Sex and the City, Recife Style
Was it reality or just a myth? After all the hype, I was eager to see if there was any truth to the talk about Recife’s pulsing nightlife. Dubbed the Rio of the Brazilian Northeast, I had to wonder: could Recife measure up to its vibrant cousin in the south? The night before Easter, a sultry Saturday, I ventured out on the town, only to find all of the local hotspots closed. Could Jesus’ big day have anything to do with this Prohibition-looking clampdown? Yes and no. Though Brazil has more Catholics than any other country in the world, Brazilian people are hardly ones to sacrifice a little fun in the name of Jesus. (If you have any doubts, just look at the carnal Carnival celebration…)
I was alerted that the exodus of city-dwellers was normal for this Easter weekend, which is one of countless very-long weekends during which the Brazilians escape from the cities in search of the ultimate nirvana: beach. Porto de Galhinas is the place to be so on Easter Sunday I jumped in a pirate bus/minivan, which though they are technically illegal due to their horrible safety record, still roam the streets with regularity, ferrying millions around every day for 33 cents a ride. Easter Sunday was hardly what most would call a religious celebration until you reflect that for Brazilians, beach is church. I saw a bumper sticker on a beach buggy here that summed it all up: Jesus Was A Surfer. So, what better way to celebrate the big guy’s return than to eat 5 cent oysters on the half-shell, play some beach soccer and a swim in the wild blue sea…
Back in the city for the “work week,” which leisurely began on Tuesday, I must admit my expectations for mid-week celebrations were not too high. And then I met Bruno, the effeminate man with the masculine name, a flamboyant hairdresser in one of Recife’s trendiest salons. Bruno happens to be the next-door neighbor of my buddy Jose. Here in Recife “studying” for his Masters, Jose is the dialectic opposite of Bruno’s femininity, as he is a hardened jiu-jitsu fighter hailing from Spain, Texas, and Italy (yes, quite a mix of Spanish romance, Texan strength, and Italian suaveness, or at least, that is what he tries so hard to portray…). Although we had heard stories about Bruno, mainly involving the vast selection of boy-toys this 35 year-old often brought back to his pad in the wee hours of the morning, we had no intention of selecting him as our local guide for a big night out.
Ahh, but now I must introduce the third character of this adventure, none other than my continental companion, Lazaro. When Laz heard about Bruno’s profession, his eyes lit up, as visions of free haircuts and hair dyes danced through his head. When he asked to be introduced to Bruno, Jose consented, but not before warning Laz that unless he flirted with Bruno, he probably would not qualify for any discount, let alone a free cut. For many heterosexual men, acting gay is a revolting thought, but for Laz, it has become old hat. Allow me to digress…
A month or two back, when the two of us rented a house in the idyllic beach spot of Jericoacoara (site of the illustrious beach party of Bombs and Beats on a Brazilian Beach) Laz and I were befriended by a few local females that had taken quite a liking to this lively duo. The only problem (and one that has caused a fair amount of problems in this sensual land) is that Laz has a girlfriend at home. So, instead of merely telling the truth (which had become quite monotonous), Laz decided, “What the hell ï¿½ I’ll just play the gay role.” This performance provided an endless supply of laughs, mainly because many of Laz’s normal activities lend an air of homosexuality in themselves, act or not.
Laz is my best friend in the world and I must admit has a knack for attracting amazing females, but he seems to have quite an appeal for many men as well. This should not be too big a surprise; after all, the guy shaves his chest, wears orange tank tops, has an extensive jewelry collection, occasionally bursts into Broadway tunes, writes poetry and drinks coffee with his pinky finger extended. The point is that if someone could pull off the homosexual act, Laz is that man. And act he did. After the first day, when the girls and I insisted he at least “see what it is like to be with a girl,” Laz held firm. Instead, he talked about supposed ex-beaus and what hair color he wanted next. This act would have been impressive for a few hours, but his week-long endurance was unparalleled.
