Friday, March 13, 2009


"Rico, come on. Just 10 minutes. Please? I want to show you my latest surf videos," pleads Brother.

Rico is drunk from the afternoon churrasco and tired from the 6-hour drive to Angra earlier that day. He is not at all interested in travel videos, especially since Brother's epic films consist primarily of an unrecognizable figure on a surfboard, peppered with the occasional unintelligible expression of awe after an especially big wave.

"Fuck, man. I'm exhausted," Rico says. "We can watch your videos tomorrow."

"But tomorrow morning we are driving back to Rio. Early." That last word is carefully emphasized by Brother, who knows Rico will be in no mood to be awake before 8am.

Brother shoots me a sideways glance, pleading for support. I know that the videos aren't from one of his trips. I am in on the secret. He filled me in earlier over a caipirinha, hushed information passed while Rico was distracted by Lara, the bumbling Sharpei his cousin got as a birthday present. We all laughed when I realized that Lara looks more like a mini-hippopotamus than a dog.

I try to convince Rico that the video will be entertaining. He isn't buying it. The siren call of a soft bed is much more appealing. My wifely attempt at making a surf video sound fun has failed.

Brother has to act fast in order to keep his attention. He shoves a last beer into Rico's hand and pops in the DVD. "Check this out, man. It's awesome. You'll love it."

Rico silently curses Brother. Typical older sibling behavior, Rico thinks, always putting his interests over other people's priorities.

His thoughts are interrupted by a grainy image of a small child in a red speedo running around a swimming pool. The child has inflatable orange swimming floats on each arm and, despite the poor focusing abilities of the obviously amateur cameraman, big almond eyes clearly brimming with excitement.

"That looks like me when I was younger," Rico says.

I am impressed that he has recognized himself so quickly.

After a few minutes, there is sound on the video. Rico's father's voice hasn't changed a bit in 25 years. "Jump in the pool so I can film you!" he says, in the same voice I know from the speech he gave at our rehearsal dinner.

Little Rico doesn't need any additional encouragement. He splashes in the water, giggling in delight. In the background, a group of adults drink beer and keep watch over Rico and what I recognize to be his siblings.

"Holy shit, that is me," big Rico exclaims. He bursts out laughing together with Brother. "I must be, what, 4 years old?"

"Yeah, something like that. I told you you'd like the video," says Brother. They clap each other on the back in a masculine hug.

"Yeah, it was worth it," says Rico. "Oh my God, look at Sissy!"

Sissy, now nearly 40, is about 12 years old in the video. She is wearing a Jane Fonda-inspired maillot and has her hair cut in big, layered waves. A close-up reveals that her front teeth are still disproportinately large for her face, albeit in an almost Lolita-like way given that the rest of her is undeniably very beautiful, very grown.

Brother is in the video as well, smiling at the camera and yelling to his father, "Você só vai filmar o Rico, é? Me filma, Papai, me filma!" Like any pre-teen, he is out for some attention while trying to look very cool at the same time. He alternates between pleading for his father to film him, and puffing out his chest and running his hands through his hair.

Little Rico jumps in the pool several more times, escaping from attempts by Brother to splash him and then dunk his head under the water. We all comment how much Binho, our little nephew and the son of Brother, looks like Rico. The resemblance is striking.

The video then turns to the adult members of the family. Everyone is displaying bad fashion choices - the men sporting short-shorts, overgrown beards and gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses; the women showing off big hair and unabashed experiments with neon, bright colors competing with the tropical foliage and flowers in the garden in the background. All of the women are chain-smoking; the men drink endless glasses of cold beer.

I recognize Rico's mom, her beauty shining through even the bad 1980's clothes. She is quiet, almost shy in the video. I can see where Rico gets his eyes. She and Rico's dad engage in the kind of banter that is familiar to couples who have been together for several years: playful, yet totally acomodados. No surprises anymore, just simple jokes, day-to-day pleasures, predictable anectdotes.

I think to myself how strange it is to see couples together on film who haven't been together in real life for over two decades. Rico's mom and dad divorced some 5 years after the video. Tia Lina and her husband, who appears in the video playing the guitar to the delight of the children, have also split. Lives are on different paths now, altered, unexpected, sometimes diasppointing, other times joyful.

