It’s two full days before my eventual departure from Florianopolis, having spent the past three life enhancing months and few weeks lamenting my eventual departure from this island paradise in Brazil, and I am having what my Brazilian friend, Mahgoo, would say is a “Saudade” moment.
I still haven’t placed the elusive definition, but I feel it’s a plethora of emotions, including melancholy, nostalgia, longing, and déjà vu wrapped up in one. It’s a word that one internalizes, after being captivated by the beauty of the island, humbled by the gentleness of its people, the culture, and having shared many uncontrollable laughter with strangers who became new friends while sipping caipirinhas with a tune of bossa nova filling in the gaps. The mere mention of the word saudade in beautiful buzzing Portuguese, and the Brazilians will coo and sigh along with you. The word sings like serendipity and serenades your soul into a momentary bliss. Just a word isn’t it?
Leaning back at an open-air bar along the stretch of the bay, I’m enjoying the typical Friday night bar scene with the party spilling into the streets. The Brazilians are loud, and regardless of language spoken, laughter and ringing in the weekends is a common bond shared all over everywhere, every weekend, none less here. Taking a deep breath with endless glare of the city lights across the bay reflected on the waterfront, the only important question is “When will I be back?”
After teaching at a public middle and high school for the past 12 years in Santa Ana and living in perfect Irvine, an escape from the perfect and the entitled attitude of the OC was long overdue. After having acquired a leave of absence from my district after they lost my sabbatical request- three times, it was an easy choice as to where I would find home for the next three and half months. I looked south, south of the equator. Europe will always be there, and I needed a warm-up before Africa and Asia. Brazil and Argentina were a love at first sight two summers ago, and having had a short fling with the two cities, I had to see more of the two. I chose Brazil.
I first heard about Florianopolis from a fellow American tourist sitting next to me on our return flight home to California two summers ago. The name itself, Florianopolis, seemed like a mystical name for a fictional city in a fantasy novel and it still remained off the radar to most North Americans, but the locals have assured me that the word is getting out and the best kept secret in S. America is slowly being passed on to the more seasoned travelers and even rookie vagabonds.
After paying my final dues in the form of summer school and taking care of loose ends, I was on my flight to my new home on the other side of the equator. Armed with limited comprehension of Spanish and several rudimentary phrases in Portuguese, I managed to arrive at my overpriced hotel, for the first week anyway.
Mixed emotions of excitement, doubt, and questioning my personal judgment or stupidity eventually filled my state of being. I still remember my first day in Floripa, as the islanders call their city. I wondered if the taxi driver taking me to my hotel was taking me for a ride and checking in, I must looked like the tourist…a gringo… that I was. Unable to sleep off the jetlag, and finding myself walking along the waterfront’s edge along with hundreds of other “Manezinhos” (the name given to the islanders in Florianopolis), I immediately felt the isolation in the new city. I wondered if I could endure and establish a life for myself even if it was only for several months. It didn’t take long before I’ve come to realize that three and half months weren’t long enough and true to its cliché, time flew by as I was having too much fun.
It was a lot cooler in September than it is now with just having passed summer solstice last week. That’s right. Christmas was celebrated in 90 plus weather drinking coconut juice from the source at the beach along with what seemingly was the entire population of S. America landing on Praia Mole overnight; Praia Mole is only one of the 42 beaches in Florianopolis.
Living in a foreign city, not knowing the language, getting acclimated and oriented to the city layout, the culture, the custom, and all the other idiosyncratic nature of finding oneself “naked”, it’s easy to whither and become a one-man island unto himself. You realize the very act of stepping out and taking a walk will lead to a path ending in many serendipitous moments, one step at a time. The most unlikely friendships and opportunities of romance are born from the oddest places and conversations. It’s amazing what one foot in front of the other will take you and accomplish. You just need to step outside. Sometimes, it’s that simple.
