Monday, 31 May 2010

Winter days.

Back in RJ. One does not need many excuses to return here, but this time I had some noble reasons. Namely people, people I spent precious time with, people that in a short while formed strong bonds with. And without a doubt there is no better reason why one should be somewhere or not.

The week , the week here that is (in no calendar order of course, for this sense of perpetual continuity and abstractness has taken over long time ago), started slow and sweet. In this so natural way that RJ has with everything breathing and loving. Picked up pace and swelled, got to rhythm and synchronized, moved its limbs and joined with others, added some sugar, lime and class to its recipe and broke in a laugh right on time. And the night after that it wore it's bright colours, walked barefoot on the sand at night and wished happy birthday to the music, in full moon and thousands of holding hands. And the next morning, sensually enough, under a blazing winter sun and a cloudless sky, mingled with the beautiful people, the same people as before (even though they might have been physically absent) and many more, shook off the dust of the past and sipped cold drinks to quell its thirst, the thirst for life and fragile moments.

It had promised much more to come. Today it was meant to be a ride to a special place, with special people of course and special food. Alas, it will have to wait, let's not forget it's winter time. Time for dreaming without planning, for waiting without asking.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Mission Ruins of Trinidad.

The old ruins of the Jesuit missions of the 17-18th centuries in South America are spread in a vast area comprising parts of modern day Paraguay, north Argentina and south Brazil. Mostly and originally around the river Parana the main purpose of them was the conversion of local peoples (Tupi-Guarani) to Catholicism. It is certainly a debatable issue, but the truth is that within a century, the Jesuits were expelled from the continent and the missions were left to decay.

The closest mission ruins to Encarnacion are the ruins of "La Santisima Trinidad de Paraná", or simply Trinidad. It was one of the last missions to be built in the area of the Parana River. Whatever their history and controversy, walking around the ruins of the central plaza, church and housing buildings for the priests and locals is certainly fascinating. A few photos from this particular place follow, but it's something one has to spend a lot more time to grasp.

Further (essential) reading available from Wikipedia here and here.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

City No More.

A middle aged man laughs heartily. He is sitting in the shadow opposite his house, sipping Terere with some neighbors.  His house is the only one standing in the block and looks precipitously on the edge. "I'm working" he says, "all of us are." And they all laugh. The neighborhood of Zona Sul, his neighborhood will not be here soon. It is to be flooded in favor of the new dam of Encarnation. He told me it will be in 15 days.

It's a singular place. Most of the buildings still stand although they seem abandoned for years. Apparently they're still occupied. Among them there's ruble, mortar and bricks. Some streets are already filling up with water and are impassable. In the background monstrous bulldozers are working furiously. Mounts of red soil are shifted continuously, sometimes overpowering the leaning walls. Groups of men and kids break down buildings with sledgehammers. They collect the iron within the concrete, the clean and neatly stack up the bricks, the salvage whatever can be reused.

And at the same time, on every pavement and street corner an immense open market is open. Fruits, corn, houseware, clothes, everything. The people seem relaxed, they have lunch and laugh, take their siesta and gossip. You'd be forgiven to think that this place has been the same for years. But it hasn't, it's slowly being torn down or being abandoned, the world is literally collapsing around them. They'll have to move out soon, some have already. The old man with the glasses is crossing the street and muttering "ruined, all ruined". He seemed sad about it but somehow not upset.

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Sun is Out.

The sun finally came out, just as I was making my way to the southeast. The ride was smooth and the countryside beautiful. Endless fields, rivers and streams, palm plantations and Estancias, horses and cattle. Villa Florida is the only town on my map and a string of other villages follow the same pattern. A bus stop, little shops in color and lunchonetes, a couple of dirt roads perpendicular to Ruta 1, the national road we're on, and a few houses, small and white with kids playing football and women on the porches. The sun is out and everybody's busy, in that typical understated way.

Men are busy with their horse-carts, busy on their farms, busy repairing old cars. Cars in heaps, steels carcasses in mechanical cemeteries waiting for their reincarnation. In one village all the shops sell footballs, in the next one hammocks. And at every stop, old ladies hop on and off, chatting in Guarani and young men board and sell bread, empanadas and drinks. The sun is out and the ride is sweet.

But the ever present scene is the clothes on the fences. Every house, every hut and every fence is adorned by this neat, colorful array of trousers, shirts and socks. You see them by the road, you can spot them in the gardens, you can guess their presence among the trees. Endless ones, beaming like children's drawings on the wall, no start, no end but obvious purpose. The sun is setting and life goes on.

On a Fine Beach in Paraguay.

The old master Tsitsanis once wrote a song about this magical coastal place. And when he was told that Paraguay is a landlocked country and hence has no coastline, he replied "How could I know? I thought poor little Greece has so many beaches and a country like Paraguay wouldn't have any?" Well it might lack the mythical sandy beaches of the song but Paraguay does not miss much more. That is not the whole truth of course but it's closer to it than not.

