Category Archives: adventure travel

A carnalidade

Poem originally written in Italian for my great uncle Gilberto Grasso, who I lived with in Santarem, Brazil, over the summer. It is very special to me, as is my uncle Gil, who, at the age of 80, still burns with what Pasolini (one of his favourite Italian authors) would call ‘desperate vitality’. Thank you for overwhelming me with your immense love for life, literature, cinema, romance, fun, debate, and all the ups and downs this world’s got to offer.

Zio Gil and his friend Deonito, Language professor at the University of Santarém, helped me translate the poem into the beautiful language it deserves to be in. (Below a rough English translation for those who need it).


A carnalidade jogue tudo na brasa.

Eu, que sempre mergulhei nas gentes,
A procura de um tudo
que apagasse cada minha curiosidade.

E que sempre mais esvaziada me foi acordada,
Apagada-se a duvida
Que era a minha vitalidade.

Tu es demais incontrolável para mim,
Demais fora do lugar.
Eu, que cambaleio nas margens da loucura,
Ainda demais regulada.

E me pergunto se tu
és verdadeiramente livre,
Se o homem verdadeiramente
pode aprender em ser livre.

Quando o teu ser fica marcado daquele momento,
No qual tu abaixas-te para afivelar a bota
Ou em olhar uma linda mulher e não uma outra.

Aqueles momentos te acorrentam a este mundo
Que nos acompanha sozinhos,
dos vinte e quatro aos oitenta.

Quando penses saudoso ao passado,
Naquele que é, que não foi.
E quando procuras de viver desesperadamente
Para não te sentir apagar totalmente.

È bem verdade que nÓS poetas
somos calculadores – niilistas miseráveis.
È bem verdade que eu, sou espelho ornamental
Das emoções que me cercam.

Mas absorvo, te garanto que absorvo.
E estas vidas que cabem em mim,
Estas luzes que cabem em mim,
Saiam de mim mais coloridas, cheias.


Carnality turns the world to ashes.
A life spent diving into people,
Seeking fullness to quench curiosity.
Yet rising emptier each morning,
Extinguished the doubt, extinguished the clout.
You’re too unruly for me, too out of place.
I’m still staggering on the margins of madness
And yet I am still too restrained.
And I ask myself if you really are free,
if a man can truly ever learn to be free.
When you’re tainted by that moment
when you stopped to tie your shoelace
or lay eyes on a pretty girl and not another.
Moments like these glue you to this word,
that chaperones our lonely journey
from age twenty to age eighty.
When you think, with ‘saudade’, to the past
to what happened and what didn’t.
When you try to live desperately,
to not fade out entirely.
And maybe what you said is true:
Us writers are calculating, misery-breeding nihilists,
And maybe I am, indeed, just an ornamental mirror
Throwing back the life and emotions around me.
But I promise I sponge it all up
And these lives that soak in,
These lights that soak in
Come back out more colourful and full.

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Travel Post # 5 Alter do Chao, Pirates and the Rio Arapiuns

Alter do Chao, 17/07/16

Smiles, sunsets, palm trees and a samba band – music in the night always makes me feel at home. And I feel enormous right now,  don’t know where I end, how to contain all of this. Lightning lights up the night and I sway on the rio. I’m terrible at making friends, at looking people in the eyes. They hurt me too much. I wish I could stare without them staring back. If only I could make myself small, a menina, so I wouldn’t feel so constricted. Is it poverty that killed activity in Santarem or is it something else? It’s GLOBO that holds the power over here, it’s all about American idols and dreams. The telenovelas have murdered history, love for nature and spirituality and now the children in the comunidades lacked even basic imagination. Creativity replaced by fake promises, of money and social status.
Caranazal, the Pirate’s Lair and the Pajes (chaman) 18/07/16


I have been abducted by pirates. Hippie pirates, with skulls on the face and body and grand illusions of freedom. They say I’m in the middle of the jungle now, but there’s a road a few miles away. I drove a wolkswagen truck and they threw thei pet rat, Chorinha, onto my lap. I didn’t even budge. Artesanato, drugs, the reggae music, the car, the dirty ethnic prints, the snake skin, the ayahuasca plants in the garden and the forceful natureza. Slaves and stereotypes in their escape of society. But you’re not free, you pry on people – on gringos – to live your lie of community, free love and no possession. But you were kind to me and I am grateful. But that man, that wise man… there was magic there and I felt it inside and I cried. I cried for the kindness and strength he found in me and the empathy and calm he left in me. I confessed my biggest fear, of being alone with myself and he gave me his silent resonting answer, awakening a knowledge that was already inside of me. “There is no fear when you are alone with yourself”. Fear and anger are the most social of constructions.

