Sunday, 26 November 2006

Ready-made social circle

Just today I bumped into someone I knew as I arrived at Ipanema beach (posto 9) to meet up with some friends to watch the sunset. Yesterday, I was greeted by some other acquaintance on the bus.
This may seem normal to you, but to me is an achievement...proof of my slow integration into the sub-environment of Rio de Janeiro Zona Sul, comprising all the famous beaches, and the famous Lagoon, and a solid middle class full of pretensions.

When I arrived three weeks ago, I spend a dangerously long amount of time in the company of Maths professors, almost twice my age. This was dangerous, because I risked becoming the typical mathematician, whose only human conversations revolve around Maths.

The geography of the Maths department at PUC doesn't help making new friends: a long and windy corridor, lined with lots of small doors--always closed (air conditioning related, not necessarily a reflexion on the friendliness of the people). The post-graduate students live in a different floor all together, and now I am on this side of the fence, i.e. with the professors, so not that many people my ages are in sight very often.
Trying to fix this, I even went to the Computer Services department, to get myself registered in the Wireless network, which covers all the cafes on the ground floor of the main building. There is always lots of nice, friendly-looking young people hanging around there. But all to no avail (as yet) . I cannot be registered, cause I'm not a student, nor a professor (?)!

Conclusion : the workplace is ruled out as a place to make new friends (IMPA excepted of course, you find lots of friendly people there almost surely -maths pun intended).

It was with joy- mixed with the usual amount of shyness that accompanies me in first encounters- that I went to meet Natalia for the first time.
Natalia is the Carioca girlfriend of a friend that lives in San Francisco.
My friend had just left Brazil when I arrived, but he suggested I called this girl to meet up.
I panicked!
On the other hand...I hadn't had a meaningful, or even enjoyable conversation in almost a week, my only friend in the surrounding living across the bay, in Niteroi, and too busy to meet me on the week.
Thankfully before I had time to think too much, she emailed me, and we agreed to meet up in a bar near my Uni (and my flat) in an hour's time.

I got there...and although we have met previously (only once, 9 months ago) I suddenly thought I wouldn't recognise her...but she did remember me.
So, there we were...we started chatting, admittedly a bit stalled...she suggested to call some other person, I thought "the more, the merrier".
Ahh, what was my surprise when this second person turn out to be a Maths guy from IMPA (now graduated, and working in Europe). I have seen the guy lots of times, never really talked to him.
They were cool! And what is best, they thought I was cool.
I was IN!

She called two days later to invite me to the beach with her, so I went there. And after the red-faced, raccoon- eyes episode (sun-burnt with sun glasses), we went together to meet more of her friends: Joana and Alfonso.

Joana has been friends with Natalia since they were 14. Alfonso will soon marry Joana. He's originally from Chile (so we can speak Spanish when we are tired of trying Portu-nhol). They also speak perfect American English: Alfonso moved with his family to USA when he was a child, so this will be useful when Dr. O finally arrives here. He's got a tendency to switch himself off when the conversation in a foreing language gets too heavy-going in modisms or speed.
Those in the photo above are Alfonso, Joana and Natalia.
Alfonso is now waiting for his papers to be regularised in Brazil, so he can start working. Until then, he is a free agent- a bit like me (although I am supposed to have a job, the professor I came to work with is just TOO busy to have a chat with me, so I am still free, after three weeks). Joana works for the biggest Media group in Brazil: O Globo. She works on TV. Her sister, who is a film maker, is currently writing a script about a Mathematician coincidentally!
They are so friendly here: that very first time we met, they invited all of us back to their flat in Leblon (my new neighbourhood from next Friday!).

On Tuesday last week, I went to a sushi "all you can eat" restaurant with Natalia (£10), and ended up in her place afterwards. When we arrived we were ushered into the kitchen swiftly by her mother-- unfortunately not to have some nice cake or anything food-related (nor that I could have possible eaten it after all that sashimi!)-- but because they were gunshots in the favela (an unregulated settlement of people where crime and drug-trafficking thrive). The favela in question is called Pavon Pavoncinho (or something like that) and it is clearly visible from the luxurious triple pent-house in Copacabana that Natalia shares with her Mum, Eliana. According to Eliana, one bullet found its way to the back of the sofa in the living room once. Hence, no living room for us that day, but bunker-kitchen.

A young man with a foreign accent appeared shortly: Kurt.
Kurt is from Zurich. He used to be married to Natalia's sister. He remains great friends with the family now. He is in love with Brazil. He is in love with Rio de Janeiro.
Not more than 10 minutes after we arrived, another new friend arrived: Pedro.
Pedro is Natalia's great gay friend. He is really funny. He does some modelling (catalogue and TV adverts, cause he's not very tall.) I think he looks like Stefano, my ex-supervisor (check the flickr photos).

We stay there chatting until it was safe to leave. It was kind of exciting, although scaring, to be so close to this other reality of Rio.

Two days later, while I was walking around under my umbrella in Leblon, going to buy myself an ice cream I heard my name called out loud, and seemingly in my direction. I turned round.
It was Kurt, and Alfonso.

We went all together to that famous institution that is the Boteco (botequim, bar, pub) in Rio.
We spent the night chatting away. About bureaucracy and politics. About religion. About love.
We all past the test. It is official now, we like each other. We were frank and open, and opinionated and utopical, and angry and cynical. And we were fine!

Lots of beers later, we parted ways.

But I am sure we will be meeting again soon. I have got all their numbers!

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