Lost Samba – Chapter 28/02 – Going crazy in Olinda.
There were no mobile phones back then, so every Friday afternoon we would visit the local telephone company to call home and assure our worried parents that everything was fine. This time Pedro made two calls – one to his mum and one to his girlfriend in Canoa Quebrada. He came out saying that his big and tanned fake blonde woman, was coming down to stay with him over carnival. As it happened, the news that I was going to party alone turned out well. Pedro put me in contact with Dinah, a journalist friend of his from Rio, who was close with no less than the son of the mayor of Olinda. When I phoned Dinah she invited me to join in with the crowd that got together at his house every day.
We met outside and the VIP property and Dinah escorted me inside. Although there wasn’t any mutual attraction between us, we became good friends. Oddly out of place with the popular celebrations in the surrounding streets, the guests in the house were nevertheless partying at full strength. The table in the living room was covered with elegant and tasty canapés, and the hall was full of foreigners and trendy people from São Paulo, a lot of camp fashionistas and well-groomed guys engaged in refined small-talk. They were all having the time of their lives but, as far as I was concerned, for my taste the gathering was all way too tame. In terms of drugs, there was everything one could possibly wish for: lança-perfume (something like poppers), cocaine, excellent weed and I even heard rumours that someone was giving away little papers with acid droplets on them. I shyly kept to my trusted herb and helped myself to some of the generous supply of malt whiskey.
My routine after that party could not have been stranger. I’d wake up in the grim room that Pedro and I were renting and then I’d wander over to one of the best houses in Olinda where I’d have brunch and get high. In the afternoon I was ready to join one of the best carnivals of the world, stay out until dawn and then retreat back, as Cinderella would, into our miserable little hovel for a few hours of sleep.
On the last day of carnival I woke feeling utterly exhausted from over-partying and went for a walk around the old town to chill out. Everything was fine until I reached a street that ended at the side of the viaduct linking Olinda with Recife. There was no pedestrian passage but something compelled me not to turn back but on the contrary, I was determined to go for a mad cross on its unprotected edge.
Without having anything to hold on to, I walked along the narrow concrete path 20 meters above a busy highway. A slight stumble to any side would have been fatal. I don’t have a great sense of balance but it did not seem to matter. I looked straight ahead, as a tightrope walker does, and made it to the other side. I wasn’t on anything and never understood what had driven me do cross the viaduct in that way. Did I have a death wish? Was I trying to prove something to myself? Or did I simply not give a damn? Anyway, I ended on a peaceful street and in the first open window, oblivious to my antics, there was a mother helping her son with his school homework. We stared into each others eyes and then, in a state of confusion, I walked on.
I headed back to Olinda by bus and soon I was again in the midst of a dancing carnival crowd. I stopped by at the VIP house where people were getting ready to parade with a famous carnival “bloco”. I was persuaded join in and a temporary “tattoo” was applied to my face. Outside I grabbed by the waste a sexy-looking girl and took her to a park. When it grew dark we went to meet her friends in a bar. After she left I got chatting to some guys who invited me to travel for free by boat to Europe to smuggle drugs. The vibe was uncomfortable so I returned to the confusion in the streets and bumped into a friend from university. After following a bloco, at four in the morning we retreated to an empty bar where we stayed chatting until shortly before sunrise.
On my way home to my room, I came across the mayor’s son who was with his closest friends. They invited me to come with them to a park on a hilltop to watch the sun revealing itself in the horizon. We were the only people there and from a stone stairs we saw the bright orange ball rise and gradually illuminate the nature around. The colours were magnificent and the silence and the temperature made that moment perfect.
After so much life had passed through my senses, I was in a state close to nirvana. In that magical setting, a joint with probably the best weed I have ever tried – the famous manga rosa from the Cabrobró region in the interior of Pernambuco, which my new friend had reserved for this special occasion. The joint was as strong as the magic mushrooms that I’d experienced in Mauá and – as with any good marijuana –only two or three puffs were needed to be transported to a different reality.
While we were all in a state of trance, out of nowhere two complete strangers suddenly joined us. One was blonde with long hair and had an accent from the south of Brazil, while the other guy was a muscular American with a military-style cropped haircut. They said that they were high on acid. Completely unprompted, the American started telling us about his experiences in the Vietnam war while his friend kept saying that he was crazy and that we should just ignore him.
Those crazy early hours in a small colonial-era town lost in the northeast of Brazil were to be my farewell to a very special era, a period of my life that I still miss. Pedro, who I’d only bumped into once during the carnival, had arranged for himself a lift back to Rio with some buddies of his girlfriend. I hitchhiked alone, and was lucky to get very long rides. By the time I was close to Vitória, my money had completely run out. As I was desperate to get home in time for university, for the only time in my life I asked strangers for money to buy a bus ticket and get some food, a humbling lesson.