Yes, I’m in Brazil.
Last time I set foot in this gigantic green land was exactly two years ago, and although being away for such a long time (5 years in total) slowly kills me, it also has some positive sides. For instance, the way I perceive what it used to be my life. I was telling this girl I sort of know (never met, but I read her stuff) that I feel a bit like Neo at the end of the first Matrix, when he started seeing everything in green codes. What a difference, how incredibly weird my life was. Everything, from the smallest peculiarity to the biggest political scandal, has to me the luscious flavour of a new discovery. The culture, the people, the habits, all that has always made Brazil for what it is, all that made ME what I am – even if it means being the opposite of all things Brazilian – doesn’t cease to amaze me.
First, the women. One of the biggest clichés, the most tiresome slogan that defines the country along with samba and football is that here live the most beautiful women in the world. Unfortunately I’m beginning to believe it’s true, as much as I now believe Jazz divas are destined to live tragic lives (unfortunately, yes, because I’m not one of them). Naturally blessed with good genes brought by a melting pot of European, African and Native Indian blood, Brazilian women are also increasingly obsessed with their appearance and go about trimming themselves endlessly, hair to toe, tits to fanny. There are hairdressers and beauty clinics in every corner, always full of stunning, tanned, long-haired, white-teethed and big-butted girls asking for their weekly manicure-pedicure-waxing-blow-dry combo. And that’s when they’re not making appointments with plastic surgeons for their annual nip and tuck, a little fix that 3-hour daily workouts aren’t able to shift. I don’t blame them. The heat during the summer is so overwhelming that it literally demands you to get rid of all garments, and that means exposing your most private bits. Also, beauty treatments, massages, gym, and plastic surgery are, if not cheap, absolutely affordable. As with everything else, Brazilians pay for stuff in small instalments that sometimes extend up to 24 months – beauty and fashion mortgages.
My other surprise is most of my friends/acquaintances are, if not successful, well-established in their own area – none of them working in 9-5 jobs. There’s the tattoo artist, the designer, the DJs, the photographers, the writers, the filmmakers… most working as self-employed or running their own business, earning not only enough to support themselves, but also to have time and fun. In my concept of Brazil, this kind of thing doesn’t happen here: it happens in London, Berlin, New York, Paris. Art, music, fashion, film is stuff that Brazilians don’t grasp, don’t associate with career/profession. Well, it seems not anymore. This people, my people, are proving me joyously wrong.
Then there’s the permanent notion of pleasure that it’s part of the country’s mentality. The Brazilian will suffer if necessary, and DOES suffer a lot, but temporarily – because they always find a way to obtain pleasure from the small things. In their perspective, how can anyone live without eating great food, lying down under the sun, spending time laughing with family and friends? Brazilians need to treat themselves as they need to breathe. They will work hard – because the idea that Brazilians don’t work hard is mistaken; they do give their blood when it comes to make their businesses work – but they will certainly want to enjoy their worth at the end of the day, the month, the year. The British, au contraire, spend every day of their lives complaining about their own bad cuisine, the grey sky and the lack of time to see their beloved ones, then counterbalance by drinking and partying like there’s no tomorrow, so they can spend the next day nursing headaches and massive hangovers.
Then, there’s religion. According to Veja, the Brazilian Newsweek, atheists are the biggest victims of prejudice, more stigmatised than gays or black people. It’s easy to validate in daily life. I say I don’t believe in God, they pop their eyes out and yell “WHAT!? HOW COME, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU HAVE TO ASK FOR SOMETHING, OR SAY THANK YOU FOR A BLESSING?” It’s such a naïve, silly idea that it verges on the absurd – similarly as in Muslim countries, but without the killing and the bombing part (that’s football and drug traffic’s business).
And what surprises me even more is how religion fits in the country of pleasure seeking – because I’m sure indulging oneself gratuitously must be a SIN in any religion (maybe not for the Universal Church, the biggest evangelic community in the country, as they preach GREED is a virtue). But there is an answer: here is also the country of the “jeitinho”, the “little way” Brazilians find to make things work for them, even if it means disrespecting laws. In the case of Christianity, you only need to say you repent, ask for forgiveness, and everything is alright. Your place in Heaven is safe and sound, where the fun will continue for the rest of eternity, is safe and sound.
As much as it revolts me, at the same time, it doesn’t bother me much. It’s all part of the amusing soap-opera that life here is. Five years ago I left Brazil thinking that life in the First World was much, MUCH better: full of educated, well-read people that didn’t need to resort to corruption to make things work, because there was trust – in the people, or in the government when the people would not be reliable. But I forgot that there are certain things in each country that are not transferable, but nevertheless make life lighter, more bearable. In the UK is the immense variety of cheap literature, the amazing diversity of opinions disseminated by the great number of newspapers, the profuse creativity in the arts and fashion, stimulated by those in power, the certainty that the government will not look away when one needs a helping hand.
In Brazil is the year-round sunshine, the strong perfume of the vegetables and fruits, the two-hour lunch break that you take at home so you can eat home-cooked rice and beans and then take a well-deserved nap, the parties that start at 1am and finish when the sun is high, the cheapness of cosmetic treatments (although fashion is ridiculously exorbitant), the friendliness of its inhabitants, always willing to exchange a smile and little snippets of talk, ready to give an advice or a helping hand, the heightened sexuality (with so many beautiful people, it’s only natural), the instinctive ability to dance all kinds of dance and play football like a dancer, the conscience that, no matter how difficult life is, what is important it to be happy – and happiness, the Brazilians proved to me, is their expertise.