Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
I didnt expect to see the moon rise tonight, Josh says, laughing.Hes referring to my ass, of course, but if youre going to bare it all, I guess Brazil is the place to do it. They hold no bars about their butt-bearing bikinis, referring to those famous not-there bottoms as fio dental (dental floss) in Portuguese.Thats what I was thinking, anyway, as I got keyed up to throw back handsprings on the sand and rock driveway in front of our hotel where the capoeira dancers performed for Catherine and Mike just following their wedding ceremony. I wasnt about to let the fact that I was wearing a skimpy little sundress with nothing but a pair of g-string undies stop me. When youve got a troupe of beautiful men with cinnamon skin and exotic, wide-set eyes and ripped bellies inviting you to participate in their dance, whats a girl gonna do?Id made the 30-hour journey to Sitio do Conde, a small fishing village in northern Brazil so far off the grid the locals were actually excited to meet real, live Americans. Theyd greet us with enthusiasm, screaming Barack Obama! and shaking their fists in the air as some kind of international cheer. Lets just say it felt like a more optimistic time from the other side of the globe than it does here, in terms of what the future holds.Its easy to be optimistic when your world consists of long, empty, sandy beaches, and naps in the hammock under a book laid open on your chest, skin still sticky with sunscreen and salt water. The only time that matters is surf-thirty and beer-thirty, the obvious ways to occupy your time between meals consisting of tropical fruits the color of sunbeams and rich fish stews cooked in coconut milk, manioc and palm, served bubbling hot in huge pots with white rice. Its easy to feel good about the world when people welcome you into their hometown even though youre white and fat and pink, and come from 10,000 miles away in every way, teaching you their language and sharing their customs, traditions, dances and food.You understand Brazil, says my new best friend Blackie. You should stay here and find love. Let me love you.Im old enough to be your mother, I say in broken Spangulese.That doesnt matter in Brazil! Age doesnt matter, he says, flashing that bright white smile against his dark skin. He looks like he jumped off some Nike billboard with his shoulder-length dreads, turtle shell belly and narrow hips, three strands of beaded necklaces dangling from around his neck. I want to cast him in an iPod commercial.The night before the wedding, Blackie and his friends hosted a luau for us. Its a Brazilian luau on the beach, with huge palm leaves 10 feet tall that enclose us in a large circle, a bonfire and music and capirinis, the Brazilian drink that tastes kind of like a mojito mixed with lighter fluid. He and his friends play bongos and guitars and sing songs at the top of their lungs, smiling and dancing and lifting their faces toward the sky as if to give some kind of offering of their happiness. Most of us sit in the sand with our drinks in little plastic cups, talking in low voices.Our Brazilian friends sing louder, as if that might mobilize us, as if they alone have the power to numb our inhibitions even though weve somehow learned to depend on alcohol for that.Im wearing this flimsy red dress I bought at the market in Conde, a huge outdoor Saturday market where hundreds of people pack the tiny village square to buy everything from spices and giant watermelons to lingerie and meat still dripping in blood, the smell of death wafting in the air. It was enough to turn me into a vegetarian for the rest of the trip.I buy this red dress for 15 bucks that looks like something one of Charlies Angels might wear to the disco. Its bright red and low cut in the front with an open back and cross straps and it clings to every curve. The dress is sexy and Brazil is sexy and so Im feeling fabulously sexy being on this beach, in the dress, surrounded by this primal energy thats so palpable I can feel it emanating from my skin like sweat, produced by something deep inside me that is so hot it cant be contained. It has to come out.Brazilians, for the most part, are physical people. They run barefoot on the beaches and host soccer games on the beach every day at sunset and of course play capoeira, this magical dance thats performed everywhere from the city streets to the beaches. Its an Afro-Brazilian art form thats like martial arts combined with gymnastics and yoga, more of a dance than a fight, an intense communication between two people who move together, and in response to each other, without actually making any contact. There are bongos and a Barimbau (a musical bow) and singing and chanting and clapping. Its got a heavy African vibe with the kind of percussion that makes your heart beat a little faster. It moved me somewhere deep, like the first time I ever tongue-kissed a boy.Im sure it was that and the adrenaline that put the idea in my head to throw back flips with these guys. I guess I figured seeing a little white blonde girl turn it upside down would be even better than screaming Barack Obama! in terms of expressing an act of solidarity, of friendship, of being human.OK, Josh. So maybe my dress flew up. So maybe everyone there saw me in the flesh, so to speak, exposing myself as I love to do. But whats more beautiful than a full moon rising, especially over Brazil.
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