mon in,” Luiz greeted me. He handed me a glass of delicious-looking pinkish-orange liquid. “Tome sua bananada,” he said. (Take your bananada). I took the glass and slowly drank it down. It tasted of bananas, mangoes, and other mysterious fruits, and a hint of something herbal, it must have been the guaraná. I felt a surge of energy rush through my veins, like caffeine, only different. “Do you like it?” he asked.
“Very much,” I smacked my lips with satisfaction and set the glass down.
Praça Dom Pedro II was already hot and humid at 9:00 A.M. by my standards, although Luiz and the rest of the film crew wore slacks and long sleeve dress shirts. They were barely sweating. I stood in the half shade of one of the castanhola trees that lined the square and watched, the buzz of the cicadas up in the trees increasing in volume as the temperature rose and the sun went up in the sky. Perspiration ran down my back inside my loose-fitting short sleeve shirt. The ground was still moist around the bases of the tree trunks from the rain the night before. The cobblestones at the center of the square where Luiz was speaking were dry and radiated shimmering heat. I scratched at my thigh below my Bermudas.
“It is only fitting that we begin our investigation into the fate of the Amazon here in Belém, one of the oldest cities in Brazil, founded in 1616, and historically the most important trading port on this magnificent river,” Luiz said into the microphone. “Here, at Praça Dom Pedro II, surrounded by historic government buildings, we are reminded of our beginnings as Brazilians. Dom Pedro II proclaimed our liberty as freedom from the reign of Portugal, so too, we must maintain the freedom of the Amazon. But freedom at what cost? That is the question we must ask ourselves and the rest of the world.”
He went on to mention more details about the impact of trade on the economy of the region, on Brazil and the world, and the future importance of the river as a natural resource. The vast number of species of plants and animal and their importance as foods and remedies, cures for diseases such as cancer, as well as those that may yet be undiscovered that could be, were also part of his presentation.
“These are all reasons why the natural beauty of the Amazon region must be preserved,” Luiz said, “not just so that she may be enjoyed as the natural wonder that she is, but for her ongoing benefits to this country and the world.” He cleared his throat. “But there has been a dark side to the growth of trade and exploitation of the region.”
“There have been many clashes between the MST, Movimento dos Sem Terra (Landless Worker’s Movement), and the government and wealthy landowners. The government has largely supported the landowners. One of the worst cases of violence, the massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás, even received international attention,” he continued. “On April 17th, 1996, the military police killed 19 rural workers during a peaceful march in this very state of Pará. And that wasn’t the first time this has happened. In 1995, the police entered a camp in Corumbiara at four in the morning, where 2,300 people were sleeping. There, eleven peasants were killed, including a seven-year old girl who was shot in the back. And there have been many more killings since then – “
He put his microphone down and the camera panned across the square, the pillared ancient buildings; shaded benches and the small grove of trees in the center of the plaza behind Luiz, the surrounding crowd and daily hustle-bustle, to the port buildings and the scintillating water of the vast river beyond. “How did I do?” Luiz asked, reaching out his arm as he walked up to me.
“Muito bom, muito bom!” I said. (Very good, very good!). It was a great beginning.” I shook his hand. He introduced me to the cameraman and the film crew, his counterpart who split time with him, Emilio. I looked beyond them and saw two attractive women in the dissipating crowd who were smiling and waving over at us. It was Carmen and Fabiana. I grabbed Luiz’s elbow and pointed over at them.
“C’mon. Let’s get a cool drink,” he said, and winked at me.
That night we went to see a classical music performance downtown at the famous Teatro da Paz. It was a historical theatre borrowing from the baroque tradition in Brazil, constructed at the latter part of the 19th century, and situated in a beautiful park encircled by stately mango trees, the Praça de República. Luiz had bought tickets and invited Fabiana and Carmen. Carissia wouldn’t have liked it, but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. I had called her upon our arrival in Belém and told her that everything was okay.
The theatre was ornate and well-preserved. A huge fresco covered the wall behind the stage and depicted the founding of the Republic of Brazil. The original gallery seating of rich, dark wood had been impeccably restored. Gold ornamentation of neoclassic Italian design adorned the archways and railings throughout. We sat in the middle of the theatre about two-thirds of the way back. The women in the crowd wore short, elegant evening dresses that glistened and shined in the lights. Reluctantly I had joined the status quo of the men in attire, and was a bit warm in my slacks and long sleeve shirt in the eighty degree evening heat.
Up on the stage the avant garde classical pianist, Airto Moreira Lima began to play. He immediately pounded away on the keys, throbbed low and deep with rumbling bass notes that ached in my bones and resonated in the theatre’s thick wood, then with a flash of his eccentric lion’s mane hair and a fling of sweat he went up the scales like fluttering castanettes till fast in his fingers birds chirped and shrilly sang out the high notes. The theatre whirled all around me and I felt lost in a dream. Images flashed before me and against the frescoed ceiling, the ornate curtained walls. Making love to Carissia on the rocky shore of a Canadian island, riding in a dune buggy on the beach, fighting with Old Hook-Nose in a dusty parking lot, sleeping in a rank jail cell on a dirty bench, looking out the window on a plane, like movie clips they all ran through my brain.
