Observations of an Overthinker

Chile, Argentina, and Brazil

I had a predetermined vision of Chile in my mind. The largest southernmost settlement in the world, ranging from the hot desert to ice caps and everything in between, 7 climates in total. I imagined a folkloric, historic, and immaterial Eden where water and air were replaced with wine and song. I still assume they are but it wasn’t meant to be. The city’s people had bigger plans for themselves. (That last sentence makes me proud for Chileans.)

About 3 weeks before we left, the country started to show signs of civil unrest. By the time we were ready to fly there were a million people in the streets. It started in response to a rise in the Metro’s subway fare and the increased cost of living. One of the most powerful things I’ve read on the subject is from a 30-year-old art teacher, “We can’t return to normality, we haven’t achieved anything yet. The reforms the government is proposing are superficial and do not solve the deeper problems—it is not about 30 pesos, it is about 30 years of abuse of power.” Since then, President Piñera changed eight ministries of his cabinet, dismissing his Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick. On November 15, most of the political parties represented in the National Congress signed an agreement to call a national referendum in April 2020 regarding the creation of a new constitution.

“In an April 2020 plebiscite, Chileans will be able to vote whether they want a new constitution and, if so, whether they want it to be drafted by a mixed citizen-legislator convention or one entirely comprised of elected citizens. More than 80 percent of Chileans are in favor of a new constitution, according to recent polls.”

To be determined. Anything that involves the redistribution of power and money is always “to be determined,” and it’s always by the people trying to keep it.

I’ve read Buenos Aires is the “Paris of the South.” Comparison is such a subjective thing. Most people need an explanation for reference. Music, art, culture, travel. Even restaurant suggestions. Most need to hear something is cool so they can decide to experience it for themselves. Plus, it is a catchy phrase. I was curious about how that came to be.

“Argentina didn’t gain its European flair during its era under Spanish rule. In fact, after gaining independence from Spain in 1816, Argentinians didn’t want to employ their former colonizers. Instead, they looked to visionaries from other European countries, like France and Italy, to serve as the architects and engineers of their developing capital.”

The cosmopolitan capital is everything I thought up and more: A heart of culinary mastery, world-renowned wines, and a European atmosphere intertwined with vibrant Latin American roots. But most surprising to me is how welcoming it felt. It didn’t even feel like a vacation. Unlike Paris, while regal, romantic and majestic, I didn’t feel like I needed to ask permission. For anything. It felt like home.

Argentine children smiled a lot. They looked more loved than other places I’ve been (no matter how dumb that sounds). There was a photographic feel to families in Buenos Aires, a strong sense of familial structure there. It was lovely to be around.

There were a ton of dog walkers. I don’t know why I find the chaotic tangling of canines to be so sweet. It was like a reverse Christmas tree of panting tongues, all going different directions; smelling, peeing, smiling, and happy to be together. Most dogs are like that. They love belonging to a tribe. Humans aren’t that much different but most don’t smell each other’s butts in public. Most.

Cars rule pedestrians. Traffic control signals only exist in main intersections. No lights, stop signs, or yield signs on most corners and pavement markings (where visible) are a suggestion. Although Argentine motorists are kind outside the car, they relentlessly Tertris their way to the head of the intersection. It felt like a VR video game and everyone was in on it. Pedestrians don’t have right of way even when crossing with a walk signal. You had to be aware of vehicles turning because they may not stop for you.

Smoking still seems popular there. I’m surprised smoking is still popular anywhere, including Paris. It’s just like anything else, once the information is available the excuses lie on the individual. I did see some people frowning on it, waving the air with a snotty look as if to say “not near me.” As an ex-smoker from a lifetime ago, I don’t feel right saying much on the subject except smoking will kill you, and fanning air makes you look funny.

And finally, crazily, music still matters there. Considering music is my living, it actually blew my mind how much music mattered in South America. I haven’t seen too many people so deeply passionate about music in a very long time. For fear of offending countless people I work with daily, I don’t mean professionals and some of the best performers and talents I’ve ever seen. I mean passionate. The music was coming from a place of lustful concern. Avid, fierce, and intense desire to get it right and for very few people. (Yes, covers.) I saw one band playing for 11 people. They had more devotion in their hearts and conviction in their eyes than 100. It reminded me of being a child again. Wetting my hair, grabbing an ax handle, and rocking out to Kiss Alive 2 in my bedroom. In my current world, there’s a clear understating of it all. It’s a business. The goal, style, expectation, times, image, pay, all of it. Once you remove the curiosity out of music, it changes the conviction. And in turn, it changes you. This is true with almost anything, especially life. The more you know the harder you have to try to keep it fresh. For a city of almost 3 million people, Buenos Aires still plays with passion, curiosity, and innocence. It was beautiful.

My only knowledge of Rio before coming here was “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Copacabana” and Carnival. 2 outta 3 ain’t bad?

At first glance, the natural and constructed beauty that makeup Rio’s geographical contrasts are absolutely gorgeous. On one block you have this vibrant, fun, beach vibe, and on another, you have the stunning natural allure of historic mountainscapes. Then, favelas in the middle.

A favela is a low income, unregulated type of “slum” neighborhood that’s experienced historical governmental neglect. No zoning, oversight from any public authority, or public services. Old, recycled tiles covering flimsy shacks, illegal electricity wire extensions, and blue cisterns.

“Geography is destiny” is such a fascinating topic to me. What were you born into?

