Pedro Ávila

With the news came more rain, soft and slow as I can ever remember in this City. It is nothing like our neighborhood back home.

I remember a few things I enjoyed about growing up there, not the least of which was mowing and raking Helen’s lawn. It was an excuse to force us kids into working, not for the money, but for the experience: pleasure and pain. A job well done is it’s own reward, and all that stuff. Mom’s usual psychology worked magic around our growing minds, but it was also a pleasure it was for Helen, to have two growing kids on which to dump her chocolate covered macademia nuts and Shasta Cola in between raking and mowing her lawn on brisk autumn days. Everyone was better off because of it. What a saint.

Growing up in the posh end of the East Bay didn’t give us many chances for this sort of thing as people are usually secluded and dead long before they ever die. Helen never gave that seclusion a chance. Like Bill, the firefighter and gardener across the street, seeing her out walking up and down that stretch no matter how slowly was a cherished routine. It helped assure us that things were as they should be, and going well at that.

Helen died today.

I just learned of it through a message I had been ignoring all day. They’ve already had her funeral back home, half a world away. She would have liked that it was done so soon after her passing, though. She may have moved slowly but she liked things to be done, and I can’t remember her ever being shy about it. I would have liked to have been there, of course, as I’m sure it was full of people celebrating her life, with smiles as bright as the summer that approaches, and plenty of tears as light as her white hair.

It’s comforting to remember that I will always have the fig tree, though. She used to give us loads of figs that she couldn’t handle off of her aging tree that apparently had learned over the years to produce the really good stuff. Later, she saw we liked them so much that she gave us a branch of her tree and we planted it in our front yard and watched it grow with inordinate speed. Already it produces such sweetness as hers and towers over our front yard. Already it has given a branch to another tree in our backyard. One day it will offer me another branch, and I will plant it with the care to which it is accustomed.

Life goes on, I suppose.

I would have liked to be kissed goodbye one last time though, as she invariably did, even if it was to cross the street on her way home.

I would have liked to hear her say one last time, that I’m a ‘good kid’, because she would say it with meaning whether I was doing what I could to make my family happy or bringing her some pao de queijo, or just telling her that the figs she gave us were out of sight. She was the kind of person that didn’t see the difference in the actions because the motivation was the same… I’m a ‘good kid’ and that’s that.

I will miss her dearly.

I perceive that but for the rain, the river Tiete is dulled and motionless, like a festering lagoon by the freeway. The sounds of the City have smoothed out a bit now and a fog has fallen over it such as to make San Francisco envious. It is not silent, nor is it still, but for a fleeting moment, or series of moments, all the noises – somehow in sync – go unheard.

An idle night for an idle day, it seems. Who knew so much peace could be had in a moment?

Maybe I will sleep tonight… maybe. Who knows?

Estanplaza Hotel, 12th floor balcony, Sao Paulo – March, 2006

Pedro Ávila

A surface storm stirs me from slumber and I cannot help but stay awake and watch. It’s not like I can TIVO this shit.

The sound is richer than any THX robot and the electricity lingers in the air long after the lightning strikes. I could really use some company on a night like this — not for conversation, mind you; there’s nothing to be said. No, the company would be more of a spot check that I’m real, that magic moments like this on the 12th floor of a posh hotel in the darkness of a city suddenly gone quiet do, indeed, exist.

But decent people are not awake at this kind of hour. It’s a dangerous time for me.

Deep into the night, amidst a rain that drowned São Paulo I stood on the 12th floor balcony of my room at the Estanplaza Hotel for what seemed like hours. There was no hope of sleep, not in that thunderous fury of lightning and wind. Someone was speaking to me that night, and I stood outside in the hopes of understanding what was being said.

The lighting and thunder was as I remember it. Threatening, vicious and impressive, but mostly distant, the warm breezes blew in from whatever direction they pleased. I was convinced that nature was doing all it could to keep me happy and distracted. Days like that don’t come very often, when the sky darkens in the middle of the afternoon and the wind is warm and refreshing. Days when the silent lighting over the tiny blue hills on the horizon tell of a storm on the way, and you feel it permeate your bones as the night rolls over the clouds.

I like that.

