Monday, November 21, 2011

Goodbye, Rio


My last act before stepping into the airport check-in line was to hand over my cell phone, which left me suddenly stripped of my connection to the outside world. No more idle Facebook status updates, no more tweeting stray thoughts in efforts of turning them into profound revelations. So I´m back to the old fashioned and forgotten past-time known as blogging.
My last days in Rio were rushed, cluttered with absurd paperwork that I actually managed to turn into a story, and shrouded in cloudy skies, a cold breeze and driving rain. This left me without the time or disposition for nostalgic goodbyes or accumulation of saudades for the place I was about to leave. In the preceding months I had kicked around the idea of a Rio “bucket list” of all the things I never did in the city that I could go ticking off in the waning days and weeks. It just didn’t work out that way. There was too much to do to keep adding last minute adventures.
I did feel a few tugging heart-strings in the final days. I remember in the newsroom seeing out of the corner of my eye one of those panoramic Globo helicopter shots of the entire city, the lagoon flanked by the mountains and Corcovado keeping watch over Guanabara Bay. Am I really leaving this? My next thought was something like Wait, did we have to get the shipment manifest notarized before we take it to the consulate?  And so it went. Between the rain and the stress of moving, we didn’t shed a tear for Rio, as my wife wisely quipped.
Over the last couple days I got a few more of those “What’s wrong weeth you, Steeeemppy?!?!” sort of comments, but at this point I’m shrugging them off. Yes, I’m happy to be going back to Venezuela, no they didn’t twist my arm, and no I’m not clinically insane. If you want to know more, please ask.
A thought I had the other day summed it up for me – O Brasil nao precisa mais ninguem torcendo por ele. This is the famous “hora do Brasil,” the time when Brazil’s finally emerging from so many years of having everything go wrong. Or to put another way, the crowd of multicultural globe-trotters who were as fascinated by the country’s folkloric economic chaos as its music, dance and culture has been eclipsed by bankers, industrial magnates and project developers who want to make money off the place.  Brazil’s got enough fans. It doesn’t need more people rooting for it. The country is living its equivalent of the U.S. post-World War II economic boom. There are a lot of other places on the globe, including my home country, that are in need of the sort of optimism Brazil lives and breathes today.
At the same time, my fascination with distant and exotic places will put Brazil on my radar screen in a way that it wasn’t while I was living there. Yes, I’ll admit it. I spent a good portion of my first months in Rio studying Arabic and reading books about China. Eventually, I figured it out, and started a blog. And toward the end I was finally watching Brazilian football and actually kinda getting it (I didn’t manage to watch last night’s Vasco game, but did see bits and pieces of it from TV screens in corner bars while walking through Copa, and then concluded they had won from the fireworks and celebratory shrieks).
And my good friends EM and AT made me a two-CD set of musica popular brasileira, the all encompassing genre that stretches from early samba and chorinho to bossa of Joao Gilberto and the bizarre rock of Ney Matogrosso. These are all the songs that I heard on the streets, and in clubs in Lapa, our would overhear through the windows when my neighbors were having a Sunday afternoon pagode. Ok, plus several thousand more songs, because this is a set of 3,500 tunes. I didn’t want to leave Brazil without knowing the words to Mais que nada (you know, ooooooooooooooooooooooaaaeeeaaaaaaaaaaaeeeeeoooooo, oaaa oaaa oaaa), but it didn’t work out. So now I’m going to learn it in exile, or diaspora, or in nostalgic ex-pat indulgence. Maybe this is a bit like how I barely dipped my toe into salsa when I lived for a year in Puerto Rico, where most of the world’s salsa comes from (feel free to complain and protest, it’s true), but really learned my way around the legends of salsa in Caracas while listening to the bootleg CDs I bought down the street from Congress.
And I hope I can jump into a few Brazilian circles here and there. I’m already part of a Facebook group for the DC Brazilian and Brazil-enthusiast community. I know there’s a small group of Brazilans in Caracas, maybe they get together and make pao de queijo and watch the brasilerao on some special cable channel, or maybe they hide in their respective circles and keep the saudadistas out.
I put it on Facebook just before I had to surrender my phone – this doesn’t feel like the end. It must mean that its not.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Getting Somewhere


Somewhere is not the sort of movie I would have chosen on my own. And I didn’t even truly appreciate it until I saw the interview with the director afterward, which is probably the first time any of those DVD extras has really done anything for me. It was almost as if I had spent an hour staring at some Jackson Pollock-type modern art painting that meant nothing to me until the artist stepped in to make it clear. And suddenly I got it.

I had expected more from a film that won so many prizes. By “more” I guess I mean more plot, more action, more tension and resolution. The movie chronicles the life of a wealthy and famous movie star who’s bored and unfulfilled. He calmly watches strippers dance for him for ten minutes or so (this is in real time in the film as well), he inhabits non-descript luxury apartments and attends parties he doesn’t seem to have much interest in. Hot women show up at his door for sex. The only thing he really seems to enjoy in life his daughter, who he has to share with an estranged ex-wife.

Sofia Coppola was trying to show the underside of the dazzling movie-stars life. Sometimes it’s quite boring, which I have to say was in many ways reflected in the movie. It literally wasn’t until the directors’ interview that it clicked for me, when she said she wanted the movie to feel something like a poem. At that point I realized that’s what it was.

And it immediately reminded me of  a book I’d once read called Songdogs, which was crafted in such artful prose that’s its general lack of coherent plot and slow-moving pace made it an almost literary counterpoint to Somewhere. My general literary impatience, much like the impatience in the rest of my life, left my friend JB surprised that I was so keen on it. I’ve had such fond memories of the book since I read it four of five years ago, mostly the scenes that the author painted and the constant unspoken tension between the protagonist and other characters including the protagonist’s father. The funny thing is that I could barely even remember much of the book’s plot, and in fact it took me quite some time to even remember the title or author. But there were things that really stuck with me. I remembered that it involved Ireland and San Francisco, and in reading the reviews more recently remembered that his father was photographer and that it also involved Mexico.

It was maybe a bizarre connection to make. Sometimes literature can do that for me. When it’s written in such a way that it feels like poetry, yet more accessible.
A mystery that you’re given some clues to rather than a blank canvas that you’re supposed to fill in with your own mind.

I guess if novels can be poetry, it shouldn’t surprise me that movies can too. I’m glad that in the end, I got Somewhere.