Monday, July 28, 2008

Life as unusual

Some days I feel such purpose in my stride, and other days I wonder, “What am I doing?” I’ve had a string of the latter days lately. It’s not to say I don’t want to be where I am, but more that I don’t know where I am. The feeling is a little unsettling, confusing and strange. Then again, that was the goal and, despite the uncertainty of the process, I believe in the certainty of the growth and the value of the lessons. Before I came here I figured that I would feel like I willfully threw my life in a blender. That is, today, the best way I can describe it—four months in and I am completely stirred up. This is a good thing, though sometimes I get a little queasy. Let’s call it motion sickness. I expected it, but I am also anxious for it to pass.

Attempts to navigate the unfamiliar waters co-exist with my other ongoing missions: seeking out new friends and experiences, creating a life here, and laughing now and then.

I mentioned Renato in previous posts. He’s the Brazilian I meet with twice weekly for conversation practice. I was really pleased that on our fourth meeting he creatively instructed me to meet him in front of Catedral Metropolitana next time, provided the day was sunny, because he had something he wanted to show me. The following sunny Thursday, he took me to Solar dos Câmara, a cultural-center/museum less than two blocks from my apartment. Tucked behind Palácio Farroupilha, the local House of Legislature, the building is considered the oldest residence in the city though for many years it has been used as a cultural and educational institution. Both the architecture and décor warrant a visit, but we also toured a photo exhibit and an old library housing these massive books of mid-19th century broadsheets. You can sit and thumb through them if you are so inclined which, given their age, seemed unusual to me. But Renato’s favorite thing to show visitors is the garden—a quiet and secluded semi-tropical paradise that feels miles from its real location in the middle of Porto Alegre’s government hub.

We sat in the garden a while and discussed the history of the building and the lifestyle of the political families that once resided there. He informed me that the women slept in an interior room without any windows and whiled away their days in the walled-in garden, to keep them safe, both from harm and from falling in love with suitors considered undesirable by influential fathers. I also learned that the nearby Praça Alfândega is so named because the river bank used to reach the park’s border (until the shoreline was set back by a few blocks to where the port is currently) and so that is where the customs office, or alfândega, was located. We debated the merits of Brazil’s newly enacted Zero Tolerance law (a recent development that issues stiff penalties to any driver that has ingested alcohol) and then some of the differences and similarities between the U.S. and Brazilian criminal justice systems. It was a delightful afternoon, and beyond local trivia I also learned a handful of new words.

On Saturday, I crossed a goal off my list: to go to the bus station with an overnight bag and take the first bus headed somewhere reasonably interesting. The next bus was to Bento Gonçalves, a town famous for its vineyards that I considered visiting last weekend. Unfortunately, crossing the goal of spontaneity off my list and the 6-hour round trip bus journey were the highlights of the excursion. I spent the night in an unremarkable city-center hotel, conveniently within walking distance of nothing interesting. And although I failed my only mission of attending a wine-tasting tour yesterday (a rainy Sunday), I did manage to enjoy a nice cabernet with a lovely Italian lunch before the ride home. It’s just as well… I plan to visit again, but next time I'll have booked accommodation in one of the charming, mountainside wineries. Having the company of a handsome lad with a car would be nice too!

And thusly, the time passes…
Boa semana,