Sunday, January 03, 2010

A walk in the park: Alice wondering about her land

Yesterday we finally had a nice day in BH. We had to endure an implacable rain for days - it seemed months. Gray, lazy and melancholic days, I have to say. But finally it's over: good weather has come yesterday and I decided to celebrate the sunny day with a walk in the park.

It was a very meaningful walk - I was searching for something there. But this is a long story, which needs to be properly set.

Some time ago, a person who is very dear to me sent me a text: "Lo specchio" (The mirror, in Italian). Funny enough, the text was in Portuguese, with some Italian expressions. The impact was deep since the first line: it was about me. It was simply unbearable to read it... I couldn't do it, I could not breathe, I felt overwhelmed and violated: how could someone be so conceited as to write about my inner self?

However, I admit that the reason why it was so hard to read it - and why I felt so naked after finally managing to get to the end of it - was because it was (partly) true. I really felt like in front of a mirror, and I did see myself in it, but it was a very strange self: a self seen through someone else's eyes. A very unsettling feeling. The text was a gift. And I didn't say "thank you".

I was sent this text quite some time ago, in October. On January 1st, in another attempt to read it, I still had mixed feelings about it: flattered, of course, and amazed, for sure, but also uneasy, uncomfortable, and distressed. Finally, surprised to feel so much after so long.

This is when I took the decision: to live the text. To live its story, to be the character, to see myself through someone else's eyes - ever seen "Stranger than Life?". According to the author, I was supposed to be walking down Avenida Afonso Pena, go inside Parque Municipal, and there try to find something I was looking for: identity and a feeling of belonging.

Honestly, on January 2nd, I was not really feeling a particular lack of identity or a pressing need for belonging. However, I changed my clothes, put a book and the camera in my purse, and set off to Parque Municipal to see what would happen there.

I entered the park and, as always, felt overwhelmed by its variety and colors. I remembered the times I would spend there with my ex-boyfriend, where he first told me "I love you" and scared the hell out of me. Or when we would walk there together after class. Or when we rented one of those boats and tried to row around the pond - not really successfully, I must admit. I remembered taking my Italian friend, Elisa, and her Dutch friend Mila, to take pictures there. As I caught sight of the pond, very old memories of a younger me, my mom and my dad came to my mind. I must say I don't really remember when I was little and we came here together, but my mom used to tell me about that and I just imagined it over and over, the same way exactly all the times, so much so that it became a memory. I also remembered walking around the pond with my uncle, Firmiano, in 2000, when I still spoke no Portuguese and I could never interrupt him - and he would go on and on discussing about philosophy and anthropology, following his own stream of thoughts.

As I was approaching the pond, the magic of the memories started to fade away. First, I saw the path was obstructed by three pigeons - flying species of which I feel tremendously scared. This made me uncomfortable, but, as I am struggling to overcome this absurd fear, I decided to be strong: "you can do it", I whispered to myself, and that did the trick. As I was walking around the pond I noticed the path was filthy - probably because of the rain - and I soon decided to abandon it. The only way to do it was either to go back to the pigeons or to continue until the kids' poor and old amusement park. Families and kids crying and yelling everywhere. Nothing against kids, but I was looking for peace and the vision of what was expecting me did not exactly cheer me up. I moved fast through the yelling and the crying and the screaming and made it to a more peaceful area. Phew!

I went back to appreciating the gardens of the park, its ponds, its bridges, its trees, its colors, its birds...and there I was: I could take quite a nice picture from that angle! I got the camera out of my purse, turned it on, placed it in front of me...and noise again! A group of people was coming, they were very close, and were laughing and commenting about something. I felt disturbed and irritated, turned off the camera and walked away. I also felt stupid for not taking the picture. And told myself I would go back later and take it - but in the end I didn't.

While I was walking and wondering about some ugly, rusty metallic "sculptures" that were place there supposedly as a decoration, a guy stopped me, greeted me and offered me his hand. I was holding my camera and, trying to move it to the other hand, the gesture was awkward. I felt impatient with this guy, dressed in a way that reminded me a little of a skater and of a hippie, smelling like beer at 11am and imposing me his handshake like that. He said he was a poet called Joker Indio (I believe), he showed me two sheets with three poems for a few cents - all I had in my wallet. I went on reading the poem: I didn't like them except for one, which was signed by his "alter-ego" Alfredo Baco, o ilusionista. Still, I was glad I had bought them.

I kept walking immersed in memories and fantasies, until I reached the gate in front of Medical School. I remembered going there to see their "Bartucada". I also remembered walking on the hidden path on the right with my dad - and, at times, my brother - to go and come back from the supermarket.

I saw a kid running from his family, and decided to go the same way. There were some people, though, and I felt uncomfortable again, with the impression everybody was looking at me. The concentration of pigeons here was much higher - and these seemed to like to fly very low. There is only one thing worse than a pigeon on the floor: a pigeon flying over your head, or in your direction. I felt so nervous I decided to leave the path and found myself stepping on slippery mud. I tried to get out of there, saw an unoccupied cement bench, close to some kids' toys. There were two little girls playing, but I figured they wouldn't bother me. I sat down, found a comfy position, took my book out of my purse, got my cell-phone playing Frank Sinatra's best songs on a very very low volume, and started to read. I was happy. The sun was warm, I was sitting under a nice tree, there was a little breeze, not many people around, no pigeons, a nice view of trees, palms, the pond, the gardens.

I had barely came to the end of my second page when a grandpa and his grandson sat down on the bench close to me. The sat very close to me and that already disturbed me. I was thinking whether I should stop the songs, or if they would think I felt uncomfortable with them there. They were noisy, talking, the son asking for his granpa's cell phone. As soon as he got hold of the device, he started playing the most noisy games on it, while the grandpa had his eyes lost somewhere in the green of the trees. I could not concentrate on my reading and I felt an urgent need to leave the place. But I didn't. I finally gave up on Sinatra, and tried to focus on the book in spite of the annoying beeping and crashing that was coming from the boy's cell phone. They finally left. As soon as they disappeared, somebody else showed up: the creepy-crawlies. I had to tap them off my book, my purse, my cell-phone, my jeans, my sneakers...God! They were everywhere, I felt them crawling on my hair, down my back, in my ear...I had to leave the place! I hate the creepy-crawlies!

On the way back, I took "the road less traveled by", the one that was dark and gloomy and that I used to take with my dad. As I walked, I finally started thinking about the reason that brought me to the park. I thought about identity and about home: is this city the place I belong to? I looked at the big trees, saw things moving on the leaves, rolling down, swishing on the grass. Cats - an animal I love - looked at me indifferently. I looked at the plants on my left: they looked big, purple, alive and scary. On my right I could see a tall untidy grass. I could hear the noise of hundreds bugs for which I had no sympathy. And I felt I was rejecting and rejected by the place. The plants intrigued me, but I couldn't sympathize with them, or understand them, as they seemed so into their own nature and their own environment, so indifferent to my presence. I ended up rejecting them as something I didn't want and I walked fast to the gate. As I was reaching the way out, I stopped suddenly, my heart accelerated. I saw something moving in the grass very close to me. It was just a cat: it jumped out, crossed my path calmly looking at me with its yellow eyes. Then, finally, I was out.

Did I find what I was looking for? Did I look into the mirror? Did I see what was there? Did I just see what I wanted to see?

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