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Cruises are weird. I think we can all accept that. Despite that stipulation and the tacit agreement between author and both devoted readers that I am, above all things, not in any way weird or to be associated with the creepy, uncool or remotely unsexy, I agreed to go on a mega-Caribbean cruise with my family (father, step-mom, brother, sister-in-law and my adorable niece and nephew, for those who stalkerishly crave specifics). Despite being an interloper of the worst sort, and a genetic discordance to rival any one of Alexander the Great’s barbarian whore-queen, Roxana, the deadly Ebola virus or radioactive cobalt-60, which parasitically binds to DNA, scrambles otherwise stable, happy molecules and converts contented bone marrow to a bewildered phosphoric dust, Arual accompanied me on this Marlovian journey. Arual is even more afraid of cruises (and cruise people) than I, but also knows I can no more be trusted around them alone than I can with a band of traveling French meth-gypsies.

Our cruise liner was monstrous. Truly, an elephantine eye sore of sex-ed class disturbing proportions. As we crossed over the intercoastal and approached the mega-docks that make up Port Canaveral, bleary-eyed and exhausted at such an absurdly early hour Saturday morning, this ivory behemoth bleated out the trying sunrise and a healthy chunk of the Atlantic Ocean. Our boat was dubbed the Freedom of the Seas by someone with obviously a deep sense of irony, and is reputed to be the second largest vessel on the earth, having recently passed the title of largest to another abomination of human industriousness from Royal Caribbean Cruise lines. The Freedom could carry around 4,500 passengers –  which actually seemed like a lot less than there were, as I watched the hordes of seafaring morons around me pour into the ship like Noahachian cattle during an accelerating and doomsday-suggestive rain. Not surprisingly, loading this large of a vessel can take some time. The boat wasn’t going anywhere for a while and the cabins on board had presumably been assigned to particular passengers, but you would never know it from watching the Fall of Saigon-like shitshow of a boarding process. After a few minutes questioning the humanity of the world, I couldn’t help but secretly hope that there simply weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone getting on board, including maybe me.

 

People, as a general principle, are rabid whore beasts, and have virtually no respect for themselves and certainly none for others. I generally give old people a pass, because they can presumably sense the Godless impending darkness slowly closing in around them and they need to make the most of every fleeting, bone-creaking, breath-attenuated moment, even if that means feigning a deep unawareness of distance and tactility to push and jab at strangers with flabby, flailing elbows, batter shins and unsuspecting achilleses with wayward walking aids, or, worst of all, refusing to find an appropriately crowd-remote location to blast fart their ancient, fetid, organ-compost stench. As bad as clueless old people are, children (excluding my niece and nephew, of course!) are worse. I don’t so much give them a pass as I have simply exhausted my indignation for these horrid little animals. They are inadequate as human beings, definitionally, and their lack of decency, interestingness or charm, their pure and total disregard for the basic tenets of social cooperation, is something I have simply learned begrudgingly to accept – like the existence of nightmares, natural disasters or Tim Allen.

 

What is truly abhorrent to me, however, is watching a grown adult, presumably of thinking age and with some awareness of social mores, debase themselves for incomprehensibly marginal gains. As waiting passengers are released in boarding sections toward the long, serpentine walkway that funnels into the boat, these shameless people accelerate into an uncomfortably labored and knee-popping speed walk that appears simultaneously dislocative and subtly apologetic, as if to say “what? I am walking, just like you, it’s not like I am running or something totally obscure and pathetic”. Toddlers not long-legged enough to equal their parents’ gallop are dragged by distended arms in their frothy, exasperating wake. When they reach an impasse or slow point, or anything requiring an elective route, they panic in primal fear of the less efficient choice. Frantic to achieve their goal (whatever that is exactly….) they wobble indecisively and often have to back track a bit when the realization sets in that they took the line with a few extra people in it – “Cheryl, shit, wait, no this one”, a rushing husband waiving idiot arms above the crowd to flag down the dragging-ass wife 50 feet back sherpha-ing a distorted and angular collage of bags and strollers. “Cheryl, Cheryl, catch up, this way…” they careen around corners, only to come to a standstill at the next entry checkpoint or security station, where they stand irrationally too close to the person in front of them……I can feel their hot dead-inside breath on my back, as they violate every Western civilization code of personal space. Here is an easy rule motherfuckers, if I cannot fully pivot in place without the turret of my shoulders grazing your drooling idiot face, you are standing way too close to me. Watching this travesty unravel, I keep hoping, at least a little, that the gangway just ends a few hundred feet above sea level and thousands of these clueless bison run themselves right off the edge to be fished out, cleansed and de-hided by scruffy, barnacle-hearted Norwegian boatmen. That wasn’t the case, unfortunately. They just got onto the boat like everyone else.

Luckily, once on the boat and fully disembarked, everything gets much better. During our six days at sea, we drank, we swam, we sunbathed, we gambled, we danced, we wall-climbed, we zip-lined, we played basketball over the indifferent ocean, we surfed on fake waves, we ping ponged and, above all else, we ate. Eating is, by a substantial margin, the primary distraction, chosen or otherwise, on the cruise. It is not a foodie’s paradise by any stretch, but certainly not for lack of quantity. Food is the most pervasive element of every part of every day. The signs all point you to it, hovering tireless PA voices in the gangways won’t let you forget it and passively-aggressive white-capped crew people sidle and lurk around every corner to catechize any person then not slopping food into their gullet about whether they had somehow not heard about the endless assortment of deep fried meats available for consumption at trough 23, or the traveling tapioca ice cream station making its way through the pool area on deck seven, or the 4:00 pm sushi samba party that is absolutely not to be missed. Protestations of a full belly or mispresent hunger are met with complete and utter, head-titled, cheek-squinted bewilderment. “Too hungry for ice cream and sushi? You do know that the lobster and steak dinner isn’t served until 6:30, right?

Food is the key component that keeps things running smoothly and the guests serene. The staff, from the captain on down, want each and every person on board grazing at all times and always feeling uncomfortably full. It is the sedative of the cruise masses, the selenium-filled locoweed that gives the human cattle the blind staggers all day, counteracting the natural sway of the boat, so that they blissfully waddle from casino to bar to shopping center to pool area to comedy show to movie. It makes the sunbathing more lazy, the need for giant and terrible Tommy Bahama shirts more pressing and usually-prudish wallets more whorish. Most importantly, the meals create the internal clockwork of the cruise. All events are scheduled around them. More than any screeching imminent-departure whistle, they remind the herd at each port of call when to get back on the boat. They are the lotophagic siren song for the wayward and potentially rambunctious Oddysseans, keeping all in line and too digestively focused to even consider mutiny. I was reminded of the last stanza of Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters when the sailors are self-aware of their own sedation.