Making an attempt to utter few phrases in Portuguese is always appreciated here. France, take note! The Brazilians will sometimes even reciprocate with their broken English, all too willing to want to practice, usually always better than my Portuguese. Even an innocuous comment on the weather, be it good or bad, will always invite a friendly chatter about other things in life and you always end up with a good feeling of a common bond in the end.
A smile down here will always be reflected back. Almost all of Manezinhos will ask why you came to Florianopolis. My complex answer has now become, how could I not have? I cannot even contemplate life, as I know it now, without what Florianopolis and its people have given back in return. Small price to pay, literally and figuratively, for a booster shot at near middle age.
I’ve managed to take an off ramp from the rat race momentarily for now and have been enjoying the scenic route of life. What represents my life back home is in my Samsonite suitcase for the moment and stripped to bare necessities, I’m forced to be in touch with the fundamentals of life. The island is rich and beautiful, but it’s the friendships and the acquaintances that will be remembered and maybe few thongs sighted on the beaches. I’ll still never get used to the sun worshippers facing away from the Atlantic Ocean as they follow the sunset to the West, facing away from the water, perfecting their tans on their perfectly sculpted bodies. Yet, seeing a mother cradling her infant in her arms while the baby is suckling at her fully exposed breast along a busy boulevard hasn’t fazed me. Freedom Airlines/Delta shame on you!
This is far from a perfect country. The streets are too narrow, stop signs are mere suggestions, a pedestrian is a target of opportunity, the apartment walls are too thin and you hear (and they hear) everything, people don’t wait in lines…rugby scrum anyone, and no screen doors! Tropical zone equals a lot of heat and humidity, which in turn means… mosquitoes! Ouch!
What Brazil lacks in infrastructure, they more than make it up with their humble disposition, friendly smiles, attention to their children and family, music, dancing, drinking, and a lot of partying. The food is amazing and the seafood in Florianopolis is arguably the best, and there’s no bovine hormone in your beef or a cloned DNA breaking down in your digestive juice. You eat and eat, but the weight doesn’t add on. America, we have been lied to. Fat genes?
What fat genes? Daily walking, eating modestly, and staying away from fast food do wonders to your body. How did the US experts sell the “fat genes” to the masses? How is it not your fault when you roll yourself to the nearest Golden Arches to pay hard earned money for bovine injected beef or processed chicken nuggets or be subdued by mental fatigue to ignore your body’s cry to take it out for a walk?
It’s refreshing to see commercials in Brazil void of prescription drugs. After a walk along the streets in Florianopolis and seeing the parade of supermodels to be (and yes they do talk to you about the weather and more), you can see the lack of need for a Viagra commercial. Once again, walking and good diet does wonders. Oh America, are we partying while Rome is burning?
This trip was more than just about passing by and seeing the sights and making friends. Atoine de Saint-Expury once wrote, “It is in the compelling zest of high adventure that man finds his supreme joys.” While living in the lap of luxury on the 11th floor in a room with a view, thanks to the strength of the dollar over the Brazilian Rael, doesn’t constitute high adventure, it was and still is an adventure for the soul and the status quo.
I didn’t want to step out and find myself, explore the world, push the envelope, and embrace life after having a bout with cancer, getting a divorce, fired from a job, after I retire or various other negative catalysts in life to evolve. I wondered what it would be like to have everything going according to the master plan and push myself out of the comfort zone; so far it’s only been a financial risk. Be that it may be, how many thousands of dollars spent on the current experience, the sum I’ve spent now spread over lifetime will be negligible.
I now look forward to reconnecting with family and friends back home and share the experience over whatever drink, hot or cold, as long as there’s music and a smoke (ok, I’ll leave that nasty habit behind). Forgive me now if my mind seems to be transfixed elsewhere. Part of me is lost along the Atlantic on the other side of the world having a Saudade moment dancing with a nameless Brazilian beauty to a forro or perhaps a bolero in a smoky Brazilian bar. Happy New Year!
Abraços e beijos…Sung