A bunch of tracks, purchased during our four months in Venezuela, that served as a kind of background to our stay. As my Spanish improved, so did my enjoyment of the music I heard around me, which suddenly spoke to me out of the chaos of exotic-sounding words.
I made friends with a dapper old gentleman who owns a music shop near the local market, and he gave me a short, intense education in salsa music…which resulted in my now having almost everything ever published by Oscar D’Leon and Willie Colon! The Argentinian Giulia y Los Tellarini is kind of like a female version of Tom Waits, with her ruined, husky voice, and smoky songs of nostalgia and damnation.
N.B. I don’t particularly LIKE Francisco Montoya, but he is an absolute must, in order to capture the true feeling of the country. This type of music is called Musica de Los Llaneros (Music of The Rangers), and is their version of country western, here. All the male singers have high, goat-like voices, and bleat to the accompaniment of a harp (strummed and plucked like a guitar), a small guitar called a cuatro, and maracas. They play it in taxis, on buses, absolutely EVERYWHERE. And most popular of all of them was Montoya. There was no escape. A playlist of Venezuela wouldn’t be complete without him.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole
where does it hurt?
by Warsan Shire
Warsan Shire showed her first poem to her father at the age of 11, won an international poetry slam at 16 (“I didn’t really understand what a poetry slam was”), writes intense, sensuous poems which she has toured and read in several countries, has a BA in creative writing, published her first pamphlet in 2011, is poetry editor of the new “literary arts mashup” magazine, Spook, and runs workshops on using poetry and narrative to heal trauma. And she’s not yet 28.
The bookstores here have a very limited range of titles. Importing books would cost too much, and local publishers can only afford to print titles chosen for the moral or educational instruction and improvement of the nation. Still, we found Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, both of whom we always enjoy reading, and then a couple of authors we don’t know at all, but seemed promising. (N.B. Romulo Gallegos, who wrote Doña Barbara, was once President of Venezuela)
Bookstores here don’t have open shelves that you can browse. The books are under glass, or on shelves behind the sales counters, so you sort of have to know what you want, and the attendant will bring the book over to you. Still, they were very helpful, suggesting other writers and giving us a basic idea of what each book was about. Most of these titles were under a dollar, new.
We were told there is a flea market around the corner from the marina where we stay, and that locals sell their second hand books there. Definitely going to look into that…hoping people’s old, personal libraries will yield a more eclectic range of books.
But if you’re new to the experience, feel an attraction to the idea of incorporating travel into your life as something intrinsically part of that life, and not just spending a load of money to go for a short, predictable, industry-designed tour, then this book will show you where, and, more importantly, how to start.
Most people think that traveling for extended periods of time is only for the extremely rich, or the extremely irresponsible and feral. But travel as a way of life is an ancient and honourable way of discovering how to become fully human, and discovering oneself as well. And it’s really not as difficult as you’d think. The same measures that a vagabonder takes in order to SAVE money are the very things that also provide that traveler with the most amazing experiences and a more in-depth, satisfying, life-changing encounter with that country. A willingness to eat where the locals do, travel side by side with them in buses or on ferries, stay in locals’ homes, accept invitations to local events, and learn the language of your host country, will give you something that a 10-day holiday by the pool of a hotel catering to foreigners and hanging out with tourists from your own country, can never provide.
Kris and I saved money for just two years…he, working as a boat carpenter for the local fishing industry, I as a salesgirl in an art shop. Okay, we have the boat, which is probably the ultimate way to vagabond because the biggest expenses you will encounter on your travels will always be 1) transportation and 2) accommodation. With our home-built, no-engine, no-electronics, super-basic sailboat, we have cut both those expenses to a fraction of what it would cost to fly around countries, stay in hostels (which, even though cheaper than hotels, can vary greatly from country to country in price, and will eventually take up a lot of your budget), or buy gallons of fuel for a more conventional sailboat.
We don’t have a lot of money, but that’s okay because when we are running low we can look for work, or just decide to head home. There are no iron-clad schedules to follow…we like a country, we stay as long as we can. We don’t like the country, we leave the next week. That said, you’d be amazed at how cheaply you can live in other countries, if you live almost like the locals. In Brazil, we were spending an average of US$2,000 a month. For two people. In Guyana, that’s gone down to an amazing US$600 per month. Either way, both places cost much less than it costs us to live back in Australia, AND we are getting the experiences of a different culture, learning new languages, making friends, and tucking away inspiration for a whole new body of art and creativity for when we return home.