Comunidade de Anã, Rio Arapiuns, 27/07/16

The rio is cooler and bluer, the forest is greener and I feel lighter. The language stopped being a barrier a soon as I stepped foot into this side of the resex, almost like magic. And there is something magical about this place. About the people’s knowing peaceful smile and how lightly my feet step on the leafs.It’s almost as if the Muanã, the protector spirit of the lake, really is protecting its land and people. I feel like I’ve always belonged here and all my fears and bothers are distant memories from someone else’s life. The excitement in the air subsides my need for sleep, and I lie in the dark, unafraid of snakes and insects, gazing at the infinite white marks and swirls in the sky, frogs croaking all around me. I then walk straight into the all embracing orange light, as the MUSA’s – Mulheres Sonhadoras em Ação – set their nets. There are no human words for happiness.

 

 

Travel Post # 4 – Indigenous Communities of the Rio Tapajos – A Reflection on Learned Helplessness

There are no jaguars here, and there is no conception of power. Chicken. Featherless chicken everywhere. And dogs, skin and bone, sickly and hungry with empty eyes, biting at each other´s skin for a mouldy orange. Ants explore my legs and arms, as a dragonfly buzzes about and I wait for the boat, sweating, thirsty and useless. And often my eyes cross, a curious bloodshot glare – of men, women, children. But it isn´t malaria that haunts the forest and fills the air with sickness. It isn´t snakes and wild beasts that flood me with fear. It is the demon of helplessness that lurks here, by the edge of the Rio Tapajos. The air in these ´comunidades´ is drenched in learned helplessness. The playfulness, the dancing, the brincadeiras – they make me sick as a poisoned rat and I´m suffocating. Brincar, brincar, bola, bandoleira. Blissful ignorance and hunger. Laboratory dogs – they have been taught there is nothing they can do. Things will never change here, we will always be conquistadores. One cannot change what doesn´t want to be changed.

All I can do is hold on to this heaviness of heart. As always, I let the weight of the world sink in. The one that floats around in this forest, homeless, ignored by the bodies it belongs to. There was nothing I could do for that man who lay helpless in the mud, covered in ants and mosquitoes amd soaked in cachasa. Life had run him over. Life has run all of them over. All of these children, all this Criança, the demon of passivity etched upon them from the womb. A helplessness that is almost genetic. They queue up for the special merenda: chocolate milk and three biscuits. They look at me curiously, the meninas touch my braid. Eyes open, brains full of potential. Yet they are all slaves to Globo TV, that want to grow up to be modelo or a football star.  There´s no spirituality in these comunidades in these washed out wooden structures with holes for doors, but with TV´s inside, flashing telenovelas 24/7. I´ll always be a gringa here, eyed with awe or hatred, even if I play bola barefoot and let the insects eat my feet. Even if I swim naked in the rio with biscios. If I carry heavy things in the sun and take nice photographs and sleep on hammocks under the stars and learn amazonas music. Even after the insistence and casually handed out sexuality, just cause I´m playing a yes man game.
A transparent albino child plays in the middle of this dark brown criança. I wonder if he feels as much of an outsider as I do. I feel terribly lonely and nostalgic. The language, the faces, the colours, the heat, the upset stomach. Pull me, push me, make me feel alive. Maybe they´re right, autonomy is too hard a plight. One must choose and pick and do. Better to have someone do it for you. How many of you have really felt these chains? Understood the possibilities, felt the stagedness of this narcissistic freedom? And even if you do feel the chains, would you still choose to run alone? If you don´t know that you don´t know, you don´t torture yourself in doubt and uncertainty. To reach the knowledge of not knowing implies a duty as the next move: to act. So maybe openness to experience doesn´t have to come without care or with stupidity. It means considering and choosing what feels right, not playing a yes man name. And does recklessness really feel right what it comes with the risk of snake venom, malaria a hepathitis? I value this, because I recognise how easy it is to fall prey to the contamination of stupidity and carelessness. It snuck into my every pore over here and for two nights I gave into a carelessness that doesn´t lead to freedom. A million bloodshot eyes stare into mine every day to prove it. Freedom and versatility come with choice. I want to choose, not prove. I Have nothing to prove to these people. I don´t have to be like them. I need to learn how to stop feeling like I´m in debt to the world.