But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song

Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,

Like a tale of little meaning tho’ the words are strong;

Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,

Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,

Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;

Till they perish and they suffer—some, ’tis whisper’d—down in hell

Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,

Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.

Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore

Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;

O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

 At least for me, there was always a general aching sense of uneasiness on the boat, perhaps borne of the possibility of all dying together, or a hovering Damoclesian fear of losing equilibrium and going all Billy Zane in Dead Calm crazy. I have a deep love of terra firma, and tend to feel slightly unhinged on boats. It’s sort of like the first few seconds on an escalator that isn’t moving, my next step feels totally contrived by third parties who don’t really understand my physiognomy. This subsides a bit over time, but it shampoo effects at random moments when my guard is down. I kept it together pretty well, actually, but you can tell from the behavior of others that I was not the only one suffering from this dislocation. We behave just a little differently on cruises. Freer perhaps, but mostly detached, the weightlessness having pulled loose the attenuated threads of conformity that otherwise tether behavior to earthly limitations. If someone offered mushrooms out to every passenger on board, I have the sense that 80% of the ship would take them with glee. People tend to get strange on the open seas, where the hysteria of the moon-goddess Luna is empowered by the narcissism of her own reflection.

 

Another issue for me is that I spend most of my time imagining the ship being taken over by terrorists/pirates and/or sinking from some rogue wave, and contemplating exactly what my reaction would be. Though a Titanicesque sinking is probably much more likely, as a child of the Die Hard generation, I am incessantly under the delusion that, at any moment, I might need to crawl through ventilation shafts between bouts of fighting angry and strandy-haired German mercenaries. Not prone to combat, or really heroics generally, I would have to use the resources of the boat’s infrastructure and my high-wit everyman charms (and a blood-stained white tank-top, of course) to overcome nearly impossible odds and save everyone not super annoying and coke-heady on board. Shockingly, nothing of the sort ever happened. Indeed, there wasn’t even an iceberg crash or an elitist, jealous and murderous rich guy for me to tussle with. I even asked several young betrothed women to let me draw them naked, but found only horrified stares of confusion when they saw my artwork, which is really more organic late-stage Jackson Pollack than charcoal drawing portraiture. Either way, if the boat did sink, I can damn sure tell you that my muse and I will be taking turns on top of whatever floating door we wrangled from the wreckage, lest I find a water-weakened cellist to overpower. In any case, the boat didn’t sink, as all the icebergs had apparently been turned to harmless slush in the boiling Caribbean seas.

Although the cruise had its flaws, and the strangers around me were largely detestable, Arual and I actually had a really great time. I got to spend a more significant amount of time with my family than I typically do. Family visits and/or trips together, as almost everyone knows, can be a lot of work. You often spend a good deal of time trying to appease irreconcilable differences of opinion and taste, which generally blunts the fun across the board. Cruises, however, really allow each constituency in a larger group to apply their personal flavor to the group dynamic. Food options are broad enough for varying tastes, and casinos, movie theaters, spas and shopping all intermingle seamlessly while offering to sate divergent interests. The kids had an amazing time, playing with other boat children, slap-happy bouncing from one activity to the next, and eating sweets with impunity, all of which makes for happier parents, grandparents and drunken uncles. Of all the distraction offered on the monster ship, I probably spent the most time enjoying the rollicking delights of the casino and hemorrhaging money into the judgmentless international abyss. The best part was that my brother and dad enjoyed it equally, so we were able to meet up and bond nightly at the blackjack or craps tables after our respective women had grown tired of the waking day and/or the absurdity of our existence in it, or both. My people, at least on my father’s side, clearly come from a long genetic line of fiscally irresponsible and desperate gamblers. When things are going poorly at the table, something truly idiotic, a primal flickering red self-destruct button deep in our chromosomal constitution, argues convincingly that the best remedial course of action is more and stronger cocktails, larger bets and even less self-control. This could generally go on all night, growing more unmoored and crack head-fidgety with the entropic acceleration of an inflationary universe, or at least until shooed away by sympathetic, cringing pit bosses that can no longer stomach the sheer horror of our tilted monetary demise or dragged away by cartoon pajama-ed significant others who awake alone to trembling and very reasonable fears of a debtor’s jail in their future. Royal Caribbean can certainly have our hard-earned middling money, even our fledging dignity, but if we walk away of our own accord at the first sign of our unequal bargaining power, then the terrorists win, and that is something we three American heroes can simply not abide.

For a real discussion of cruises, you really should read the late David Foster Wallace’s amazing article in Harpers  – http://www.harpers.org/media/pdf/dfw/HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf. DFW was, as always, brilliant beyond measure and writes without all of the sophomoric verbosity (yes, I made that word up to replace verboseness, which I find both literarily inadequate and less evidentiary of the eponymous flaw) that has become my overwrought calling card. I am well aware of my shortcomings, but if only authors equivalent to DFW wrote, we would have little or nothing to read.

Puerto Vallarta is loosely translated, in my amazing Pan-Hispanic accent, as any one of Port Vallarta or Gate Vallarta or Door Vallarta or Bridge Vallarta. Who knows, really? Not even the locals. Maybe some renowned Spanish linguist-historians, but nobody likes a self-satisfied pedant. I am, obviously, no such person. I am barely even aware of where I am staying, hotelwise. Arual, the modern Cortezian conquistador of wholesome irrigated Aztec earnestness, says we are staying at “Garza Blanca” just south of the city. Garza is Spanish for some sort of creepy bird, which is apparently white. Puerto Vallarta, or PV, as I now call it, is on the central Pacific coast situated just off the Bay of Banderas, which I think we can all safely assume is named after the greatest Spanish-American actor of our, or really any, time, who Mexican legend has it once skinny-dipped in the then-unnamed bay and so eroticized the sea off of the surrounding coastline with his untethered moon-glistening manjunk (the j is aspirated, but thrusty, and best said with eyes closed) that the fish population increased ten-fold following that one seductive night (or after whatever gestational period applies to Pacific-coastline sea creatures), and made ruffle-shirted gentry of once empty-pocketed and sun-crusted fisherman.

