A couple months ago my brother asked me if I’d like to go to Brazil. I said yes. I’ve made a point of saying yes to opportunity and this seemed like an easy choice. Who doesn’t want to go to Rio?
My husband, son and I had just finished A Novel Music Tour and my husband was in the studio working hard on his next album, which meant that I was due for a break when he finished. In typical good timing, the day after I said yes to Brazil, we decided to move across the country.
Most of my international travel has been well planned in advance, usually revolving around school, family or weddings. Trips involving plenty of prep time to get everything in order, brush up on languages and local customs. Not so this time. I don’t speak Portugeuse, I don’t know the geography of the country, let alone the city of Rio de Janeiro, where we would be staying, and I knew very little about local culture apart from two things: they like soccer and they drink caipirinhas.
There are people who can get away with this kind of travel, blending in wherever they go, skating by with a handful of well-pronounced phrases. Not so for me. I look American. I do not blend. And again, in lieu of learning Portuguese I decided to rely on my brother’s knowledge of the language and culture.
I met up with my brother in Houston and we flew the last leg together, arriving in Rio de Janeiro early on a Friday. We got to our apartment, got settled and immediately headed back out. I took my camera gear and sensible shoes and my brother wore board shorts and brought beer money.
We never stopped moving, always out walking, eating, drinking, exploring the beaches and throwing in some touristy must-dos as well. We didn’t keep to an itinerary, which allowed us to see the city in a leisurely way—my ideal. Without a schedule you get to randomly come across a new favorite restaurant, meet interesting people in unexpected places, and take in so much more of your surroundings.
He did all the talking, negotiating, and decision making in terms of what tourist things we had to do and when we should do them. And I have to say that he made things easy for me. He did a great job being as inclusive as possible, but I still ended up on the outside of any conversations.
People who know me know that I love to talk. I love hearing other people’s opinions and finding out what makes them believe what they do. I love to debate. And I love to find unexpected ways in which we relate. So to be muted when meeting new people—(mis)interpreting bits of conversation through my knowledge of other romance languages and relying on reading body language— left me in unfamiliar territory.
In writing, when we can’t “hear” the character, we have to find other ways to make sense of what’s happening in the scene. The thing every writer I know struggles with most is how to accurately describe the facial expressions and body language accompanying thoughts and speech. It is the most useful method of showing versus telling and yet, because we usually can hear the dialogue, it’s easy to overlook these signals, making it harder to recall them exactly later on.
For nine days I absorbed Brazilian culture on mute. Rather than feeling like I was left out, my experience was rich with interaction. I experienced kindness, smiles, mischief, frustration and a myriad of gestures big and small that led me to thoroughly enjoy my trip and the culture. It was a trip unlike any other I’d ever taken and it turned out to be an amazing exercise in writing. The well must be filled in order to have content to write about and I came home armed with a newly replenished arsenal of physical descriptors to be logged for use in my revision process.
And now… back to work on my second novel. But here are some photos of my trip I hope you’ll enjoy.