I am now in the second half of what was originally planned as a 6-month stay in Brazil. My birthday almost exactly marked the 3-month turning point, and the day was a nice source of both closure and opening: I still have much to do to build a life here, but I made a point of spending the day with the people that I have here that I love the most (with the important exception of dear Marília, who was at her father’s house outside the city). So, on one side of the coin, maybe my wide-eyed newness is coming to a close–at least in São Paulo–but now a new kind of newness begins. I have some [unorganized] thoughts.
Somehow, to me, the parallels are obvious. I can’t get away from a feeling of cosmic symmetry.
Releitura means re-reading or reinterpretation, and My second three months here involve not getting used to a new culture or a new language, but rather to a new life and to the reality of having a day-to-day routine in another country.
“Don’t worry,” Gera told me sometime in February, when I voiced the concern that for some indeterminable reason, everyone on the sidewalk instantly pegged me as non-Brazilian. “In about another month you will have learned the way of walking down the street, the secret cues and ways that we have here.” And he was right. I sit on the bus and read people’s text messages over their shoulders and hear their conversations (normal, human) without stopping to translate in my mind anymore. The automatic switching off of foreign-language babble is becoming less and less frequent.
In São Paulo, I have felt both more a child and more an adult than ever before, sometimes in the same moment or with the same people. I have also felt a weird (weird for me, anyway, since I am terrible about these things) urge to reach out and keep in better contact with friends and family abroad, and I have a strange fondness for children at times, since I really relate with them these days. I have been and continue to be lucky to have wonderful people here, and sometimes the process of making friends here is frustrating–let’s not go into last-minute cancellations of social plans–but I know I will have more in time.
Rino found a quote recently by Robert Doisneau that really struck me as a summary of this, my symbolic second half of life here: As maravilhas da vida cotidiana são tão emocionantes. (The marvels of the quotidian are so exciting.) I have a way of joking around here: every time something good happens, no matter how little, I say something along the lines of, “Just another success in my glamorous life.” Joking aside, this is a new way of thinking about my life: all sorts of banal, tiny events make me happy these days.
My student uses a phrase like “in a nutshell” without my ever teaching it to him; I successfully make pão de queijo or farofa for the first time and Roomie Rino likes it; Gi, the receptionist at my school, tells me, “Você já é brasileira!” (“You’re already Brazilian!”); one of my friend’s students thinks I am Brazilian when he hears me gossiping with the receptionists (excessive flattery?); the porteiro tells everyone one day that I am the nicest American he’s ever met and that I look like a princess; I make it to the Polícia Federal the day after getting hopelessly lost trying to get to the damn place; I have a long afternoon drinking cachaça with Gera and trocando idéia (literally: changing ideas) about literature and future projects together; an 8 a.m. class all the way across Zona Sul, which I had been dreading waking up for, turns out to be a delightful fest of lawyerishness and makes me feel, for just a second, like I’m at the dinner table with my parents in Atlanta; I find a pile of old shattered records on the side of the road and salvage the reusable ones for nesting-related craft activities (Chasidic in America, anyone? See above); wow, I am in São Paulo and thinking about making this apartment feel like a home….
They’re all just more successes for the week, or for the month, or for my life. I got a tattoo on my birthday. It’s an arrow. The idea came to me suddenly and forcefully. As I make my way through the second six months here, and a certain looming deadline, and the plaguesome doubt that it drags with it, one fact is more certain than ever: I don’t know where I am going, but I am going with certainty.