Sat by the pool today. And really nothing else. Became one with my lounge chair as the molten Sun pounded out and smelted down my corporeal borders to be one with the plastic surface of the chair. Drank too many margaritas, or just the right amount depending on one’s sense of propriety. Watched Arual make a complete absurdity of herself, flailing in the pool with an iPad in one hand and a giant jumbo flaming-monkey-sized multi-strawed, whole pineapples encircling the rim, cocktail in the other. By the end of the day, her doofy smile seemed entirely made of pina coloda, the top row of teeth dripping off into a gluttonous cream pool at the bottom. There was something preternatural, ancient, eternal about it……an ominous elemental bestiality. Truly a sight to behold, mock, cringe shamefully, as ostensible boyfriend, at. More than all that, practiced the craft of writing sentences with assumed first-person subjects. Sort of dominated it.

Mahi mahi ceviche flowed like wine today. Adorable Mexican waiters delivered bottomless cocktails that tasted of freedom and smelled of expatriotism. The Sun was oppressive, relentless, redundant. I imagined it wearing a tight wife-beater and acting like a bit of a dick, welcome though it was – that sweaty beloved tyrant. Sometimes, today in fact, no means yes. The resort has an infinity pool, which is probably overstating it a bit. I don’t know how far infinity runs – presumably a good bit – but this was like 50 feet and then poured off into some mildly inconspicuous recirculatory eave. Point is, it wasn’t quite as existentially bad-ass as the name implies, but it looked pretty cool and significant in a slow-witted pre-Magellenesque sort of way.

Infinity….really?

Fortunately, there are very few children at this place, which is, it goes without saying despite now being said, ideal for us. There is one six-year old token little girl, adorable as a slow-witted puppy but saying almost nothing clever or of consequence, with two friendly gay dads (actually I only know one is gay for sure), which is good so that Arual has at least someone to talk to, philosophize and compare meditative thoughts with. In any case, Arual has a friend and I have some peace of mind. Both my readers will know that, while I have no philosophical issue with children, as a notion they make some sense and seem even partially intuitive to a misguided procreative process, it’s their actual entity forms I struggle with. Not generally religious, I subscribe at least in part to Calvinist tradition of original evil, and nothing more substantiates that doctrine like these horrid little monsters, flopping about in pools, snot-soaked, loud, filthy, devoid of charms – their aimless dirty little feet and absurd arms splashing water into cocktails more valuable and life-giving than they – ironically diluting the one earthly resource threatening to make their existence tolerable. Falstaff, most lovable of Shakespearean characters, wisely said: “if I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack [wine].” I wouldn’t go quite so far as to habitualize children to grain alcohol, but some marginal early training to, above all else, “respect the Cocktail” would suffice. There is a special circle in Dantean hell for the atrocious little beast, baptized or otherwise, that tops off an otherwise delectable pool-side margarita with beunirunated slop water where Don Julio Anejo so rightfully belongs.

We are, it must be reluctantly admitted, all too predictable at this place. Thirty-something yuppies, usually from one of the “Los”s or “San”s in California. All no doubt seeking clichéd respite from their hellish realities at home. I consider myself above it all, as I can only assume they agreeably see me, but Arual is truly honored in the breach. The one violent and ciliac exception is the bronzy western European man in the lounge chair next to me. Hair, black as a Caravaggian night, and nothing like the Sun, poured from every centimeter of him (they use the metric system there). Sheaths of black spindly hair covered most of what his tiny Speedo adamantly and brightly refused to. A gold chain amulet, deeply entrenched in Black Forest chest hair, flickered intermittently whenever a fortuitous sliver of Sun breached the dense roughage, and hinted like a Lost City of Gold in a Peruvian rainforest at unlimited possibilities and deep intercalated chest muscles. Arual said he looked like a Portuguese Teen Wolf.  I couldn’t help but wondering if all the hair receded when he wasn’t mad, playing basketball or generally impressing otherwise cold and disagreeable high school-mates. In any case, he seemed to have more control over some of his fur, since he was able to trim the beard portion down to just the right putting surface cut to work perfectly with the general milieu he was rocking, which also consisted of a deep celestial tan, enseamed polyester neon attire (colors making up, in inverted proportion, for lack of surface area), a mercurial pan-sexuality that seemed to invite all the world – man, woman and beast – at once to partake, and a pleasant cologne that I can only assume was Eurodouche by Diesel – “for the man just mysterious enough to make sweet love to you before gently committing petty theft from you”. I don’t know what any of this has to do with anything, nothing presumably, maybe everything, it’s too soon to know I think, but his hair, his very existence, affected me profoundly.

Went to the Malecon boardwalk today near the city center. Roughed  up a bit, and definitely past its 60’s heyday, but quite pleasant. We avoided the Senor Frogs the best we could, and had some self-proclaimed authentic taco fare on a beach veranda. Tasty as all hell, whatever the reality of their indigenousness. Did a little jet skiing with Arual…….yes, jet skiing. A weird enterprise, but entirely liberating in a Lynyrd Skynyrdian sort of way. There is something simultaneously deranged and cosmically lofty about jet skis. They represent a sort of manifestly joyous existence that seems designed to taunt the whole of the world not then themselves on a jet ski of their own. The spray of the surf into an agape and insipid mouth, the intrinsically slow-motion-like shake of soaked hair, even the obscurity and sleevelessness of gaudy life jackets, betrays a detached escape from reality, a total indifference towards plight, hardship and the quotidian. There is, however, a palpable shame in the wake.