I gripped the rail tightly. I would hold on if the thunderous crash caused me to lose my balance, fall, or jump off. You can never be too careful when things are as weird as they have been for me lately. Much is on my mind, and despite the persistent discussions here I find it difficult to resolve the matters at hand as they are rooted within an intrinsic part of who I am today. It’s interesting how the mind can be so full at times, yet so light as to make little cause of movement or work against inertia. Still at at another time, a man may have but one issue at hand and be so weighed down by it that he can go no further, to say nothing of wandering between topics.

I realize that there is an annoying lack of specificity when I speak of such things but I have already dabbled too much into this matter, both in real life and here. And you can never be too careful concerning what is written, because no matter how much you alter the story or how many new characters you invent, you’re always drawing from somewhere. Like any joke, there is some hint, some foundation of truth in what we say, a sliver of reality that can just as easily betray the tale.

And that would be the end of that story.

The rain reacts with the smog differently here. The sky becomes fumous and black. It thickens with a castigating surrealism like some form of plasma.

Rain in the city…it never seems to fully stop at this time of year, but nobody can remember when it started. In the dark, my thoughts turn to dreams, or visions, rather. Black thoughts enshroud my mind as I walk down a poorly lit corridor, narrow and brown. Old fixtures give way to shadows and elevators that weep with age. It is narrower every day. Soon it will be upon me.

What’s it all for anyway? Where does this take me? In the morning, I will work as I have always done before, but night will bring these words again, these questions. And tonight will remain just another thought in the dark; another building in this Beast.

Pedro Ávila

Wholly uninspired by the affluence of this place, I am forced to explain how blasé it can be.

Despite the amazing amounts of papaya and mangoes and various other fruits and juices with which I am not presently equipped with names, despite the copious amounts of all things good like pão de queijo and coffee that doesn’t taste like ass, despite the 12th floor balcony overlooking one of the world’s largest metropoli — it’s all little more than a Marriott with a nice facade; a bed & breakfast with too much space and little charm. Really. People, in general, have no concept of real luxury. It’s incredible how far a little gold trim goes for some people.

And for what? $450 a night? More? It’s unreasonable, and spectacularly so at that. If it weren’t for fiscally irresponsible clients, I don’t see how a place like this could even exist.

Moreover, there is scum in this place who think this is great, or worse, who think this is normal. These are the same jerks and idiots who don’t notice the favela across the street. These are the same assholes who will return to their respective foreign nations without their laptops or wristwatches and a tell a tall tale of how they were brutally robbed by a street kid. These same fat men in cheap suits with matching mustaches and large expense accounts will describe the beautiful women they watched dancing (if they were cultured enough to go out) and the delicious food that later gave them the runs that can make a educated man learn to pray.


There is, of course, a whole other perspective on the favelas that I don’t share, either because I’ve been too far from these shores for too long or because I’m just not that obtuse. Maybe both.

In any case, most people are disgusted by the presence of the favelas in the cities. Some are even in search of a solution, a method to get the people out of there (for better or for worse, and mostly for worse). I find it interesting that few, if any, are in search of a way to stop people from getting into that state of necessity and desperation in the first place. Interesting that for all the compassion people have for the poor, it doesn’t translate if the poor are in favelas.

Maybe that’s not fair, and maybe it is. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Since when have people as a whole had enough forward-thinking vision to solve problems instead of symptoms, right? Even the favela folk are guilty of that.

Let’s back up a step. For those not in the know, a favela is an area (usually a few blocks or more) in which haphazard, incomplete, illegal construction has been erected, residences established and a community formed. Often these were people that came down south from the northeast of Brazil for construction jobs and other such political wash basins. Electrical wires are spliced and electricity is stolen from the municipality. Streams are rerouted and water is stolen as well. Some abodes are worse than others, made of wood and cardboard while others have brick and mortar that depict an ongoing construction, sometimes for decades, perhaps.

They build over themselves, because unless they’re on the fringe of the city swallowing other satellites there is no where to go but up. At least two things they all share are clothes hanging out to dry in the hot, muggy air, and extreme poverty, the likes of which I wouldn’t dare describe here beyond being terribly immense and fantastically immeasurable.

This would be, of course, a natural segway point into the obvious discussion of the drug trafficking and the opportunity for organized crime that such an environment harbors and fosters but I just don’t have the strength to go into that mess right now.

In any case, I feel I should note (since no one else has) that the people who live in favelas are just that: people. And it’s amazing what little influence or effect that fact has on perspectives of these places. They are so blind to their anger and hate of the em>favela, so lacking in their compassion for the people that the fact is almost nullified, almost ceases to be a fact.

