Blending in with the locals
One thing I recommend if you go to Sao Paulo is to hook up with a girl who has a kindly and insanely rich aunt who invites you to use her enormous, three bedroom beach house with a live in maid/chef. If you canít manage that, get a hotel. The beaches in Sao Paulo State are hyper Brazilian. Itís their equivalent to a American, dude ranch, the English pub or the Italian welfare office.. The natural beauty, and natural beauties are astonishing. The people are so laid back that I wonder how they maintain a heartbeat. Brazilian bikini exporters have to make special lines for America because the largest Brazilian models are too small for our tastes. You are never more than 100 steps from someone selling alcohol. And so forth.
Poor… I’ve never been less sympathetic.
Initially, I felt very slight pangs of leftist guilt about being served and doted upon. Neither Marina or I had done anything to deserve our Gatsby status. I had a vague fear of Michael Moore storming the beach house with a camera crew and asking how I could justify taking money from poor immigrants at the poker tables, using it to fly to Brazil and sleep till 3pm while another poor third worlder cleaned up my crumbs and empty liquor bottles. I felt like maybe I should buy the beach house maid, Maria Jose, a gift but I was pretty much broke myself by this point. I wondered if the security guards at the complex where we were staying gritted their teeth at working menial jobs at the behest of the rich and fortunate. It quickly became clear that this wasnít the case, and I even considered applying for a security gig with 5% seriousness. The guards pulled one of two duties. One was to sit in a booth and sleep and watch TV until a resident came by and needed to be let in or out of the complex. One of these guys would bring his dog, who would lay at gate that was the entrance of the complex for pedestrians. Iíve never seen a less fearsome animal. When I say he was laying down, I mean he would actually lay completely on his side with his head flat against the ground so that as much of him as was possible was being supported by the sidewalk.. He was a cute mut, without a vicious bone in his body. The perfect Brazilian. The other duty for a guard was to sit in a chair on the beach, watching the ocean and the stuffed bikinis and make sure that no shady characters entered the property via beachfront, which probably happens like once every three years.
As for Maria Jose, she was an astonishing ninja maid. Whenever we left one part of the house, we would find that the next part of the house had been made to sparkle during our absence. Then we would go back to the first part and find that it was sparkling too. This vigorous cleaning was done constantly and with incredible stealth. The food was a feat of Ninja magic. Her Fejoida, which is the bean, rice and meat dish described in the restaurant review, is one of the best things Iíve ever tasted. Imagine the best elements of American, Southern cooking and Cuban food fused into one dish and youíre about there. She made Brigaderos, a World War II inspired sweet made from condensed milk and chocolate and on other nights, made fresh salmon and mixed sausagesĖall in portioned on the assumption that she was serving Howard Taft and that he was hosting a tapeworm. She worked hard and was good at her job, but it occurred to me that Maria Jose was a full time resident of a phat beach house. How many months per year did she have the place to herself? All in all, not such a bad life.
Bursting my large intestine
Even the poor who do not live in the resort community live in small towns with very, ugly buildings. But they are surrounded by gorgeous jungles, rivers and waterfalls and most of the houses have satellite dishes. Iím romanticizing things, of course. Iím sure that they guard with the Brazilian dog was bitten by a coral snake a week after I left. Still, itís a pretty fortunate situation to find yourself in if itís a given that you’re going to be poor. I wondered why people from the much harsher slums around Sao Paulo didnít move to the beach and sweep streets or sell ice cream there instead. Of course Iíve thought the same thing about Americans. Why work in liquor store in Detroit when you could work in a liquor store in Portland or some other city that actually has positive qualities? Of course, I canít understand why you would be a partner in a Detroit law firm when you could work in a Portland liquor store, but whatever.
The beach communities were where I saw the apex of casual disregard for human life in Brazil. I dig that Brazilians are a relaxed people, and I also understand that Americans have a reputation for being obsessed with safety, but holy God. On the way to the beach we drove through an astonishing string of tunnels and bridges. The bridges wove high above the jungle and looked like roller coasters. You can look seven hundred feet above you on a mountain and see a long highway curling around, elevated above pristine jungle so as to minimize the intrusion into nature. The tunnels are some of the longest in the world. In spite of the fact that the average Brazilian drives like someone with down syndrom and a meth addiction, workers in these tunnels would stand two, maybe three feet away from the whizzing, swerving traffic, with their backs turned to it. Sure, they had orange hats on, but I couldnít believe someone would could be so comfortable with cars doing 70mph blowing past you with a twenty inch margin of error that he could turn his back on the whole thing.
The actual beaches in Sao Paulo State are not spectacular. The sand and water are exactly the same color as in CaliforniaĖyellowish white sand and brownish green water. Pretty, but not Grand Caman. I canít say anymore without resorting to platitudes. I love the sound of the ocean and though you can often find me playing online poker, surfing the net, listening to music and bored, I can stare at the ocean for hours. I like walks on the beach. Ice cream tastes good. Iíd totally have sex with Jessica Alba.
What makes the beaches of Sao Paulo state special is the surrounding landscape. Mountains, jungles and lazy, green rivers that move slowly enough for mosquitoes to breed in them. That last bit I was actually not so crazy about. Brazilian mosquitoes are tiny, but leave bites several times their body size. They have a taste for Yankee flesh, and have apparently learned that the scent of Off means that there must be a patch of unprotected skin somewhere. SomethingĖmaybe a mosquito, maybe a winged tarantula Ėbit the side of my hand one night. The itch was maddening and I felt that pretty soon I would run around town firing shot gun blasts, no longer able to distinguish mosquitoes from other organisms. I squeezed the bite like a pimple until it turned into a blood blister and popped. This stopped the itching and was well worth the pain. And while the scars from my other bites remain months later, and occasionally even itch, the popper is gone without a trace. Just a tip.