I looked over and Luiz had put his arm around Fabiana. He lightly fingered the spaghetti strap of her shimmering maroon dress and tapped her shoulder to the rhythm of the music. She leaned into his embrace. I sighed as Carmen laid her head on my shoulder. We had met them at a sweet little café right on the square for a drink after the film shoot that very afternoon and made plans for the evening. I hadn’t yet told Carmen about Carissia. I smelled her hair which had that light scent of bright citrus coconuts that I had delighted in when we had first met them.
After the show we stopped by our hotel and made drinks in Luiz’s room. He put on some Brega music and we all danced close. With my hand pressed tight into the small of Carmen’s back I could feel the rhythm calling from her sensuous hips as we danced to the traditional music from her home state of Pará. After a couple of songs, Fabiana and Luiz kissed deeply and Carmen pulled me nearer, pressing her body into mine. The sexual tension ran strong between us.
My throat grew tight, I cleared it. Just one kiss won’t hurt, I thought. I looked into her expectant deep brown eyes. “There’s something I have to tell you,” I said. “I already have a namorada, I love her very much. She is from Fortaleza, her name is Carissia.”
Carmen lightly pushed me away, and with a demure look over her shoulder she went into the adjacent sitting room. I followed her in. “I can be your namorada here in Belém,” she said, and put her arms around my waist and leaned into me for a kiss, closing her eyes. She slipped a hand across the bulge in my crotch, lightly brushed it through the thin fabric of my slacks. It was more than I could stand. I slowly bent my head down to meet my lips with hers, and as I got close the scent of her sexuality overwhelmed me. I paused for a moment to enjoy the warmth of her womanly beauty. I thought about traição (betrayal) and what it would do to Carissia, what the guilt would do to me. The guilt that I was trying to move away from, I was trying to move towards purity of spirit, to do the right thing, always – But what Carissia didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, I thought again. I felt sexual desire surge up inside me, the urgency in my crotch telling me to go for it. I sighed.
Finally, I cupped one hand over Carmen’s lips. “It’s not that easy,” I said. She opened her eyes. “In my case, I can only have one lover,” I told her. “I love Carissia with all my heart. I must be true to her. That’s just the way I am.”
Carmen pushed me away hard and stepped back, then whirled around. “You tricked me!” she yelled, wagging her finger at me, hot-faced with Latin rage. “You led me on to think that we might have something together. You’re just like all men, all men are pigs,” she pouted her ruby lips.
“I didn’t lead you on, Carmen,” I said. “We talked, we went out to a show, and we danced. When things got to the point where they might get hot and heavy, I told you the truth about my situation. Admit it, you had fun, and if you’d had something better to do, you’d have done it.”
She looked at me hard, standing tough in her high heels and short silk dress with blue fringe that kissed the smooth brown skin of her perfect thighs. I looked straight into her beautiful brown eyes and wondered if I had made a mistake. Her expression softened. She sat down on the couch and put her purse on the coffee table. “It’s just that I never seem to be able to meet the right man,” she frowned and got out a small mirror and refreshed her lipstick. She made a kissing face in the mirror and then looked up at me. “Don’t you think I’m attractive?” She straightened up where she sat, pushing out her firm chest, displaying her nice cleavage.
My heart skipped a beat. I can still go for it. She’s still game. I stepped towards her, the pull of desire welling up inside me once again. I can make love to this woman tonight and then forget about her, try to forget about her, and then go back to Carissia forever – I could do this and then somehow try to erase the guilt before I see Carissia again, and she would never know –
“Voce é tão bonita” (You’re so beautiful), Carmen,” I finally said. “But as I told you before I can only have one love. I already have Carissia, and I love her deeply.” I sat down next to her.
“Well, she’s very lucky. I wish I could find an honest man like you.” She looked sadly into the middle distance.
I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. If she only knew how close I had come to giving in to her advances! I’m no saint –
“C’mon, I’ll get you a cab,” I said. She flashed me a light smile. I took her hand and helped her up from the couch.
As we walked past Luiz’s bedroom door we could hear the rhythm of bed springs and Fabiana’s cries of passion. “Sounds like they’re having fun,” Carmen said with a roll of her eyes as we closed the door to the apartment and walked out into the hallway.
Luiz and I arrived in Manaus about 4:00 P.M. the next afternoon. He had slept in that day after his wild session with Fabiana the night before. I had spent the morning exploring Belém’s botanical garden, Emilio Goeldi, and wandered through a small museum. In the garden there were large sloths hanging high up in the trees that slowly, ever so slowly stretched their arms from branch to branch, munching on leaves. Bands of small macacos de cheiro (scent monkeys) leaped from tree to tree, chasing one another; bromeliads, orchids and ferns hung from the towering trunks. There were crocodiles in a big pond full of huge water lilies, Victoria Regia, which bloomed and had floating leaves four feet across. Giant turtles slowly sauntered by in their dusty shells near their own small pond. One of them had mounted a female and was mating her by the shore. I remembered Luiz and smiled to myself. “How was she?” I had asked.