Tasty margaritas

As with Rio, beach solicitation is pervasive here. The goods are equally obscure, and the sellers totally unaware of context or targeted marketing. Why any person would walk up to Arual and I, looking majestically disinterested in shitty arts and crafts, and offer to sell us some weird plastic parasailing toy, I no se. To be clear, this is some sort of superhero action figure that apparently parasails, using the equipment (irony of ironies, all is irony) of the organization offering parasailing excursions on this very beach.  I suppose it is possible that we have a child of some kind, languishing back home in some sort of proto-Anne Frankian, sooty, Dickensian existence so squalid, austere and video-game less, that this sad progeny would actually covet this nameless and random foreign action hero, but it seems unlikely. In fact, “superhero” may be too kind, since a mildly clever villain could just take out the speedboat driver and largely anesthetize our hero, but let’s not quibble with that for now. Certainly, it’s no skin off my back to look bewildered and act judgmental while refusing the offer of these haphazard wares, but I feel bad for the sellers’ prospects generally if they are wasting precious solicitation time on us. Tequila, sure. Cuban cigars, maybe. Jumbo-sized condoms, an anatomical must needs. Even a random and clearly unhygienic skewer of barbecued shrimp in a moment of appetitive weakness and digestive regret. But fin de siècle children’s toys, embroidered doilies, wooden beach carvings of dolphins or pelicans or motorcycles, handcrafted beads or silver trinkets no doubt carrying ancient Olmecian spores in some sort of vengeful reversal of William Henry Harrison-style hospitality, not likely. I wonder how much I could reasonable charge, commission wise, to do some marketing consulting down here, maybe a little lead-gen, some industry analyses, really put reluctant beach consumer in front of creepy product, find synergies and shit.

Saddest superhero ever?

My petty complaints aside, this vacation was truly necessary. Sure, I spent nearly six months on a sabbatical last year, but the muscle memory had long faded, the mental clarity long since clouded and become remote by the relentless vicissitudes of work-life (in that order), the jumbled crenulated barbed-wire pangs of career and the desultory exasperating triteness of reality. Work, in particular, has been utterly indifferent to human capacity and long overset any gains to soul and mind from that seemingly long-ago and temporal bliss. Roman slaves had more metaphorical back skin in tact and literal sleep than I did a week ago. It’s been a run of four months that can hardly be overstated – though referencing ancient back-whipped slavery is a pretty good attempt. I am finally coming to and it’s almost like a portion of my life has been simply rubbed out, deleted by an accidental key stroke or a computer crash that leaves me bewildered, ashamed of myself, and with little idea of where I even was when I last recorded some evidence of my earthly effort and existence. An unhealthy reminder that we are far too brittle, our lives are fleeting, our bodies crumbling, our minds slowing. We are becoming deracinated. A week ago, I was the personified lingering distress of the most homeless part of town on an early Sunday morning, where bedraggled human zombies slouch over the earth toward Bethlehem methadone clinic, where crumpled, grease-lucent cheeseburger wrappers flitter across the streets like urban tumbleweeds and when the air is thin, deoxygenated and a lymphatic sickly blue.  During these sorts of months, I can barely pay my bills, I don’t speak to family or friends for weeks on end, and see Arual as little more than a vestigial shadow of a lump of sleep lying in the bed I crumble into early each morning before rising a couple of hours later to divide the pile in half again. Were it not for her tremulous, grunty, first-time-conversion-to-werewolf-like musings under the comforter, her existence would hardly register in my day (actually, that isn’t true, our dwindling bank account testifies like a Jonathan Edwards sermon most resoundingly to her “living”). In any case, as I sit idly by this pool under the full-bright Sun, sipping delicious blender-made drinks, typing these truly idiotic words, I can put myself back together for an instant. Become real again. To cease, if only briefly, as Proust said, to “feel mediocre, contingent, mortal,” all too aware though of the inevitable rainfall to come.

An aside:  Arual, apparently, has read the Argentinian blog posts, and is now curious as to why I have portrayed her as “evil” – her word. I hope that I haven’t. I want to be clear that although Arual does evil to the world, and certainly to me, in Biblical proportions, she is but unwitting centurion torturer doing her duty in whipping my, and the world’s, back on our long arduous trek towards Golgothan death. She has no malice in this, and would, could she, do no harm. Unfortunately, even a seemingly likeable and tiptoeing Godzilla terrorizes the good Japanese citizenry as its big indiscriminating sloppy foot stomps crushingly upon the good earth. I am but the human version of the innocent and heroic children’s hospital made rubble under the clumsy fall of her giant lizardine big toe. A bumbling Godzilla in a  sun dress, a whore of Babylon with a heart of oro, the lovable Scourge of Dios that picked up the flickering torch of global annihilation wherever that rascally Hun had fumbled it. Even rib-contrived Eve was the consummate sweetheart when she, hungry vegan that she was, pulled that damn apple down and spoiled the world.

Avenida 9 de Julio

Teatro Colon Grand Opening

I suppose that five days of relentless celebration isn’t really so much to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of an independent nation, or at least a seminal moment in its revolution to become so, but it’s actually starting to feel a little like it. Argentines generally, and Porteños in particular, are a not a shy people in want of expressiveness. They speak up, with regularity, and err towards the employment of bullhorns, banners, drums, collusive cacophony and whatever other means available, lest the meaty thrust of a particular message or complaint lose force, asphyxiate and die off in the flutter and void of the wide Parisian avenues. They demonstrate, march, sing and protest, and they yell a bit, whenever the collective mood strikes, which is more often than not. “A tango in their step and a soapbox under every arm” as Julio Cortázar might have but never actually said. In any case, it is a social characteristic to be admired, I think, particularly in a generation in which most people now testify to their ideological dispositions by joining a group on Facebook, to ensure that the world may know, at last and once and for all, that they “like smiles” or are part of “1,000,000 people against racism” (in case there was some confusion about which side of that difficult fence their straddle was leaning) or something similarly delineative of remarkable personality.

