The key to a good relationship is honesty, and I'm afraid I haven't been forthright with you. There was more to "A Week in the Mato" than I first came out with. It was no ordinary week in the life of Modern Oddyseus, and, even though I may not know you very well, it's important I tell you why.
We were sitting on the front porch of Sula's Sao Laurenco home, talking. Sula's nosy cunhada, Fernanda, finally asked me what she'd been dying to know. "Gabriel, cuanto tempo com uma mulher antes de faz sexo?" (How much time with a girl before you have sex?)
A little nervous, I told her one of my strongest secret beliefs. "Para me, sexo e casamento." (For me, sex comes only at marriage.)
Sula interrupted. "Fernanda, ele nao intendiou." (He doesn't understand.) She'd made a wrong assumption, but I let it slide.
A few nights later, we did a more-thorough investigation into the matter. Sula and I were fooling around, and we got to the point where most couples do what most couples do in the mato. I struggled within to stop Sula, and I explained I was waiting for marriage. She was shocked; such action was unheard of for a Brazilian man. "Acho que voce e um santo." (You must be a saint.)
"Achei que eu fui uma santa, mas ..." she continued. (I had thought I was a saint.)
In quick defense of Sula, she is saint-like. She has few faults, few addictions, few vices ...
Well, the next night I was married to her. Or, more accurately, my sainthood had been de-cannonized. Sula had asked twice, "Quer parar?" (Do you want to stop?) but I'd said no.
March 26, 2001 was the day. 21 years of age. I'd held out longer than most, but I'd still gone down in flames.
This event had an immediate impact on me I doubt it has on most. As I walked the dark streets of Sao Laurenco with Sula, I felt weakness and regret. I hadn't acted out of love, I'd acted out of passion. I wondered if, after this, I could still enjoy life's simple things and create like the kid I was. I wondered also if I could still love my future wife as much as I'd hoped. I couldn't make eye contact with kids, because I felt myself a monster. Youth, innocence lost.
These sad feelings didn't last long, as they ought not to. Results are as yet inconclusive - sex had its pluses, and I liked Sula quite a bit - but I believe I'd acted in error.
Nevertheless, there's only one thing to do: Have no regrets, learn, keep creating, and move on.
And moving on I would. Sula fully understood we weren't going to marry, and my long stay with her in Pernambuco came to an end.
It was going to be a tough good-bye, but, as Led Zeppelin puts it: "Leafs have fallen all around; time I was on my way. But, still I'm much obliged; such a pleasant stay ..."
I hit the road, taking a north-bound bus to Porto de Pedras. I spent a night at this flat, winding, rainy beach. The highlight was seeing my first sea snake while snorkelling above a patch of grass. Its white eight-inch body slowly curled through the blades. Fuzzy black splotches alternated sides of its body, and each splotch had a yellow diamond in the center. I poked him, being careful to avoid his long, venemous mouth. I didn't get to observe his spiralled swimming, as he disappeared in a flash of green grass.
The second-greenest city in the world, as a bragging local would tell me, was my next stop - Joao Pessoa (direct translation: Johnny Pessoa). It was pretty, as cities go, but it was still just a city. Things got better when I arrived in the rural setting of Praia de Pipa.
"The only thing better than a good self-taken action photo is a better self-taken action photo," is what I always say. Well, I'm saying it now.
This may sound a little vain. Especially considering I said it on the pretty beach of Praia de Pipa's Baia dos Golfinhos (Bay of Dolphins). The short, soft sand stretched around the hazy blue water, past orange-brown cliffs. Atop the cliffs, two sand dune mountains overlooked as small, heavy waves made the shore foamy.
Of course, I could've taken a picture or two of this peaceful setting, but what fun was that? I wanted pictures of me in action with nature, even if it meant I had to take them myself.
I went to play in the surf. I extended my camera-arm and did a crazy, arms-flailing plunge into a wave. I shot the photo. Chances that the camera had actually been pointed towards me at the correct time were quite slim, but it was fun, so I tried another.
A wave broke on top of me, and I paddled along with it, catching a ride. Arm extended, I snapped a photo. If all had gone well, it would turn out to be a cool shot of just my head, sticking out from engulfing white water. Finally, I took a photo of myself flipping into the water. My aim was to take the photo at the precise time my head had submerged and only my headless body protruded from the ocean. I'd like to see a professional photographer get a picture of that!
I raced up a path to the sand dunes and hurried to a point I could jump from. I leapt from a good height on teh Sunny Delight-colored hill, and I took a mid-air photo, hoping to catch some of the dune's shrubbery, as well as my emotional face.
I sprinted around the two sand hills, jumping and rolling down the dunes. Photos were taken from the side, from above, from below, with my mouth open, after I'd landed, while I was rolling, even after my body was covered in orange sand. Whew. There are few feelings better, for me, than soaring through blue sky and getting flung down a slope of soft sand.
On my last jump of the day, I landed about on my neck, which sent my face deep into the sand after a bounce and caused me to plow nose-first through the sand. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this.
Sand was everywhere, including possibly in my brain. On the way to washing off, I fabricated a photo of me hanging from the top of a high cliff and screaming. I reached the water safely and played some more.
Free of sand, I hitchhiked home, flashing photos even at unactive times such as standing on the road with my thumb out. The second truck stopped for me, making it the first time I'd pegado uma carrona, or hitched a ride in Brazil. (This calls for a photo!)
I even took a dorky of photo of myself boarding the bus out of Praia de Pipa, waving a small good-bye. But, would any of these pictures turn out? Or were my self-taken action photos as accurate as my grandpa's timed camera, which always takes the photo before he's reached his pose or after he's left his pose to check "What's taking that gal-darned thing so long?"
My pictures were developed first thing in the morning. The results were bleak. Most of the fifteen self-taken action photos only showed blurry sand or water.
The good photos were few. A picture of me sitting in the back of a stranger's truck, a place I feel more at-home than any, was contemplatively cool. The pick of the litter, though, was one of me bouncing face-first down a dune; the expression on my wrinkled face could only be described as "OOOMPH!"
Aside from this prize (how many pictures have you seen that could be described as ooomph?), I'd wasted a lot of film. And, considering that most Brazilians were unimpressed even with the ooomph photo, perhaps the whole self-taken action photos idea had been a mistake.
As I've learned, mistakes happen. I couldn't worry about every little mistake I'd made; it wouldn't be permanent, nor the end of the world. I could only say, "Ooomph!" And move on.
After all, I still had my childhood to enjoy.
- Modern Oddyseus