Tuesday, September 12, 2006

BRAZIL #1

I arrived at the Sao Paulo airport at 6 am on February 6th after 30 hrs of travelling. I caught a 7:30 bus to the nearby city of Campinas, riding with eyes mostly shut, soaking up the delicious humidity and tropical trees....

In Campinas... I lived with a circus family - former circus stars now settled in one place and teaching trapeze, tightrope, acrobatics, and more in their backyard. The grandmother has alzheimers, the daughter talks to herself, the father is very quiet, and the spunky mother somehow holds the family together. The son teaches classes to almost everyone in town, the daughter in law is one of the only women in the world to juggle 7 pins. All of them incredibly kind and giving despite or maybe because of their supreme braziness.

When I arrived in Brazil everything looked so much more familiar than I thought it would. The buildings, clothing, faces, like movies and photos I've seen. So different from when I arrived in South Africa and everything was so completely foriegn. Here people are also very good at understanding and helping foreigners. From the get go I could make myself at least somehwat understood with my Spanish.

In Campinas I took two theater workshops with Lume - a great physical theater company. The workshops were during Feverestival (a festival of theater workshops and performances) so almsot every night there was a performance to go to, a bar to hang out at - foreigners from Brazil and abroad infiltrating this small suburb (Barao Geraldo) of Campinas

The first workshop, big with 24 people, was street theater "The Actor in the Street." We worked on intense presence, individual and in a group. Gaze. Panther. Body presence. Dispersing and coming together. Characters. Animals. Amazonian women and Savage men. In just a couple of days we whipped together a piece and performed it three times in the street. A beautiful group - gelled together quickly with luches after the workshops and then later seeing a show, having a drink at the bar of the day, like that. It being festival time, vacation, brazil, and theater people. Everyone was incredibly friendly, flirtatious, and physically affectionate. Delicious, but at times a little overwhelming.




My second workshop was more persnally intense, "The Body as Frontiere" it was a search for the corporeal expression that is the essence of dance, theater, clown - finding the place that is all of them without distinction between them. Through Lume's physical training of pushin gyourself to the limit physically and then holding it there, like a stone, control, letting yourself go, then holding with your whole body straining. Incredibly physically intense. But more than anything incredibly emotionally intense. Memories, images, pain, delight.

The last day of the workshops was the 1st day of carnaval and all of us in the street in the carnaval block, dancing and singing until dawn. I kissed many people, went home and slept for 2 hous, and then caught a ride ("carona") to the bus station in ao Paulo where I met my lovely Louise. Arrived fresh from NYC to spend her vacation with me (good friend since age 13)



She was exhausted from a year of non-stop overwork at an architechture firm in cutthroat NYC, living with her parents, and designing a house for them. Me I was exhausted from 8 months of non-stop traveling and seeing too many new things with too few constant people in my life. So we were a perfect match for each other.
We spent almost every moment of the 2 weeks together. I was exactly what I needed. 1st we went to Rio for carnaval with friends from the theater workshops. Then to Recife/Olinda in the NorthEast where there is more traditional street carnaval. We stayed with Lara (brazilian) and Renata (american-israeli). We danced in a Cavalo Marinho block which is a traditional music and dance, in a tight group weaving through the streets.

The highlight of all carnaval was finding the rehearsal for the Cavalo Marinho with Louise and Renata in a poorer rather more dangerous area with skimpy directions and my Portuguese still quite mediocre. We found the sweetest young family with baby in arms that took us to pick up the father's sister who knew how to take us to the open air rehearsal space. All of them walked us there and then the sister went back home to bring her 3 beautiful kids. They stood and watched the very quick rehearsal. The kids with gorgeous polite smiles delighted at meeting the American girls. Kissing us and waving goodbye as we got on the bus for the ride with the musicians and dancers to Olinda (where the carnaval gather of different blocks was happening). The bus ride full of music jamming and smiles too.

After carnaval in Recife, Louise and I left Renata and Lara and hit the beauch on an island near Salvador. Mostly a vacation place for Salvadorians, it was empty since vacation time was over. We stayed at "Zimbo Tropical" in a little cabin with a giant mosquito net, living the good life. Mostly sleeping, eating mangos fallen from the tree outside our cabin, watching tiny monkeys, sun bathing in our brazilian bikinis, playing lots of gin rummy and dominoes. Me I had a lung infection after so many nights out without sleeping but Louise put up with my disguting phlem hacking like an angel.

All vacations must come to an end, so Lou and I returned to Sao Paulo, took me to the doctor to get antibiotics, went to see Lume's new show - a stunning poem of 4 old people in a hat workshop trying to make the perfect hat. Lou was able to see why my heart lies in performance and not in architechture. She jumped in a cab. I waved goodbye standing on a small corner in the big city. And got back to work and back to being on my own agaain.