I don’t know exactly what most of the quotidian protests and demonstrations are about in Buenos Aires, since they staunchly refuse to include English translations, either following a particular chant or below the Spanish proclamations, but it appears (to me at least) to speak to specific redress and be relevant to the actual political climate of the day, something noticeably absent from the Tea Party folks in America that have almost no idea what they are actually speaking to. Truly, there is something disturbingly bratty about relatively affluent middle-class people in America taking to the streets (and by streets, I mean of course the large grass exterior knolls that encircle Wal-Mart parking lots), in between a hefty lunch at Applebee’s and buying a fourth flat-screen HDTV (needing one, naturally, for the garage), to complain about taxes during an ironical relative low point in income taxation, compare milquetoast first-world optional health-care plans to violent Fascist militarism, protest with childlike adorability government intrusion into Medicare and otherwise shout-spray bumbling absurdities into the approaching and inevitable spin of the earth – a flailing, aimless and empty swing into the indifferent whistling aether to perhaps feel less marginalized in a world seemingly slipping from their clammy hands. Watching the Abuelas (“Grandmothers”) de Plaza de Mayo circle in somber, soundless and dedicated protest to the loss of their (the country’s) grandchildren that were “disappeared” during the military dictatorships of the 70s and early 80s really puts in perspective the plight of those poor loud Tea Partyers and their noteworthy fear of things like the bureaucratic appointment of a national Education Czar that will no doubt ruin their lives. Though, maybe my tenuous fingernail grasp on Spanish and shallow understanding of Argentine history and culture (I did see Evita on TBS, the Superstation, once) is just creating political romanticism where little really exists, converting an otherwise similar trite bit of emotional look-at-me-ism into something more admirable, as the way dim lighting, alcohol and palpitating neon lights collude to smooth and blush sharp unseemly edges of treacherous women in strip-joints and downtown-fringing discothèques – but I really hope, and chose to assume, that isn’t the case.  It would be quite disheartening to discover that all of those descamisados (“shirtless ones”), carrying banners meshing the effigies of Che, Juan Domingo Peron, Simon Bolivar and Emiliano Zapata, singing hymns to revolutionaries and condemning a very checkered past, were but Argentine equivalents to the gold-reflective-Oakley-bespectacled southerners (I can make fun of my own people) harping on witlessly and misspellingly about whatever some Argentinean Glenn Beck told them was surreptitiously harming them, an illusion destruction roughly equivalent to a realization that Selma Hayek was not in fact an adorable Mexican, but born and raised entirely in Ohio and her charming chesty broken English was nothing more than the confluent result of a terribly slow mind and a speech impediment triggered by Midwestern syphilitic fits.

All Day Every Day

Which most tangential of tangents (I should probably avoid American politics altogether) brings me, and you, hopefully, still, back around to what I was originally saying. This is a culture that rightfully venerates group political expression, whether in dissent or approval, and that’s just an average Tuesday, a celebration of this caliber and scope, only the second of its kind and followed by a good wait for the next (if you are keeping up with the difficult math), would expectedly be cause for some significant excitement and rousing of the rabble.  The set up has been going on for weeks, and the festival of events officially began on Friday afternoon, leading up over the course of the following five days to the finale on Tuesday night, which is the actual date of the bicentenario. The events included several concerts in and around the city (Shakira and Ricky Martin could have been predicted, an obscure ZZ Top less so), the reopening of the famous Teatro Colón, endless speeches, a dozen or so parades, orchestras, a soccer match against a helpless Canadian team (always best to pick a pushover for a homecoming game), laser light shows, etc. Millions of Argentinians and other South Americans apparently descended on the capital for the long weekend.

The nice but exhausting part about the full week of celebration is that almost everything is centered around our apartment, probably less because of my omnipresent sex appeal (though we shouldn’t rule it out) than the fact that we are equidistant from the presidential palace at Casa Rosada and the square of the Obelisk (where they have set up the main stage for the symphonies, bands and speeches) and our street, Diagonal Norte, running nine floors below our patio is the most direct and visible route between the two. As a result, every moment of every day for nearly a week just outside our building consisted of seemingly endless parades and festivities, attended by tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of people with all the trappings of people attending a parade: open-throated howling, the kicking knobby legs of toddlers on paternal shoulders, indifference towards proper waste management that comes from an assumption of post-parade municipal street cleaning, the complete absence of creativity and redundancy of overt nationalism and flag waiving, and the like. All of which, really has about a three-day half-life before becoming slightly tiresome. Keep in mind this isn’t like being in a hotel room on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, or in a hostel in Munich’s Marienplatz during Oktoberfest, there is actually very little traditional “partying” going on to join in, and drinking in the streets is completely prohibited, all of which makes the celebration of a remote historical event in a foreign language from the point of view of a detached and generally sober expat a little short-lived, particularly when the random group of loud motorcycle guys, or incontinent-horse-mounted sheep herders from some arbitrary northern province, or the various clumsy baton-twirling girl marching bands from identical parochial schools, or whoever, get their fifteen minute window to synchronistically trudge down our street at all hours, pregnant with a sense of pride and purpose far greater than their parading merit. All that whined, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. Better to be right in the middle of the action and unable to get a respite from it than to miss something we would never have a chance to see again.

The final parade on Tuesday night consisted of the most extravagant street production I have ever witnessed, all done to precision by the Fuerza Bruta creators who were put in charge of design and execution. On the street level below our balcony, just in front of the adjacent building, was set up a stage and viewing veranda for state dignitaries and VIPs, including the country’s illustrious President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, generally disliked by the populace from what I understand, and several other South American heads of state. Hugo Chavez was even there, no doubt being all devious and socialisty, and whispering with the heavy and sauna-wet breathiness of a Bond character into Cristina’s ear suggestions on how to possibly nationalize the fun. I suspect that it was Chavez’ presence that ensured no official state representative from the U.S.A. was in attendance, though Hillary Clinton did deliver some platitudes through the international press. The truly amazing part to me was the lack of security, as a dozen heads of state walked the open streets and sat for hours on an open platform accessible from three sides by anyone with a very marginal amount of effort. Our terrace, despite its Oswaldian sight lines, never even registered as a threat to whatever security detail might have existed and Arual and I could, were we so inclined (we weren’t), throw small objects onto the heads of the most important people in South America. Cristina is an interesting political figure. She was much celebrated when she took over the Presidency from her obstinate and powerful husband, but has fallen out of favor generally. She is attractive, youngish and seemingly savvy, but has a tendency to say ridiculous and self-indulgent things and is perpetually on the outs with the media. It’s a rare politician that can say something veritably Palinian like “God wanted me to be the president of the Bicentenary” and also tell her congress that she considers herself a “Hegelian intellectual” (a more typical Buenos Airesian sensibility, and certainly not the sort of thing that could be found in the wistfully vapid large-fonted coloring book pages of Going Rogue).