Rico's maternal grandmother appears in the video as well, so young and agile I don't recognize her at first. She is sitting with her husband, the Portuguese man who came to Brazil accompanied by an uncle at the tender age of 8. Unbeknownst to the family, he changed his name for the trans-Atlantic journey so that his surname would match his uncle's and they could pass as father and son, facilitating the immigration procedures. Rico and his mom only discovered this years later, when retroactively applying for their Portuguese citizenship, a process that required obtaining Vovô's original birth certificate. Thanks to a very elderly great-aunt living in near Oporto, they tracked down the notary's office where Rico's grandfather's birth was registered and discovered his original documents. Rico later told me about this great-aunt, "Everything from 50 years ago she remembers perfectly. Yesterday? Not so much."

Rico's Portuguese grandfather died many years ago, when Rico was still relatively young. His grandmother was devastated, as was his mother. We all grew quiet upon seeing Vovô and his wife together on the grainy film, witnessing the knowing laughs and tender caresses preserved in time.

"Has my grandmother seen this?" Rico asks.

"No," Brother responds. "But I'm sure she'll love it! She'll be able to relive the good old days, see Vovô again, remember what it was like to be young. You have to show it to her when you guys go to Rio."

"I don't know," muses Rico. "What if she gets depressed? Vai acabar com ela. "

I suddenly feel sad, nostalgic for things I've not yet lost. I imagine what it might be like to watch a similar video in my old age, memories long buried in the past unexpectedly dredged up to be relived, savored, mourned. I try to imagine what I would want were I the grandmother who had lost her love, given the opportunity to see times long gone reanimated on a screen.

"I think we should tell Rico's grandmother that the video exists, and what is on it. Then she can make the decision for herself to watch it or not."

Rico and Brother agree, somewhat to my surprise.

Watching the video, I remember my journals, volume after volume of meticulously recorded experiences from my adolescence. I started the first journal at the age of 15, the day I left New Mexico for my year-long student exchange in Brazil. I wrote faithfully about each day of that year, through culture shock, homesickness, my first serious boyfriend, adventurous bus trips through the arid northeast and the verdant beaches of the South, grief, reverse culture shock and everything inbetween. After my exchange year, I continued writing. It was my way of coping, of expressing what I was certain nobody else could possibly understand. I wrote for 7 years, filled enough blank-page journals to occupy an entire shelf on my bookshelf.

I think about my journals, and how difficult it is - even now, more than a decade later - to read through some of my words from the past. There are certain episodes that I am still unable to face, let alone transcribe to the computer. (I am afraid of losing the record of my experiences (fire? theft? self-destruction?) so I am typing up all of my journals and safekeeping the stories of my teens and early twenties - such intense years - in digital form.)

I can't begin to imagine how it must be to relive those moments in video. It's complicated enough via words, in private, safe from third-party interpretation or commentary until the day I choose to share. Video is different, more accessible, more prone to judgment, both by others and by self. Words paint pictures, but images are undeniable, for better or for worse.


JC said...

A touching moment captured in beautiful words - thank you for sharing this snapshot!

PS - send me yoour flight details so I can come pick you up! x

Ali la Loca said...

~JC - Obrigada, Jovem. I've been wanting to write it all week, finally got a chance last night. We'll send an email with our flight info - thanks for the shuttle service (again). beijos!

poppy fields said...

I enjoyed reading this post.
The phrase: "I suddenly feel sad, nostalgic for things I've not yet lost."
...sparked a déjà vous feeling in me. I look at my girls and sometimes have a feeling like this when thinking that they will grow up and fly away one day.

Andrea Eisenberger said...

Oi Ali

Hoje nao sei porque estava com vontade de ler o seu blog, queria saber de voces e que boa surpresa me aguardava.
Queria poder estar ai com vocês partilhando esse momento, vendo este video. Me lembro muito bem do maio, era uma azul e branco?
E a casa e almocos de fim de semana, com cervejas geladas e churrascos...
Que delícia!
BEijos e saudades

Ali la Loca said...

~Poppy Fields - I have this feeling all the time, especially while living abroad. I can only imagine how it will become stronger when we have kids some day.

~Andrea - Oi! Que surpresa, não sabia que você passava por aqui de vez em quando. Que bom que gostou do conto, foi muito legal ver o video com todo mundo. Não lembro bem a cor do maiô, mas tinha também um shortinho tipo de corrida com meias até o meio da canela!
A viagem foi muito legal, pena que eu tive que trabalhar quase o tempo todo numa proposta...mas deu pra aproveitar.
Saudades, manda beijo a todos!