Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Brazil is changing before my eyes

As I remember it.

My first visit to Brazil was in 1999. Luiz and I had met early in the year in San Francisco, CA and he soon thereafter began encouraging me to buy a plane ticket to Rio to join him on the beach in Copacabana on NYE for the millennial fireworks. Tempting as it was I was hesitant to lock in a plane ticket months in advance for a trip with a guy I was not sure I would still want to be spending time with. Little did I know Luiz has an instinct for these sorts of things. I’m glad I secured a seat on that plane.

Brazil has changed a lot in the past 14+ years. Some of the things that enamored me with the country at first blush have since faded into history, like the relative lawlessness in everyday life and the liberty that it provided. But also, some of the things that have begun to fade into history have been met with relief, like the relative lawlessness in everyday life that is better suited to a vacation than a daily living situation.

The town matriarch's house is closed up now.

Luiz and I spent this past long Easter weekend with friends in one of our favorite nearby mountain villages: Boa Esperança. I can’t say for sure, but I think the year-round resident population is something like a few hundred, if you also include the dogs, horses and VW Beetles. As tiny and remote as it is, Boa Esperança has certainly changed in recent years.

Dora and Sergão have upgraded their rental from a teeny tiny place to this beautiful three bedroom palace.

It’s not a big thing (well, maybe it is). Not too much has changed. But you can definitely feel change/progress/lost simplicity in the air.

The old dirt road is history.
Now the road is paved. But the air continues to be crystal clear.

Local residents are happy about the recent paving of the road up from neighboring Lumiar. The asphalt now extends all the way to the final intersection in town (although it does not branch outward onto intersecting residential roads). At least now the bus can reach its turnaround point without herniating the spinal disks of its passengers. This is a great improvement if you live there. For us occasional visitors it has removed some of the romance.

The waterfall on private land a good 1,000 meters up the mountain beyond the end of the pavement has morphed into a more developed family picnic spot. Gone are the days of calling out a hello to the owner and his wife when entering, swimming alone in the waterfall, and then being among just your friends and a few additional folks back in the picnic area. Now there is a full-on bar and luncheonette with extensive seating. The newly improved cement path that steeply descends from the access road to the property helps you not rip apart another pair of flip flops. But, unfortunately, now there is a young man sitting at a plastic patio table at the bottom ready to collect a R$3 entrance fee. I don’t blame the family for commercializing their hidden treasure. It is a good idea and it was bound to happen.

I just miss how it used to be. Sappy, I know.

Our decision to move to Brazil 6 years ago was rooted in family obligations, a desire for a lifestyle change, and plain ol’ whimsical adventurousness. The simpler nature of much of the Brazil we have chosen to surround ourselves with has been a balm on many levels. I get it that time rolls along and things progress. Far be it for me to dismiss the very real improvements in people’s lives that things like paved roads, nearby health clinics or internet access provide. I’m generally pro-development.

At least the banana trees are still giving bananas the good old fashion way.

A lot can be written about the changes I have seen these past 14 years through my significantly narrow experience since we became full time residents. Perhaps this post will elicit from me a longer essay on just that topic. At this point let it suffice to say that Luiz and I choose to surround ourselves with the better nature of rural communities, focus on our relationships with friends who share our values, and live in the present, resisting the temptation to surge ahead into a new Brazil that we fear will come to look all too much like the US we left behind.


David said...

My Brazil is very different from yours. I live with my Brazilian partner right in the middle of Sao Paulo, in Baixo Augusta (Sao Paulo's gayborhood). I still get a thrill walking down the street after work and passing hookers, trannies, skateboarders, punks, tourists...There have been a few hate crime incidents late at night, but this is where same sex couples can and do hold their partners' hand. I like it here, but I need to escape to Minas every once in a while. I love your blog!

Jim said...

David. Thanks for posting and thanks for your kind words about the blog. it would be fun to compare notes on living an out gay life here in Brazil. You live in one of the few very rare places where gay visibility is gaining traction (and political power). As an ex-resident of San Francisco I know the feel of such freedom - and it is remarkable.