So if traveling and experiencing a new culture at the grassroots level—their food, home life, environs, people, language—gives you a little buzz and thrill of excitement, know that it’s MUCH easier than you think. There’s no need to commit to a period of time, and two months is as legitimate a vagabonding stint as two years. I RECOMMEND this book! It’s inspiring, it’s practical, it’s a better book to have than any Lonely Planet guide, which only leads you down the well-trodden paths, to boringly safe and touristy places, to have uniform experiences like everyone else.
Cycling along the very touristy Tambau Beach on his way to the money changer on Avenida Nego, Kris stopped to check out a camelô (street vendor with a rolling/moveable cart) selling cheap little pocketbooks on the esplanade. With ugly paper covers and dark grey paper inside, the tiny books are just something for people to read as they lie on their towels in the sun, and then throw away before leaving the beach. Just seeing books for sale on the beach was weird: to think that people would choose to read! Kris assumed they would be nasty little romance, crime, or espionage novelettes— bite-sized disposable pulp fiction for the masses, but when he browsed the covers he was amazed to find authors he knew well: Julio Cortazar. Mario Vargas Llosa. Dostoevsky. Joseph Conrad. Dickens. Chekhov, of all people. It was astounding. To occupy themselves while sunbathing, Brasileiros read the classics. God almighty.
I found the same thing when I went to check out the bookstores in João Pessoa’s shopping malls; what strikes us is the high quality of the books available.
I mean two things by “quality”. First, the selection of titles/ authors is delightful. Charles Bukowski’s poetry, for instance, is conspicuous. I saw the complete essays of Virginia Woolf, in a gorgeous edition, with a jacket covered in velvet-flocked scarlet leaves and flowers; a massive tome of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, with all the fantastic illustrations Harry Clarke did for them. The Complete Odes of Pablo Neruda (this one had me sorely tempted.) Just hundreds of the best literature, art, philosophy books, all beautifully presented and prominently displayed at the front of the bookstores, not just relegated to a small shelf in the back.
I also mean the physical forms of the books themselves, the books as objects. Fine publishing seems to be alive and well in Brazil; there were so many really beautifully produced books: embossed jackets, stamped foil titles, gilt or coloured page edges, ribbon bookmarks, sometimes a mix of different papers in one book, coloured printing on thick, soft ivory paper like cloth. Sometimes the text was printed in colour, too. Some of the books had deluxe finishing touches, like embroidered fabric bellybands, or clamshell boxes with leather straps and buckles. Some of the art books were oversized, nearly two feet long and a foot wide, with black & white photographs printed in silver halide.
A bookstore here is like a church for people who worship good design and beautifully made things. I spent hours in every one, looking at everything, though I could hardly buy these books (and I really longed to be able to buy these books in English. Some titles, like Neruda’s Complete Odes, are out of print in English. Very sad, as they are poems rich enough to eat…)
Once or twice I found a pretty book and was pleasantly surprised to find that it cost the same as a cheap hole-in-the-wall lunch, so I skipped lunch, bought the book, and snuck it home.
Po de Lua (Moondust) by Clarice Freire
Ivory pages with blue edges, this pretty book looks like someone’s Moleskine sktchbook, with all the text written by hand, and little drawings in coloured pencil. Not sure if it’s a poem, but the subtitle is “To lighten the seriousness of things”; I think it’s light, inspirational philosophy.
Freire is a young Pernambucana, from Recife (just two hours away from here). She plays with the way words are made up, connecting different parts to each other like Lego, coining new ideas and meanings.
Por Que Oxala Usa Ekodide by Descóredes M Dos Santos, with illsutrations by Lenio Braga, 1966.
Ekodide is a feather from an Amazon parrot, used in the initiation rituals of Orixa (Orisha) and Candomblé. This beautiful book, with its quirky handwritten text and powerful drawings by Lenio Braga, tells the story of how the ekodide came to be used in the rituals.
Fantasias by Flávio de Carvalho, with poems by Katia Canton
These gouache paintings were done by Carvalho, an architect and designer, as costumes for the ballet performance A Cangaceira, in 1953. Contemporary poems by American Katia Canton accompany each of the 15 designs.
Buying brand new books is A Big No-No on this trip. Our budget can’t handle such extravagance and the rule is self-imposed. We are supposed to stick to second-hand bookstores, or (better yet) swap the books we’ve finished reading for different ones on the yacht club’s shelves (usually a dismal, ragtag selection of pulp novels), but I simply couldn’t resist these three art books, and bought them as my souvenirs of Brazil, as well as for the inspiration.