And maybe sometimes it does, a little.

Fucking people, man.

Pedro Ávila

If nature were to one day be fed up with man for the obscene amounts of pollutants we toss into the mix, Cubatão would be the first place to be removed from the surface like picking a scab.

Sometimes I think it’s a good thing I can’t will mountains to crumble over an entire city.

Then I see Cubatão in the shadow of the dying serra smack in the middle of the Mata Atlantica, and it’s obvious that we simply don’t need the help.

Anchieta SP-150, Cubatão – March, 2006

Pedro Ávila

Silence, finally.

A rare moment these days, when one’s sleep is disrupted over so trivial a thing as breakfast, which I’m capable of preparing myself, thanks. I brood over the necessity of such a disruption but the brooding doesn’t fix it. Oh well. At least it doesn’t last long either.

I’m not much of a brooder. I think it’s because there are too many people in my life that require too much of my attention. I guess you could say I’ve learned to brood in short bursts, since brooding is somewhat unavoidable.

Random thoughts again in the morning. They come at me like the salty air from the beach comes at my face when I scope out the waves prior to jumping in. Questions abound over the nature of this trip, its purpose, if any exists. Is this really just another business trip that happened to be to a familiar place? Or is it an opportunity to be shown a bigger picture? To see the repercussions of the choices I’ve made?

I’m not one for chance, and I loathe the idea of destiny. But the alternative – right now — is somewhat terrifying.

Everywhere on the beach there are girls, surfers, mothers, madams, chicks and useless dependent, bikini-filling masses. Most cling to their respective husbands and boyfriends and another majority of the rest look desperately for their own before they lose their appeal. It is this dependence that is beyond my tolerance.

It is not in my nature to understand this need people seem to have, this affinity for dependence. I would just as soon turn a need into a want, even if I have to sell it to myself. A need is a weakness; a want is avoidable. You can choose to suffer, and I’d prefer to suffer a want than to crave a need.

How could you want to need someone?  That just seems like the longest way possible through the mud — small-minded thinking rooted in a smaller view of a larger image.

What then, am I seeing here? What am I doing here? Am I here to discover this, or is the causality all mixed up in these words? And more importantly, if there is no purpose, can I still fail?

That would be inconceivable; so much is riding on the outcome, so many future paths depend on these choices…

Failure, although my biggest, and oldest fear is not the worst consequence. The worst part of it all is the fear that can come to govern this existence. The fear of the rot that follows failure, the apathetic mediocrity that follows complacency – this sickness consumes more than we care to count. I fight for the strength to rise above it.

Excuse me. I have to jump in the water for a sec ‘cause life ain’t all just a string of words for you to read.

And now I’m brooding too long when the water feels this good. You suckers keep reading. I’m going surfing.

Pedro Ávila

It’s hard to come by some time alone in this country. Company is everything, a stark contrast to the American ideal of independence. But solitude isn’t the same thing as loneliness, and few here have a grasp on that.

Drums sound in the trees as we pass the many illegal settlements by the side of the road, but they quickly fade into the distance, as do the people in the shacks of rotting wood and stolen bricks.

A weekend trip south offers the opportunity for silence, at least after everyone in the car wearies of the sounds of their own voices. Such a pause is a chance for contemplation of recent events and observations lest horrible things burst out of me like explosive pimples.


Random thoughts shoot in and out about life, direction, responsibility and my most recent hair cut, if you’ll permit me that vanity. It’s not that I care so much as that I look like a lost kid in a suit. That, and everyone notices, and they all think they’re right, that their useless comments are the sole voice of reason, the most necessary things I needed to hear that day. They all think that they are the bass to my rhythm.

But it’s all drums in the distance to me, friends. Drums in the distance.

Pedro Ávila

It was a long journey through the heart of the Beast. Full force with traffic, smog and heat…and stray dogs – who knew there were so many?

The cabbie who took us to a friend’s house and gave a great speech on the way there. It was another version of the ones I so often hear from cabbies in the Beast. They usually talk about how the country won’t go forward despite natural resources and it’s all because of the politicians and thieves and cheats and the uneducated, and on and on and on.

I decline to vote,” he tells me, proudly. “I’m just so sick of it all, and what difference am I making? They’re all just a bunch of…

Blah blah blah, I hear. Words are tossed about like leaves in the park – corruption, villainy, thievery – but it’s always on someone else.

It was a good one.

