We continued our journey by night in the long helicopter ride from Manaus to Natal. ‘Some purpose I have found,’ I thought. ‘Now I am running for my life, just trying to survive…’ I looked over at Luiz and Emilio, who were sleeping, and reflected back to my arrival in Brazil, my first flight, as we bumped along:
“Eyyy-haaa!” I had let out a Samurai warrior battle-cry. It was far more than the usual “Ah-choo.” It was the kind of over-the-top sneeze that would startle everyone and break the silence during a quiet scene in a movie theater, make them choke on their cokes and spill their popcorn, and now it turned heads in the seats all around me on the airplane; the man in front of me shook his head in disapproval, I watched him through the narrow gap between the seats. Again,”Eyyy-haaa!” I let out another one, for they always come in pairs.
“God bless you,” Carissia had said. “I’ve heard that a sneeze is a sign that your mind, body and soul are out of balance. Maybe this trip to Brazil will do you some good, help pull the whole package that is you all together again into one harmonious being.” She raised her eyebrows at me.
“That’s bullshit,” I said, “a sneeze is a person’s reaction to a change in the environment, such as dust in the air, or when you have the flu, or the warm sun on my face through this airplane window, with the cold air conditioning coming down from that nozzle,” I pointed up above our seats, grabbed the knob and turned the air down. “However, I do agree with you,” I continued,
“I probably am out of balance – but the sneeze has nothing to do with it, I’m afraid.”
I told her then that the sneeze cloud might be interesting if seen so close up that you could see the upside-down spherical reflections of the passengers on the surfaces of the individual sneeze bubbles. I am amused by the event of a sneeze; curious about it. Even geniuses such as Albert Einstein have to sneeze, and when they are seen in the act they look completely ridiculous, like the most silly of fools, total idiots. I’m sure that even Marilyn Monroe had to sneeze at least once in a while. She could try to diminish it into the back of a handkerchief, even make it look dainty, cute. But if captured up close in slow-motion (or better yet, freeze-frame) even a bombshell beauty looks grotesque: nostrils flared like those of a horse, face anguished, eyes scrunched, tongue between teeth with snot and spittle flying…
The best sneezes are those in which you can actually see the sneeze cloud, as in the one on the airplane that we would zoom in on to see those shiny individual translucent sneeze globules up close, with the reflected faces of the passengers, captured by the sunbeam coming through the oval window.
A sneeze is a completely spontaneous event. When it happens the sneezer is totally at its mercy at that moment, and can do nothing else but let the sneeze happen, once it is past the point of no return and can no longer be aborted by the pinching shut of the nose, the working of the mouth, or other such stupid-looking tricks. During the sneeze, all thought processes temporarily stop.
A sneeze interrupts everything. It is as if we cease to be mentally and spiritually for a moment when we sneeze, or at least enter a temporary limbo (a sort of “sneeze purgatory”). It is like an orgasm, in that sense. While we are sneezing our entire existence is momentarily “pure sneeze.” We have no past, no future, no sense of who we are, for that moment we are only “the sneeze.”
Carissia pouted and gave me a quizzical look that reminded me of Carmen Miranda, the great comic Brazilian dancer/singer from the mid 20th century. She held back her head and laughed, “Oh, Serge, you are so funny!” She pushed my shoulder with her open palm and playfully shoved me backwards.
I looked out at the ribcage of the sky that marched off endlessly into the horizon, lighter clouds drifted ephemerally above in the upper stratosphere. We caught a thermal, something even the pilots didn’t seem to anticipate, and it bore us up suddenly a thousand feet higher into the eye of God. The sun beat fierce upon my face. Glint of wing tip, buffet of cloud. I used to lie down on those clouds, spread my blanket with Aladdin, have a picnic and share it with the angels. Now I worry what might be, what will be.
