Time passed. It does that whether you want it to or not.
My first few weeks in São Paulo were a disorienting and overwhelming blur, every experience dragged across raw pink skin newly-exposed. I remained a stay-at-home artist, uploading comic pages of my dream-project to my publisher from a tiny apartment in a massive metropolis in a new country. A daily ritual soon evolved: waking early with my head already buzzing with half-dreamt story-thoughts as the fiery bruise of dawn and pollution came through the patio. Walking Lil downtown to her office in Centro. Stopping along the way for a pãozinho na chapa [grilled baguette] and a sucinho [juice]. Coming back home to brew myself a cheap café pingado [drip coffee] into a hand-me-down mug. Settling into my wobbly office chair to fight back my deadlines back in the States, most days remaining there writing and drawing until well past midnight.
Coming in and out of the apartment complex, recognized only by the hard stares of the fat security guards and their TV ever-blaring the play-by-plays of a um jogo de futebol [a soccer game] at full-volume, I realized quickly how anonymous I’d become. I still stuck out like a sore thumb no matter how much I diluted the Brooklyn flavor from my wardrobe, but I didn't know anyone here outside of my wife’s family and no one knew me. It had me like a slap that I was being introduced to new people not as "Dan Goldman" but as o marido estadunidense de Liliam [Lilli's American husband], full stop... with zero knowledge (or interest) in the spinning flashing singing contents of my head that I clung as “who I am.”
I'd also started carrying myself differently than others in the street, whether I intended to or not. Adjusting for this city full of malandros [thugs] and maconheiros [druggies] and ladrinhos [child thieves], my in-law’s constant vigilance mantra of "just blend in" left me on constant defensive... but they and their community were really my only breaks from long days of sweating in front of the computer were our frequent dinners and visits. Family time became an oasis from the work and the fear, and usually included excellent sashimi [raw fish]. Sure, I was a novelty to them, the lone caucasoid face at the table: Lil’s quiet and strangely-dressed marido importado [imported husband] she brought back from Nova Iorque [New York] after running away to find her dreams ten years ago. I mostly listened a lot, trying to suss out what exactly was going on at the table, but the conversation was never slowed down for my ears, or even adjusted into just one language. I realized quickly that I was able to pick out the Japanese or uchinaguchi [Okinawan dialect] words from the Portuguese even if I understand none of their meanings of any of the three languages. Communication was a struggle for a while but we made do, connecting instead with warm feelings existing above and beyond the words... but it quickly came into sharp focus that our life experiences really didn’t intersect at all beyond the basic human stuff: breathing, eating, bathroom, sleeping stuff. I half-joked to Lil that the better my Portuguese allowed me to explain myself, the less they were going to like me.
We invited them over to the kitenete so I could share my own world with them, showing them my work in-progress and how cool what I got to do for a living was, but it was met mostly with shrugs and head-nods. They couldn’t read my work in English, had never read a comic before, and weren’t really big readers in Portuguese regardless; we bonded instead over food and a shared appreciation of nature, and they told Lil often how they found me very open-minded and respectful of their culture. I used hashi [chopsticks] at their dinner table when most of the family used forks, I loved to eat traditional uchinanchu [Okinawan] dishes with goyá [bitter melon] and naberá [a different bitter melon] that even Lil’s brothers wrinkled their noses at. But OPEN was exactly the thing, on the nose in one.
Something was starting to happen to me, inside me. Disconnected from everything I was, separated by a computer screen and several thousand miles from everyone I knew, everything that was loud in me was starting to go quiet. There’s a quasi-dirty Brazilian phrase here “Relaxa e Goza” [relax and cum] that works as well for life as it does for sex: tension/hesitation/resistance is an armor that locks up your energy. You can only let it inside you (or get inside it) when you relax and let go. Let yourself cum.
See, back in Brooklyn the noise of my life in the World, both physical and digital, got really loud, maybe too loud even as my career rewarded my labors with more work, more deadlines and more attention. I said yes to everything in a paralytic fear of the moment when it would all inevitably end (and boy howdy did it). But down here in Brazil, that “Dan Goldman” didn’t even exist: I’d shed that skin back in New York, another ghost left behind to haunt a series of over-priced apartments. My books weren’t (and still aren’t) available down here, stripping me of my hard-won Published Author ego-skin that I'd fought for years to earn and hung my tattered self-esteem on.
And the subtraction of that made the estrangeiro Dan Goldman quieter inside. Here I was just another weird gringo in tacky beach shorts who married a brasileira (don’t they all?), existing in but living outside the culture. With the dropping of my old ego for this tabula rasa came a license to slow down, to listen and learn, to be quiet inside and out in a way I hadn’t been able to in the fight-for-your-life-everyday cultural soup of New York City. It was exciting and scary and lonely to find yourself here, in your same body but with your feet standing in a completely different soil, all contexts upside-down, the culture channel changed and all your precious words and thoughts spilling uselessly out of your mouth like broken teeth.
To be an estrangeiro is to start over from zero, to be born again.
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Toucannuí: Gringo in Brazil StoriesNon-Fiction
In late 2009, Dan Goldman unplugged from New York City, got rid of everything he owned and moved to São Paulo, Brazil in search of something else. This is what he found.