In Sao Paulo I am living with a friend I met in Campinas at the festival - Tatiana- and her mom - Gladys - and the maid who also lives in their apartment - Maria - and the 6 month old terror kitten - Alici. Tatiana is 20 years old, studying theater, an only child like me, and very much spunky. Very much woman. And also very strong and masculine. Long wavy dark hair. Italian and Palestinian famaily background. We are a good match getting to play like we are sisters a little; wearing each other's clothers. Her mother has aan immense heart. Maria, the maid, is a goofy tempermental lady who runs the house like she is in sharge of absolutely everything and watches soap operas all day.

It is amazng, really amazing to be living in one place with a family. In a big city where there is everything. I am here visiting the Doutores da Alegria, a hospital clowning organization. I am going every week to the formation workshop for their new clowns, observing the clowns in the hospital, and I went to their program last week for disadvantaged youth - theater and clown training for 2 years and a 3rd year supporting each participant while they design and setup programs in their own communities. Everyone at the Doutores has been so kind and welcoming to me.

It is wonderful t o be back in this world after my vacation - watching a boy who has had a foot amputated hopping after the clowns like the happiest boy in the world. I am finding it super interesting to see the cultural differences between programs. These clowns hve more a clown pretending to be a doctor approach - like the Clown Care Unit in the States. They have more corporate sponsorship - a lot of media coverage - a movie. They are very popular here in Brazil. There are now around 100-200 volunteer clown groups in Brazil inspired by the Doutores da Alegria. They also have an education center for research about the benefits of hospital clowning - the psychology of it. And a woman who works with them on that side of things, wrote a beautiful very philosophical dissertation about their work. They have a great office with rehearsal/workshop space and a delicious lunch for everyone working there each day.

The coolest thing about living in one place here in a big city for a month (will be 2 months total) has been trying to incorporate this Watson traveling, learning, researching, doing, into more of a part of a complete living experience like what I might ideally have "at home". There is so much cultural stuff going on here. An amazing cultural institution chain, SESC, with money from the commercial sector for theaters, gyms, library space, art exhibits, dentist, and swimming pools. I have been going to tons of shows - theater, dance, Butoh, music - taking Portuguese lessons, doing contact improvisation, Capoeira, swimming, getting to know the city. There are no maps in this sprawling city. To get somewhere you always just have to ask people what bus to take, where to get off. It is delightful this daily treasure hunt to find my way.

As I get to know Sao Paulo and Brazil I find myself constantly comparing it to the States and South Africa. Here there is such a mix of people, like in the states, a similar colonial history, and yet the mix is so much more of a mix - in skin color, music, and religion, everything mixed, and everything Brazilian. In a way that in the STates not everything is American. (of course there are more recent immigrants in the US) The divide between rich and poor in some ways more similar to South Africa but the enforcin gof it more like in America. I have felt frustrated here not spending time in the favellas. Hearing about the military police that drive into the favellas in tanks with white skulls painted on the front, looking for stolen arms, and shooting down anybody. But living, rather than traveling, here I am also aware of how little first hand experience I have of poverty and violence in the States. Here is a frustration poem I wrote the other day:

My head hurts
So I miss him.
Try to let it flow down my arm
and out my right hand.
Here in the big dangerous city
I may never see a gun,
I have yet to see a rat,
But I dream of it.
of the family that cleans windshields,
of a woman whose right hand falls off,
of your face, there, in front of me in the Metrocar.
Little boys who sleep on the sidewalk
While I sleep in an apartment with a maid.
I say maid like I would say dishwasher,
say bathtub,
say terrace.
But there is no dishwasher,
no bathtub,
no terrace.
Only the little boy who sleeps on the sidewalk while I sleep on the bed.
because I dress nice, I smile nice, I am nice,
they let me pee in the bathrooms of their restaurants
they let me stay in their apartment for free
they let me cross the street when the light is red
because I am all the way in Sao Paulo
I miss South Africa
because I am white
I miss his skin
because everything is concrete
I miss him
because I am here by myself.

Two more little things - it has been amazing learning Portuguese. I went back to Campinas this weekend and it was incredible to see all of these signs and menus that a month ago I didn't really understand and now yes. Brazil is a totally different world for me than when I first got here. Hearing so many words, reading the newspaper, expressing myself. I am speaking almost no English these days.

And then - the most beautiful thing in Brazil is how musical everyone is. So much local musical tradition. I go out with Tati and her friends, someone whips out a tamborine and suddenly everyone is singing samba. There is music everywhere. This weekend I danced to Forro music (accordeon, triangle, drum, and singing) in a Campinas club. The same spirit as country music or contradancing only so popular here, such good dancing, and music.

I am very homesick, missing friends and family and new york city pizza more than ever now that the year is mostly over. These days, since a friend asked me how I've changed in the past few months, I have a new awareness of how many new things I have seen and done. Makes me want to be with my past more. But heck, I am having a great time here in Brazil.

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