Quirks.

I’ve come across some coisas muito interessantes as I’ve been wandering around Brazil. Here’s an image gallery of those which definitely made an impression on me.  Use the left and right arrow keys to navigate:

 

And I’ll finish off with a video of a Caicó vendor walking the praia.  Kind of like the Maceió version of ‘The Entertainer’ played from the ice cream truck, the sound of ‘Picolé e Sorvete Caicó’ really gets under your skin.  Especially when you hear it a lot.  Every.  Single.  Day.

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Picolé e Sorvete Caicó

One.

Despite the illustrious start of my three months in Brazil with a mild case of food poisoning from my first class airplane dinner on Sunday night (watch out for the spare rib tips and salmon, my friends), my first full day here had many delightful highlights. Ironically, most of them are food related, so it’s a good thing that I can once again eat food fairly safely. I ate exactly nothing all day Monday. Ugh. Anyway…highlights!

  1. Fresh sugar cane from my sister in law’s mom Celia’s back yard. You put a chunk of the stuff in your mouth, chew it up until all the tasty sweet juice is gone, and then spit out the fibrous remains. It’s surprisingly good for you, considering it’s where much-maligned sugar comes from. And since Celia just chopped it down from her backyard – her BACK YARD, people, which also has a huge MANGO tree and a much smaller papaya tree – it’s absolutely100% delightfully fresh. Here she is preparing chunks for us to eat by peeling off the outside and cutting up the inside:
  2. If you ever want a lucrative money making venture, you can just bring a couple pounds of pistachios or cashews and make some serious bank. Just put it into little dollar bags and stand in a trench coat on the corner: “Psst hey there man, I got some fresh pistachios CHEAP. Only 5 bucks a bag…” Seriously. That tiny little can is more than 10 bucks (21 reais and change, stupid flash got in the way):

  3. Have you ever even seen an avocado this big?! I didn’t believe my sister in law when she said it was an avocado…I took it home to further investigate this preposterous claim:

But the best part of this first week is clear already: Stinking cute nephews! (yeah, that’s a Woody from Toy Story hat in his hand) 

Random Brazilian Portuguese fact: Mango in Brazilian Portuguese is manga. That made me giggle just a little bit. Puts a whole new spin on Japanese comics…

I Have Slipped The Surly Bonds of Earth…

I remember clearly the first time I ever flew in a plane. I was six years old, and my father and I were taking a trip, just the two of us, to visit his father in Istanbul. We boarded a Pan Am (remember them? Remember the Pan Am building in New York?) flight in New York. I remember feeling like this was the most amazing thing I would ever do, embarking on this adventure where I would defy reason and logic and actually fly. I felt like I was boarding a magical craft, one that would take me to places I could never in my wildest dreams imagine, and as a kid, I had me some wild dreams, let me tell you. I remember watching in amazement as all the lessons I had learned in school about flight were demonstrated to perfection. I remember feeling my heart beat louder and harder as the plane muscled its way faster and faster down the runway, and then the feel of my center dropping as we pulled away from the earth’s tenuous hold upon us and became, for the first time, truly air borne; carried by the winds.

I also remember the agony I endured as my ears struggled and failed to adjust to the pressurization and depressurization of the cabin. It is still probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever endured. (Parents, take note: if your child is screaming on a plane, it may very well be that their ears feel like someone is plunging icepicks into them. The only cure is to have them drink liquids; the act of swallowing will help their ears adjust to the pressure.) But despite that ordeal, I was completely and absolutely in love with this experience, and everything it implied. It’s no wonder that all my aspirations as I considered my future was somehow connected to flying; astronaut, astrophysicist, aerospace engineer, air force academy. My life has not lead me to those things, and I don’t regret it, but that love was always there.

And then, two things happened.

The first, we all remember: September 11th, and the two hijacked planes which tore into the World Trade Center buildings in New York. Buildings which I remember having family pictures taken at the top of, my mom pregnant with my brother, all of us smiling in wonderment at the view. Buildings whose destruction cast a pall of fear over every single flight I have taken since, where I cannot help but look at all my fellow passengers with a tinge of suspicion.

The second, less well remembered but happening just two months, was also plane crash, also in New York, also in 2001. With all the insanity still swirling around 9/11, as soon as it was confirmed that the cause of the crash was not related to terrorists, poeple soon forgot about it and returned to mourning and speculation around the 9/11 crash. Eventually the cause was determined to be “excessive rudder inputs to counteract wake turbulence”. Basically, what this means is that a jet took off and caused a huge amount of turbulence in the air. The jet immediately following the first one takes off, flies into that turbulence, and apparently due to the pilot’s overreaction it caused the entire tail section to shear off. However, at first the news claimed that it was due to that wake turbulence and not the pilot’s reaction to it that caused the accident.