A break from the routine, a chance to see how people from another culture live, to view the world from another perspective. I looked out the window at the rounded, broccoli-like treetops of the passing rainforest below. The world always looks like a diorama, a miniature train set scene, from high above. We had already been in the air for over seven hours from L.A., only a couple more hours to go before our arrival in Fortaleza, on the N.E. coast of Brazil. The rainforest had been zipping by quietly below us for over two hours, it would be another hour before it dissipated and began to give way to the seaside vegetation, palms and scrub brush of our destination. I closed my eyes and put aside my copy of Saint Antoine de Expiry’s ‘The Little Prince,’ which I was reading in Portuguese to help prepare myself for the coming months without English. Its writing style was basic and easy to understand even in a foreign language, but it contained deep and simple truths.
The complimentary scotch-on-the-rocks that the Varig flight attendants had kept coming was doing the trick; it had made me sleepy and eased my fear of flying. I wasn’t exactly afraid of flying, just a little nervous when we hit sudden pockets of turbulence. The scotch had relaxed me and allowed me to doze off. I woke up a half an hour later; we were still cruising steadily over the forest shrouded in mist.
I know we’ll be there soon. Back on the ground, people busy with their tasks. And there I’ll be, continuing my search for the common human denominator, our purpose and “reason to be.” It goes beyond love, I think, and beyond survival. It is more that if we allow ourselves to progress that far, if we push ourselves, that we will actually be able to help the universe progress. We can truly help God.
“What is really important in life, anyway? What do we really want? What is our purpose here on earth?” Carissia had asked me, grabbing me by the hand soon after we had taken off from Los Angeles. She always had tough questions for me but I liked that, it kept me on my toes, kept me thinking. I have had enough girlfriends in the past that didn’t challenge me mentally. She had a dream to open a school for underprivileged children in Brazil. She truly had a big heart. At the moment she was sleeping. I looked over at her with her head lolled to one side, sleeping like a baby. The prominent bridge of her nose stood out in the light against the dark blue seat cushion. A royal Portuguese nose, I thought. Of a royal princess –
A month in Brazil will do us some good, I mused. Relaxing on the beaches, checking out our job options for the future, maybe eventually even move there and open that school one day. I was excited and intrigued by our prospects, although exhausted by the long flight, the trapped stale air of the plane having me bordering on claustrophobic. A couple of jolts of turbulence; I sat bolt upright. Carissia stirred.
It was a white-knuckled descent as we went down steeply, a couple of times hitting violent air pockets and descending with such rapid force that it seemed we were going to crash, the passengers around us let out a unified low wail. A perfect time to see their upside down reflections on the sneeze bubbles, mouths open and grimacing in horror, I mused. To think that might be my last thought before we went into a death spiral – But then we were buffeted by light clouds, went through them, and soon we were landing. There was that moment as we were hitting the ground that I thought the plane might lose control, cartwheel and explode, but the pilot maintained control, and it was actually a fairly smooth landing. I imagined a puff of smoke as the tires hit the runway.
Out of nowhere, I felt a hand grabbing me above the elbow from behind, shaking me. “Don’t make a move.” A blunt metal object pierced my back threateningly, just above the left kidney. “Drop the gun. Easy, easy; slowly, slowly,” the gravelly voice continued, inches from my ear. He was so close that I could smell his garlic breath.
Confused at first, I then realized what was happening. I looked down at the gun in my hand. He thought that I had done it! My mouth felt like it was sewn shut and stuffed with cotton, the words just wouldn’t come out. Finally, I pried my lips open, “But-but, I didn’t do it, I only just saw it happen, right here befo—“
“Sure, buddy, I believe you. Now drop the gun or I’ll shoot, you sick fuck.” He continued to shake my arm, this time more forcefully.
Suddenly, my whole world seemed to snap, giant blinds were lifted with a crash, my vision blurred, then blinked, fluttered over sand paper into focus on the ceiling.
“Serge, Serge, wake up. Ser-jay! You’re having a nightmare,” a voice called to me. “You’re O.K. It’s me, I’m right here beside you,” a woman’s voice said softly in my ear.
Tropical birds were singing outside the window. The ceiling fan hummed overhead and cast its methodic wind down upon my slightly sweaty body, cooling me, yet unable to completely vanquish the sticky heat. Tril-eee-oh, tril-eee-oh, tril-eeee-oh! The birds went on and on. Smaller birds answered with muted little chirps.
“Whoa-what a crazy dream I just had,” I muttered. Carissia pulled closer to me, laid her head on my shoulder.