Things got interesting when Itamar, the local gay bar-owner, befriended us. As I was spinning tunes as the resident deejay, Itamar was gazing dreamily into Laz’s eyes, making us wonder if the girls had alerted Itamar about Laz’s “status.” The stakes were suddenly increased when we found ourselves sitting on our veranda, sipping drinks with the girls when Itamar showed up. Within minutes the subject of sex came up and when Laz’s female fan blurted out, “Didn’t you know ï¿½ Laz is gay,” I tried not to laugh as I watched Itamar smile and Laz look around nervously, a glance which seemed to say, “What have I gotten myself into this time?” Later that evening, as Laz was taking a shower in his bathroom (the one with a curtain for a door), the girls walked in on him to say hello. Apparently, gay men are not exempt from the invasive entrance of females. Not to be undone, at the end of the evening, Laz was again invaded, when he looked up to see Itamar standing in front of him.
“Itamar, what are you doing!?!”
“Watching you,” Itamar calmly responded.
This story has a happy ending (well, not for Itamar) as Laz managed to leave Jeri with his “virginity” intact, but when Jose brought up the idea of a gay act, Laz and I could only laugh. Little did I know I was the one about to play that role…
When we showed up at the salon and met Bruno, he was quite pleased to see the three of us had come to visit. “Olha ï¿½ que bonitos,” he swooned with a splendor you could only love. After a few minutes of chit-chat, Bruno announced, “Ah, you just have to come to the party tonight!” Heeding Bruno’s advice, we put together some stylish outfits and arrived fashionably at a little before midnight. By now quite a party crew had been assembled. Leading the pack was Bruno, ostentatiously decked out in shiny silver shirt, loose red tie and oversized sunglasses. To his side was his eccentric astrologist friend, who showed up to the party, a fashionable birthday celebration for a famous local Brazilian designer, without any shoes on her feet and mandalas hanging from her neck. And rounding out the posse were two of Bruno’s boy-toys. Actually, I was thankful Bruno arrived with companions, as entering this pulsing nightclub on Bruno’s arm was not the entrance I was cherishing.
But Bruno had other plans. “Listen guys, I don’t have enough invites, so just go along with what I say, okay?” And before we could stammer an answer, he alerted his buddies to wait and enter on their own, at which point he happily wrapped arms with us and brought us to the front door. Strutting through the amassed crowd out front of O Teatro, I felt like I was attending a Hollywood premiere. Everyone was decked out and there was a plethora of beautiful people all around, many of which were trying to manipulate their way past the bouncers and into the party. With the grace of a gliding swan, Bruno led us through the multitudes as he seemed to kiss everyone in sight, until we were face-to-face with the smiling doorman. They obviously knew Bruno and were in the process of exchanging pleasantries when Bruno grabbed our hands and introduced us as Adam and Jose, international male models. The doorman looked us up and down, gave the approving nod and just like that we had infiltrated the upper crust of Recife society.
It was obvious from the get-go that money was not an object for this party’s organizers. Clowns greeted us at the door, handing out party favors and the hallway and stairway were decorated like a psychedelic circus tent with swirling colors and flashing lights. Soon, we came to another room, full of black lights and mountains of candy. After grabbing some sweets, we pushed open the doors and were swept into the thumping netherworld of a deep house club. Jose and I had followed Bruno into the crowded scene, glancing at the array of stunning females, but we suffered a setback when Bruno grabbed us to his side and made his appearance known, as he paraded us through the dancing divas. Every time we were introduced, Bruno seemed to embellish our status, as one girl suddenly came up to me and said, “So, you work with Giorgio?”
“Uhh, Giorgio?” I stammered, “Who is that?”
“Armani. Bruno tells me you model for him.”
“Ohh! You mean Gio! Yes, of course – but no one calls him Giorgio,” I replied quickly.
