As of today, a major milestone in my life has been crossed. Today, is the one-year anniversary of my flight out of New York City, out of the United States, to leave “home” for good.
There was no innocent beginning for this journey.
There was an omnibus of reasons why I decided to leave. When pressed to count the reasons, it feels like something in the ballpark of a baker’s dozen of reasons why I left. I was still reeling from a failed relationship from years ago…I had gotten fired from a very glamorous-sounding (and stressful) job in Tribeca, New York City and I was burned out for close to six months from the experience. It took months to unspool my mind from routinely discussing mildly obscene but galactic figures and machinations that wouldn’t have made me any richer in the near term. More, NYC bored the hell out of me, there was no mystery left for me there. I looked at what I had: not a whole lot. I looked at what I didn’t: a car note, a house note, kids, wife/girlfriend/”honored” jumpoff…I was logistically light enough to leave. Lastly, and most importantly to me, I saw the direction the United States was taking as far back as 2003. I watched the kudzu infiltration of a hybrid Orwellian-Huxleyian state. I wanted no part of it. At least not the sweetly noxious American variety. Here, I will spare you my explanations for the encroachment of a neo-feudalist order, I don’t think this space is appropriate for that now.
But in the end, I felt like I had to, simply.
The original plan was to be to go to Bali, find a hut, get a motorcycle (although I’ve never ridden one, but what the hell?), and WRITE. I was supposed to be the black hermit who came out every few days to surf and head back into his hut to write some madness that I felt, might change the world. And then I would proceed to Germany, swing eastward into Asia Minor onwards to Afghanistan (how I’d learn Pashtun despite a complete non-mastery of Spanish, I don’t know—but what the hell?) and swing into the Phiilppines, and then after that, only God was supposed to know. I decided to take a small detour to see Carnaval in Brasil (how long was I going to be single? So…what the hell?). Upon landing at Magalhaes Airport in Salvador, Brasil, all my plans were immediately destroyed the second I tried to switch on my BlackBerry. Whenceforth, the story began. While my itinerary has undergone some major modifications (no Bali yet and no Berlin, either.Yet) it has not suffered a similar dearth of events.
I think about my walk from my rented condo on Ladeira da Barra in Salvador in the Ondina bairro to the Pelourinho during Carnaval, to a bloco where pretty much only the hardiest foreigners went. I think about how fucking scared I was and yet I couldn’t make myself NOT GO into the true heart of the true Brazilian Carnaval, alone. I would repeat these walks throughout my time here in South America even to go deep in the favelas of Zona Norte, São Paulo–by accident (more on that later). Because of the first favela incursion, subsequently I was hesitant to go to another. This time, it was Mangueiras in Rio de Janeiro where I schemed to get a haircut (of which was subesquently invaded by the majority of Brasil’s armed forces the following day).
And then there’s being temporarily detained by the Policia Federal of Brasil on the Uruguay/Brasil border. Or even losing my passport in Joinville for 24 hours during said escape from Brasil. And a winter in Argentina, where I lived in Avellaneda for awhile. I think about the journey from a placid winter beach in Mar del Plata all the way to the Hamptonesque toniness of another beach, recently that of Punta del Este, Uruguay .
I learned foremost about sharing. On my accidental trip into the favelas of Sao Paulo, the family I stayed the night with tried to share their breakfast. I watched the movie Cidade de Deus (City of God), with the scene where the character “Shaggy” was introduced to his love, Berenice. At the threshold of the flat, her mother hustled the young criminal into her home with little questioning. I was brought into a favela in a more furtive and discreet fashion, but also with NO QUESTIONS. I thought to myself, “Oh shit, I’m Shaggy!”. In that favela deep in the Zona Norte of Sao Paulo I spent a night with a family where no one save the eldest of five children spoke my language, where the family bathed by a weakly tumescent garden hose. In the morning, they tried to share their meager portions of presunta and pão with me. They couldn’t have had much more than that in the entire house and still they attempted to share that with me. The clothes I wore on my back were worth more than what the family must have paid in rent for the shack. That experience I doubt I would see in the United States. It unsettled me. I was supposed to see this.
As deeply enriching this experience is, it is also exhaustive to psychological reserves I didn’t know I had. Additionally, I didn’t know they required a long replenishment cycle. When I started, I felt really young, exuberant. I stood at the edge of a high precipice. I felt like I could breathe in tingly crystals of excitement and have a glorious run of MY BACKYARD, the planet Earth. After a fashion, a man just wants to stop. More often than not in this experiment/Hegira, it’s been the mundanities, the tedious items in life that often don’t make the travelogues. Whether it was the tense queues of the Receita Federal in Rio de Janeiro or the waiting in rodoviarias, ferroviarias, airports (including the ghastly Miami International Airport ) –there is a psychological toll I surmise that is greater on me after spending some 30 years in the same country as opposed to the individuals who spent 25, 22, and in some cases 19 years in their home countries. It is exhausting having to deal with changing locales, changing cartographies, changing accents and languages–and never hearing your own. And when you do, it is often in the guise of someone who as well received the identical compartmentalized mission orders: to ceaselessly seek all iterations of the other–not your own. It is depleting meeting and bonding with people over and over again, knowing you may never see them again in this life. It is also exhausting changing yourself, because you declared to yourself the Old You died when you boarded that flight when in reality, the Old You too, has a survival instinct; and like Rasputin, must be killed over and over again with no 100% certainty it is dead at all.
Even now, I am still fielding this question: “When are you going coming back to the United States?”. My answer has been nearly unequivocal, but mostly: “Never”. I can’t tell anyone with any certainty what my next trick will be, but whatever it is, it will have to be a good one.
On the other hand, I strongly don’t encourage ANYONE to do what I do. I’m posting my disclaimer HERE: you DO NOT have any licence to go to any favelas, morgues, police stations, and (as they say in Brasil) night clubs. DON’T DO IT. Taxi drivers are the enemy. Learn “Castellano”. House money says you’ll crap out before I do. Stay home. Stay safe. Turn on the Travel Channel. Tell your significant other you were just playing around and it wasn’t meant to be serious and you love them. House money says you’ll get hurt, destitute, or worse.
But… If you decide otherwise… ;-)