“Tell me about it,” she said, lightly stroking my chest hair.
I blinked a few times, reflecting, trying to piece it together so I could tell her. “It was so bizarre,” I began, “so surrealistic, I was flying through a clear blue sky amongst some light clouds, as if I were on the nose of an airplane, only I was free, my arms stretched out like wings at my sides. Then the sky began to freeze and change color from blue to yellow-green, break apart in glass-like chunks, scattering jewels onto the ground below. It was all falling down.”
“You are really strange,” she pushed at me playfully, her light brown eyes squinting.
“And then I was in this beige house where four innocent people were about to be killed, one man and three women. The man was about sixty-five, coughing a bit, his gray suit musty. The women, two of them girls, one about twelve, the other sixteen, were all pale and seemed to be ill: the middle-aged woman had marks about her mouth; it was as if all of them carried a disease. The whole group was scheming, and perhaps not so innocent. They were up to something but before they could do it, the gun opened fire from my point of view. Blood splattered from each open wound, hitting the walls, spread across their pale skin, stained their silky dresses, his musty suit. The smell of death hung in the air, I breathed it in, could feel it on my skin.” I straightened myself up onto my elbows, and then continued. “At the end, when you were shaking me awake, all of a sudden it was me holding the gun, as if I had done it, and your hand was a man’s hand, a cop’s, grabbing me and shaking me from behind.”
“What a scary dream,” Carissia sounded taken aback, yet interested. “What do you think it meant?”
I rubbed my eyes. “I’m not sure, but I think it had to do with how fragile life is, how fleeting, how fast it can be taken away. And those people, those innocent people who were killed in the dream, they were up to something, somehow they didn’t seem really innocent. Perhaps no one is truly innocent.”
She thought about this for a minute. “Well then, what about a baby, new to the world, who has not yet had a chance to do anything, right or wrong, who dies suddenly?”
“Maybe that’s an exception,” I offered. “Or the baby gets a second chance, is immediately reborn somewhere else, here or on another planet. I guess only God knows. Maybe only young children, or Jesus and Buddha, or people like Mother Teresa and Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, have experienced true innocence in a pure way, a sort of ‘purity of spirit’. It could be that we are all an experiment of God’s, to see if one of his creations, given total freewill in their actions, would choose to do the good in the world necessary to help sustain it.
Or maybe we are not an experiment, but are instead extremely important to the fate of the universe, that the outcome of our collective freewill choices is so important that it will determine the fate of the universe – “
“And if anyone can find the answers to these difficult questions it is you, Serge! Most of us are content to live our simple little lives and mind our own business, me included. But I do share some curiosity with you in these subjects,” Carissia concluded. “Rest for awhile, now, and breathe deeply, calm yourself,” she stroked my brow.
“Yes, but this is all of our own business!” I said, then shrugged and sank back against my pillow. I let my forehead relax and lay there contemplating the dream, still a bit shocked by it. Working my tongue across my teeth, I tasted garlic from the shrimp dish, Camarões a Alho e Óleo, we had eaten the night before, then got up to look at the Brazilian paradise. The sound of laughter came up from below the window. A couple of maids were down there in the backyard sucking mangoes. Palms and mango trees swayed in the breeze, the air was warm with the tropical morning sun. Sticking my head out the window, I looked to the right toward the patio and watched the colorful birds in their cage for a few minutes. I pursed my lips and made chirping, clicking noises in an attempt to soothe them, communicate with them, as if their song might hold a secret truth. Across the way was an undeveloped lot, park-like. Orchids clung to the trunks of trees, grew in epiphytic bunches from the crooks of branches. A flock of parakeets took flight from a nearby avocado tree, mangoes reached as high and as broad as oaks. In the mossy overhead branches a toucan pecked about, busily foraging for food. Below, I could see the maids laughing and talking, a pile of discarded mango skins and pits lying on the ground in front of them. They were poor, yet didn’t let their poverty get in the way of their happiness. One of them had curly hair that hung in untidy whorls above her shoulders. She looked up at me between slurps and smiled. I smiled back with an eyebrow raise. I had the feeling that she thought I was flirting with her and looked away as they both giggled with delight.