Random Parade Still (because I don't know how to download video)

Cristina Up Close Enjoying the Parade

World Leaders Stalking Me

The most significant party night was actually on Monday night, on the eve of the actual bicentennial day, and Arual the Destroyer of National Sentimentalism and I tried to do our part to celebrate the country and toast to its hospitality to us for the last two months. After wading through the dense crowd on Avenida 9 de Julio and watching the national philharmonic crank out some Argentine classics on the main stage, unable to locate friends in the madness, we stumbled into a little bar off of the corner of Julio and Avenida 25 de Mayo (there is a strange cosmic justice in drinking at a bar on a street named for the day you find yourself drinking there). The next several hours were a blur of shots, tasty empanadas, painful contortions of the most basic Spanish colloquialisms that our kind bartender attempted to speak with us, recurring black-outs when the mechanized vendors on the bustling sidewalks pulled a little too much juice from the block’s teetering overtaxed electric currents, and some absinthe that made watching the 2 a.m. laser light show at the Plaza de Mayo a difficult and throbby affair. Not long thereafter, Arual decided that her full day’s intake of food and booze would better enjoy the snuggly comforts of the down comforter on my side of bed to the dizzying churning gurgle of her reeling acidified stomach, creating a nice little pile of masticated cheese and onion empanada, pepper vodka, stomach oil and a slight smirking hint of unconscious Schadenfreude at the notion of me spending the next wee hour cleaning it up. The nice part, though, is that although my absinthinean buzz wilted and converted into a watery-mouthed disgust and the stone-sober mechanics of extended-arm cleaning, I wasn’t alone by any stretch. Just outside (God is definitely not a shout in the street), Peronistas continued to howl into the dawning tepid aquamarine morning of a fervent and undying love of country, a contention that one would have hoped stipulated at this point.

Orchestra on the Main Stage

Arual With Early Foreshadowy Cocktail

Second to last visual memory of the night for Arual

The last thing that Arual saw (and how she saw it) before the darkness took her

Iguazu Falls

I am typing quietly from the overnight sleeper bus traveling from Buenos Aires to Porte Iguazu, a rustic and sleepy forest town sitting at the base of the beautiful Iguazu Falls that serve as partial border between northern Argentina and southwest Brazil. By way of foreshadowing, the streaky gray early morning sky is dumping rain torrentially outside, which, bouncing back skyward off of the glistening concrete of the road passing violently under the bus, is muddying even my windows 15 feet from the ground. The earthen rain spray, together with the lingering internal condensation from a night of a dozen exhaling sleeping passengers, is obscuring my views of the lush Argentine forested countryside, as poplars and cockspur coral trees are beginning to blur and give way into evergreens and bamboo clusters as we press deeper into the rainforest. Roadside campesinos, merely trying to go about their work day, are doubtless shrugging exhausted shoulders of mild annoyance at the colossal bright green garish presumptuousness of our double-decker tourist bus, trudging gawking panama-jack-hatted morons, like myself, through the arboreal thicket, our over-excited and intrusive fingers OMG-ishly pointing towards clearly visible sights that everyone else is already looking at. Arual the Destructor of Wooded Purity and Truth is lying next to me in Seat 2 of the upper deck of our giant bus, her saliva-bubbly mouth morbidly agape and a half-dozen crumbs from last night’s meal peppering the bosom of her blouse, as she apneatically writhes periodically in some holy grail quest for a position of elusive comfort that she will never find. A strange American backpacker is backpacking regrettable cheeses and reading a shitty novel in the counter aisle.

A first-class bus is a bit of an anachronism from the jump, but it’s really not bad travel in these parts. The seats are large and do in fact recline all the way (or close to it) with some mechanical eccentricities that you learn through a little frustrate-grunting trial and error. There are also individual TVs with movies running periodically (I watched a very good bootleg of Clash of the Titans, which I wouldn’t have even known was a bootleg if a random dude hadn’t popped up into the movie about 45 minutes in, presumably to use the bathroom, refill his monstrous vat of popcorn, or both), and an attendant that serves dinner, breakfast (should be any minute now), and cocktails, all included with the tickets. Our attendant, Chachmo, as I presume he likes to be called, even poured me four fingers of some tasty scotch last night that put me directly to sleep. The food is, to be sure, terrible, but it would be hard to imagine it otherwise. Really (and this goes for planes too), these companies should stop trying to fancy up the meals they serve during short-term travel. Cordon bleu or duck confit is never going to serve well out of a microwaved cellophane-wrapped plastic tray, even after delicately negotiating the tiny little pouches of salt and pepper or cream sauce that threaten explosion if your tensile tearing strength is just a milli-fraction above what’s required. It’s made worse by the natural turbulence of bus travel and dining from an unstable and untrained lap. You undergo a significant amount of sway and jostle on the top deck, particularly when the speeding bus careens around a slow-moving truck or tractor, the overtaxed hydraulics in the wheelbase heave and sigh under the top-heavy centrifugal weight of the top part of the bus that should, rightfully, spill over.

In any case, bus travel, in this form, really doesn’t exist in the United States. We have buses, obviously, but they are overrun by a bus culture that scares the living shit out of the average person. Not fear for safety or property really, but more some pervasive life-altering taint that may attach to your existence should you even set foot in a modern American bus terminal. I remember taking buses from Jacksonville to Tampa occasionally when I was an adorable prepubescent – when my mother would send me on a busted-ass Greyhound to see my dad for the weekend – the awkward meeting at the halfway point in Ocala being, for whatever temporal reason, too much to deal with at the time. Essentially, it was the same thing that other kids with loving parents did with respect to planes. It was pretty basic, my Mom dropped off an optimistic young nine year-old boy at a terminal on the margins of social normativism, I got on the bus, and when I got to the station in Tampa, Dad picked up a tear-stained quivering future deviant (a strapping boyish equivalent of Alice freshly returned from the rabbit hole, but written by a suicidal and epileptic Lewis Carroll on a terrible crack binge). The American bus system lives in an entirely other dimension from modern reality. There is no scotch, and no vino tinto, not even a sad half-hearted attempt at lukewarm cordon bleu, just creepiness for hours of bumpy relentless highway: a strange strandy-haired man sniffing you, an old lady pulling raw unbunned hotdogs from her purse, a charming schizophrenic blurting random obscenities, occasionally a nine-year old with divorced parents and preternaturally huge genitalia masturbating. It was like a Bukowski novel.

Subtle

We finally reached the falls after the 18-hour bus ride. I slept a large portion of the way, and otherwise got a good amount of reading done, so it wasn’t so bad. We are staying at the Sheraton in the national park, overlooking the Argentine side of the falls. It’s the only hotel actually in the falls park and, allegedly, the best place if you are only staying a couple of days and want to jam through all there is to do. I don’t feel like they have built a new Sheraton anywhere in the last 30 years or so, but this one was relatively well-kept. We checked in, and despite the perpetual overcast (it’s rainy season in May and June), you can tell from the lobby of the hotel how beautiful the falls are/will be. We headed straight for a vista on the northern point of the park, Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat, an adorable and subtle little name for the largest conglomeration of falls in the area accessible by tram ride. It was quite breathtaking once we actually got out there. I don’t want to get too technical on this blog, but let’s just say that there is a great deal of water run off, falling precipitously. Apparently, these falls pour about five times the amount of water that Niagara does and, all together, are second only to Victoria Falls in southern Africa in scope.

