Nothing I see is real.

Photo by caio mascarello)

Porto Alegre, Brazil

We lie under a park tree drinking cheap red wine, my old friend Ademir and I. We met in Albania once upon a time.

The sweet warm air begins to cool and fall in shadows on the popcorn sellers and joggers, hot dog hawkers and dog walkers. Skateboarders lounge in circles under the trees, passing round joints and fooling around for the hot girls in tight jeans. Big groups of guys in baggy jeans and gold chains sport waxed eyebrows under their baseball caps, Jersey Shore may have a lot to answer for.

A spotty skateboarder on his phone swaggers by. I have been telling Ademir that when I don’t know a language, I just make it up, creating a lame little soap opera out of the people in front of me. I ‘translate’ the skateboarder’s words,

God mum, you are so embarrassing. It’s 6pm, everyone else is allowed to stay at the park. I hate you!’

Ademir laughs, ‘Amazing, completely fluent in Portugese.’

‘Yup.’ I smile, ‘ Over there!’

I point to a pretty young couple sharing a spliff on the grass. The boy whispers in his girlfriend’s ear.

‘I can’t believe it, they’re dog thieves,’ I tell him. ‘They’re planning on stealing that little one by the basketball court. Quick, call the police.’

‘Dog thieves? Which novella did you get that one from?’ Says Ademir.

‘Just saying what I see, this park is a little dodgy’ I shrug.

‘And tell me, those guys in the hoodies and jewellery, what class do you think they fit in?’

I think for a second, ‘Lower class, for sure, but they’re good kids’ I say, feeling smug at my ability to observe Brazilian sub-cultures.

His eyes crease up, ‘Come on! They’re upper middle, probably upper class.’

‘The guys in hoodies smoking pot?’

‘Sure. It’s not the same in Scotland? It’s cool for the rich to dress poor, the poor to dress rich?’

‘Well, I guess so, but back home it’s easy to tell when someone is pretending to be something they’re not.’

‘Same here, if you’re Brazilian’ answers Ademir.

‘But I am Brazilian.’

‘Only in your head’ he reminds me.

‘So’, I pause, ‘We’re not really adventurer explorers hanging out on the rough side of town?’

‘Not even a little.’

Even if I did know the language, I still wouldn’t see a thing.

Over at, Sarah Hepola’s article, Why Women Should Travel Alone,,  has gone viral.

I think it’s neither brave nor foolish to travel alone, the difficulty is, in the words of one commenter, going ‘up against a lifetime of fear conditioning. We live these impoverished lives, oppressed by a conspiracy of imagined danger. It makes us weaker as people, and also makes real danger hard to properly perceive.’



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  1. I recently laughed at something a German Couchsurfer said to me. When he repeated himself I realised I had misheard him and was amused by something I essentially imagined. I told him “Wouldn’t it be cool if we just purposely misheard everything people said to us. We could enjoy the rest of our lives with our own dialogue.”

    I caught myself “Ummm that’s what a crazy person does”

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