Why was life such a struggle for me when it seemed to come so easy for others, especially when those others were barely surviving, while I had a good job, a smart and beautiful girlfriend, and good health? Was it because they were more in touch with the feeling of true innocence, or was it something else? Where did their inner calm come from? For me happiness was an elusive thing. Sometimes I felt it, for a moment, but I would invariably fall back into dissatisfaction, as I if I could never have enough. Maybe it was because I was still searching for my purpose in life, a purpose greater than surviving and amassing wealth.
“What are you thinking, Serge, meu bem,” Carissia’s voice lilted over to me from across the room. Meu bem is Portuguese for ‘my darling.’ She sat up in bed and stretched. She looked good in her silky tan camisole, which reminded me of our passion from the night before. We had come home after dinner and made love long and intensely, till rivers of sweat had poured from our bodies.
“It’s beautiful out there,” I replied, scratching at my disheveled hair as I moved away from the window. I rubbed my three-day stubble and thought about shaving. “C’mon, let’s get going,” I changed my mind, taking my hand from my chin. I slipped into some fresh underwear, my purple shorts and a tee shirt. I looked over at Carissia as she climbed out of bed and yawned.
“I’m just dying to have some tapioca,” she said, and started dressing herself. Her skin was smooth and golden brown. I watched her change into a black blouse with a vibrant hibiscus pattern, and white cutoffs. We had only been in Brazil for four days, and she already had a nice tan. I was beginning to tan, too, although my skin was a bit more sunburned than hers. I wanted to try Brazilian tapioca, I had heard from Carissia that it was a lot different than American tapioca, which to me means tapioca pudding. That day, we had plans to drive to a rustic beach, Caponga, and spend a few days there with Carissia’s sister, Rochelle, and her husband. On the way we could stop for breakfast: tapioca and a cafezinho. I always got a kick out of the way Brazilians tacked on “inho” to the end of words as a diminutive, or to emphasize affection, in this case cafe + zinho meant “little coffee.”
I went into the bathroom to do “The Trick”. I splashed water onto my hair, patted it with a towel, then combed it back. I washed my face and armpits, put on some deodorant, and returned to the bedroom, brushing my teeth. “Wow, that was fast. Did you shower already?” Carissia asked, her voice straining a little as she did sit-ups on the floor.
“No, I just did “The Trick,” I answered. In the background, the beat of a lambada song by Chiclete com Banana played over the portable radio.
She laughed and got up. “That’s a good idea,” she said, heading for the bathroom. I followed her, rinsed my mouth in the sink, went back to the bed and sprawled out on my back, legs splayed. A couple of minutes later, I heard a horn.
“I think they’re here,” I yelled to her. Rochelle’s husband, Paulo, was honking the horn of his bugue (dune buggy) out on the street below. The street was on the opposite side of the building from our bedroom, so I lifted myself off the bed and walked across the apartment to the living room window and waved down at them in their bugue. Paulo smiled and stuck his arm out the window, waved back up to me. The street was already bustling with activity, the sunlight was bright. Vendors pushed their carts into position, some with alcoholic beverages for the coming evening, some had already set up with their newsstands, others pushed their way down to the beach, selling Popsicles and ice-cream, wheeling ice blocks. Pedestrians mingled as they leafed through copies of Veja and O Globo at the street corner, or bumped one another, negotiating the cobbled sidewalk on their way to the beach. Everything was extremely colorful; the color jumps out at you in the light of N.E. Brazil. There is something about being so close to the equator that makes all of the colors brighter, bolder, more vibrant.
I returned to the bedroom, where Carissia was sitting at the desk brushing her hair in front of the mirror. “Let’s go, before Paulo gets any more impatient,” I suggested as the sound of his horn came up to us once again from our open windows.
“Okay,” she replied. We grabbed our bags with a change of clothes and swimming suits, locked the apartment and headed for the elevator. In the lobby the doorman greeted us with a few friendly words in Portuguese, then let us outside. It was a luxury to have an apartment while we were visiting Brazil. Carissia’s aunt was very generous to have lent it to us.