View from the hotel lobby

The only problem, as ever, were the goddamn tourists, other tourists that is (I am actually a pleasure to be around). I really don’t much like human beings as a rule, they are vile, indecent creatures, but big-scale tourism seemingly crystallizes those attributes of mankind that I despise the most. The modern tourist combines a dangerous mix of the most childish and intellectually superficial curiosity, a sense of disproportionate propriety borne out from the heavy expense of time, money and energy to be wherever they are, an utter lack of humanity that comes somewhat naturally from the ability (mentally) to abdicate personal responsibility to the crowd, and some obscure feeling that the natural karmic consequences of being a douche will fall through the cracks of international translation, like a rounding error in the exchange rates, creating the rude elbowy middle-aged adult equivalent of the otherwise demure college girl that hooks up with like 12 dudes in Cancun. Most of them have no respect for themselves and certainly none for my personal space, their hot collective breath, their jerky and unpredictable movements and jutting limbs, and their monster cameras and enough assorted unnecessary equipment to put Ansel Adams to shame, invade and soak up every inch of otherwise available space on the trails and viewing spots.  Children and old people seem to be the worst, indicating some inverted lifespan parabola of awareness of the existence of other sentient entities. Relatively new mothers are also terrible, partly by absorbing the indiscretion of their devil children (which like the wrathful flailing in Dante’s River Styx grope and rend at my lower regions) and partly because of a strange neurological disorder that makes them believe that some majestic purity of their child-rearing gives them existential priority over the infecund and provides them mandate to snowplow their strollers through crowds, battering and bouncing off of the unswollen ankles and feet of those meaningless people outside of their nuclear family/army daring to be in their path. It’s low season this time of year, but the crowds were huge and rambunctious nonetheless, ironically fearful of marginal amounts of water spray and stopping every couple of inches to take pictures virtually identical to the last picture they just took. It was very difficult in these circumstances not to agree with Mark Twain that it was “such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.”

I spent a great deal of time sidling up to (slightly nudging) hapless women and children perched precariously on railings over the falls, not with any design to harm them, of course, but to create the perfect situation for my Superman II-esque rescue attempt. I always wanted to save some poor schmoe from his untimely demise at a public attraction, not for the sake of heroism really, but for anecdotal story dominance years later, and so I could perhaps parlay it into a string of paid appearances and Oprah interviews like that one elderly pilot gentleman that somehow became famous for crashing his plane into the Hudson River. Of course, it’s quite possible that once they fell in, I would lose nerve and stand idly by with everyone else, but that was a risk they were probably willing to take. Unfortunately, no one fell, and Arual the Party-Pooper, all self-obsessed with her inability to swim and unnatural fear of sharp jutting rocks, refused to take one for the team. Typical, it’s always about her.

We also got a chance to go on a wild boat ride under the falls, and do a little ecological tourism. I should be clear about something, I am not a wildlife guy. Nabokov was creepily into zoology and, in fact, a noted and talented lepidopterist. Each of Rousseau and Voltaire felt deep affection for plant-life and gardening. I fancy myself a retarded modern disciple, ideologically speaking, of these people, and I know it makes me a philistine in some sense, but I honestly just don’t care that much for animals, plant-life or really nature in the broader sense. I don’t have anything against it/them per se, it’s just not my thing and, like God in Laplace’s solar system, we do perfectly fine without each other. In terms of places that I never ever want to go, I rank zoos just below the rapiest parts of a maximum-security prison and just above an in-person Dan Brown literary seminar. I have little or no desire really to see a zebra eat branches from a tree, either in captivity or the wild, I don’t get worked up by how much an elephant can defecate (it makes intuitive sense to me that it would be a lot), and I don’t care much whether a particular rare bird has an allegedly rare colorful tail, that’s nice for the bird. It’s just the way I am built (a city girl I suppose), and unless some tree monkey is shaking up tasty dry martinis for everyone, I sure as hell do not want to stomach shimmy my way into a crowd of binoculared idiots to catch a distant glimpse of one. Still, being the good sport that I am, we wandered around through the rainforests and took note of a few of the egomaniacal little beasts (the wildlife I mean). We saw large beaked toucans, other birds that might as well have been macaws, weird giant rodents that seemed marsupial in some way (not in any factual way, but in the sense that I have a very vague and detached notion of roughly what a marsupial is, stored in a back cranny of my mind where I toss irrelevant information like baseball stats, animal and plant names, Arual’s birthday, etc.), some German teenagers, etc. We even took a few pictures.

A potential marsupial of some kind

Birds that fancy themselves special

Off to Iguazu

Headed to Iguazu Falls on the long overnight train. The key in Iguazu will somehow be to enjoy these:

And avoid these:

Will blog from the road.

The rains came after our first few days in Rio, and though we would miss the sun and the beach, it gave us a chance to check out some museums and historical sites, and do some hiking in the Tijuca rainforest. I am not a big hiker of mountains, let’s make that clear, it’s jejune and antiquated, what with the advent of motor vehicles, stairs, escalators, trams, funiculars, pulleys, trolleys, helicopters, and dozens of other ways to more efficiently ascend heights – all done without trouncing around muddy trails in cargo pants (pockets slopped excessively on by some modern fashion equivalent of Jackson Pollock), sporting a deeply delusional and solipsistic sense of oneness with nature/Yahweh/universe seemingly inherent to being slightly out of breath in the woods, taking an overwrought and showy gulp of water from a cargo pant-holstered canteen, forearm-wiping sweat from a scrunching brow, and exhaling a giant and self-indulgent sigh that conveys something roughly to that effect of “aahhh, yep, all part of the natural cycle of the world, just atoms and swirling dust.” But, I will say, it was a pretty great hike, what with the rain mist slowly trickling through the lush tree cover as we passed gushing waterfalls, gentle brooks babbling back and forth with Arual (it’s nice for her to have a friend), on our way to the highest peak in the city…….it was like I was just a small cog in the slow, perpetual spin of a moist and hairy-backed mother earth, or something like that.