Note: All photos taken and thoughts written during work with a indigenous community development program of the NGO Saude e Alegria, based in Santarem.

Travel post # 3 – First days in Santarem – Are poets big fat liars?

I’m immersed in literature, cinema and philosophical debates, here in my great uncle’s house. The hammock in the back garden, under the mango tree, is a lovely place for reflection and study. My head is dizzy from the Portuguese, the heat and the many people. The other night my great uncle Gilberto said something curious and rather provocative. He said all the poets he´d met, once skinned of their artistic and literary armour, where calculating and cynical individuals, skilled in the ability of mirroring the world´s emotions, but lacking the passion that comes from one´s own fire and beliefs. Am I really just an ornamental mirror? Perhaps one that reflects the beauty of the world in a magnified way? Is there some consistency to my words and thoughts? Or are we all just be mirrors of each other’s feeling, shadows of each other´s dreams, as I once wrote in a poem? I believe there is some truth to what he said. My poetry, my words, are a magnified version of what I see and feel and this includes my vision of myself. Just as it can be raw at times, it can also be careful and aesthetically pleasing. I suppose, in a way, that´s what all art does: it paints a picturesque and awe inspiring version of banality. It tries to inject some colour and unpredictability in the boredom of everyday life.

Here’s a few pictures taken amidst the red mist of Santarem.

Travel post # 2 – Barco São Bartolomeu III and Santarém

Barco São Bartolomeu III, Manaus to Santarém, 5th July

This chunk of wood and coloured hammocks has been nothing but an exercise in patience. Ever since we crossed over the excitement of blue and brown floating side by side, latte-coloured water has been expanding indefinitely. I wonder all the lives that have lived and passed through these waters and dwelled in this desolation, this forgotten world – most people never leave Amazonas or Para, have never seen the sea. I´ve been on this boat for 24 hours and time feels different over here. Five hours is around the corner and everything is measured in seasons and circadian cycles.  Colourful hammocks, some pets in cages, banana trees, children running wild, a boy with purple hair tearfully reading a letter, music blasting from the bar, we all proceed as ants, shifting slowly downstream and the size of the world is almost inconceivable. I have never felt so small.


Santarém, 7th July 2016

The carelessness, mixed with embarrassment, of two young women on plastic chairs, letting their children play by the cemetery of solidarity, which is FUNDAC*. My uncle Gil, 80 years old and yet still fiery – with communism, rebellion, and desire to help the weak and exploited – completely ignored by their ignorant glances. Don´t you know me? Your children came here, I helped you for years, I did a good thing. And you just stood there oblivious, as this temple of learning was destroyed, by drugs and poverty and ignorance. It wasn´t just the humidity that thickened the air in that abandoned playground, with broken windows and shredded walls. Not for theft, but for sabotage, for anger. Anger against what? We will always be conquistadores here, even if I eat pimenta and fish heads and walk around barefoot. There will always be hatred. Llega a tu país! The rich kid said to my uncle on the first night, as we ate camaroes and drank cold Brahma. Todo o mundo é país… and ignorance and xenophobia are always the hardest to eradicate.

*FUNDAC was my uncle´s now closed NGO, which looked after local disadvantaged children, providing them with official identities, long-distance adoption programmes and after-school activities and tuition.


Mercado,  Santarém, 8th July

Colour clashes: indigenous, black and white blood, fruit, old faces and fat, juicy fish. It´s so hard to choose: where to point the lens, who to be, where it is that I stand here. Am I just quiet or am I an outsider to this bustling chaos? When I speak they laugh with me, and I suppose their language isn´t any more foreign than the rest of my life. Markets always overwhelm me, and I just let myself melt into its all-embracing senses.

