Friday, February 19, 2010

Mysterious Course

When at last I closed my eyes to sleep at 5AM, my last thoughts were not about the spectacular samba parade I had witnessed through the night. I could only think about the little boy I almost stumbled over while walking from the subway station to my hotel. He was alone, curled on his side, sleeping upon a piece of cardboard, with no shoes, belongings, or even a blanket. He looked about nine years old, and as dirty as his surroundings. The sight startled me and I almost stopped, but kept going without staring, ashamed that I had just come from an extravagant celebration among tens of thousands of revelers, and that I had spent lavishly for the privilege. When I arrived at my room I cried. There are many such abandoned children in Rio- they are children of the streets.

The samba parades have become such big events in Rio (see pictures), a special venue was created in their honor. The sambadrome is a glorified avenue, about quarter mile long with multi-tiered seating on both sides, holding perhaps 100,00 people. For four nights, various classes of samba groups parade through the sambadrome, starting at 9 PM and finishing at dawn. The lighting is very good, and music plays nonstop. Each group tries to outdo the others in extravagance, artistry and flamboyance, and comprises up to 5000 marchers and often, an accomanying float. The top groups are seen Sunday and Monday. I went Sunday and had a good view, which I paid handsomely for. When I left in the wee morning hours, I felt satisfied I had pictures I had come from the USA to get, and thought, okay, now if I am mugged, at least I have my carnival photos!

It rained a few days after carnival ended, and thankfully the smell of piss on the streets downtown finally washed away.

Many of the hillside neighborhoods have breathtaking views. For about 40 cents, a tram takes you on a winding course between downtown and a fun enclave above the city center, called Saint Theresa. I went there on a balmy evening, and briefly left the beaten track of galleries and bistros. A wall with exceptionally good grafitti caught my eye, so I chanced leaving the main street and began descending a broad flight stairs. A black woman with a flowing, gauzy dress cut high on one leg was climbing toward me. When she arrived beside me, I smiled and motioned to take her picture. She laughed and posed, waving her fan and dancing. Our tango lasted but a moment and then we gave each other thumbs up and turned to go. But she stopped and halted me, wagging a finger with a frown, pointing to the steps below. I motioned to the wall a few steps away, to satisfy her that I was not going into the dangerous favela.

I have thought of returning to Rio De Janeiro someday to do portraits. The people are colorful and I enjoy looking at them. Their features range from fair skinned and blonde to black- some with wavy hair and occasionally green or blue eyes. Many of the blacks have a fine blonde hair on their legs and arms. Everyone, black and white, have tan lines from being at the beaches.

The guys at the computer shop did not fix my laptop. This, after I waited an extra four days! "Because of carnival," they explained. So I will try to get it fixed in Buenos Aires where I arrive Sunday. I miss my computer! I have over 600 photos now, and want to work with them, among other projects. My frustration pales when I think of the children living on the streets. They are in THE DREAM and so am I . . . it has its own mysterious course it follows.

This is my 200th blog. They can all be found at My Fairy-Tale Life. They feed automatically to my facebook page.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Capricious Winds

Since setting foot in Brazil, capricious winds have jostled my fortunes. First, after 1 night in Sao Paolo, I returned to the airport for a flight to Rio De Janeiro, but at the ticket counter was told my departure was scheduled from a different airport. I did not have time to catch the plane, so had to buy another ticket and wait hours. I kicked myself because this had happened several years ago in Milan, Italy. Also, my trustworthy Mac laptop that has gone around the world with me, surviving a grueling safari in Tanzania and being dropped on an airport floor, suddenly quit in my Rio hotel. I depend on it for so much, for instance accessing my passwords and important files, processing photos, making travel plans, writing, etc. etc. It is now in a repair shop, but will take a week to get back because of carnival. This forces me to stay in Rio longer than expected.

