The ambition of the city of São Paulo is to cover 115% of the Earth's landmass, so when I hit a bump on a drizzle-wet eight-lane adjoining a storm sewer and my baggage carrier snapped in two, I can't say I was totally disappointed to have an excuse to leave this place by some other means. Thus I freighted my bicycle to Florianópolis and took day trips to the beaches, and when I saw my old apartment was still for rent, I did indeed think of sauntering right in and laying some money down…

A word I didn’t hear: legal. It means “legal” but it also means “cool,” and has meant this for over two decades, which seems a long time for slang to survive. I did see bacana in print; it also means “cool,” and also for over two decades, and I also don’t know why. If your parents said legal and bacana and you did too, wouldn't you think that was odd? "Mom! Stop!"

Unprecedented: sharing the road with SUV's with Paraguayan license plates; lots and lots of veterinary offices; mushrooms that weren’t canned; arugula; diet guaraná.

How I knew I was in Latin America: in the window of a veterinarian’s office, a poster showed cartoon characters of vermin killed by a medicine applied to pet fur. Critters like fleas and heartworms looked merely dazed, but the tick had vomited what proved to be its last meal. That lurid red puddle was like a passport stamp. Also: a show about amazing survivors showed a terrific car crash, and then showed it again, and again, at least six times in two minutes. And: at the end of Friday’s Bom Dia Brasil, images of the news of the week, which had been dominated by a tragic cave-in at a São Paulo subway construction site, were set to classical music.

Things that never change: graffiti indicating university professors are or should be on strike; hotel personnel who were mystified by my desire to park my bicycle in the hotel’s garage, protested it couldn’t be done, then let me do it anyway; an IBAMA office in downtown Florianópolis, a good 2000 miles from Amazonia; A Voz do Brasil taking over all the country’s radio stations at 7 PM.

T-shirt inscriptions: “Motor Hell,” “Seductive Realty Girl.” I thought of translating the latter for the benefit of the guy wearing it, but he did not look the type to take this news well.

Why I come back: because I’ve seen so much already that anything I see now is bound to resonate with something. And now that Brazil has oldies (it didn’t until Renato Russo died of AIDS in 1996), the resonances are audible. I'd rather hear new stuff, but oldies at least get in the way of the accordions-from-hell that started to sneak onto the airwaves when the '80's ended.

What I should do next, besides of course visit Rio with a woman who's trim, elegant, and can have an emotion without talking: go on a trip whose daily cycle consists of a morning bus ride, an afternoon of kayaking, and brews 'neath the stars. In Bahia or Tocantins, I think. Or the Colombian border, just so I can say, "I could have crossed from Turkey to Iraq, but then I said hey, why settle for second-best?"

O Brasil do jeito brasileiro: a shop that repaired watches, jewelry, and pens. Pens? Does anybody actually say, "My pen's busted. Can you fix it?" Also, the official suggestion that dengue-carrying mosquitoes can be suppressed if you puncture old tires you have lying around your yard. The idea is if you puncture them, they won't hold water; but they won't hold air either, so why the heck would you keep them around?

© 2007 J.A.Hutter

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