“Fabiana has a lot of fogo (fire). She kept me up all night,” he said. She gave me her phone number. In the end she wanted me to marry her. Just another girl from the campo (country). Watch out, Serge, you might end up marrying one of these girls if you get her pregnant.”
“You should talk, compadre,” I slapped him on the back. I thought about Carissia and how she was such a great blend of intellect and beauty, the kind of woman that could both close a complex business deal on her own or turn heads at a party with her stunning good looks. Now that’s the kind of girl I could marry, I thought. I hope I get the chance –
I went into the museum and I saw a photo exhibit about the plight of the Amazon. There were large black & white photographs of vast areas of forest burning, others showed throngs of people protesting, waving their fists in the air and carrying flags emblazoned with “MST” (Movimento dos Sem Terra – The Landless Workers’ Movement). I had remembered back to what Luiz had said in Guaramiranga about the MST, and his speech yesterday at the Praça de Dom Pedro II.
Now that we had arrived in Manaus, we were much closer to a hotbed of the action. Luiz had gone down to a meeting room at the hotel’s convention center. O Bloco was preparing for a photo shoot that would begin the next morning at the busy port in downtown Manaus. We were staying at the luxurious Hotel Tropical at Ponta Negra, about 20 minutes from downtown.
I walked down the wide pedestrian walk of Ponta Negra that meandered above a sandy stretch of beach along the Rio Negro. The river was dark with sediment and tannic acid, hence its name. The acidity off the water virtually eliminated mosquitoes, and the river was so wide and deep that there were no piranhas here. These viscous fish prefer the igarapés, shallow, interconnected rivulets that snake their way through the forest and give into the larger river several miles from here. Downriver the Rio Negro joins the Rio Salimões at the Encontro das Águas (Meeting of the Waters). The two rivers are of completely different colors, one dark, almost black and the other a light reddish-brown. Because of their individual chemical compositions, the waters are reluctant to mix. The striking contrast where they meet forms a distinct dividing line that remains for hundreds of meters, the waters of the Rio Solimões remaining a silvery black against the ruddy brown of the Rio Negro. The Solimões is not acidic, and therefore is full of mosquitoes along its shallow banks upriver, Luiz had explained to me. We would avoid it so as not to contract malaria or dengue, he said, and instead would spend a second day of filming up the Rio Negro at the Hotel Arara, built completely on a high network of piers to allow for the great fluctuation in the depth of the water, from the dry season to the rainy months. Its rooms were built on stilts, with wooden stairs and ladders that climb from the piers up into the trees, like an elaborate collection of sophisticated tree forts.
I saw the groups of couples walking hand-in-hand above the beach of Ponta Negra, and longed for Carissia’s touch. I would call her and tell her that I loved her and missed her that very night, and that everything was alright.
The port of Manaus was busy the next morning with fishing boats and multi-leveled passenger vessels strewn with hammocks that made overnight voyages downriver to Belém and upriver deeper into the forest. The Amazon, in reality, is a network of hundreds of smaller rivers that all join into one, spreading like intricate veins into the surrounding expanse of lush vegetation. We went down to the maze of docks and got to a wide central platform where you could look back to the shore and the city. I stared across the docks at the yearly high water marks posted on the massive concrete shore wall. It was now the dry season, the water was low. I half listened to Luiz speaking of the river’s grandeur. They were filming his speech from here to be part of the O Bloco (The Block, the National Brazilian News Channel) documentary about the Amazon situation. He was now discussing Manaus’ importance during the 19th century when rubber was extracted from the trees of the Amazon, and the city’s current advantage as being the jumping off point for environmental tourists’ excursions deeper into the forest. But what really interested me was our trip scheduled for the next morning, when we would go upriver many miles to get a true taste of the region’s wild, powerful, natural beauty.
The text above is the first chapter of “Brazil, Awaken!”, Scott Kerwin’s adventure romance novel about the personal discovery of passion, enlightenment, and red hot Latin love, all set in a beautiful Brazilian paradise! The chapter in the original is called Encontro das Águas (Meeting of the Waters)
It is loosely based on his own personal adventures in Brazil; fifteen separate trips of a month or more over the last fifteen years…here unfolds the mystery of the MST, the landless workers movement in Brazil, passionate encounters with Brazilian women, and the discovery of what is really important in life, how we can truly help each other to make this world a better place!
The author is currently working on finding agents and publishers for his book. He is an American married to a Brazilian woman, knows Brazil and understands Brazilian culture well, and speak Portuguese fluently. You can contact him at: Criscott93@aol.com or call 206/669-8722.
Copyright 2009 Scott Kerwin