Humble, honest, well-informed and near insanity with the traffic due to the City. It could be worse, though, even for a taxi driver in this city. He tells me he drives 15-17 hours a day.

But I’m glad to have the work,” he says from the front seat, his eyes mostly focused on the car in front of him. I nod in the backseat, waiting for him to tell me why.

When I was a boy, around 12, I left home. I didn’t have a job so I came to São Paulo by foot all the way from Piauí.” I’m impressed. That’s, like, 1700 kilometers.

It took around 3 years,” he recalls to me in a pensive voice, and I’m not sure he’s really talking to me anymore. He goes on to say, radiantly, how proud he is that he can put, not just food on his family’s table, but that they can have ground beef, and chicken in the fridge.

Think of that.

Word, man. Motherfucking word.

The city, the heart of it anyways, is sadistically glorious. A compilation of a few hundred years of colonial history shows in the architecture but contemporary times have begun to take over the concrete jungle. Graffiti climbing the sides of buildings like ivy, scattered filth on the greasy roads, mold around the worn edges on every thing  capable of absorbing humidity. It gives the suffocated section of town an ancient but futuristic feel, sort of like Blade Runner meets Gotham City, if that makes any sense.

At night the streets are wet, though no one remembers when it rained. I want to look up, but I know that will give my foreignness away and then I will be haunted by the street children. This, I cannot have.

Youth here, does not last. Here, nothing has been young for a long, long time.

Pedro Ávila

I decided to walk back from work today, having rid myself of the laptop and therefore having little cause for worry except for the usual vigilance while on the streets. On this walk I discover that my hotel is literally across the street from a favela.

Some of you have heard about favelas_and may think you hold an inkling of an idea of what a _favela is. You may translate it as “shanty town”, or “slum”, or “ghetto”.

There is no just analogy I can make in the English tongue, and these terms are wholly inappropriate comparisons anyway. The contrast is eye-opening while raising as many questions as there are holes in the explanation to us folk from outside of its well-defined but un-discussed borders. It’s not so much a can of worms as much as it’s a canoe full of piranhas. Not just repulsive and impossible to handle, but flat-out dangerous.

So I stick with what I see because there is nothing within those walls that I can know. And what I see is not a person who can’t get out, but rather one that doesn’t know to do it. What I see isn’t a debilitated street kid that the world has forgotten in his ruse of selling water bottles, but rather a kid who was never taught and never saw that there are other ways to do it.

Education. That’s the key element. He doesn’t even know that he is ignorant of the possibilities. And that’s the worst part of it all. On the other hand, that’s what keeps him going, or at least, keeps him from going mad in that desolate, utter and abject poverty.

I could tell you of the children that are impressed by pavement, by shoes, and by indoor plumbing. I could tell you that they’re impressed, not because they’ve never seen it or because they live in the jungle. They’ve just never come to rely on it, take it for granted. They don’t see the benefit of it, since they’ve never needed it. Fascinating, but they live without it. And living – surviving rather – is the standard by which they judge need.

It’s all just so unfair.

Pedro Ávila

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 do.

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.

Pedro Ávila

Here at the top it’s easy to talk. The city listens to me think, even though it won’t shut up.

Moments pass in the São Paulo night that never seems to darken completely. As if there is a porch light that is always on somewhere, the night in São Paulo is unnervingly light. A glance upwards towards the stars reveals the reason almost immediately, though at first you don’t believe it.

There are no stars, only cloud cover – smog that rises at night, just above the buildings. Reflected off of it are all the lights from the city that come seeping from all the tiny windows in the buildings, pouring forth from all the headlights, spewing onto the streets from the street lamps and even buzzing from the spliced wires in the favelas

It gives the city’s night a radiating feeling, as of respiration, as of perspiration as of… a leaking nuclear reactor.

But nobody pays attention to that here. Like their coffee in the afternoon that is so rich and takes forever to drink between the words, there are more important things for them: like lunch breaks and weekends…these people are absurdly good at taking it easy.

Tired as hell, I can’t get myself to go to bed…not yet. The scene, a moment that the Beast decided to spare for me is a masterpiece in time. It has to be allowed at least that much. It has the grandeur of kings, the omnipotence of nature and despite the darkness, it holds no mystery. A great architect must have stood here and not known what to say. He did his thing, left the words to me, and here I am, speechless.

What a waste it would be to not enjoy it, at least.

Estanplaza Hotel balcony, Sao Paulo – March, 2006