A Letter from South America: Beautiful Moments, Part IV

This is the fourth in the series of four articles about a trip to Chile, Argentina, and Brazil made by Lisa (2019) in November 2013.

Rio de Janeiro was the final chord of this perfectly orchestrated symphony. There, it was hot. The heat was incredible, paralyzing, suffocating. In a relatively shady place the car display showed 42 C (roughly 108 F).

On one of the days we drove to the peak of Corcovado, yet another one of the mountains that seem to punctuate this narrative with enviable regularity. The views were breathtaking. The waters of the bay were sincerely blue, the slopes of the mountains were purely emerald, the houses and the beaches perfectly white. There was a brownish fuzziness in the air, a fuzziness so subtle, yet so intense that my impressions of those moments seem saturated with its laziness.

Still, below, the city bustled with activity under the same mercilessly cloudless sky. It was hot. And, it was beautiful. Saying that I fell in love with Rio would mean slightly stretching the truth, but there was, nonetheless, a great tenderness in the way that I saw it then.

There would be poetry everywhere, in the round, illogical mountains, in the colorful sidewalks, in the dissonant mix of buildings… Rio was a City, above all. A city that was always awake. Sometimes sad, sometimes tired, sometimes unwelcoming, its soul would always be bright, eccentric and wide open.

In the evenings, I would stand on the balcony, looking at the Copacabana beach. The unbearable heat of the day would have already subsided, giving way to the sweet, loud, and hot night. There would be children playing volleyball on the grey beach, people running along the sidewalk, cars with hostile yellow lights rushing past. In the velvety dark sky, there would be an occasional shadow of a lightning and, at times, a soft echo of a thunder, which came as greetings of a storm raging somewhere over the ocean, far from the shore. There would be a deep, almost musical harmony of the lights, the everyday noises, and the obscure, black waves of the ocean…

Early mornings were no less beautiful. They were freshly painted in a hue of white, which was quite different from the desert shade of the day. The sun would still be but a presence, not punishing the citizens, but willingly sharing the light, graciously bestowing it on the yawning city. There would be a smell of coffee. The ocean would be still sweetly napping. There would be few people. Yet, that irrational leitmotif of liberty, color, and joie de vivre would already be there, perfectly on time.

On the day before we left rain fell, bringing a sudden outburst of joy bordering on catharsis. It might have been the impressions of the trip piling up, being sorted into various shelves in my imagination. Yet, more probably, this was a true, strong feeling. Sugar Head and Corcovado, the locals hurrying to find cover, the ocean suddenly turned grey and barely able to contain its anger, and even the slightly arrogant architecture of the city center all seemed open and beautiful. The music of the rain continued, slowly joined by a choir of streets, dusty cars, and thirsty lonely trees. That moment was beautiful. It was a moment to be shared and lovingly remembered.


It had been wisely remarked that les voyage forment la personne, that is – travels shape the person. Punctuated by the sensational moments, the three weeks we spent in South America seemed (and probably were) ideal. It was a symphony of color and strong feeling, reminiscent of Beethoven in its perfect outward harmony and as atonal, strange, and deeply touching as a piece by Arnold Schöngerg. If the experience of writing about it, at times painful, is of any indication, this was perfection proper.

When a few generalizations won’t do, when it’s impossible to make an assumption or to fall for a tempting stereotype, there must be a true sensation, or, at least, a true impression at the very core of the idea in question. This was precisely the case with converting the stubborn, enormous, and ephemeral notion of South America into dusty ordinary words.

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Categories: Arts & Culture


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