So I have two pieces of information in my brain after that. One, terrorists are everywhere and are trying to kill us using the aircraft we take for granted. Anyone can be a terrorist. Anyone. Two, simple turbulence during takeoff can sometimes be so violent that it can shear off a plane’s tail section, which is downright impossible to recover from.

Plane taking off at sunsetErgo, my love of flying has been subsumed by a complete fear of flying. It did not stop me from flying, but the joy, the wonder, the feeling of being really ALIVE that I so enjoyed was completely and forever gone. Or so I thought.

Yesterday, I took a flight. I’ve taken a bunch of flights since September 11th, 2001. But this one was different. Sure, the terrorists and wind shear and turbulence were all still in my head. But this flight? This flight, to a place that is not at all special, for reasons not at all interesting or exciting – this flight was different.  This time, the fear and suspicions faded into the background, and once again I enjoy the rush and the rumble of the engines as we tear down the runway and leap up into the blue.

I think next year I will take flying lessons.

Driver 8

On January 6th, 1990, I boarded a train in Boston with all my possessions packed into a couple boxes and balanced on my skateboard.

On January 9th, 1990, I arrived in Portland Oregon, where I found my friend and her parents waiting to pick me up.

In between those two events was one of the most profound experiences of my life.

Even now, looking back, those three days on the train feel like some strange dream I had. The colors were all muted, yet raw. Figures, people, floated in and out of my existence, but never seemed to really be present, or real. It was like I was passing through some sort of transitional dimension, and I would come out the other side changed.

Perhaps that’s exactly what it was, because I did change. The person who boarded in Boston was not the same one that arrived in Portland. The trip changed me, in subtle yet profound ways. Yet still, after all these years, I can’t quite put my finger on how I was different. I just knew, and still know, that I just felt different. And not different like if you dye your hair a different colour and look in the mirror. Not different as if you took a different path to work and saw some new stuff. Different, as if you just had a small animal die in your arms. Different as if you just witnessed your math teacher have a complete nervous breakdown, and you don’t know how to react.

So here’s what happened. It will probably sound quite mundane and boring. But something about it wasn’t. Perhaps this exercise will help me figure it out.

I spent a month saving every penny to buy this train ticket. My mother, who was dead set against the whole idea, refused to lift a finger to help, even though the passage from Dostoevsky I used to explain my reasons seemed perfectly clear. But fine, I hadn’t gone home for her help, I went home to say goodbye. I had enough money for a taxi to the bus station in Manchester, for the bus from Manchester to Boston, and my train ticket was already purchased. I didn’t have money for food on the trip, but I figured I’d raid the pantry on my way out. Fortunately, the night before I was planning to leave, my mom relented and offered to drive me to Boston. Yay for food money.

Although this was after CD’s were entering mainstream use, I didn’t have the money to buy very many. Most of my music was still on cassette tape. The two tapes I had with me were a mix tape that my friend Sean made, and REM’s Fables of the Reconstruction.

Awkward goodbyes at the train station. I boarded the train, stowed my stuff, and settled in. I was nervous. Not so much at the prospect of moving across the country with nothing, basically. For that, I felt a lot of fear. But the nervousness, that was for 3 days, alone. I wasn’t very good at talking to strangers back then. I was 19.

The trip from Boston to Chicago went pretty quickly. I remember passing through Syracuse and being in a foul mood just being in close proximity to that place. I so hated that town, and that school. It was years before I could even stand blue and orange together. Heh.

The first night comes. I slept. Sleeping in a train seat is not much better than sleeping in an airplane seat. Somehow, it’s worse, although less pressurized.

Change of trains in Chicago, and then the long trip from there to Portland.

They hand out cards to everyone when you board, with a list of interesting sights to look for along the way. I remember that I couldn’t wait to see the Rockies. I imagined how majestic, glorious and soul-lifting they would be. I had worked myself up to quite a fever pitch about them, in fact. But they were a day away still, at least. So the next interesting thing on the list was a beautiful statue of a wolf, in Wolf Point, Montana. The statue commemorates the town’s beginnings as a wolf trapper’s camp. I waited hours to see that wolf statue.

Hours.

Hours of nothing. Nothing but seas of wheat, and rolling hills, and emptiness. No towns. No houses. No people. No nothing.

And then…a house, in the middle of nowhere.

And then…more hours upon hours of nothing.

That’s the kind of thing that makes you think. Which is what I did. I thought. I wrote stories about G-d. Parables. I silently panicked at what I was doing. I thought about death, and family, and faith, and something deep inside me shifted, shifted away from the angry, disillusioned girl desperate for meaning. Shifted in subtle ways, finding flashes of calm, tiny moments of introspection and peace in between the fear and uncertainty.