As the parade continued, I could see certain females eying Jose and I. I will not admit any power of extra-sensory perception, but I swear they were trying to ascertain whether our friendship with Bruno went a little deeper (pardon the pun). Looking for an opportunity to break from the crowd and establish the truth, I received the perfect cue when Bruno whispered that the woman that just passed was the former Miss Brazil. That is when I vanished and only when I looked back, like a driver fleeing the scene of a crime, did I see Jose on my heels in hot pursuit. Yes, we had made a clean getaway and were headed right for the last bastion of heterosexuality: the nearest beauty queen.
Miss Brazil was far from ugly, but she was even further from intelligent. She was seated with some big-wigs that were ordering bottles of Scotch with the utmost regularity. In case anyone was wondering, if you ever see people paying for drinks at a party with open bar, you know they are rich. “What, walk to the bar to get a drink? Hardly ï¿½ bring me a bottle of Scotch on the double!” But, here in Recife, money talks. It also connives, convinces and manipulates and allows an unattractive 65 year-old man to walk up to Miss Brazil and take her from me in a matter of seconds. Once the Brazilian Hugh Hefner made away with his prize, I wandered back to the dance-floor but soon felt that all-too-familiar hand grip my wrist. “Danzamos,” Bruno yelled as he spun me around like a top. Somehow he had attracted some cameramen and within seconds I found myself playing second fiddle to Bruno’s twists and turns. Smile for the camera! Luckily, I was soon rescued, or so I thought, by some girl that grabbed me and posed with me in front of another flash. Click! The flash of the bulb pierced the through the flashing lights of the club, the girl smiled and another moment was memorialized. A website photographer suddenly appeared, and as I was jostled into position, I felt like I was being showcased and exhibited. Was I to be auctioned off to the highest bidder or merely used as fodder for some sleazy girl’s ego? Either way, I had had enough, so I enmeshed myself into the tangled web of dancing bodies, coalescing myself with the rhythm of the smooth pulsating tunes. Jose soon broke away from some model he was kissing to tell me that Miss Beauty Queen was interested in me, but was nervous of the senator finding out.
“The senator? What does he have to do with this?”
“Didn’t you see him ï¿½ that is the senator of Pernambuco and she is his girlfriend. Well, sort of ï¿½ you see, she just uses him for his money, as you could probably tell.”
With this not-surprising news, I decided to break out of the surreal scene and made my way outside and across the boulevard to the beach where a waning crescent moon shed a calming glow. Sitting on the sand in my fancy clothes, I reflected back on the bogus bash I had surreptitiously snuck into. Everyone was so busy putting on airs, it seems they hardly had time to enjoy themselves. Having escaped the phony festivities, seeking solace on the moon-lit coast, I thought about the innumerable realities we find ourselves living. Not only do we each have our own idea of what reality is, we are all capable of altering these individual realities. Though we strive to live truthfully, aren’t we all acting in some sense? The hermit in the hills may not have to alter his behavior, but the rest of us that interact socially are all guilty of putting on airs, no matter how insignificant they may seem. My friend poses as a homosexual to scare off women, I masquerade as a model to get into a party and a beauty queen has a scandalous affair for the money. Looking up to the moon for an answer, I watched as a wispy gray cloud slid past, not blocking the moon’s luminescence but merely obscuring it a bit, altering its appearance. It seems that not even the moon can boast absolute truth, for just like us, it passes through cycles and each day sports a new look; from a faint glimmer of a fingernail crescent, it waxes into a happy half and finally blossoms into a fulfilled full moon.
I had set out on a mission seeking the truth about Recife’s raucous reputation, but on this wild Wednesday night, I had come to a greater realization. We are all capable of dictating our own realities and we are all players in the same grand game. So, if you have to put on an air to see how the other half lives, enjoy the moment, but don’t get swept away in the fantasy. For at the end of the day, your true identity must be revealed, just as the moon outshines the wispy cloud above the dark Brazilian beach.