Our tour was led by a man-child incompetent named Alex with a strong propensity to stumble during medium-grade inclines and to make essentially no sense at all. Alex was billed as bilingual in the brochure, which is true in the most cursory sense, but hardly at a level that would qualify him as a story-telling tour guide. Brazilian Portuguese is a difficult language. It sounds a bit like a drunk Russian (excuse the redundancy) trying to speak Spanish. The root words are somewhat similar, but more slavic, and the syllables sound like they are being dragged through a thick Baltic mud. I can only assume that Alex was indeed well versed in Portuguese, but his English was rudimentary at best. I also think he just made shit up most of the time, relying heavily on my palpable indifference. “Ah, si, sooo, zis tree, aqui…….OhKay, in eighteenz hundredz, all za peeoples in za vworld, all za peeople, zey wanted za wood cuz its sztrongezt wood in za whole vworld………….eh, szoo now, only zvree or zvour of zees trees left, cause of all za peeoples.” ………..Yeah, Alex, that’s what happened with the trees.

I have this tendency to visit places when such place’s most identifiable attraction is for whatever reason temporarily inaccessible. The Eiffel Tower closed for a structural defect, the Sistine Chapel closed for fresco renewal, Munch’s Scream (the most significant painting in Oslo, Norway) being on tour through the other cities of Europe through which I had just passed, or the middle school boys in Thailand away on spring break. You get the idea. Rio was no different. Its most significant tourist attraction and one of the recently anointed New Seven Wonders of the World, O Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer, the giant spread-armed Christ statue at the peak of Corcovado that watches the city all creepily over its sinful shoulder, like the freaky guy behind you in line at the stadium urinals that’s a little too close and paying a little too much attention to the duration and intensity of your stream, or an elderly priest watching you masturbate (that’s normal, right?), was of course under refurbishment and covered by large scaffolding the entire trip, and was unapproachable as a result of recent mudslides on its host mountain. The views were supposed to be amazing, but we saw plenty of those at Sugarloaf and elsewhere, so I wasn’t too put out. Plus, old Cristo really needed some refurbishing. The egomaniacal statue was vandalized just a week before we arrived by a brave young graffiti artist, now doubtless running for his life from Old Testament-y Catholics thirsting for blood sacrifice and the hefty reward offered by the mayor. Also, in a wondrous display of the tastiest irony, it was actually struck by lightning (graven images and what not) a couple of years ago and lost some divine fingers and a judgmental eyebrow that have since been reattached. Jesus and I have never really seen eye to eye on things in any case, what with his whole messiah complex, vague threats to send me to hell for not requiting his presumptuous handsy love and feigned sacrifice for my innate sins (is it really martyrdom when you by design return, almost immediately, as everlasting God?), an issue he really should have taken up with his dad/self. I will say, we have some hyper-religiosity in certain sectors of the U.S., but it would be pretty strange to have a ridiculously giant Jesus as our most identifiable symbol/monument, maintained by an ostensibly secular government. I dare say that might not go over so well in the modern Gomorrah that is San Francisco.

Cristo Redentor all Stalkery

Religion aside, it’s not like I was exactly pining to elbow my way through a mass of tourist families with giant crinklingly-unfurled city maps splayed before their big-eyed dimwitted faces as they trample around in floppy meatloafy feet wrapped too tightly in tevas or reef sandals, scrapping, banging and writhing like clumsy scrappy cherubs in a scrappy chubby cherub race for the perfect picture of their entire extended family in front of whatever sight their Lonely Planet Rio tells them they absolutely must have a picture of themselves in front of. So we weren’t able to make it up to see Christ Refurbisher, that’s fine, if my imagination of it is any indication, I probably would have bitched and moaned the entire time in any case.

Instead, Alex then took us on a tour through Santa Teresa and Lapa, two loosely connected neighborhoods in Rio that have, so far, somehow maintained their respective cultural distinctiveness and largely avoided the gauche touristification that defines Zona Sul and the beaches. We ate lunch at a little hill-side restaurant in Santa Teresa, a small historical district lining the edge of the mountain that separates Corcovado and downtown, snuggled between warring shanty-slums on each side, and with great views of almost all of central Rio. Santa Teresa manages to be a quaint, despite its relative proximity to the rest of the city, and is earmarked by a rickety little tram that rickety-clinks up and down the mountain from the famous Convent of Santa Teresa on the cusp of Lapa. We ordered some traditional pork-based Santa Teresan fare and cold tall beers from a very sweaty and annoyed waiter/owner, whose apron testified colorfully to the slaughter of both a reluctant animal and a good bit of modern food service etiquette. A kindly elderly English couple ate lunch with us and told us of their extensive travels throughout the world, mentioning weirdly how the restaurants they loved best in the United States were Arby’s and The Sizzler. I would have been insulted if they weren’t so damn cute with their over-enunciated diphthongs, glottalized consonants, toothy-mouthed colonial wonder and Hugh Granty hair, somehow both floppy and foppish at once. I just wanted to hug them, kiss their fair-skinned foreheads and ask what it was like to be so adorable and say ridiculous things all the time, but Arual convinced me against it.

Patio from Lunch

View from Santa Teresa

Adorable tram

After lunch, we headed down to the mountain to Lapa, easily the most interesting and eclectic part of Rio. Lapa was bohemian, soulful, and self-satisfied, but also rundown and frenetic, and possessed of an indefatigable seediness in a way that feels well-earned, rather than through neglect or inactivity. This is the primary destination for intellectuals, dancers, artists, gypsies and party-seekers in Rio. It’s not much to look at during the day, as the roads and sidewalks are a mess, pedestrian traffic is dense and chaotic, the buildings are coated with a ubiquitous yellowish grunge slopped up from generations of well-tread street parties, and historical relevance takes a back seat to the more esoteric vibe of the area, which is better visited for the Samba, caipirinhas and all-night debauchery than its famous 400-year old Arcos da Lapa aqueduct, which at the end of the day (or really any time of the day) is still just an unused aqueduct. But, after the sun drops, the broken cobblestone streets fill with dancing cariochas, old men in cabbie hats playing inexplicable card games on inverted paint tubs, cheap art (both created and sold), musicians with tiny guitars playing samba riffs, annoying Australian hostel-ites searching relentlessly for weed, ad-hoc kiosks selling canned beer, working girls and guys and pretty much anything else a young super-sexy man with an ostensible girlfriend passed out in a distant hotel room could possibly want. All in all, a pretty nice little day in Rio.

Lapa Art

More Lapa Art

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