Thursday, April 27, 2006

And Bardot created Búzios...

It's good to sit and recall the last time you were happy for a sustained period of time. Memory haunts us with past fears and anxieties far too often for us not to actively benefit from the good times gone by. First, you should probably distinguish between the happiness derived from people and the happiness derived from places. With people you like and love, the "happy" weaves in and out of small human moments, graudually winding like ivy around the arrow of time. You feel its presence, but it can be very hard to measure this happiness because you are so deeply in it. It's much easier to assess the happiness that comes from a place. It's less complex, more external and observable. A good place to start.

Búzios, a small Brazilian fishing village gone a few notches glam, is a place where I once found great happiness. Check out the lay of the land...

Each little nook and cranny you see along the coast of this tiny peninsula (located a couple hours north of Rio de Janeiro) is home to a different beach. Some empty, others full of slow but vibrant Brazilian life. Each breathtakingly special in its own way.

Meanwhile, the town center is sophisticated, perhaps a hair too upscale for its own good. After all, it was Brigitte Bardot who came here in 1964 and declared Búzios the St. Tropez of South America. The ensuing celebrity blessings over the years have certainly upped the property values and sucked a certain portion of indigenous culture out of the peninsula. Normally that would outrage me. Here, there actually seems to be a harmonious balance of economies and classes and nations. A democracy of simple living and a pervasive, free-floating joy, available to all in the ocean air.

Step off the shops of main street, Rua das Pedras, and you are back among the fishing villagers who seem to genuinely like having sunburned strangers from all over the world tramp across their front yards. Several of them invited me inside their homes for a drink and a chat in broken English. Others just wanted to kick a soccer ball or make music on homemade instruments. I feel safe generalizing: the Brazilians are an incredibly friendly and soulful people. They spot our suspicious urban armor a mile off and they laugh, not at us, but with us. How did we get this way? As cliche as it sounds ,"Relax and Enjoy" is the unspoken command from the locals. It's an infectious attitude.

The food is outstanding, the best in Brazil many say. The shopping seems to keep people engaged for days (not my thing personally though). In town, many of the cobblestone streets are closed to cars and shaded by magnificent trees that pre-date flight. Out of town, the roads are barely paved and full of people wandering from one secret beach to the next. Some working, some playing. Always hard to tell. Something is always going on - a festival on the beach or an old film playing in a garden, a family stuck inside their car off a steep ravine, an old man with a wreath of palm fronds around his head smoking grass with a movie starlet. The place is just big enough so that you can set your own levels, find your balance between humbleness and fabulousness, which is important when cultivating the happy.

At some point in my six day stay in Búzios, I got seriously sick. Some lettuce leaf must have been washed in tap water. I lay in a hammock, sweating and oozing from everywhere, for two days with a fever of 104 in 100 degree weather. I thought I was going to die. And then it passed. It felt good to be alive. There was an all night religious festival and people were swimming in one of the calm, sandy bays at four in the morning. There were fires on the beach and dancing to alternating Latin and African rhythms. Children were singing and taught sleepy bodies of all skin colors dotted the shoreline as the sun came up. It's hopelessly prosaic, I know. But there was something rare in the air, a collective spirit that wouldn't budge, one that sent lables like "locals" and "tourists" flying off to JFK where they could hash out their meanings with portly authorities.

Full disclosure: This all happened to me nine years ago. Can't say what's become of Búzios since. Jaded old solopsistic me will assume it's lost much of the charm that made it sparkle. These places don't last. If anyone has an update for the worse, please don't tell me. The memory suits me fine.

Take a good dog's-eye tour of Búzios here.



Blogger pigatschmo said...

I give this blog a thumbs up. Virtual travel at its best.

1:53 PM  

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