Love & Sex

True Stories: Brazilian Girls

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getting around I went to Brazil with three goals: (1) to not get kidnapped, (2) to learn Portuguese, and (3) to have sex with a Brazilian. Of course, truth is, I was really only set on one of those. Before I left, about a dozen friends, on hearing that I was going to Brazil, had told me at length how much ass I was going to get. "Man," one friend said, "you are going to clean up. Have you seen pictures from Carnaval?" "Well," said another, "just be thankful you don't have a girlfriend." "Dude," said a third with a faraway look in his eyes. "Brazil, man. Brazil." This went on for about two weeks. I would tell people where I was going, and the reaction was always the same. Always, "Man, I can't wait to hear those stories," or "Damn, you're going to have an amazing time," or, simply, "Dude." It's understandable; Brazil occupies a peculiar place in the American imagination — a sort of sexual Eden of beaches, all-night dancing, and beautiful, hot-blooded, willing people. The fact that it's a fairly conservative, very Catholic country doesn't jibe with that image, and is therefore generally forgotten. By the time I got on the plane, all the expectations were making me very nervous. I'd like to say that I'm not susceptible to peer pressure, that I wouldn't turn a month-long, possibly revelatory backpacking trip through Brazil into a quest for foreign hook-ups. I'd like to say that I'm above treating an entire nation's women as a collection of sex objects. I'd like to say. Two weeks into my trip, I remained un-laid. Brazilian girls — especially in Rio — were very free about making out, but that was basically it. More than one frustrated foreigner told me (word-for-word, making me think that this was some kind of expat aphorism) that "kissing's like shaking hands here. But more than that — forget it."

Every time I talked to a girl, I felt sure that to her, I was just another gringo looking for ass.

I was beginning to suspect that the "willingness" of Brazilians had been highly exaggerated. For one thing, most Brazilians live with their parents well past college, meaning that sex, when it happens, has to happen at a motel or love-hotel. There's no culture of, "Hey, you want to come back and have a drink/smoke a bowl/see my etchings?" There's no "back" to come to, no subtle way of saying, "Hey, I maybe want to have sex with you." It's either a motel or nothing. So, night after night, that meant nothing. I began to get anxious. Also guilty. Every time I found myself talking to an attractive girl, flirting in my crappy Portuguese, touching her arm or back, I was struck by the paranoid certainty that to her, I was just another gringo looking for ass. More than once, I had to fight the urge to step back, raise my hands defensively over my head, and say, "Despite the fact that I am foreign, and am somewhat interested in getting into your pants, I am not objectifying you. I respect you as a human being, who happens to be female and Brazilian." Only my limited Portuguese vocabulary, and the sneaking suspicion that this was not actually true, kept me from doing that. I passed my days in a miasma of desire and guilt. I began to despair. Then I met Ana.

The first thing Ana ever said to me was, "Your glasses remind me of Sartre." It was about 12:30 a.m., New Year's Day, and we were standing knee-deep in seawater by the beach in Barra, one of Salvador's suburbs. She leaned in a little too close to say this. She was wearing a simple, white cotton dress, no bra. When she bent towards me to shout over the music, I saw her nipples, a rich coffee against the dark skin of her tiny breasts. She was staying in the same hostel I was, although we'd never talked before. She was a tiny girl, five-foot-nothing and delicate, with thin, birdlike features. She sat like a bird too, perched on the edge of her seat, her legs crossed, her arms flapping animatedly whenever she got excited. She had a very vaginal tattoo drawn in henna on the back of her hand. I pointed at it and said, "You know, that's kind of dirty." Her brown cheeks colored slightly. "That's not what it looks like." I smiled. "Neh?" She shook her head. "No. I can be a little bit pornographic, but that's not what it looks like." Maybe in Portuguese that made more sense. But, as I discovered, she liked to talk, and I could more or less follow what she said. And, if she wasn't beautiful, she was at least. . . I don't know. Brazilian. I mentally slapped myself for thinking it. We worked our way up from the beach, fighting through the crowd. It turned out she was a twenty-eight-year-old schoolteacher from the slums outside São Paulo. She taught Portuguese grammar and composition to 150 fifth-graders who cycled through her classroom in batches of about forty. They were mostly favela kids, poor and tough, with hard lives. Many had drugged-out parents or were on drugs themselves. To teach them, she said, she'd had to learn to be tough. "Tough enough to teach me?" I asked. (I know, gag, right? But it was all I could manage with my Portuguese.) Ana smiled. "If you want." I nodded. "Eu quero." She shook her head. "Nao, it's not 'key-er-o.' That's Spanish. KYER-o." And so it began. I led her away through the crowd, down along the street and back to the beach. We walked out on the rocks and sat down, looking into the water. A crab was skittering along the bottom of one of the tidal pools. "How do you call that?" I asked, pointing. I had my arm around her, and she was snuggling into my side. "Caranguejo," she said. "Kar-ahn-GWAY-joo. A good word to learn proper pronunciation. Say it." You have got to be kidding me, I thought, but I repeated it. She shook her head. "No. Again."