The passage from Argentina was cold and drizzly, the border checks cheerful and the first glimpse of my destination a bit gloomy. It actually looked like a no man's land, albeit a content one's. Dirt roads, sparse dwellings that do not constitute communities in any sense of the word and random appearances of living creatures. That changed when we got close to Asuncion, only a few miles away and the bus terminal was the first colorful and characterful delight. You get inundated with busy street vendors and petty gift shops but everybody seems absent minded and never pushy; it's certainly a warm welcome. The local buses are of all species, with ages that span the best part of the last fifty years but common in their red and blue and letters and signs. And people. Busy, polite and absent minded people.

The city itself is no love at first sight. The whole country I think is as understated as that, but they win you over slowly. The center of the capital is old and moldy, the concrete buildings rusty, the billboards old-fashioned and large, the parks are balding and then there are parking lots. Concrete skeletons with steel cells, dripping water and oil. As for the people, they roam around with a Terere in one hand and a thermos in the other. The play checkers with red and blue soft drink bottle caps on the street corners, they walk slowly.  Doesn't sound great huh? But it is! It really is, everybody is so pleasant and polite and friendly, the rhythm is perfect, the sounds and the smells are right, all is in place but just not that polished.

Paragay has always been like this, seemingly underachieving and contradictory. The bridge between luscious Peru and the port and pampas of Buenos Aires in the colonial times, was the main basis of the Jesuit missions, had the first railway in the continent later on and is crisscrossed by rivers but never fulfilled it's grand destiny. The only South American country with an indigenous language as an official one and a healthy Guarani population even today, yet a popular place for huge numbers of German immigrants in the past two centuries. You read about the elusive Nazis after their downfall but the Menonite colonies of the Chaco, the western desert half of the country, are certainly more legendary. Yes, the western desert and the sub-tropical east. But none of it matters, the nation is not wealthy but doing very well for itslef. The little brother of the nearby giants, always in their shadow and once their pray, never making the headlines but it's happy and confident. And it's tasty like the Terere, dull at first but with a little sugar, time and patience wholly refreshing.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Tigre Revisited

Remember Tigre, the Parana delta with the tiny, private, green islands? There's a post somewhere at the back of this journal. Anyway, went there again a few days ago, autumn this time, better light and not so hot. Thought it was worth posting a few pics.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.

After two days of solid resting, sleeping at any odd hours and for anything between a few minutes and I-don't-remember-how-long, I'm back on my feet and facing a dilemma. Nothing I should lose my sleep over, namely which route to follow on my my way back to Brazil.

Buenos Aires is slowly but firmly entering fall and winter, the temperatures never rise above low twenties and everybody wears silly overcoats and hats and scarves. A bit over the top surely, it's hardly snowing. But the parks still have their greens, buzzing with large bony ants and weird flies, the sun is warm on your face and a fresh asthmatic breeze make a lazy afternoon just perfect. I had one of those just today. And while there, I arranged a nice weekend catch up with old friends from these parts. Started reading another detective book as well today, Raymond Chandler this time. In Portuguese.

Speaking of tongues, this I find strange. Having only elementary understanding of Spanish before my arrival but after a few weeks of intensive lessons in December-January and two months here, I should be able to exchange more than "dales" and "buenas" with the locals. Yet, all that I supposedly learned has disappeared in a bottomless pit and there's no recollection of it. Where did it go? But I'm not complaining, random Portuguese words escape between my (gapy) teeth all the time. I seem to have done so much and so unexpectedly better with it. Brazil is calling me back.

And back on topic. I've sort of decided that I'll take a small detour on my way to Sao Paulo. Paraguay is on the map, she winked at me yesterday, I winked back, we had a little crippled chat and I think I'll pay her a visit. What kind of karma you wonder I fulfill, nothing between me and an impromptu decision to pop by another country. Mind you, I smell gunpowder in the night sky. Something's gonna blow up soon.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Vida Continua..

It's been a retrospecting day and a day of looking ahead. The past five months have been wondrous, have been exciting and refreshing. They have been seemingly endless and here I am at my starting point again.

Returning in Buenos Aires after so long was always going to be tricky and it was just that. Everything looks and feels so familiar, so close and common, it's almost as if I've been here for years, almost as if I never left. It's a hard place. A tough, grand city full of concrete and avenues, people and cars and at the same time a city of mystery and secrets. Yet, I always have the impression that I know every corner of it. This time round though the spell was broken instantly. I do know this place, I've known it ever since I was 18, ever since I moved to Athens for the first time. It's the megalopolis of my past and will be the Capital of my psyche for ever. It's all linked with a thin spider web of memories and moments, every corner like the inevitably familiar turn in a maze, desperate and still comforting.

It's a new start, another start in that endless sequence of starts that interweave and form the net of our lives. Not just another point in a line, more like another random intersection of an endless network of memories and instincts. And once again the past and the future and the never-quite-existing now are merged. The genie has returned to its oil lamp to rest but its gentle wheezing snore will e a good company in the nights to come.