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Travel post #1- São Paulo to Manaus

Sun, breeze, or the extra pill. Or maybe the Sirocco numbness has left town. The blinding headache has retreated somewhat and maybe things won´t be so bad. Maybe I won´t sink into its sands but get across unscathed, but for the slight delay and heaviness. Maybe I can make myself lighter by soaking up this warmth and allowing things to come. At their own pace. The tar will evaporate slowly, with this magic combination. The feeling of dread will be left behind. I shall proceed carefully and keep light. Rapid movement might break the balance. The forest lays ahead, the humid, bug-drenched forest by the rio, and the labour to come will bring strength and promise. In a little more than a month, I will be at the edge of nothingness and I will be happy, staring down at the immensity of the world. On top of the world, chewing on coke because humans aren´t built for feeling so light. I will be real again, up there. A young explorer amidst old happy folk, ready to learn and feel pain. Ready to vomit out what´s left of the tar and see how it really is that I feel, that I am. Alone and loved by the world, I can be anything I want to be.

This was written about two weeks ago, shortly before my departure for Santarém, Para, deep in the Brazilian Amazon forest. As I´m on a two-month trip around the Amazon region and then Ecuador and Bolivia (I think) and as I´m struggling to maintain contact with family and friends (due to lack of internet connection, laptop and time), this website is going to temporarily be turned into a travel/informative blog. I apologise if this will cause a lack in the literary consistency and care that I usually try to maintain in my posts but I´m very tired – or ´cansada´ as they say here – confused and in a hurry. Which, now that I think of it, isn´t all that different from my usual state of being. I promise, however, to try not to bore you with descriptive information about my trip and to keep the material reflexive, existentially inquisitive and creativity/psychology related. There may also be some photographs.
And, last but not least, I´ve been admitted onto an MSc in Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex, starting mid-September, so this website will return to its original state of being around that time.


Plane FCO-GRU, 3rd July 2016

I want to breathe in the world like a noz balloon. I don´t want to see, I want to be, to feel. To sink into people´s skin, to touch, to feel real. To feel their pulse running in my veins. Human flesh, dirt, nakedness, running. The forest, the mud, the discomfort, the pain, the rain. I want to find the kindness, the humaneness, which is a waste to so many people´s lives. I want to learn how to always stop the car when I see another man dying, to never let the fear and the apathy take over.


São Paulo, 4th July 2016

Sao Paulo feels uncomfortable and people walk about fretfully and suspiciously. I missed my ride, my luggage was temporarily lost and I hold on to my things and myself while I wait an hour for the bus. I want to be in the forest and get out of this hostile concrete town, which screams poverty and looks down on you with its obvious luxury. The hostel near Paulista is a momentary comfort, greeting me with water, caipirinha, a joint and good people. Why do I fall in love so easily and why am I so prone to sleepless nights? I just want to slide in quietly and go unnoticed. I catch so many eyes for my clumsiness, my looks, or my curious attire. Sometimes it´s ok. I smile and they smile back, even help. Sometimes we´re immediately best friends, or lovers. Other times they just stare back vacantly, a slight edge of hostility and incomprehension. I feel guilty then, as if staring at hyenas at the zoo. But I don´t want to look at you, I want to look with you and keep you forever with me. Maybe I need to devise a strategy.


Plane to Manaus, 5th July

I am scruffy, tired and hungry, my shaky legs my only company on this plane into the jungle. The view from the plane window is magnificent and disturbing: concrete, concrete, concrete blocks, expanding for miles and miles (and miles), surrounded by the impenetrable blackness of the forest. Man vs. Nature.


Manaus, 5th July 2016

Manaus is friendly and very LOUD. Chaotic and messy, it stands rebellious and arrogant in the middle of the indomitable forest. Traffic and trafficking, cocaine and diamonds stuffed into bananas. Daily torrential rain, dirty water, dirty streets. People shouting stuff at me while I try to clean the humidity off my glasses. I arrived to curious looks and pats on the back and me and my backpack were shoved into a bus/van-thing, blasting music from a portable speaker. The driver stopped the bus/van-thing and shouted from the window for an açai. He also skilfully wrote me a list of fish to try – Tombaqui, Pirarucu, Tucunare – while navigating the busy streets of this humid mess of a city. Most importantly: I haven´t seen a single mosquito. I mean, ok that I lavished myself in repellent spray while waiting for my suitcase but seriously, Manaus makes Rome look like, well… the Amazon.