I find myself in a bar, in a mall in the heart of the Beast on a Tuesday night. Do you know what a bar in Brazil looks like on a weeknight evening in a mall?
I have no idea how I got here, but I guess it’s always like that in São Paulo – in this Beast of a City.
At seven in the evening, we’re the early birds out for the night. Corporate sleaze, forcing a happy hour because people have to get home, drinking with strangers we wish we didn’t have to impress. And we work early tomorrow, so if we’re going to drink together it’ll have to be soon.
Funny. Besides the language, these are mainly the same jerks and idiots from the other side of the planet, so what difference does it make?
The City offers little in the sense of direction or horizon, less so at night. I don’t think a compass would even work here, probably just freaking out until it spontaneously combusts. Even with sporadic access to Google Earth, in three days I have not yet found out what part of the City I’m in. Too vast to take in, and too homogeneous to discern, the place is more than just urban. I mean, Oakland is urban. Chicago is urban. New York and Los Angeles are sprawls of urbanity. Shit, even Bangkok is urban.
São Paulo is a fucking scar on the surface of the planet. Google Map the place sometime. For those of you with no sense of scale this scar is like half of Long Island. Manhattan is nothing, nothing compared to this animal.
…I digress. Where was I?
Oh yeah: in a mall. On a Tuesday night. I still can’t believe it.
The place is unnecessarily sheltered and artificial, perfect for these jokers with whom I hang tonight. My cohorts for the evening begin to feast on the sickly beer almost immediately.
Hours seem to pass as I observe my surroundings: the men, the women, the consumerism that is so familiar in the United States. I wonder what the hell I’m doing here many times before I use one of my old man’s jokes to break the ice.
Mocking our culture usually works like a goddamn hatchet for Brazilians. On these folks, it’s like an ice barge over a frozen puddle. Soon things are more comfortable and I finally got my booze preference some attention, ordering what I’ve usually ordered these days. It works pretty well because I end up with a suitable ale, or a Guinness when I’m lucky.
In Brazil, you can sometimes find wings but they won’t be on the extensive menu with pasteis, coxinha, esfihas, porcoes de bife, polenta and what not; you’re more apt to find them in between the drain and the cockroach, or else on that table with the obnoxious American business suits over there. Christ, I hate being considered foreign.
Comparatively, my comrades and colleagues, good folk and humble, well-traveled people have filled the table with platters of appetizers that would make you weep at a Marriott Luau in Hawaii. Life, for them, is living. And in Brazil, money is power. You can do anything you want in this country when you have money. A dangerous power when the money comes from someone else. What will you do if it ever runs out?
I drink my beer, I try to listen, tell another joke, perhaps understood, perhaps not. It is too loud to tell. For the moment, I am content.
That is, until the night begins to drone on, and I find myself distracted, out of focus, out of context. I am taken in by the subtleties of the atmosphere in here, the contrast to out there, wherever that is. The lack of touch between the two realities is staggering.
The voices grow fainter until all I hear are moving, silent lips and the strange heels of the women who cling desperately to their executive boyfriends. The face of the little man next to me says something and I give him one of those meaningless agreeing shrugs with the nodding frown, as if I cared or could have heard him if I wanted to. He is so far away.
On that note, I have to hurry up and finish All Quiet on the Western Front – my writings reflect much too much of my recent readings, and if I’m not careful I’ll wind up thinking of trench warfare and how irrelevant this all is. And nobody wants that.