And I listened to that REM tape. Fables of the Reconstruction. Driver 8.

The walls were built up stone by stone,
Fields divided one by one
And the train conductor says
Take a break driver 8, driver 8, take a break,
we’ve been on this trip too long

That song will always transport me back to those three days.

We pulled into Wolf Point, and I saw the statue. It was about the size of a medium dog, in a bank parking lot.

We entered the Rocky Mountains around 11pm. It was pitch dark outside. I saw nothing.

I met people, who were nice to me. I found them confusing, threatening, and comforting all at once. Confusing because they used strange words, like ‘pop’ for soda and ‘sack’ for paper bag. Threatening, because I knew I was different somehow, and they were (or seemed) normal, and I was afraid they’d see I was different and hate me for it. Comforting, because they didn’t.

I arrived in Portland the afternoon of the next day. Changed. A bit more accepting of life. A bit more introspective, and forgiving, and perhaps a touch less judgmental.

I wrote about the larger story of my move here a while back. If you’re interested, check it out. It’s in two parts.

RedEye

You may have noticed on my previous blog about my flight to Boston that I referred to the first leg of my flight as disturbing:  Previous Blog Posting

Now for the why. 

I sat on one of the aisle seats.  There were 3 seats on each side; a window, middle and aisle seat.  When I got to my seat, 6D, there was already someone sitting in the middle seat.  A somewhat attractive young man, probably in his early to mid 20′s, middle eastern, with an extremely straggly beard that he had obviously never shaved. In other words, a nice young (quite possibly) Muslim guy.  Now I do my best to not let prejudices bother me, but this guy was just creepy, once you sat next to him for any period of time.  He looked eXTREMEly nervous.  His eyes where kinda shifty.  He did not smile, or anything.  The one word he spoke to the flight attendant later, “Water”, was the only word he spoke the entire flight (out loud) and that with an accent.  Taken on their own, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but in one package?  Oy.  Maybe if I’d told him my father was Muslim (not really, he just told people that) he would’ve relaxed.  Until I told him my mother was Jewish, ha!  However I, always trying to assume good intent, chalked it up to perhaps he was afraid of flying. I hope.

The window seat was empty, so I felt a bit concerned that I would be sitting alone with him at this point.  It wasn’t until the very last that another lady sat in the window seat, which made me feel a bit better.

So we start taxiing down the runway, and young muslim dude starts muttering to himself.  Or maybe he was praying.  He was obviously very disturbed about something, because he kept it up for a solid half hour or so.  Are you getting a picture of this now?  Young, unfriendly, muslim, nervous, on plane, with accent, talking/praying/muttering to himself?  Good.  Let’s continue…

I was pretty desperate to get some sleep on this flight.  It was only about 4.5 hours, and I wouldn’t really have any chance to get any decent sleep afterwards; this was my only shot.  I did stay up long enough to get my little shuteye kit, since it had ear plugs and a sleeping mask, which was a big help.  I also wanted to get some soup to warm me up.  Once I got that all settled (they initially claimed to not have any soup, but they ‘found one in the back’.  I didn’t ask) I slapped on my mask, attempted to squeeze the earplugs in despite the fact that they did not remain rolled up for longer than a nanosecond no matter how much you rolled and squeezed, and tried to get some sleep.  Muslim boy apparently had the same idea, which was all good with me.  He had found a blanket somewhere and was doing something underneath it, but I tried really hard not to think about that.  I mean, he did have his mask on too…

I woke up about an hour later.  Muslim boy had his elbow clearly in my personal space, pushing on me a little with it, but the hand at the end of that elbow was caressing my leg.  And squeezing.  And stuff.  I shifted and tried to move away (ha! I might as well be a sardine!).  But nothing, he just squeezed and stroked my leg.  I looked at him and he appeared to be asleep.  And the hand seemed to be getting more into it, squeezing harder and more of my leg.  I just sat there, totally dumbfounded, for at *least* 10 seconds before I shot up out of my seat and stalked to the bathroom.  And stayed there a good 5 minutes, taking my time.  So much for my attempt to get as much sleep as possible, since I had lover muslim boy next to me.  I mean, cute can only take you so far, and everything else was just…creepy.  I sat in there trying to figure out what if anything I should do.  I mean, it’s entirely likely that he *was* still sleeping, and was….sleep…fondling?  Brother.

I went back to my seat.  Sat down.  Muslim boy had shifted away…good.  I slapped the mask back on and went back to sleep, thankfully for the majority of the rest of the flight. 

Fun stuff.