I read a few articles about the 10-foot high fence along the highway from the international airport. I’m so intrigued by this. Behind it Maré, a complex of 16 favela communities mostly under gang rule. There are differing accounts as to why the wall exists ranging from a “sound barrier,” “welcoming wall” for the 2016 Olympic arrivals, and finally to hide an “eyesore.” My befriended taxi driver named Mario seemed to sum it up best, “Yes, sure, all that may be true but during rush hour the thieves would walk onto the highway and rob people at gunpoint.” Most everywhere I’ve traveled has some sort of social class division but this may be the greatest I’ve seen. Extreme wealth and poverty right on top of each other. Some of the favelas have equal, if not better views than the high rises. Upon digging deeper, one thing I found inspiring about the favelas is many have created, managed, and elected their own officials. Their own cities within cities. These are for the people by the people, off the grid, and on their own. I could spend a week talking about socio-economic abandonment, what basic roles any government should take but its literally not my place.

I went to my first Brazilian football game. 67k people. Singing the entire time. Cheering, screaming, throwing beers, in-fucking-sane. It was Flamengo vs Ceará, both Brazilian teams. I’ve been told I’m lucky for that. And, that they won. Brazil is the only team to participate in every World Cup competition ever held and they are *crazy* about the sport! I’ve never been in a traditional war but it felt like how they must start. 10 people, then 50. A hundred, then thousands. The disorderly, chaotic, nervous energy of 67k people all in one place. An air of uneasy, angry, excited and on edge; swelling moods overcoming different factions in seconds. And then without notice, complete pandemonium erupts. Screaming bloody murder! But, it’s…a celebration! I felt like a dog that kept accidentally peeing on the carpet when everyone was looking. But I wasn’t. Sort of.

There seems to be real, heartfelt disdain from the taxi drivers towards Uber drivers. They really dislike them. Like class disgust, only the taxi drivers do pretty well here. The only people taxis hate more than Uber drivers are Uber Eats and the like: iFood, Pedidos Já, Mr. Food. Even they caught my attention. Best I could tell, the entire home delivery system works off of motorcycles and they’re timed. They do not obey any of the traffic laws even in front of the police. Rush hour dawns a symphony of Roadrunner-like “meeps” in Morse code. The only thing that could make it any more interesting was the kids were using rented bicycles to deliver food. Everyone’s gotta hustle, I respect that.

Portuguese is a much more difficult language than I thought it would be. Or, they’re much harder on my efforts. Since everyone was polite, I’ll say both. Also, Google Translate seemed the most incorrect here so far. Vowels and constants were wrong and pronunciation had me down the wrong road a few times. I got more help from locals than Google. The language also sounds laced with French. I was told by multiple people who live there, Portuguese does not sound French. Au contraire sounds French to me. Ah bem.

I really don’t know why people cheek-kiss greet each other. It’s as strange as saying “bless you” after a sneeze. In South America, it’s for real. I had to read more.

*One Kiss: Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, the Philippines
*Two Kisses: Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia, Brazil (though, like France, the number can differ by region), and some Middle Eastern countries (though not between opposite sexes)
*Three Kisses: Belgium, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Egypt, and Russia (where it’s accompanied by a bear hug)

“…touch cheeks and administer an air kiss — a soft smacking sound, as opposed to the more bombastic mwah!—forgoing any actual exchange of saliva.”

Superstitious, ritualistic customs always make me feel weird. When forced into a quick kiss hello, I don’t make the noise. I’m not fake lip smackin’ for anyone.

Cars rule pedestrians here as well. (Insert the same paragraph from Buenos Aires.) However, I saw three different busses stop for someone running to catch it. I’m gonna venture a guess it’s not normal practice, but there’s nothing better than those types of small victories. I love it when the bus stops for someone running. I hope everyone’s bus waits for them.

Many people tell stories and that becomes their truths.

“When your beliefs are entwined with your identity, changing your mind means changing your identity. This is why facts don’t change minds.”

They see what they wanna see, hear what they wanna hear, and believe what they wanna believe. There’s a survival mechanism in place to save us from our greatest fears, usually the truth. An underlying, terrifying realization that maybe it’s all for nothing. Perhaps a symbolic separation from our parents, fantasy over reality, aloneness, personal/spiritual evolution, life responsibilities, and death. We demand perfection of others while lacking the necessary self-reflection to refine ourselves. We work, we save, we purchase and we hope. We expect our nest egg dreams will be met. We pray that everything is going to resemble the fairytale we created in our head. (Read that again.) But even the wealthiest people in the world can’t pay for perfection. They can’t pay for avoidance, and they can’t pay to circumvent life. And praying isn’t going to change the outcome. It may make you feel better about the path you choose, and your place in it all, but unfortunately, divine intervention isn’t up for sale. The sooner we realize everything is going to be ok, regardless of the outcome, the sooner we’ll accept that which is. The sooner we’ll be happy, always, no matter what happens. I mean, let’s face it, we’re all extremely fragile and just doing our best. A little self-acceptance can go a long way.

People often ask me, “how do you go so many places where you don’t speak the language?” My go-to joke is always Google Translate (although Portuguese isn’t its strongest suit). While it saves my ass daily, the truth is more easily described: with a little effort and a lot of humility. Try to fit in. Try to speak the native language. Show some effort. But most importantly, be prepared to say sorry. A lot. Show people of the world, with your actions, you’re thankful to be wherever you are. And remember, you’re representing the next person. The next stranger. Express yourself with grace, try to be a person of the earth, not on the earth, and look people in the eyes with respect. I have yet to find any currency that spends more freely than respect.

If you knew someone was going to take your place on this marble and pick up the pieces you created over your lifetime exactly where you left them, wouldn’t you try harder to leave behind a kinder, more refined legacy for them? That’s exactly how I feel about travel. I didn’t purchase the right to walk through foreign lands like a bull in a china shop. I was afforded a right of passage, revocation is up to the natives.

To be determined. Only this time it’s by the actual people who wield the power. Fortunately, it’s just my memories I’m trying to keep.

© Tanzer Words