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I took this photograph the day after a night-long “retro” party some friends of my Quissamã “family” threw, showing a little of the aftermath of a good time. We had so much fun, laughed a lot, danced a lot, but as all good things come to an end, there inevitably comes the clean-up. As I am processing this last year, organizing all of the bits and pieces of my experience into some semblance of a whole, figuring out what I brought back with me and where I go from here, I am not rueful about clean-up duty. No, because it all was one damn good party.

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I may be away, but I’ve got Rio on my mind. This is the galera of galeras, on Ipanema beach at sunset, on our hilarious weekend in Rio back in September.

Best way to scare a Brazilian? Talk about winter temperatures in Minnesota. You can see their arm hair stand up in alarm as they physically imagine how cold it would have to be to play pond hockey. I walked off the plane back at Christmastime, thinking I was excited for this, having left too-hot-for-me-to-handle-willingly temperatures in Rio to come back to my beloved Midwest (the first time)–oh, oh……oooooh. BRRRR! This is really, really cold. Oh, I don’t have a winter jacket, that’s right. Oh, did I really think I was ready for this???  Ohhh…… There couldn’t be any in-between.

Acclimation is easier this time, as I returned to temperate Austin, TX–I couldn’t do Midwest winter just yet–but already my tan is fading. Did this whole thing even happen? There’s hardly any proof any more. Where am I? This isn’t my “home” either, but it may as well be, as I don’t really know how to answer that question, “Where do you live?”  What day is this?

I had an interview in a coffeeshop today. As I waited for my interviewer to arrive, the culture shock set in. I knew I wanted to order a coffee, but suddenly I had so many options–it was really quite overwhelming, I didn’t remember what anything was, and I went with the safe, plain coffee to easy my confusion. But what is it doing in this large cup? Do I really want this much coffee? Ooh, but it IS nice to be able to wrap my hands around the cup. Oh, it’s nice to feel like I need to wrap my hands around this cup…it is quite chilly, now that I think about it…

And then I thought about how interesting it was to me that I could throw toilet paper in the bowl, not the wastebasket—never mind that I’m confusedly conflicted every time I do it. Which way is the right way, again? So it hit me in a more obvious way that I was back in the US. But, “back” in the way that I’ve started reading another book while still not finishing or putting down the last one yet. I had a lot of time to think, the last week that I was in Brazil, and I had composed so many lovely, insightful posts in my mind, but as you will notice, didn’t write any of them down, so they succumbed to the wave of other thoughts that have overtaken me this last week. Now, finally, the first wave has ebbed and I can begin to write about the end again, as it seems, but only in-between family dinners and catching up on pop-culture via youtube. The internet is at my disposal, and I am gluttonously scouting out ideas on…everything. I am wandering around in my own head, marveling at the carpet or the mysterious–and pleasant–non-existence of ants everywhere. Assimilation back is a very curious thing, which seems so unassuming at first, but is taxing, even in its innocence. I think now that I’ve let the wave build up, I’ll have to give in carefully or be overwhelmed or jaded.

Just as I began this Brazilian adventure, I ended it “in rainbows,” with Radiohead providing the soundtrack to the touchdown back into my beloved country. I crack a smile in my bleary-eyed pre-dawn arrival as I watched the glo-stick man juggle his wands of directional power. It reminded me of that scene in Airplane, you know the one. At least I’m not the only one amused to be here.

I looked around at all my beautifully disheveled traveling companions, and thought, “This is going to be such a great day!” It’s good to be home.

. . . . .

Now that I’ve been back in the States for ..oh, let’s say a week or so…I’ve suddenly and seamlessly fallen back into a routine-less routine of sorts, at my grandparents’ house in Austin, TX. Like a gentle transition back into the familiar (not ready for the Midwestern cold yet, I’m afraid), I’m easing myself back into the “old” life (or, the old life I never actually had). It’s not hard at all. Re-living summer vacations, now with my sister living here, I am a kid again, staying up late, watching movies, neglecting this blog. In fact, I shouldn’t be enjoying this as much as I am, should I?

I talked to my grandmother’s “Book Club” about Brazil last week, while showing pictures of some of the highlights, and while talking I felt as if the whole Big Experiment was a dream, some sort of intelligence I’d gotten while I blinked, because I couldn’t have really been gone for a year, could I? But yet, I think I was. Is a year such a short period of time or do we just not measure it so exactly when we stay in the same place? Nearly the same thing happened after talking to Chelsea, one of the BFF’s, whom I haven’t seen for over a year and a half. The phone call fast-forwarded those commercials of the “dream” and I was back in LA eating ice cream with her, the last time we parted ways. No time had passed at all.