Paulo and Rochelle got out of their bugue and came towards us at the curb. Rochelle and I traded kisses on each cheek, simultaneously. “Oi, Serge, tudo bom?” she offered. It didn’t appear to be ironic to her that I was an American with a Russian-sounding first name. I was actually of Polish descent; a Pollock in Brazil, imagine that!
“Tudo bem!” I returned the customary Brazilian greeting. Carissia and Paulo had a similar exchange. This is the traditional way Brazilians say hello to friends and family. Paulo and I said “hi” with a quick hug and we all got in the bugue, Carissia and I sat up on the back, holding onto the roll bar. Paulo hit the gas. We were off and rolling into the brightly colored traffic! The wind whipped in my ears. It was a good thing that we had on sunglasses. I could imagine the burning force of the wind on my eyes, streaming with tears without glasses. We passed through the pretty neighborhoods of Fortaleza. Bougainvillea cascaded over stucco walls, flowering trees arched over the street as we whizzed along, red, orange, and yellow blooms. The orange ones with lacy leaves they commonly call Flamboyant trees. With their bright, upturned, pea-like flowers, their feathery foliage reached for the sky. Bracing ourselves as we rounded corners, we soon entered the semi-rural area surrounding the city. I smiled over at Carissia and she smiled back, her long, dark hair trailing out behind her in the stiff breeze. We held on for dear life.
There was an almost overwhelming amount and variety of people, animals, buildings, and activity for me to take in all at once. Men tilling their fields alongside the highway, cattle, horses, donkeys pulling carts, bicyclists, pedestrians carrying their wares on their heads or shoulders, stores and factories with brightly painted propaganda on their walls out front. The traffic was bustling; trucks transporting bags of coffee, fruits, and other goods thundered along, often with a crew of men riding in the back, cars and bugues darted in and out amongst them like the rhythm of the samba, horns honking in warning as vehicles passed one another. Tropical trees bearing fruits of cashews, mangoes, and palm coconuts whizzed by on both sides of the road. Sitting on the back of the bugue, we exchanged looks of approval at the good fortune of our adventure, enjoying the ride.
As we drove further into the countryside, the terrain became rockier, scrub brush and palms became the dominant vegetation. We were entering the edge of the sertão, or desert, of northeastern Brazil. Here, there were only a few farms sprinkled across the unforgiving landscape, the occasional field worker plowing ahead with his gaunt cow, determined to survive. We only kissed the edge of the sertão, however, and soon we were back into more lush vegetation as we got closer to the beach at Caponga.
The two-lane highway gave way to a clay road of red earth as we exited into the village. What was once a whipping wind which rendered all else inaudible became a peaceful, warm breeze, calming, as the vehicle slowed and entered the quiet streets. A few open-air restaurants and shops passed by as we made our way to the seaside cabins.
I thought about the Movimento dos Sem Terra and Luiz: what did I really know about them? Could I really trust that the movement was true and just, and had good intentions? And I didn’t really know Luiz, he was just a friend of a friend. But what else could I do, for the time being, they were my only way out. We began to hit some pretty good turbulence; the helicopter bucked and swayed as we made our precarious way to Natal. I continued to look back to keep my mind off my current peril:
“What a fantastic trip!” I exclaimed, as Paulo parked the bugue at our ocean retreat.
“It was pretty cool,” Carissia agreed with a bright smile. “But wait till you see the beach!” she added, obviously proud of her beautiful country that offered so much color, so much life. We hopped down off the back of the bugue, careful not to burn ourselves on the hot exhaust pipe, and went to check in, eager to explore the palm-lined seashore.
On the beach we stopped at a casual restaurant, hungry and thirsty from our journey. We decided to wait until the next day for tapioca. It was already noon, and the fresh seafood at the other tables looked good. The waiter came, and we asked for some mineral water as he handed us the menus with the afternoon greeting, “boa tarde”. I kicked off my beach sandals and let my toes play in the warm sand. Paulo asked us what we would like to drink, peering at me from under the shade of the table’s parasol.
