(part five of Thirty Days in Brazil: Fiber in a Faraway Place)
When I was fourteen or fifteen, my mother and my father took a trip to the Dominican Republic. It was a prelude to several months of arguments which terminated in divorce and the departure of my mother from my childhood home.
For this vacation, the only one I can recall my parents taking, they were gone for a week. When they returned, it was with flower-printed garments, a necklace of polished magnetite, and with small wooden trinket-tourist toys which were quickly forgotten.
The most tangible memory I have left of their vacation is not the necklace (for it was strung on weak plastic fishing twine) or the clothing (for I forgot them somewhere in Iowa and haven't seen them in years), but the smell that came back with the blankets and the clothing that accompanied my parents to and from the island. There was a strong floral smell - I remember that - but also the sweeter, more pungent smell of salt and ocean that lasted for days and weeks and months until it faded away with the necessary washing of clothing and linens.
My long black hooded sweatshirt that I favor, my beaten blue jeans, my t-shirts, even my battered work boots smell like that now. I'm sure it will fade in months, but for now it remains a reminder of one of the best weekends of my life.
I had to be argued into this weekend. Originally I'd planned to work through it, taxiing about to the various sites to complete work. Instead, I allowed myself to be convinced into packing up and leaving Saturday morning for a bed and breakfast in ItanhaÈm with five other coworkers.
It was a two or three hour trip along the highways in the minibus, passing along foggy hills through rainforests, down past favelas on the outskirts of towns and cities, down and down into the ItanhaÈm municipality where small houses crowd together, their tall, concrete walls topped with electrified wire, concertina wire, and even colorful shards of broken bottles intended to keep away pigeons, thieves, and other undesirable influences.
On arrival, we passed from a narrow street some few blocks from the seaside into a cool, palm-fronded courtyard of sand, and from there into a hundred year old home where we were welcomed by the proprietors and assigned into our various rooms. As the sole single female of the group, I was given a room off of the main dining area, a small but clean room tiled in terra cotta with an attached bathroom and a view of a flower-wreathed courtyard hung with laundry. Dropping my bag on the bed, I wandered out back to the pool area, where my coworkers were already busily chattering away and drinking caipirinhas in the shadow of an open-walled thatched hut.
The afternoon passed in a pleasant blur of cachaÁa and conversation and sliced of fennel tossed in olive oil, into the early evening. We wandered the beach, configured in twos and threes of our former driver, the quadrilingual (who, I learned, was a former ballet dancer who'd spent ten years in Europe), the wife of a coworker, and the five other fellow technicians, all of us a bit buzzed on alcohol and other things.
Out to the east, the Atlantic rolled and rumbled, casting up shells onto the sands. With the wife of a coworker, I gathered up fragments and whole pieces, coming up with barnacles, with brilliant pink shards, with mother-of-pearl gleaming bits, and with tiny shells with a deep purple interior gleaming up at me.
The breeze smelled of seasalt and flowers, and I breathed it deep, my throat beginning to itch with the burgeoning virus making the rounds of our little group.
We wandered a few kilometers and turned back, parting to sleep, to talk, to lounge in hammocks hung between the pillars of the patio rooms. Nestled in my own cotton sling, I listened to electronica, my mind drifting pleasantly and unhurriedly from observations of the evening sky to screams of excited, playing children, to the fronds nodding from bulbous trunks alongside the courtyard. It was peaceful, beautiful, relaxing.
In the hammock, a bit buzzed, a lot happy, I came to the realization that this month, this trip, this year, is the beginning of something wonderful. I've passed into a new part of my life where trips out of the country and across the country are possible, where I'm meeting amazing new people and building amazing things. This is the beginning of the rest of my life, a life where many things are possible, a life where I love my job and the people I work with. I've come far in ten years, and, my gods willing, I'll go even further.
Lulled by the electronica, I drifted into a nap in the hammock. It was early yet, and we had more beach, more beer, and more of seaside Brazil to enjoy. The palm fronds, the sand, and the seaside breeze would be waiting for me when I woke.