You Can't Keep A Bad Man Down

Trip Start Oct 09, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Sao Paulo,
Friday, November 21, 2008

Our first indication of what the next ten days would be like happened soon after we'd checked into our hostel in the bohemian neighborhood of Vila Madalena at 9:00am on Friday morning. In strolled Sam, still wide awake from the night before, insisting we have a drink with him during breakfast. One drink turned into several. I started to point out that it was a touch early to be setting such a blistering pace, but then I thought what the hell. We had come a long way and this place was built for drinking after all. Sam seemed legitimately perplexed when Mikeo asked about a phone number written in black marker on his forearm, as though he hadn't noticed it until then. He and Harry had kicked off the previous night (and indeed all of the previous three nights) at a neighborhood bar that, inexplicably, gives everyone a free 1-liter bottle of Smirnoff vodka immediately upon entry. No cover, no prerequisites, no questions asked. Sam couldn't understand how the place managed to make a profit. From there, an Irish employee of the hostel had invited them to a house party, but because Harry had already fallen asleep standing up against a wall of the bar, he had been forbidden to come along and had been carried home and put into bed. Sam couldn't believe it. "Think of how drunk he must have been for an Irishman to say he'd crossed the line. An Irishman!"

Soon we were joined at the table by a few more people, including Harry who had woken up and was shaking off a heavy one. Among the others was Alex, a Romanian who loves Hollywood movies and who speaks perfect English. And because his English is so good, he is often infuriated by how bad the Romanian subtitles are when he sees a movie at home. "For example," he said with disgust. "The character on the screen might say something like, 'Your dad is so cool,' and the stupid subtitles will read, 'Your dad is streetwise and colorful.'" There was Miguel, a fortysomething Spaniard who didn't speak a word of English and was beyond excited to watch Spain take on Argentina in the Davis Cup finals on television later that day. There was Vern, a spacey hippie chick from Vancouver who was moving into an apartment in a few days. And finally there was Leo, a 20-year-old Sao Paolo native and employee of the hostel; a gentle giant who absolutely dwarfed me in size, and who quickly became one of my favorite people on the trip so far. Leo brought out his acoustic guitar, and for the next couple of hours he and I traded off playing songs that the rest of the motley crew would sing at the top of their lungs. Leo had just received news that his Swiss girlfriend of five weeks might be pregnant. In Brazil, as in all South American countries*, abortion is illegal (regardless, Leo is strongly opposed to it), so before our eyes he was resigning himself to what the rest of his life might look like. "I think she likes me more than I like her," he said sadly. He asked us to help him take his mind off things until he knew for sure. [Happy update from a few weeks later: turns out it was a false alarm.]

So the next few days were a blur. The mornings were generally sunny, the afternoons would have rain, and then it would clear up again in the evening. There isn't much to see in Sao Paolo (the biggest city in South America); it's just like countless other huge cities you've been to before. We found other ways to entertain ourselves. We went to the free Smirnoff bar every afternoon, where--just as Sam had said--people would be drinking free vodka at every surrounding table. Leo told every girl he met that his name was "Amgod Bangyutonitey Andyourmomaswell" and that he was from Indonesia. He never once broke character. A hostel employee named Carol took us to a fun dance club with a group of her friends. One of them, an extremely friendly and extremely large guy named Marcos (wearing an extremely awesome t-shirt that read "The Night Of Passion"), ended up defending himself in a bar fight a few feet away from where I was standing, and badly damaging the face of his unfortunate opponent. Security threw out the badly-beaten agitator, leaving Marcos shrugging his shoulders with a sheepish smile and a couple of blood stains on his white t-shirt. We went to house parties with Sao Paolo locals. At one point, a nimble young lady tried to give me a samba lesson. When I tried to copy her moves, Leo chuckled, shook his head, and told me, "You look like Robocop." On Sunday we bought jerseys and flags and went to cheer on local football team Palmeiras to a 2-0 victory. It wasn't nearly as grand or as wild as the game I'd seen in Buenos Aires, but it was rowdy none the less. We wore our jerseys out that evening and were harassed constantly by fans of Sao Paolo's bigger football team.

Brazilian courtship rituals, I have noticed through careful study, are both forward and remarkably juvenile. On our final night in Sao Paolo, we were at dinner at a crowded bar/restaurant when a waiter handed me a note written by a girl at a table across the room. It read, "I'd like to know you better! Won't you come here for a talk? Xoxo Debora ps. It's my birthday!!!" Seeing it as a perfectly good opportunity to learn a bit more about the city and its inhabitants, Harry and I hopped up and walked over to make some new friends. They were a group of eight Sao Paolo girls having a low-key Monday night birthday celebration, considering they all had to work early the next morning. Through typical touristy questions, we learned a bit more about the city, and when Harry tired of this, he asked them to teach him some dirty phrases in Portuguese. This led the wholesome group of girls to bestow upon him the nickname "Scary Harry." Meanwhile, our clever-but-crude friends across the room had started sending over a steady stream of notes to our table. Fortunately, the waiter would hand the notes to me, not the girls. I'm sure you'll understand when I say it's better the girls didn't see what was written on them. One of the notes did somehow manage to slip through my defenses and into Debora's hands. She scrunched up her face, turned the napkin over, and wrote a note back to my idiotic friends. It read, "You are a bad person." I found this simple sentence so much funnier than anything Sam had written that I ended up with tears in my eyes from laughing. Also funny was the fact that the waiter--who had at this point carried more than a dozen notes between tables--acted as if this was an everyday occurrence and completely normal behavior on the part of his customers. The girls ended up inviting us to their "big" birthday party that Friday, but we had to politely decline as we felt we'd just about worn out our welcome in Sao Paolo and would be heading to Rio the next morning.

Afterwards we retired to the hostel bar, where, through the foolish wonders of alcohol, we were inspired to go out with a bit of a bang on our final night here. We'd discovered that the hostel kitchen was videotaped by a CCTV camera, the footage from which was always on display on a monitor behind the bar in the hostel lobby. Without getting into any details that would make my dear mother regret sharing my blog entries with some of her friends, I will say that Sam, Harry, Mikeo and two Dutch girls put on a show that involved partial nudity and big dance moves, all directed at the camera in the corner of the room. I was back in the bar with Leo, yelling for all the other customers (locals, all of them) to come witness the insanity taking place in the kitchen. The whole place was howling with laughter at the antics of these crazy gringos. I took several photos of the monitor, and Leo actually took the footage and put it up on YouTube, from which it was promptly--and justifiably, I might add--removed by the site's censors.

The next morning, when we made our way down to the lobby, we found Harry sleeping on the floor directly in the doorway. Leo was showing the video to two puzzled Frenchmen who had just arrived to check in (and who must have had to step over Harry to get inside). Leo was still howling with laughter. It seems our little group had made quite a name for ourselves and would be remembered fondly at the Casa Club hostel. But for now, the four of us had to catch a bus to Rio, in order to bring our circus routine to my favorite city on the planet.

Reading: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

*Uruguay is reportedly the South American country closest to considering the legalization of abortion.
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i22s on

Fala sério! Palmeiras não! Tem que ser FLAMENGO!!RSRSR

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