“Caipirinha,” I answered, and Carissia nodded that she would like the same. Caipirinha is a special mixture of Brazilian rum made from sugarcane-cachaça, sugar, and fresh limes, over crushed ice. When the waiter returned, Paulo ordered three caipirinhas, a cerveja ‘bem geladinha,’ and eight crabs which, in Brazil, are small yet very tasty. Paulo preferred beer to cachaça. His hair was almost black, his skin light brown. He was mulatto, as many Brazilian’s are, thin yet fairly muscular, and he had a thick, hearty laugh. Carissia’s sister, Rochelle, had hair that was uncharacteristically blonde and wavy; and a nice body, just like all the girls in their family. They both sat in the half shade of the parasol in their bikinis, the epitome of the Brazilian beauty: shapely bunda, good legs, slender waist and breasts like medium grapefruits. The four of us sat there and made small talk about the weather, the natural beauty of the beach that seemed to stretch forever in both directions, as we looked out over the crashing blue surf toward the glittering, sunlit horizon. My Portuguese wasn’t that sharp, and soon I decided to lay back and close my eyes beneath my sunglasses, take a nap in the warm sun while we waited for our crabs to come. I began to drift away as the musical sound of their language mixed with the sound of the waves, paying no attention to its meaning, only the pleasant rise and fall of its rhythm. I stirred briefly when our drinks arrived and took a sip of my caipirinha, set my drink down and dozed off again. After what seemed like about forty-five minutes, our crabs arrived. We dove in. “Me de um destes pedaços de pau,” I said to Paulo, asking him for one of the wooden sticks the waiter had left to crack the crabs. This simple request set us off into a discussion of Brazilian gíria (slang).
“Sabe que é pau duro?” Paulo asked me and Rochelle jabbed him in the shoulder and gave him a punishing, quizzical look.
“Yeah, pau duro is a piece of hard wood,” I answered. They all laughed.
“No, pau duro is slang for an erection,” Paulo explained, taking a sip from his beer as we all laughed. Carissia gave me a playful shove.
The crabs were sweet and lightly seasoned, and came served in a delicious broth of coconut, onions, peppers, and spices. On the side was some farofa, a golden, grainy, flour made from manioc root, sautéed in garlic and butter, typical in Brazilian cuisine. I dipped a piece of crab into the mixture and savored the flavor, took another drink from my glass.
“We have a lot of gíria in Brazil,” Paulo continued with the topic of Brazilian slang. “For instance, the word chifres is literally just that, ‘horns,’ such as the horns of a bull. But in Brazil if your woman ‘puts horns on you,’ botar chifres, then she is cheating on you. The origin of the expression is something like this: On the farm there are cows, bulls and also steers. The cow is female, the bull is male and the steer is a castrated male. When the young steer is castrated the effect is that he develops horns much larger than normal. He also develops more meat and is more valuable at the market but he can no longer propagate the herd. Therefore, if your woman puts chifres on you, she is putting the big horns of the steer on you, she is castrating you, so to speak, while she goes off and sleeps with the bull!”
“Thank you for your explanation, Paulo. Brazilians know that the expression ‘botar chifres’ means ‘to cheat on your spouse,’ but I didn’t know the origin of the expression,” Rochelle said, looking at him sidelong. As I glanced at her Paulo was putting his hand behind her head and making two horns with his fingers.
“It also works with women,” Paulo said as Carissia and I laughed.
Rochelle had a puzzled look on her face, then turned and saw Paulo’s hand behind her head and slapped it away. “Filho da puta!” she exclaimed.
“Ah, that’s another expression, “Paulo said. “That one means ‘son of a bitch!'”
“Serge, we have many other funny expressions as well,” Rochelle said, red-faced and chuckling. For example, although we have some gay friends and I don’t mean to be derogatory, the gíria for gays is quite amusing. A gay man is a viado, which literally means ‘deer.’ I think it’s because a fawn has such large, effeminate eyes.” Paulo nodded. “Ah, maybe Paulo is becoming one!” Rochelle jabbed him, then continued,” and gay women are called sapatão, or ‘big shoes.’ This is because they ‘wear big shoes like a man.'”
Paulo put his arm around her. “Now you have given me an invitation for amor, my dear. Tonight I will prove to you that I am not a viado!”
