The Galloping Vendors
There had just been again weeks of violent unrest in the world, but I was quite a few countries away, together in a sprawling São Paulo street market with a colleague and our big happy-but-guarded driver. The three of us were amiably ambling amidst a big, colorful, confusing, and crowded set of not-quite-straight rows on uneven pavement and outdoor shops and inside shops and coconuts with straws and colorful scarves. And music CDs and sunglasses and an amusing, sometimes perplexing mishmash of electronic items. Much of this, if not most, of dubious officialness.
The majority of these items were sitting on wood planks, next to which sat oft squat, loud, tanned, tired yet eager vendors.
By the hour next, some of these sellers looked vaguely uncomfortable, nervous. The storm clouds were coming, rain was imminent, and there was palpably a rolling sense of unease.
Fidgeting, bustling, clamoring, much more than before.
Then yelling and a pounding of feet and a thrusting forward of seemingly thousands of people, many of them with those same wooden planks bobbing precariously as the crowd shovingly stumbled, then broke into a run. It looked at times as if they were almost falling forward, haphazardly heading fast away.
At the same time, fast towards… towards speeding police cars zipping and blaring through the streets, seemingly without regard to the vendors, their wares, or the people buying them.
“INSIDE! GO INSIDE!” shouted our driver. “NOW!!!”
I wasn’t quite sure which inside he meant, which side of the street. I was equally unsure of what was happening. Had there been an explosion?
But I didn’t ponder sitting still. I ran as well as I could, dodging it all, ducking thankfully into the same store as my colleague and our driver who could hopefully protect and explain.
* * *
We were okay. The crowd passed, the sirens faded into the distance.
Our driver chuckled softly.
“I’m sorry for the situation.”
A raid. The vendors had not paid the proper taxes.
“I’ve only seen this on the TV. Never happened to me. But what an experience, eh? What a situation!”
He shook his head a bit as we searched for our car. He told me to not take any more pictures, that it was not a good idea, though after the running-of-the-vendors we’d just survived without impalement, I doubted a few additional photos would contribute measurably to any future danger but I complied nonetheless. And I thought, I’m glad I wore those ugly strong American sneakers.
“I’m sorry” he said again. But it was all okay. The added color was scary but memorable and worthwhile. I smiled, knowing that my time in Brazil was just beginning and that I was ready.
|A view of the marketplace before the storm (See more of my São Paulo gallery)|
The patient kindness of strangers
Maria and I wanted to go to Sugarloaf Mountain but didn’t quite know how. We made it to the city center by bus, just as we had the days before, but then were a bit stymied. This second bus didn’t seem to be where Cornelius had, admittedly tenuously, thought it would be, said it would be. We waited and walked and then—abandoning any pretense of stubbornness or shyness—began to ask around.
One person sent us to another to another, all in a friendly way. Until we got to the one woman whose name we never got. Perhaps she said it, since she said a lot, quite a lot. When it became quite clear that our limited Spanish and her limited Spanish were not going to mesh productively, she decided upon the show-and-tell method. She herded us to a spot which was noticeably not very near the spots we had spotted before, and then she waited with us.
Waited and talked and talked, pretty much all in Portuguese. Neither Maria nor I speak Portuguese, and I think the woman knew that, but she spoke on rapidly and happily and pointedly despite that unfortunate but apparently-not-show-stopping linguistic gap. Every once in a while she’d pause, and we’d continue to nod, and she’d carry on, obviously as pleased to be with us as we were befuddled-yet-grateful to be with her.
* * *
Twenty minutes and many words and smiles and nods later, the right bus came to take us to Sugarloaf Mountain. We clasped each others hands, I think maybe even hugged, just as we did with the majority of Brazilians we had the distinct pleasure of meeting, and then waved goodbye while speaking the only Brazilian we knew: Obrigado.
|A view from Sugarloaf Mountain (See other photos I took in Rio)|