Save for the out-of-season bronzed tan, the bug bite on my leg that just won’t go away!, I have no proof, really, of anything being out of the ordinary–unless you count my uncanny craving for Mexican food…where have you been all my life?!?!–and I’m resigned to start over. I’m zero-ed out, officially a vagabond, with no official “home” but where my suitcase rests, and I’m using these days to sort through what has been a gigantic adventure for the last year. Photos, writings, everything that got tucked away or saved, half-finished–they are all subject to these new “purpose-giving” attempts. What to do with myself while waiting? It’s a time to consider where I’ve been, but more to consider where I want to go. There are so many options, many of them very good, but where, oh where, is that glo-stick guy to keep me focused when I need him?  You’re cleared for clearance, Clarence. Surely you can’t be serious….


One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain…


Boom-ba! Boom! Dum-dum-dum-da! Boom! I can hardly keep from wiggling. Most of us can’t, and it’s not entirely from the sugared treats we’ve all been eating on the plaza (yea, I saw you!). The second Boi Malhadinho group is sambando down the street, and I am absolutely amused. If I could pick a “walking soundtrack”–like a track that would play while I walked down the street in certain moods–this would be my pick for “playful.” Actually, for just plain happy.

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Get my comrade some earplugs and I think he’d be walking happy too.

Later, back at the ranch…

I went back to Quissamã for the last day of this multi-day festa, to see what happened in a small town on this Mardi Gras. When the bus pulled into town, after an all-too-familiar ride, it rolled to a stop in a decorated but otherwise deserted town. I thought, Waaait…I left Rio de Janeiro for this?!?. Resigned, I caught a ride to the beach to meet up with my friend and settle in. To my relief, that’s where everyone was, enjoying moving music from the trio elétrico moving down the street. I smiled. It was nice, after all, to be “home.”

That night, we witnessed the “Boi Malhadinho” parade, in which four competing groups parade down the passarela of main street, prancing around in a large bull costume, playing percussion and dancing while the group’s song leader sang (over and over), their samba-esque tune. Open-air party, loud music, confetti…I loved it. Happy Carnaval!!

Local kids survey the bespeckled street, waiting for the next Boi Malhadinho to pass by.

This isn’t an ordinary bull…notice the size 11 shoes it wears…Also, it’s not every day that a large beast is followed by a percussion group, samba dancers, and a carro de som, carrying the tune of this Boi Malhadinho.

Here it comes and there it goes!! Floats like a butterfly but stings like a… you get it. Ali’s not the only thing so graceful yet delivered with a powerful punch…

It’s no secret that the world’s largest party boisterously belongs to Brazil. For the longest time, I’d been curious about Carnaval, as any fan of Brazilian culture is, and after spending nearly a year here, I somehow just couldn’t let myself go home without catching the party. Thus I did what I could to stay to catch this marvelous festa, in the cidade maravilhosa.

If you know me well, you know how much I adore Halloween. Adore. Just the idea of costumes and fantasias makes me giddy with childish glee. So, imagine the excitement at finding Carnaval to be one big costume party!! Que legal!! If I had known (and I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me), I would have packed more than just my pirate eyepatch.

This pre-Lenten festival has roots in Portuguese and other European traditions, and takes a different form in all different regions of Brazil, and indeed South America. But you’ll have to go somewhere else for a history lesson. To imagine my first “Carnaval da Rua” experience in Rio, picture this: Imagine a giant (US) Halloween party gets a rockin’ percussion section from a big marching band (with our without matching attire or formal training), and then hits the streets while sometimes even a samba group sings from atop a truck loaded down with speakers rolls close behind. With or without said truck, the beats move through the streets, and so does the costumed galera around it. Don’t even think for a moment you are going to stay put and watch. This is a full participation event. We move en masse through the streets, sambando, pegando mais uma geladinha, and trying to not run into any trees or light posts in our merry-making. This, my friends, is a bloco da rua, a “block party” or Carnaval street party. There is much more to this festival than just the passarela of the Sambadromo.

Street blocos are popular in southern Brazil, but in the north, you’ll find Salvador (and Bahia at large) will rock out all night to trio elétricos, or gigantic trucks loaded up with speakers and a platform atop for a band, dj, or both. You then follow the truck–read: the party–from one end of the town to the other, all night. (*I’ve always loved this idea, creating a party in the street, open to anyone, and if that weren’t enough, let’s move it! Caraca! That’s brilliant.)  Bahian superstar Carlinhos Brown explains, “We play, not for money, but to celebrate happiness. Our carnival is a street carnival. It is for everyone, not just for those with money.”

So from 9am (yes, we were quite ambitious most days…) until late night, we hopped from bloco to bloco, dancing and reveling in the goofy parties around us. After coming back to Luiza’s apartment, we would make a snack and then watch the big samba schools desfilar on screen at the Sambadromo…which is where, my friends, I will go during my next Carnaval experience. Until then, I’ll just samba in my living room. Ah, Carnaval….why did you have to end?!

 

After parading through the empty downtown streets, this bloco ended up on the steps of a museum, which then turned into a scene out of a musical or a gospel revival, with everyone swaying, stomping, clapping, and just putting out pure, joyful energy. Maravilhoso.

Our galera, on one of the first days, before the Escangalha crew performed in the bloco that rocked Jardim Botánico that afternoon….After another five hours of dincing and parading, we assuredly did not look so nice. Man, was it fun….