The afternoon started to drift away as it so often does when times are good. When we were finished with our crabs, Rochelle rose from the table and pulled Paulo up by the hand. He chased her a few paces, laughing. They said they were going for a swim. We agreed to meet them later back at the cabins.
Carissia and I offered to pay the bill, and decided to go for a walk on the beach. When we were good and hot we would go swimming, too. We headed east, the sun overhead and slightly at our backs. Off in the distance I could see a group of beached jangadas, their vertical masts stuck like toothpicks in the shimmering sand. Nearby, a group of children played in the shallow waves and pools while their parents watched, sitting on beach towels. Some teenagers were playing fresco-ball on the sand at the edge of the surf’s inch-deep blanket, which spread up the beach in sheets.
“You didn’t talk much with Paulo and Rochelle at lunch,” Carissia said, her fingers interlaced with mine.
“I know, I didn’t feel like it. I just wanted to take it all in, the sensations, the experience of this exotic place, without having to talk. The sights and sounds, the feel of the warm sun radiating through my body, the waves breaking continually in the background, hissing their way up the beach, destroying sand castles, washing up over sunbathers’ feet.” I swung my arm back and forth, her hand in mine.
“You’re having a good time,” she smiled. “But sometimes it’s good to talk, communicate. Paulo was very good to us to drive us all this way. I’m sure he’d like to talk to you, Rochelle, too. She asked me if you were enjoying yourself.”
“I love it here. It has been fantastic. Each day is full of new experiences, new people to meet and places to see. I guess I don’t always feel like saying what’s on my mind.”
“Good communication is important, Serge, especially between us. Sometimes I feel like you’re not really acknowledging my part in the conversation when we talk, letting me know that you’re really hearing me,” she looked up at me.
I bit my lip, gazed over at the beachside shacks with their roofs of palm fronds, then straight ahead at the jangadas, which were now much closer. My first impulse was to lash out, act defensive. Give me a fuckin’ break, leave me alone! I thought. Instead, I took a deep breath, slowly exhaled. “I’ll try to do a better job communicating with you, Carissia. It’s just that my thoughts are sometimes so obvious to me that I don’t feel the need to share them with you. As if they’re obvious to you, too. And when we’re with a group of Brazilians, sometimes I feel stupid. I’m probably only at the third grade level with my Portuguese, if that. It’s hard to have a genuine, adult conversation. Maybe after I’ve learned more it’ll be easier.”
“You have to practice, Serge, in order to get better. You have to let people know how you feel if you want them to know you, if you want to know them. You need to become more fluent in Portuguese. If you understand someone’s language, you can speak to their heart.” She squeezed my hand, then let hers loosely fall away.
“I’ll try harder,” I looked into her eyes; she was right.
She seemed satisfied, and nodded.
The beached jangadas were now directly in front of us, another one was just coming in on the breakers to our left. Two men ran past us, kicking up sand, and splashed into the shallow waves to help them beach the boat.
Jangadas are wooden sailing vessels about fifteen feet long by six feet wide, stoutly constructed, but small and vulnerable to the rough surf and open sea they often have to face. They look more like rafts with sails than a typical sailboat. The owners usually build them themselves, or at least constantly work on them. In the mornings you can hear the rap-rap-rapping of their hammers as they make repairs under the shade of palms along the shore.
“They’re coming in with their catch,” Carissia explained. “Let’s watch them bring it up to the beach.” The waves crashed against the jangada, making it difficult to negotiate. The two men from shore waded in past their knees and struggled to grab hold of it to help drag it up onto the beach, while the two jangadeiros on board did their best to guide it in. Finally, they had it halfway up on the wet sand. They shouted instructions to one another. Two of them scrambled up the beach to the high, dry sand and grabbed four logs, then ran back to place them under the boat, rolling it up onto them. A crowd of locals watched, anxiously waiting to see what the fishermen had caught.
