It is sweeter to wander with the wretched and outcasts than to sit crowned with roses at the banquets of the rich
Elisee Reclus

Tuesday, June 05, 2012




Walking from Aterro do Flamengo to Botafogo Bay, Rio De Janeiro


"Any journey becomes magical if you walk with the sea at one side of you for this enables you to forget everything on the other side of you. This walk was like this:

A path across the landscape and a smell in the distance of water. We had made it to the land's end yet we did not know what we would find there. Having trekked for days, crossing hills and traversing mountains, we could see the sea in the distance at times, at other times we were just faced by more black and brown and red striated rocks which we knew we must climb. In our lonely travels we had seen no other travelers for weeks although this was not unwelcome for our small party. We had passed many sites of former habitation, commerce and worship but these were not of the ruined type that we used to enjoy so much.

This small path took us the water's edge to a small inlet with some fine sand to rest upon before the waves would have taken us out far to sea. The grasses were hardy on the rocks and we marveled at this new flora, something far removed from the tropical greenery and stubby succulents we had gotten used to from the last few weeks. Ahead of us, far off in the distance was some other land that was not on our primitive map, the one we had found inside a half-rotting book in an old farmer's hut a year or so ago. Out of the fog islands rose up in the grey blue sea. They were tempting but we had no way to cross and would have to make our way across land but this time by following the route of the bay. Charming also were the pretty flowers that seemed nourished and emboldened from the sea air and a whole raft of exotic birds with strange cries also brought us cheer. We were hoping to witness one of the fabled six hundred parrots that already know a few words in French but these did not make our acquaintance.

As the fog swirled and got heavier across the bay, we made our first steps through what was increasing like a gazetteer of the past. Some stone steps fashioned in a rough and rapid manner reached down to the water. Soon more relics of the once habitation of these lands appeared and each one adding an poetic moment as we encountered them. Sights of enclosure and building within the sea for whatever we reason we could not fathom and further sights of trade and exchange to add to our already growing map, such a mapping enabling us to take liberties with naming each point as we came to it. The empty box made us laugh in it's metaphorical abandon. Such a wooden box both entirely empty but entirely practical should we wish to gather flowers, rocks or that which had been abandoned over the last century since the time when these lands were last flourishing with settlement and stories. Only a curious seabat, orange and black, the first one we had ever seen, making huge climbs and dives, diverted us from our horizon and the remnants we met that stopped us again and again as we explored them. Here a bastion encrusted below with barnacles whilst above the steel pegs rusted slowly. There a mass of concrete resting on the rocks as if just dumped in a haste with its own oxidised rebar, twisting like some iron roots.

It was at this point in the journey, knowing that days ahead remained before we reached our destination and this point being unknown to us but trusting ourselves to know when we reached it, we decided to camp for the night. To mark our point of rest and to help should we lose our way, we left our signature shell flowers upon a prominent rock. It was here that we realised we were not alone when after some noise and commotion below this rock, a friendly cat appeared and we spent some time in conversation before parting ways again..."


"We continued along the cliff top path and each footstep seemed to bring us closer to signs of life, movement, play and sustenance. Often along the way we were able to take a photograph or two of what seemed to be marks, signs and intentional markers at various turns and bends on the sea path. We were unable to fathom much from the means and messages that were being left on this path and it seemed as if the making of these marks had not been so recent. No guide book that we happened to have in our baggage could illuminate any of our own speculations upon such things as the hieroglyphic black paintings, the rocks singled out to be painted in garish colours, the marvellous use of two rocks to display the ancient commands 'YES' and 'NO' nor the very curious smoothly shaped stone that featured the legend 'Today I Am Sick With Worry'. Although, we seem to appear happy as we made our way along and we were happy to see these marvels, it is also not too much to also describe our passage through this very particular lonely landscape as 'melancholic'...

...As could be expected, we came across a colony of cats who were most helpful with ideas and suggestions in fact so carried away were we with our delightful conversations that upon leaving, one of us took a fall and landed a few feet below the rock edge. Clambering down to drag the fellow back onto the old straight and narrow, we both let out a cry as our eyes simultaneously found a most curious but jarring sight. Here in a space in the rocks we found a set of ancient religious texts that had been used as the foundation of a small fire. Picking up an almost unscathed booklet, we were able to read the title and origin quite clearly: Maximus Eternas by Santo Afonso Maria de Ligório published far away in Porto, Portugal in 1928. The mismatch of the ancient paper and the contemporary attempt at combustion threw all of our party into a slight panic. Unaccustomed to the presence and companionship of other human animals, we were then dashed into a frenzy of emotions and small trepidation when we spied in the rough waves beyond a human animal braving the lashing he was taking in his burly efforts to catch a fish or two...."


This walk (as part of the ongoing MONEY AND WATER FLOW TOGETHER / DINHEIRO E ÁGUA FLUEM JUNTOS investigation) was made in the spirit of disappearing the great city that runs to the right of the Flamengo to Botafogo Bay esp as the City of Rio is often inescapable. In this way it was amazingly successful as focusing on the smallest of details and looking hard as if from another time worked to banish the sound of cars, the sights of tower blocks and apartment buildings, the thump of joggers and those making a noise as city dwellers do. The walk became a hermetic synthesis of the above and below - the vast scale and atmosphere of the foggy rocky bay and all it's pasts and the futures we could make up mingled with the minutest sights and finds along the way. In this manner of concentrated walking which at points was also like a dream and/or hallucination, the mapping of each turn and path and tree and occasional manmade intrusion could take place. Defamiliarisation at it's best.Very nice (for us)!

Yet, what became more interesting or maybe of companion interest was the facts that along the bay there are small communities of people who live in the streets who also spend much time living along the bay at very certain points (usually where there is shade) and being in some ways an obvious extended family. Over time these groups and the activities that took place - fishing, cooking, making things, sleeping, hustling and so on - became very familiar and began to take over from the attempt to leave this land for another one. Here was something that Rio excels at - the invisibility of the very visible - the disappearance of those who live in the city fabric and make a living or survive from it's cast-offs and who also maintain something of a different life indeed and one that has has it's charms for those of us who have spent enough time in similar scenarios - interstitial, within cracks, poverty-stricken, happy and/or anxious, having less, being much (in theory!). Of course, this is not to romanticise poverty, poor health, deadly survival or some lumpen identity as paradisiacal. Nor do we wish to simplify what are always black people as living as if in some older more authentic or connected way to some of the more freer rhythms of living. There is an inherent racism to capitalism and these sons of slaves have not escaped the harsh material realities that stem from these structures that leave no choice about how to live - be that incorporated into the nine to five daily grind or fishing, sleeping and making do in the afternoon by the Bay.

But it is to question the cars, the apartments, the joggers, the noise as if these small communities refract something back into our walks and attempts to finally leave this world. How do we seek to live?

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