I was running from the oppressive steamy, thick New England summer heat.
“Go swimming, relax,” Denis had brightly suggested from the safety of his São Paulo apartment, deep in the heart of Brazil’s own brand of winter. Here I was in Northfield, Mass, on the “other side” of my own Pioneer Valley, which I thought I knew inside and out. I was quickly discovering I knew nothing really worthwhile about Northfield. Where were the secret swimming holes, decadent hikes and mellow rides? Heck, I was having enough of a time finding wifi spots and places that sold ice. What I’d taken for granted in West County. It had taken me years to infiltrate Ashfieldian culture to discover such sacred communal secrets. I had been forced to pinky-swear never to reveal swimming locations to flatlanders, even though I myself was still considered one.
I consulted my gazetteer; surely a map was all I needed.
After attempting to forge my way past barricades to a lovely reservoir appearing on my map just behind Northfield Mountain, I was thwarted by a cheery, hardhat-wearing gent who politely informed me that there surely was no swimming at this “energy” reservoir. (In my head: yes! Energy reservoir… that’s just what I’m seeking… let me in mister!) My thoughts then returned to my conversation with Denis. “And swimming, you can exercise a bunch and not feel so tired. It’s so refreshing.” I considered his endearing attempt to get me out there splashing. My new hard-hatted pal wasn’t getting it; he was my personal brick wall with none of the flexibility offered through Brazilian culture. Deflated and melting, I waved as he drove away, ever perky. He had surely had a clandestine dip.
And just what is up with Brazil? Go ahead and ask. Here I was heading off west to California, a PhD program and complete and total freedom.
I have been attempting to discover the Brazilian spell I am under these days. My three years living there were immensely influential; most importantly I came of age there, socially and sexually and I developed my sense of family, spirituality and community. Between the ages of 16 and 21 (which is 5 very formative years mind you) I was all Brazil, all the time, a dedicated channel, a prosthletizing disciple.
And that was a long, long time ago. My last visit was in 1994 and I’d been in embarrassingly poor, sporadic contact at best with my many friends and extended family. Until Facebook. Now, not only do I have a lovely vista into the lives of several of my friends, but I find I am longing for those Brazilian ways, social and familial. I can suddenly taste pão de queijo in my mouth, hear my favorite singer Renato Russo crooning in my ear and imagine the green apple smell of the Villela’s bathroom overlooking the town’s zoo.
I am being haunted here, in the very distant Pioneer Valley, by Brazil herself. Every single day.
In the changing room at Marshall’s Brazilian gals chatter in Portuguese, sure no one can understand them. As I’m getting a massage in Easthampton new yummily distracting Brazilian music plays in the background. Shoes I fall in love with are stamped on their soles/souls “Made in Brazil,” just like me.
Now I have lived in peaceful resignation for the previous 15 years, understanding that I was not living in Brazil, nor was I planning on it. No such haunting occurred. I occasionally ran into Brazilian people, spoke Portuguese rarely and didn’t really spend time pining; I had successfully shut the door, all the better to feel no pain. Then about 6 months ago, when I realized my marriage was over and I was free to take off for grad school, or wherever else I was heading, Brazil started her siren song.
She must have quietly been biding her time all along. “Tudo bem, go where you need to and I’ll find you in 2010.” If you’ve ever been stalked by a country as large as my Brazil you might understand the severity of my situation. My Brazilian friends are also totally in on this scheme. Calmly they coax, “April, you must come to Brazil. For what do you wait? We miss you. You will make success here. We have a good life here. And now economics are strong. You must know our new Brazil.”
Yes, it seems I must.
Have you ever had an entire country haunt you? It’s quite impressive. (Imagine an activity as benign as looking at magazines. National Geographic has an article on the dunes of Brazil, Vogue an article on Brazil’s super-Gisele and her new baby. And this is happening each and every day.) As my friends will proudly tell you, Brazil is larger than the US minus Alaska. That’s a mighty large stalker; you can see her shadow in the alley at night. I wonder if being followed by another country would be as eerie. Would being shadowed by petite Belgium be as jolting? (Immediately a small mustached and accented character enters my mind: “Can I offer you lace? Remember, Brugge is lovely this time of year. And we are within easy access of 4 other major European nations.”)
So, with one foot on this coast, one foot on the west coast, and a large part of my soul listening to Brazilian siren songs, I find myself a bit displaced as I attempt to close New England doors gracefully. I hope to leave this part of the county and pull up my own roots of 14 years without too much damage and with the greatest amount of love.
I had been planning to hit the road in mid-July when I delayed my trip in order to teach at Vermont Witch Camp this August. Confusion arose as folks were starting to ask repetitive, predictable questions. “So, when do you ACTUALLY leave?” “Are you DRIVING across the country?” “Are you driving your CONVERTIBLE?” Please imagine those questions posed with intonation and raised eyebrows.
When I arrived as an exchange student in 1984 my Brazilian dad, Domingos, and I used to laugh about these types of repetitive and predictable questions. We planned a T-shirt I could wear with the answers at the ready; I could simply point. The questions of the day were along the lines of culture, language, food and homesickness. “Do you miss your family?” (Who?) “Have you already become accustomed to the Brazilian way of life?” (I didn’t know life could be this cool, especially at 16.) “Do you like brigadeiro/churrasco/bala de coco?” (Imagine my social calendar full of invites for parties and meals where the key phrase is, “Don’t you like the food; please have seconds.”)
At the end of my yearlong visit the R&P questions resurfaced, this time embodying the qualities of leave-taking. “Will you miss Brazil?” (Neither you nor I could express how much.) “Will you come back?” (Several times.) “What will you miss the most?” (Here I point to my T-shirt where Domingos and I would have hand drawn stick figures of my many friends and new family. See. Look here. These folks.)
It seems that when someone doesn’t know me well these R&P questions can certainly be comforting and reasonable ice breakers. I now recognize this phenomenon as inherent with major moves and, let’s face it, I’m the queen of these. And although I’m quite comfortable with taking off to live in foreign lands, frequently moving somewhere where I know no one, it can cause extreme discomfort and even anxiety in others. Virgos squirm in my presence. “But where is your safely net, your parachute?” Cancers scurry back into their dens, locking their doors behind them, lest this virus be catchy. And yet… when someone I am attached to begins to make noises about moving away I too begin to twitch and squirm. Just how emotionally vulnerable do I want to be with you if you are leaving, hmm? Is this the end of our relationship or will you become one of my close friends that I’ve maintained for 25 years? Are we in this together? And just why are you leaving this town/friendship/community? I mean it’s great here, right? How threatening is this?
And so I don’t blame folks for caring for their own precious hearts. I will keep smiling and attempting to be present with each question, each time it’s asked. Because I love these people. Each one. And if I feel I’m losing it I’ll give Domingos a call; perhaps he’s up for helping me design a new T-shirt.