They formed a circle to the left of the jangada. The villagers looked to be of simple means, yet no one acted desperate. They stood patiently, each waiting his turn. One jangadeiro stood up on their boat, his partner threw a tarp down onto the sand. A series of dark hands reached out, helped spread the tarp out to its full width. Then, a few at a time, the fishermen began throwing the fish down. They bounced and wiggled on the tarp; sea bass, grouper, sunfish, eels, blowfish, and all kinds of other fish I didn’t recognize. Pointing to a group of onlookers, a family, sometimes a single person, the jangadeiros doled out their catch. I had a feeling that the fish they were giving weren’t merely gifts. Those sea bass there were for the shopkeeper who supplied them with rice and beans, that eel and grouper were for the mechanic who fixed their brakes, and so on. I stepped back and took a picture of Carissia as this process unfolded in the background. She looked back at me with a half smile and a raised eyebrow, her light tan contrasting with the darker bodies in movement behind her, their skin seasoned by three hundred days a year of hot sun. We left them there to finish their ritual.
It was time for a swim. We ran down to the water and jumped in, playing like dolphins in the waves. It was our first swim in the Brazilian ocean together. The water was cool and refreshing. I dove under and over and under again, chasing her, dodging her, only to rise up together and kiss deeply, our tongues dancing. It was invigorating, alive.
Afterwards, we didn’t bother to towel off, started back up the beach to our cabin. The sky and the waves were painted purple and pink, the sun hung low above the water.
“Those people are so happy with so little. They’re always smiling, have good attitudes, don’t seem to be in a hurry for anything,” I said. “They don’t have much, but that doesn’t matter. They’re satisfied with their lives of the sun, food from the sea, their frugal homes, cachaça, and each other.” I kicked at a seashell with my beach sandal as we walked.
“Yeah, it’s pretty primitive here,” Carissia agreed. “They get along just fine with the simple things in life. But the life of a jangadeiro can be very hard.
“Why is it, with all the material wealth we have in America, I’m still so easily dissatisfied? Why do we always seem to want more?” I asked.
“That’s why it’s so good to come to a place like this to help put our lives in perspective,” she said, as we made our way across the firm sand. The tide was going out.
That night we wound down in our rustic beach cabin. After a long day of body-surfing, beach walks on the white sand, and lazy hours cracking fresh crab at the beach-side restaurant, it felt perfect to take a shower with a gorgeous woman. We lathered each other up from head to toe, using our special herbal Brazilian Phebo soap. The smoothness of the water on our bare skin gave us the uncontrollable desire to explore each other, unrestrained. Salt washed away from our bodies, the cool water felt wonderful. We exchanged long, swirling kisses, our bodies pressed close against the burgundy tiles. Carissia’s mouth and fingers were electric, their current ran through my body as we passed our hands all over each other, our arousal awakening more and more with each erotic moment. Pushing in and out of one another against the dripping wall, we made love endlessly, time had stopped, the water running forever around us, down onto us, like a thousand tropical rainstorms. My soul probed and searched through her body, exploring its furthest reaches and grew, while at the same time I felt hers course through mine. We could feel ourselves as one, complete. Afterwards, we lay down on the bed and talked for over an hour, then fell asleep, content, in love.
The next morning we were awakened by rustling, banging sounds on our roof. “Zeca! Zeca!” one of the men up there shouted to his co-worker. They were probably repairing some of the palm fronds that had blown loose. I rolled over, trying to ignore the racket, but it was no use.
Suddenly, Carissia sat bolt upright. “What the hell is going on up there? What time is it?” she blurted out, sleepily.
“Six-thirty,” I answered.
“Jesus Christ,” she said, getting out of bed and walking over to the window in her bare feet. “Ey! Ey! Seus trabalhadores, tem gente dormindo aqui em baixo! Parem com esse barulho!” she shouted up to the roof. (Hey you workers, there are people sleeping here below! Stop with that noise!).
They stopped, quickly clambered down, but we were already too disturbed to go back to sleep. We resigned ourselves to get up, dressed and went outside. Carissia climbed into one of the hammocks on the patio, I looked around the garden and rubbed my eyes. Palms overhung a nearby lagoon, hummingbirds and butterflies darted in and out of the flowering shrubs that bordered the lawn. I swung my legs into a hammock and dozed off near Carissia. Thus begun a blissful day that was much like our first in Caponga, only this time we spent the day alone and disappeared up the beach.
The text above is the third 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! This chapter in the original is called “Jangadas (Little Rafts).”
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