FOREWORD: I’m behind on this blog. The feeling of letting my wonderful experiences go unsaid weighs upon me. It feels like I’m cheating myself and my readers. Dramatic? Maybe, but Brazil has treated me well and I want the world to know. This photo update is an attempt to free the past in order to write guiltlessly about the present, my new home Florianopolis, and anything else that comes to mind.
The second largest street festival in South America, behind only Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, ironically, is not Latin in the least. The German-immigrant established town of Blumenau hosts its own Oktoberfest in which thousands from all over the world descend upon the tropical Bavaria to drink Old-World brews from giant mugs. I will be one of them. Apparently, the cover charge to enter the Biergarten dome where the music and merriment takes place is waved if dressed in German get-up. Hopefully I’ll be able to find some Lederhosen in my size.
In Brazil I’ve had a lucky string of Couchsurfing hosts who, after the normal meet-and-greet that takes place when a stranger arrives to your home on a bicycle, have become sincere friends. Savio (pictured opposite me at table) was one such host. An architect with his own firm annexed to his home, he reminded me of a responsible child who effortlessly balances work and play, with priority Fun the instant his shift ends. During my stay I met Savio’s equally playful friends and loaded my hard drive with his eclectic music and film collection. I’ll stay at his home again when I return to Blumenau for Oktoberfest.
In Blumenau I met a man who showed me his German grandfather’s antiques, including several magazines subscriptions that were sent from Germany to Brazil before World War II. Among the stack was the only Nazi party-sponsored magazine for women, ripe with articles about how to clean a home, vacuum advertisements, and photos of apron-ed women pulling recipes from ovens. Most had Playboy-like covers, with semi-nude women in provocative poses, a nipple here, a butt cheek there. The now infamous swastika was not as prevalent as I would have imagined; in fact, on most of the editions it wasn’t present at all.
The man explained that in Germany the Nazi party began like any other and gradually became more radical. Magazines like the ones to which his grandfather subscribed were not tell-tales of Fascist support, but simply regular reading material with large circulations, like Better Homes or Cosmopolitan.
When in 1942 Brazil officially declared war against the Axis and made valuable contributions to the Allied victory (hosting the largest United States air base outside its own territory, pursuing of German U-Boats with its navy, and sending soldiers to the Italian front, for example), the German language was made illegal and many Brazilian-born citizens of German descent were arrested, much like the Japanese concentration camps implemented in the United States during the same period. Mail service between Germany and Brazil ended. His grandfather, a solider in the Brazilian army, hid his magazines at risk of imprisonment, and even now in southern Brazil there is a stigma attached to owning such literature.
What most fascinated me about these Nazi magazines was how much they appeared (I couldn’t read the articles in German) exactly like the magazines that stalk the bored and restless from the check-out aisles of our modern supermarkets. Very little has changed in the format; the formula is the same. Though I suspect the debate would be similar to the questionable link between youth violence and video games, are these modern magazines, full of ‘how-to’s and shallow life guidance, as innocent as they appear, or do they have a greater influence on the minds of their readers?
Just twenty kilometers outside of German Brazil exists Southeast Asia, at least you would think so by the way the rice paddies flood across the plains and blend in a perfect green with the valley’s mountain walls. The above photo’s two-dimensional-ness cannot match the description. Pedaling slowly I allowed the peaceful zen of the car-less dirt road to carry me through this region with nothing on my mind beyond a consuming sense that all is right, at least with the photosynthesis in this hidden corner of the world. When I later emerged onto the pavement of highway SC-470, nature, still present as a wide river that paralleled the road, was overpowered by thirty foot seductive and Photoshopped bikini models on billboards, each sprawled suggestively on their back or against a wall, hinting that with a different angle, just outside the driver’s periphery, some forbidden flesh would be visible.
Since the ocean was a stone’s throw away, this stretch collectively decided to become the Venice Beach of rural Santa Catarina, with cheap lingerie in store front windows and perpetual sales on tube tops and thongs of all colors in case the season’s fashion trends belly-up en route to the beach. I preferred the earlier rice paddies and plow lines, but don’t get me wrong: the beautiful giant females every three kilometers that squinted prowess at me from their dominate vantage in the sky, as if I were the last man on two wheels, the one and only for their needy pouts and three-foot lips that glistened in that oh-so sweaty sun, made for fascinating, if not dangerous, riding. The road’s accident rate must be on par with the construction cones used for Driver Education classes.
Climbing the last hill before unobstructed views of the Atlantic I noticed an above-average number of Spandexed bikers for a Monday morning. Stranger still, their quick-dry clothes and components were a shimmery buffet of international technology difficult to come by in Brazil. A white and blue Chile jersey passed on a titanium frame, then a yellow and red Colombia long-sleeve on a Kona, followed by a nameless Anglo whose pinkish skin and foreign demeanor betrayed him as non-Latino, probably Scandinavian.
At the Shimano tent, while filling my handlebar bag with free granola bars, I learned that my lunch was courtesy of an International Mountain Bike competition. The myriad of sponsors (and their free stickers) was only outdone by the number of full-suspension bikes littering the lawn. Surly stuck out like a bum at a banquet ball. Many of the competitors thought it hardcore to bike these hills with a loaded trailer (I thought the same about Ecuador for riding with spandex shorts two sizes too small). A representative from the cycle culture blog Bike na Midia interviewed me with his pocket Canon, saying the video would be posted soon, though I have yet to find it on his site.
Most interestingly though, a South African man with raw energy and zero Portuguese or Spanish was networking with the mainly Latin, non-English-speaking crowd. I observed him the way a frog observes a fly in a small room, trying to guess where he’d land next, before he surprised me, like a Great White off his native Dyer Island, with a firm handshake and subtle Afrikaner accent. Finding a language ally in me mattered little to this late 60-something high on life and Gatorade—he spoke the same truth to all and didn’t discriminate against those who couldn’t understand his gospel of happiness. He was a former soldier, a boxing champion, an upper tier triathlete who had traveled to over 50 countries on his meager salary because he’s “a simple man free of the drink.” We shared stories for half an hour. Before continuing down the coast, he invited me to his South African home and made me hopeful for old age with his parting comment: “You know, life gets more interesting the older you get, you shed your worries and begin to live. Life has never been so good.”
In my earlier post “Running with the Glass Half-Full” I described my apartment, but not the enormous sandbox behind it. Sometimes words say too little with too much. The above photo writes light and wind and ocean smells better than my best attempt. Without a doubt, the beaches are beautiful here in Florianopolis, despite the cold wind that makes an otherwise perfect day a desperate attempt to create windscreens from beach towels, tents from stretch cotton t-shirts, human barricades from friends on the unlucky upwind side.
Tuesday is Samba night at Bar Verandas. Tonight I’ll mingle shoulder-to-shoulder in a humble salon where a five-man band is swallowed by the same twirling and dancing crowd they provoke with sad lyrics sung to a happy, organic beat. Outside, on the wrap around porch near the lake shore, it’s easy to start a conversation with smokers and non-smokers alike. Last week today I met Daniela on this very porch when I went outside for fresh air. Daniela—professional masseuse at a swanky resort—expressed interest in English lessons; I expressed interest in swanky massages. We now meet weekly to fulfill the contract, essential oils and incense at her place, me speaking my native language with her on the beach. I think I got the better deal.
More about Florianópolis here.