Friday, 7 May 2010

This Marvel Called Iguazu!

There are instances when you know you're small and insignificant, you know there is time and scale and life way beyond you, there has been past and will be future and it will go on for ever. And that's when you're happy to be alive and be there, because you're a witness, you're present, you play a tiny part in that grand scheme. That is Nature.

The Iguazu Falls have been one of the main targets of this trip and they more than lived up to the hype. This certainly must be one of the great wonders of the world. The scale and the beauty of the environment, the enormity of the waterfalls themselves, the unimaginable force and incalculable amount of water descending from hundreds of places, the richness of the rain-forest in terms of life and diversity, the ever-present mist and the loudness! The deafening sound of millions of cubic meters dropping off 275 different cliffs is awe inspiring. If there is one thing I can't take off my mind, it is that constant, brutal force translated through the most violent roar in nature.

I caught myself looking at the same cataract for minutes, trying subconsciously to explain the phenomenon, to comprehend it, to grasp it's scale. Futile. And when I came across another one later on, I swear I though it was a set, a film set of something, a screen projection, anything that my little brain can contain. And no matter how long I spent there there was always a Toucan's cry, a teardrop of mist from a green leaf, a deafening boom from the water round the corner that woke me up: hey! you're in Wonderland! But the best description-to-break-the-spell for Iguazu's impossible grandeur came from my friend Nick: surely, there must be some guys somewhere in that rain-forest that wait patiently for closing time, and when everybody's gone they turn some old, rusty, creaking valves and switch this thing off. Eeek, eeek, eeek.... It just cannot be going on like this for ever... It cannot.

What's also funny about this place, is how all the visitors seem to have pretty much the same reaction to it. A gaping mouth, a giggle and snap! the camera. It's almost like a theme park for kids, only here you do not need to be 10 years old, you become it. It's impossible to resist it and futile to pretend to. Everybody's trying to take pictures, all the time, from every possible angle and I'm pretty sure all of them look the same. And they all look poor too. I know because mine do.There is no way in the world something like this can be photographed. Images do not have sound you see, and video does not spray water on you, and even if it did it'd be silly. And truth be told, words are too small too!

(this is obviously Nick having a blast!)

Two relevant links, one informative with further reading suggestions:
and one with a different take on our two days here: Cataratas del Iguazú

Monday, 3 May 2010

Florianopolis, Curitiba and Beyond

After the deluge in Trindade and Paraty our little company demanded some sun. Back in Rio the sun was shinning but our compass was pointing south, to the Iguazu Falls. And it was Floripa and Curitiba that were called to the rescue.

The first is famous for it's summer, beaches and surf. I'm afraid they have to be followed in that order. Without the summer, the other two are of limited use. Sure, we got our sun but the city and most of the island was in poor shape. The party was over, the beaches were wonderful and wonderfully empty and the water cold. And somehow the city itself was not exactly what you would call a night-spot. Anyway, next time we must get the timing right.

Curitiba on the other hand is at an altitude of almost 1000m and has no beaches close by, so we knew what (not) to expect. A nice city though. Mostly a student one and surprisingly organized, prosperous and neat, it is regarded as a model-city for Brazil and more. I liked it. A tight historical center, nicely laid out, a Sunday market, loads of young people and unmistakably reminiscent of Europe. I have to admit that it wouldn't be my favorite place in South America but it's certainly worth a visit. And the little corner place with the local guys playing samba for the whole sunny afternoon made my day!

All in all the further north I am in this country the more at home I seem to be. And it's not as obvious as it sounds, but it is as certain as the sunrise we'll have in a few hours. Now, we can't wait for Iguazu. Everybody's been there and nobody's been let down. It is one of the wonders of this little blue planet and we'll pay our respects. Until then:

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Underworld Heaven

There are some nights that exist only as a dimensionless pulp of moments, a conglomeration of seconds and minutes and hours and seemingly weeks. Surely a misguided illusion but an inescapable one nevertheless.
And there are places where any sense of space is lost between infinity and non-existence. It is impossible to feel the limits of your own body as it merges with thousands more and at the same time floats in a cosmic soup.

When the gravitational field of this universe consists of hard beats, sweat, flesh, sex, alcohol and smoke, when the frenetic dancing and the deafening, saturated sound waves pierce you in an evil, unforgiving fashion and all this time you're in heaven, it can only be an Underworld Heaven.

It's not a secret, it's not sect; it's only a Baile Funk. The music (pronounced funky) is a raw, filthy and bloody species of a beat, the dance is a barely masked sex ceremony, the floor is as dirty as possible, the dj is incapable of playing more than a minute of each track and the sense is better than you'd ever expect. What more can one ask for? No reason to be intimidated, it's in a favela for sure, somewhere in this human jungle we call world but everybody's here for the same reason: F U N! Just get down and dirty.
(photos 1,2 and 4 are courtesy of Chris Vucic. Thanks Chris.)