Somewhere in the far recesses of my brain, my friends were yelling, "Dude! You're in!"

I said it again. Wrong. She started to give me a lecture on phonetics. Midway through I touched her arm and asked if she wanted to kiss me, and she said yes, why not. We made out for a while, and she pulled away. She said, "You kiss differently than a Brazilian. You do it rhythmically." I started to apologize, but she put her hand over my mouth. She thought for a second. "I didn't say bad. Just different. I like it." We made out for a while longer, until the tide had come up over the rocks and was lapping at our feet. "Let's go," she said. "Where?" She shrugged. "Anywhere." We walked off, still talking. I referred to her as my profesor, which I instantly realized was masculine. She laughed and said, "Profesora. I'm a woman." She touched her crotch. "There won't be any surprises there, when . . ." She looked at me as though realizing what she'd just said, then started giggling. Somewhere in the far recesses of my brain, my friends were yelling, "Dude! You're in!"

I was not in that night. The next, as I walked with her away from a free concert, Ana said, "This is all just bread and circuses. We have nothing, so we celebrate, we sing, we dance to forget that we have no food on the table." "Bread and circuses?" I said. "Yes. If we can't comer, we comer." She laughed. "Oh, another one of my piadas pornagraficas, my pornographic jokes . . ." I frowned. "If we can't eat, we eat?" She shook her head. "No. It's also the same as transar, to have sex. Like, yesterday I ate the most tasty pizza, or yesterday I . . ." She colored slightly. "Ate the most tasty girl?" I suggested. "," she said. "That's it. But you don't pronounce the 'r' at the end of the infinitive. Come-gh."
We ordered beers at a nearby bar. "You know that's what we say about Brazilians in America, right?" I asked. "That you're all obsessed with sex." She smiled. "We like it." She thought for a second. "Don't forget to toast. It would be uma lastima, a pity, if you didn't." "Oh?" I said. Ana giggled. "We say in São Paolo that drinking without toasting is seven years without giving yourself to anyone." She illustrated this by pounding her fist on her open palm, the universally understood Brazilian symbol for sex. I raised my glass. She watched me hungrily.

"What do you want?" she said later that night. We were in a square in the old city. We'd upgraded, or downgraded, I guess, from beers at a bar to cachaça and Sprite on a bench downtown. Safe answer. "You." She smiled. "How?" She put her hand on my leg. I took a deep breath and touched the henna tattoo on the back of her hand, right where the oval reached a point. "Quero comer isso." "Com-egh," she said automatically, then stopped. She smiled.

Her hand was down my pants by the time we made it to the motel.

"Yes," she said. She stood up, straightening her skirt. "I think we can do that." Her hand was down my pants by the time we made it to the motel. The room was sparse and sterile. But for the round plastic bed, and the mirrors on the ceiling, it could have been a hospital. I pushed her against the wall and started undoing her shirt. "Ay," she breathed. She reached for my hands to stop me. "I forgot, Americans love big breasts, and mine . . ." I grabbed her hands. "I like small breasts," I said. I undid her shirt the rest of the way and started kissing her nipples. She moaned, pushing me down on the bed. "Do what you said you would," she said. She didn't bother pulling her skirt off, just stepped out of her underwear. She pulled my pants off and straddled my face. "Você é meu rey, meu rey, meu rey." You're my king, my king, my king. "Faiz tudo o que voce quer," she murmured. "Do whatever you want to me." Entering her, I was nearly certain that she'd said quer wrong. I decided to let it go.

When it was all over, we lay exhausted on the bed. "Ay, Saul," Ana said, "voce me mato. You've killed me." She seemed immensely pleased with this observation. She said, "That was exactly what I needed. My first American. I'd always wanted one." "Cara . . ." I started to say, as in caralho, or fuck off. As in, I'm not an American, I'm Saul . . . Then I smiled. I thought about good sex, and horny Brazilians. I thought about how, realistically, I was going to go home and tell everyone I knew what had happened, thereby helping perpetuate the stereotype of Brazilian women as horny and sex-obsessed. And Ana was going to do the same. And you know, I was okay with that.


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