Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Spring!

Since surfing class was cancelled today (I don't know why the instructors thought someone of my talent and ability couldn't handle the crazy waves after several huge rainstorms, but that's another story), I have devoted my day to reading Amor de perdição. I'm supposed to have read it by Monday, and I'm on chapter 2 (out of 20), and I have to give a presentation to my class on chapter 18 on Wednesday. And since I read the chapter and a half that I have read on the bus, I didn't look up any words and thus have only a vague idea of what's going on (it's kind of a Portuguese version of Romeo and Juliet, though written in prose -- and I feel like a Shakespeare reader who only two years ago didn't know a single word of English). So obviously that's going well.

Hence today's post. I've been promising it for a few days, and you all know there's nothing I like better than a little procrastination.

The last day of winter came this week, while I was busy recovering from an unfortunate attempt at an obstacle course (more on that later). I have officially spent, what, six months in winter in the year 2009? And since I'm planning on leaving Brazil on December 16, I'll be out of here before summer even technically arrives. So in all of 2009, I'll have spent approximately two weeks in summer (and less than one in autumn -- and can you really count December in Maine as autumn?). What a year!

The first week of spring started off with a bang: a presentation in front of my Brazilian Literature class. And since, for reasons impossible to understand, no Brazilians wanted us in their group, five of us Americans in the class made our own group. And guess what? We owned them (besides the speaking correct, grammatical Portuguese part of course).

My part of the presentation involved talking about how different authors reacted to the modernization (most French-ization) of Rio de Janeiro at the turn of the century. Since being French was very chic and à la mode at the time, the government decided to build several institutions, like the Municipal Theater and the National Library, based on French architecture. Even the Avenida Rio Branco, a main avenue through centro, was styled after the Champs-Élysées (the names link to a cool comparison of old postcards). The authors I discussed pointed out that there were bigger problems to deal with in Rio, and that most of its citizens couldn't even  afford to benefit from things like theater. The title of our presentation, a quote from Orestes Barbosa, was "Há, sem dúvida, duas cidades no Rio." There are, without a doubt, two cities in Rio.

Things aren't much different today. There's the city I live in -- tall apartment buildings, some quite beautiful, many on the beach; chic hotels; cars with tinted windows -- and there's the other city -- the favelas. Rio is known for being quite distinctly divided between the two. The poorer people live on the hills, os morros, while those with more money live "on the pavement," o asfalto. The visibility of the favelas was startling to me when I first came to Rio, but after a few months here it's easier to see why most middle-class Brazilians seem to pretend they don't exist (except when complaining about crime) -- they have become part of the natural landscape of the city.

(I don't know who took this picture; I found it when googling "morro asfalto Rio")

It's harder, however, to ignore the young boys sleeping alone on the sidewalks with plastic bags stuffed in their t-shirts to keep warm, or those who chase after you shouting "Tô com fome, tô com fome." I'm hungry, I'm hungry. And then on the other side there are my classmates at my private university, the guys in polo shirts and the girls with long, straight, light hair, who play on their iPhones during class. So yeah, I'm with Orestes on this one: Há, sem dúvida, duas cidades no Rio.

But I'm getting too deep. Let's rewind to last Saturday, when I went with a group led by the international office at PUC to a eco-tourism farm. Though I can't say I really had it together the whole day (I just hope I didn't represent the U.S. too badly), it was tons of fun.

It started off at the delicious and bountiful breakfast with which we were welcomed to the fazenda after a two-hour bus ride. As the line wound around a large table of food in a tiny room, someone backed into me -- while I held a cup of hot coffee. I didn't burn myself, but I returned to the table with a huge stain down the front of my t-shirt. I went to go wash it off (leaving my t-shirt completely wet but not actually completely clean) and came back only to have a friend tell me that I also had coffee on the back of my shorts. Not sure how that got there.

So I was already soaked when we went off on our trek through the Mata Atlântica, the Atlantic rainforest. While we were protected from the sun for most of the hike, it was incredibly humid, and let's just say there was some sweat involved. The views were beautiful though, and the hike ended at a pond where a donkey was tied up next to a cooler of water. 

As we sipped our water, we were given an option: we could walk back, or wait for the raft to arrive and go back on it. There were quite a few of us there, and we wondered if we would all be able to fit on the raft. It's big, we were told, and we voted for the water route.

When I imagined a balsa in my head, the raft that we soon saw another group of students paddling around the corner towards us was not exactly what I had in mind. I'm not sure I can even use the word "paddling." When someone pointed out to Linda, the international coordinator at PUC who was with us, that those were in fact not oars but simply bamboo sticks, she cried out (in English), "Of course they're bamboo sticks, you're in the jungle!"

After the hike came a delicious and filling lunch, but not before I made the ultimately tragic decision not to put on my bathing suit before eating. We ate right next to a pool, but after I finished I found that the room where we were keeping all of our stuff was locked. So I went to play soccer with a couple of friends instead.

I returned sweaty and gross to the pool area, and saw more friends waiting in line at the obstacle course. "Come over and do it with us!" they shouted. "Do I need my bathing suit?" I yelled back. "No!"

This obstacle course was over a pond, and there were two different routes. We made fun of some Brazilians struggling over the easy route, and decided to go for the hard one. When it was my turn, I set out barefoot and without a helmet or gloves (which the Brazilian group had been given). I bet you can guess what happened next.

I fell into the water after making it maybe a quarter of the way through the course. Fully-clothed, of course. My arms and legs were exhausted and my feet were cramping and I decided the pain was stronger than my pride, so I let myself fall off the metal triangle section of the course (and no, I was not the only one to fall off). So I'm going to delay my plans to audition for the next season of Road Rules or Fear Factor or Wipeout or any of those shows that are actually a lot harder than they look, ok?

Since my bathing suit was actually my dry change of clothes by this point, I decided I might as well go down the water slide completely clothed as well. And then I put on my bathing suit and wrapped myself in my canga, completely exhausted for the bus ride home.

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