I could make a book of impressions from my few days here. This city comes at you from many angles, bringing surprises. Right now, it is crowded for carnival. The hotels, and famous beaches-Copacabana and Ipanema are packed. Samba parades and street parties have begun. Friday night I went to a carnival ball  with the theme "Red and Black" at a famous club called Scala. The doors opened at 11PM to allow an international crowd inside. The big band onstage kept up a lively non-stop beat from the beginning and the crowd steadily swelled until the dance floor was packed around 1 AM. The music reached a pitch at 2 AM when dancers and extra percussionists arrived onstage. Only Brazilians can make their bodies quiver in waves from the inside out when they dance. I t has to be seen. I became part of the throbbing, pulsing mix on the floor, dancing with many people, including some transvestites who obviously were having too much fun. When I left at 3AM, the place was still packed and throbbing.

My hotel, located in central downtown, is very clean and modern, with marble floors and courteous staff. But just outside are the grimy, teeming streets, and on Saturday, the contrast became especially clear when the avenues were packed for a party, mostly of Brazilian. I ventured out but did not see tourists. No wonder because it was a drunken brawl. Some of my refined friends would have expired within minutes. The noise of music and revelry was thunderous, with hot, sweating people almost shoulder to shoulder, all talking and shouting at once. Alcohol was being sold in buckets, mostly by individuals selling from their coolers. Sophistication was absent from the event and barely anyone dressed in costume. I pushed through the crowd for a few blocks while tightly clutching my camera, looking to take pictures. The drunken, blind crush made me miserable. Lines of men urinated against the sides of buildings and the air smelled foul. Amazingly, lovers embrace and kissed amidst all this grotesque mayhem, exclaiming their oblivion to misery. Returning to my hotel, I realized vividly the dichotomy of luxury and poverty.
In the afternoon I ventured outside again to pursue my street photography. Strolling into unknown territory away from crowds, I looked for opportunities. Walls covered with painterly graffiti caught my eye, and as I stopped, a boy, perhaps 14 years old, dressed in some carnival attire came up to me to see what I was doing. We struck a friendship immediately and he posed for a few shots and then took some change I gave to him. Further on, I came to a pathetic group of objects spread on cloth placed along the sidewalk. Nobody was there, and I stopped because the chance arrangement of a few things caught my eyes. As soon as I had snapped a few pictures and turned to go, a drunken black man wearing a blonde wig grabbed me to demand money for taking pictures of his things. I paid him from my pocket and continued down the street, taking pictures of old doorways and walls marked with graffiti. Often, when I make these photos, I try and include anonymous pedestrians as they pass by. As I wandered this way, two young women walked past and suddenly one stopped and turned to me, asking if  I spoke Portugese. I replied "No" and she asked "English?" I sasid yes, and she replied, "I will tell you that what you are doing is very dangerous. This is a bad area. Be careful because everyone is watching you!"

Tonight I go to the huge samba parade at the Sambadrome. Next week I hope to have my computer back and will try and post pictures.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Present Time

My mother’s walking has slowed, but not her reading. For as long as I can remember, she has read at least five books a week, and I notice that she has kept up the pace even in old age. Her neighbor is also an avid reader and goes to the library regularly, bringing my mother piles of books. It is a familiar sight in my parent’s home—stacks of books on the dining room table. “You are traveling now,” my mother spoke, “and have gone around the world, but I find my adventures in reading.”

My parents receive three newspapers each day: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Santa Barbara News-Press. We agree that the New York Times is best, and remarkably, each day delivers facts, stories and data from around the globe and in many different fields of interest.

Since there is now a laptop in my parent’s home, I am hoping that they can enjoy it. My mother has declared she has no interest, but I have introduced her to something that may change her mind. Google Books is incredible. Thousands of volumes are available for free after an account is established. Incredibly, you can select a book and be reading it in less than a minute. Furthermore, you can adjust the type size, and scroll through pages with just one finger.

Monday I leave for Brazil. People have asked me, “Are you excited?” I reply that what excites me the most is the here and now. Just being alive is exciting, and my perception is that THE DREAM is a single entity. In other words, every moment is part of the one preceding it, and the one to come. I do not divide them but live in the universal. The present time gives me all that I need.

Next week I will be writing from Rio . . . and carnival!