If I were to retroactively make a list of things I had expected when arriving in Brazil, it would resemble something like, imagine little fragments scribbled while I was sleep deprived, after many hours of travel:
*Violence, as every guidebook I read tells me how unsafe this place is
*Stereotypical ripped Brazilian men (maybe I’ll even find romance for a month)
*Not knowing language, the very thing that guides me on a daily basis
*All tensions of urban life amplified, because of the sheer size of the city
*Some things which I cannot yet anticipate, but register in bodily contours
*An alienation, already felt in the previous two weeks, not belonging wedged into a chest cavity.
*To be reoriented, a city organized differently, more inclined to chaos
29 days later, it seems like some of these things have come true and others have not. Maybe the city is more violent but I’ve yet to experience anything close to feeling unsafe, other than the fear that comes from navigating any new neighborhood for the first time. But part my safety stems from the fact that I’m staying in Pinheiros, which is a stable and well-appointed neighborhood removed from the usual urban decay. Or maybe all of the walls, gates, fences, and security guards change my perception of the world around me. This notion of feeling safe might be a false one. (This is what you call settling in.)
I haven’t found much romance. Maybe something here and there, but the men of Sao Paulo are unreliable and busy, so along with it it seems they largely resist getting too close. But there’s also something to be said that if you come here looking for a certain type of man, you won’t find him. Any type of imaginable person resides here, and your perceptions must vanish if you hope to find someone out there. Perhaps people are generally more direct about intentions, but there seem to be few other unifying threads.
All tensions— including alienation and the lack of Portuguese language skills— have been amplified under the sprawl. For a few weeks, this alienation was debilitating but I finally gave up the notion that I had to try and understand to focus on the experiences outside of language, to find familiar comforts. In the process I did discover different ways of seeing. It was my unlearning. Pouring over lines after line of writing, I somehow find myself split from myself. Different “I’s” registered on the page, an accumulation of gazes and overlapping experiences. All of which suggest important: Learn the history of a place, but throw out most expectations and explore the city through intuition.
I have no seen beaches in Brazil. I’ve not seen the colonial architecture in Bahia. My feet have stepped on asphalt as all the concrete around me has consumed me into its somehow breathing form. But I’ve ended up at a point very different from the one in which I started. I’ve ended up being able to breakdown perceptions and privileges. I can use the city of Sao Paulo to bring new ways of seeing back with me. As I was right in saying on the plane: some things which I cannot yet anticipate, but register in bodily contours. Both deep inside the body and on its surface, visible, this anticipation has turned to reality. From it, there is a sudden fury of expression I will not suppress.