By Dan Goldman
J ust before leaving the USA, I was a panelist at the Futures of Entertainment conference at MIT, where I met a guy from Rio de Janeiro who was a big shot in the transmedia storytelling space in Brazil. We’d been wowed by each others’ presentations during the conference but didn’t actually meet until the closing night reception, where we clicked in about thirty seconds. Talking about folding subversive politics and spirituality into mass media, I likened it to a kind of capoeira, the Brazilian martial art of African slaves disguised as dance in front of their masters… and BOOM, we were friends. When I mentioned I was actually moving to Brazil in under two weeks, it was all long hugs and invitations to come visit him in “the most beautiful place on Earth.” A tough offer to refuse.
Of course, life and deadlines accelerated to Warp Factor BANANAS from the moment we arrived and it took until February before our schedules lined up enough to visit for a long weekend. I’d expressed my desire via email to put together some kind of translation/serialization deal to bring my current comic project to a mainstream Brazilian audience. He was psyched to host us and insisted that we “talk all business in person.”
The entire 40-minute flight from downtown São Paulo to Santos Dumont International, I stared out the window a blank blue sky, no idea what to expect. Shamefully, my mental image of Rio oscillated between City of God favela shootouts and gorgeous brown-skinned Carnavál dancers wearing multi-colored feathers. As the pilot announced our initial descent from above the clouds, Lil squeezed my hand and the entire cabin went quiet, looking out their windows. The plane looped around lush green mountains, below us were the beaches Copacabana and Ipanema beaches crowded with tanning bodies, the Pão de Açucar mountains and that giant Jesus statue that got crushed by an apocalyptic tsunami in that 2012 movie. Before the plane touched down, all this mythology of Rio de Janeiro was already presented to us in a bird’s eye view.
On the ground, the airport itself was just as beautiful: we got off the plane directly onto the Tarmac like the Beatles, taking trams to the airport terminal in sunny ocean breeze. We checked no luggage and wheeled our single bag out onto the street. It didn’t feel “mas perigoso que São Paulo” [more dangerous than São Paulo] dangerous like the movies and my constantly-terrified paulistano family had warned us; it felt more civilized than where we lived, lazy and gorgeous. Across the street from the curb we waited on were flowering trees I’d never seen before with watermelon-sized armored fruits hanging from them: they were jaca [jackfruit or durian, pulpy and stinky and sweet fruit eaten here and Indonesia] which I often ate from markets but never saw in the wild. In Rio de Janeiro, they were everywhere, falling off the trees and injuring pedestrians.
My phone receives a text: CHEGAMOS [“We’re arriving!!”] and my pal is riding shotgun in an old American boat of a Cadillac, smiling pearly whites behind Ray-Bans while a fiesty rocker chick leans an elbow on the wheel. In a flurry of kisses and bem-vindos [welcome], we hop in the backseat and take off, winding around highway loops for a quick tour of a downtown encircled by mountains and filled with lagoons and the crash of the sea ocean and trees full of fruits and flowers.
The most beautiful place on Earth indeed… Jesus fuck, I’m in love already. My mind flashed back to the last few months of adventures in São Paulo: its filthy geometric maze of thieves and terrified residents living behind electric fences, streets full of trash, a city empty of color or love. A tiny voice way back in my skull whines, why didn’t we move here instead…?
But I was getting way ahead of myself, and our weekend in paradise was just beginning…
Next time: “Carioca Soul”
Previously in TOUCANNUÍ:
Part 00: Intro: Dead Yorkie, a dead dog and mission statement of sorts
Part 01: A Month by the Sea, in which the journey begins in a red minivan
Part 02: Bem-Vindo, mostly airplane and airport
Part 03: Tanta Chuva, about a rainy first day in-country
Part 04: The View from São Joaquim, meet the new joint
Part 05: The Fruits of Feirinha, a greenmarket odyssey
Part 06: Ser Estrangeiro, on being a foreigner
Part 07: Nova Express, the brain’s first language level-up
Part 08: Bonito, Part I, the family Christmas trip to the wild begins
Part 09: Bonito, Part II, bacon-flavored fish & piranha soup
Part 10: Bonito, Part III [fim], river magic and bye-bye
Part 11: This Will Be Our Year, a new year, a clean slate, grandparents
Part 12: Velorio, a funeral with animal spirits
Part 13: Post-Dictatorship Spending Disorder, urban Brazilians & their money
Part 14: Global Digital Speedbump, the working-abroad dream sours
Part 15: The Visa Countdown, fucking trials of fucking bureaucracy