There are architectural treasures in various states of abandonment throughout Brazil; decaying cobblestone streets and colonial buildings inhabited by squatters, derelicts and the marginalized.
On one such street I met a woman who appeared to have a slight mental disability when she motioned for me to stop as I walked by. Her desire: that I join her in perusing the magazine she held in her hand. The sex workers and toughs loitering in front of the decrepit doors which lined the street were amused when I sat down beside her to chat about the glossy images of cars, clothes, and vacation scenes. Someone muttered that I was the more “doido” of the two for spending the time to talk to her. The woman herself seemed surprised but happy at my decision to engage.
The street was only a block from my hotel, so during the following days I continued to stop by and visit with my new acquaintance. We enjoyed shared laughter and smiles as we leafed through magazine after magazine. I met groups of the residents’ children (including my acquaintance’s son) and brought them a soccer ball. Spent time with the working women who told me stories of their lives and shared photographs of their families. Received at least a nod from a few of the men as I passed them in their doorways.
One day, as a largish man was approaching, one of the women positioned herself in a doorway, out of view of the street, and, looking at me, pointed towards her eye - a signal to be alert. Upon seeing me, the man did pause, but slowly moved on. According to all present, he was a predator who had robbed various people and was known to avail himself of the women’s services without providing compensation. Should he return and attempt to rob me, I was told to stand up for myself and fight, come what may - as a local would do.
One afternoon in the sitting room of my hotel, I was chatting with other travelers when an enormous blond woman whom I had spent some time with while she awaited customers passed by. Spotting me inside, she mischievously smiled as she turned around and lifted her dress high above her head, exposing her naked buttocks. My companions were shocked, but I laughed, waved, and told her I’d see her the next day. Incredulous, the other travelers eyed one another, trying to determine if I actually knew her and what the relationship might be.
After a week or so getting to know the street’s community and savoring the personal connections which relieve the solitude of a lone traveler, I decided it was time to move on. Still contemplating the lives of those I had met, I journeyed from the coast inland, where I found myself on a similar street - the edge of which is shown in the accompanying photograph. As I strolled along, a woman whispered that she could teach me to speak Portuguese “transando em na cama”. Loath to attempt to replicate the relationships I had just concluded, I did not stop.