Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brazil Diary - Life Over Buildings

From the neglected buildings, the miracle of life somehow takes root.  Life spouts and thrives over our forgotten spaces.

In the old parts of the city, plants emerge from crevices.

The walls of the city breath with life erupting despite unobliging conditions.

Squatting in abandoned buildings, the jungle ventures to reclaim the city.

This next building has a bit of a story.  It had a large tree growing inside of it (taller than four stories high).  Through the windows you could see a jungle of vines and plants.  Last year a group of artists used the building to create an exhibit of local photographers displaying their work, and specifically used this space to spotlight the appreciation for old architecture and cultural identity.   The exhibit is now closed, but still visible from the outside.

It had been a ritual of mine to visit this building every trip to Brazil and photograph it.  I'd been really looking forward to taking a picture of that huge tree.

Now I see how my magical building inspired the imagination of others as well.

Then this weekend I found this new forest growing:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brazil Diary - Like a Lotus Born from Mud

When I mailed that application for the study abroad program, my heart was beating nervously.  At the mailbox on the corner of Church and State St, off-campus of my university, I hesitated before dropping the thick manila envelope down the wide mouth big blue slot.
Do I really want to do this?  Go live in another country for a whole semester... 
I don't remember exactly what I was scared of, but I remember feeling really apprehensive about sending off that app.

Then the plane landed among a sea of green tropical trees, and this time my heart beat with anticipation.

The next four months of "school" passed with the pace of Brazil itself.  They passed with color, with smiles, with hugs and kisses.  They passed with boat trips, swimming in rivers, and long thick rainy afternoons napping in hammocks.  In a way it seemed like paradise escape from the too serious and rigid US life.  And in another way it was a splash immersion in a world of trash, bugs, dirt, poverty, and the messy intersection of cultural and economic pressures on ecology.

Imagine a ceramic vase painted and sculpted beautifully portraying rainforest utopia for sale in a house, but to buy it you step over a drain littered with trash and plastic water bottles.  In this city, few dare to drink the abundant polluted water.  In the Amazon region, the left fist slashes and burns the forest while the right hand feeds the family hope of a country lifted from third world stature.  The native village and wildlife refuge drowned out to build a hydroelectric plant powerful enough to bring the gift of light and television to millions of people.

Brazilian concept of sustainability is on a different point in the 'green' stratum.  Individual eco footprints here are much smaller.  Fast food doesn't come packaged in paper and boxes upon layers of junk, and portions are smaller so I've rarely seen anyone waste food.  Soda and beer are all served in glass bottles that are returned to the factory, sterilized and refilled.   Gadgets and products are expensive, so people rarely buy some new thing that never gets used.  When something breaks they fix it.  A/C units are by room and only turned on when people are occupying that room.  Same with electronics: lights and computers are turned off when not in use.  Everyone hangs laundry to dry in the sun.   It's pretty cool to see how easy life flows with so much less packaging and megawatts being interchanged.

But one thing this city majorly needs is some cleanup teamed with education.  You just get used to stepping over the trash.  What doesn't get picked up gets washed away by the winter season rain, clogging and creating dams of rotten sloth refuse, eventually swimming to sea to join and mingle in the great floating trash gyre.

I know it's never cool to criticize someone else's country.  But really now I consider Belem my second home.  I find the expressions of art among simplicity beautiful.  I love the use of colors to paint the houses and the textures created through heavy rain weathering. Its so different from the marble and brick dominated architecture in DC and the HOA approved colors from back home.

It's so strange that my life has taken a permanent stake in this dirty city.  I never imagined this would happen when I dropped that study abroad app in the mailbox.  Shows that you never know where your life will land you.  And like the lotus flower, so much beauty can emerge from an unexpected messy place.

And to end this post: some poetic graffiti.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Brazil Diary - Mangal das Garcas

As I mentioned, Mari's flown away back to USA, and I'm catching up on blogging about places we've been around Belem, Brazil.
 Butterfly eggs

 Sometimes the only thing between a little girl and her dream, is the courage to ask permission.

 Mari's Parents

 How many iguana's can you spot in this picture?  

Brazil Diary - Nossa Senhora

Mariano left Saturday for the US and arrived safely yesterday.  Now life has really slowed down here at his family's home in Belém, Brazil.  Yesterday also marked the final day of the city's two week Catholic festival called Círio.  The tradition is based around a story of the Lady Saint of Nazaré (Nossa Senhora de Nazaré).

The original Nossa Senhora lives in Portugal, but around 1700 a small replica of her was found in Belém by a man walking around the streams in what used to be undeveloped forested Amazonian delta.  He took the little statue back to his house to clean her, when she magically disappeared and reappeared back at the site he had found her.  This occurred multiple times until folks concluded her a divine miracle.  They constructed a basilica in the location; where she now lives on a decorated alter.

That is except for during the main day of Círio, when she makes a symbolic journey across the city from a church in the old town back to her basilica.  Two million people migrate into the city to take part in the procession, and many arrive at 2am to find a space touching the cord that precedes her thrown in the parade. 

People cheering in the distance as the cord passes and they hold it above their heads

Packed with men determined to walk with the cord

Mari's mom wakes up at 4am every year to walk with Nossa Senhora. Sometimes people walk with her to ask for healing or good fortune.  They design miniatures of their dream houses or boats and walk with these models above their heads, asking for Nossa Senhora to help them attain these things.  One of Mari's friends walked with a poser size picture of an iPad.  

A modest dream house

Some people even make the 3.6km trek on their knees, the ultimate display of gratitude to Nossa Senhora.  These people are always assisted by groups of volunteers paving their pilgrimage with t-shirts or cardboard. 

It seems to be a truly cathartic experience for many people.  Plus lots of trash and water bottles to fend off dehydration in the 97degree climate.  Inevitably people pass out from exhaustion and need to be carried out in stretchers.  And here's a shot of the feet.  

Then of course, there is food.  Lots of delicious food.  More on that in another post.


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