Monday, May 15, 2023

a brazillion miles away

 I remember a friend, back in the thick of hard lockdown, saying something like I don't know when this will end, or what that will look like, but I'm pretty sure we'll come out of it running.

To be honest it's taken a long time for those words to ring true, but boy have they been clanging around my head these last 6 months. 

A couple of weeks back I was in Rio. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That's how far, and fast, I've been running.

Working with my oldest client (we've been doing projects together for 20 years!), putting together the logistics for an international meeting of climate and health justice activists.

From moments during the pandemic when I genuinely thought I'd never do events work, or travel, ever again, to an event on the other side of the world. Life is weird and unpredictable and beautiful, none of this is news and yet it catches me every time.

Rio was magnificent. A little grungy, grimey, crimey. A little stinky and crumbly, you had to watch your step and your back. 
But I know these vibes right? And I know that a city like that also has layers and textures and immeasurable beauty if you know where to look for it.
People's faces, aging architectural beauties, innovation in the face of adversity and everywhere nature - holding her own and claiming her place.


This lushness in the city... I loved the iconic beaches of course, and the classic monadnock mountains like Sugarloaf, the islands in the bay etc ... but the narrow city streets bursting with greenery really captivated me. Tropical trees jostling with apartment blocks and claiming space on narrow sidewalks, the subtleties of the dusky, cool, quiet side streets in comparison to the bright, colourful, hot beaches and open spaces. I could have walked their shady silence for days - and I did!

I walked and walked and looked and looked and really just loved every minute. The Brazilians are lovely - completely friendly in a totally disinterested and unengaged manner. No one goes out their way to greet you (unless trying to sell you something), no speaks English, no one seems to notice you at all, but the vibe is peaceful and welcoming and if you make contact it's always warmly reciprocated.

When this job was confirmed last year I started studying Brazilian Portuguese on Duolingo (subtly different to European Portuguese which I had not known), putting in my daily practice with bizarre sentences like I am not a turtle and Horses love us, really not knowing how if at all this was going to help me. But it did! My very limited, very poor grasp of the language helped immeasurably - on my second night there I ordered salad from a salad bar, and could ask for onion, tomato, cheese, tuna, seed sprinkle and dressing - I could ask for a fork and establish whether I could drink beer in store - ask for the bill and a bag for my other purchases - but more than that it eased all my interactions with Brazilians - just being able to explain apologetically that I only speak a little bit of Portuguese immediately made people more patient and helpful, more open.

And despite my preference for the dark shady streets, it has to be said the beaches are magnificent. I had one proper beach day, walking 15km in total between Ipanema and Copacabana, having an acai ice here, a beer there, sitting and watching and walking and looking. 

All the quintessential Rio things - people promenading, biking, skating, flags on the beach, fresh coconuts and cocktails, lots of flesh on display, hawkers and surfers.
I had a deep, long, warm swim and watched the sunset from the Arpoador rocks - a Rio tradition where everyone claps as the sun disappears. 

Two weeks flew by in a blur of work and sights and sounds and smells, but I soaked it all up and still have so much Rio floating around my head and heart to mull over.

Who would ever have thought back in miserable 2021?