Sept. 16, 2005
On a plane out of Rio de Janeiro, headed to Fortaleza, Brazil
A few hours after saying goodbye to my son before he boarded a bus in Rio, I was on a GOL plane headed to Northeastern Brazil. A debonnaire Brazilian man I’d met and spoken to briefly in the airport, tapped me on the shoulder shortly after takeoff. He said he had arranged for the seat next to him to be vacated and would I like to sit next to him? Why not? I thought and followed him down the isle to his seat. The thing about traveling alone is that you’ll talk to just about anybody after awhile. Especially when that anybody looks like Julio and happens to live in the city where you are headed. Talking to Julio on the plane would give me a preview of Fortaleza, a city of almost 3 million located several thousand miles north of Rio on the coast of Brazil.
After I wedged myself in next to Julio, he began to tell me about his business and and progressed to his dreams for his future. I looked down at his hand. (I haven’t been single all that long, and so sometimes I forget.) Yep. There it was, the golden signifier that he was collared. “So you’re married?” I said. “Sure,” he answered, casually telling me that she was his third, and he hoped final wife, and that she’d be at the airport to pick him up. OK, I thought, a little disappointed. Julio, then, was friendship material, nothing more.
The sleeping pill kicked in and I began to nod off. Julio said, touching his shoulder, “You can put your head here.”
I just smiled, blew up my little neck thing and placed it behind my neck. When we arrived, Julio gave me his number and said to call if I needed anything, anything at all.
Julio’s behavior didn’t surprise me all that much. Brazilian men have a reputation for incongruity with monogamy. And Brazilian women are (no surprise) prone to extreme jealousy.
My first sign of what were to me, bizarre Brazilian mating rituals, was at an outdoor musical concert in Paraty. A woman suddenly appeared between me and a man who upon hearing I was American, had begun practicing his English on me. I said to the woman, “Hi, do you speak English too?” She held a clenched fist up to my face.
I took that as a No.
A few weeks later, a Canadian whose business was helping foreigners settle in Fortaleza, had to sneak away from his young Braziilian wife to show me around the city. He glanced at his watch furtively and said he had to be quick. “Why don’t you bring her with you?” I asked. “Uh, she would never understand,” he said.
There was the foursome in Fortaleza – two men, two women , the latter glaring at me when I approached their table to interview the men, who had forgotten to tell them I was coming. One of the women kicked her boyfriend under the table because he kept looking at me when he was answering my questions. Two days after inviting me to join them on a journey to Jericoacora, all four suddenly stopped speaking to me. When I saw one of the men a few nights later at a nightclub, he apologized saying that his wife had become insanely jealous, sure that I had fallen in love with him. Amazing! It would have been plausible if he was anywhere near my age, even remotely attractive, or single.
The Brazilian Mating Game. It’s a game I don’t get.