Snorkeling in Beqa and my choice to face harsh weather

The day started stormy. Not a single patch of blue could be seen in the sky, and visibility both on land and under water was poor. It was a miserable day, and the forecast was not promising – four more days of heavy rain on the island of Beqa, a tiny piece of tropical rain forest south of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.

Eduardo and I had two options – succumb to the weather and stay in the hotel reading books and magazines, or face the storm and go snorkeling in the ocean. The choice was clear to us. We packed our snorkeling gear and jumped on the boat under the rain. As the boat sped, the rain drops became sharper and stingier. The two of us plus three other hotel guests did what we could to protect ourselves from the cold water and heavy winds. Most of us were shivering.

After ten minutes that felt like half an hour, we arrived in our destination – a coral reef not too far from the island. On a sunny day, we would be able to see the hills of Beqa or even identify some tree specimens. Today, we could only see a gray silhouette beyond the watery haze.

I removed my soaked rain coat, put my mask and fins on, and jumped in the water. As the water enveloped my body, the shivering from the cold vanished immediately. The tropical currents that surround the Fiji archipelago are body-temperature. Strangely, the ocean felt homier and cozier than land.

As I snorkeled around the reef, everything below the surface seemed peaceful. I could no longer hear the rain or feel the wind. The sounds underwater are of a different nature. Corals clicking, crabs pinching, fins splashing, bubbles and my own breathing were the only noticeable sounds. The wind underwater was also imperceptible. Instead, the waves and currents were the forces moving all matter below me. The only reminder of the storm above was the rain drops hitting my back.

The contrast between air and water couldn’t be sharper. While the land was hitting me with powerful winds and spitting rain with anger, the ocean embraced me with warmth. It welcomed me with abundance of life and made me briefly forget the storm. A fleeting thought went through my mind – couldn’t I stay underwater forever?

 

No… I cannot.

Reality hit me and reminded me that despite the weather hostility, land is my home, while water is not. I’m supposed to hop on that boat again and face the cold rain and fierce winds. In the same way, Fiji is not my home. In a few days, I’m supposed to hop on a plane, endure an 18-hour trip go back to the US and face the gray, freezing Seattle weather.

While there are things I cannot control like the weather, one thing that I can control is my choices. Today my choice was to brave the storm and the cold and jump in the water. Tomorrow, when I leave Fiji and go back to Seattle, my choice will be to defy a different kind of hostility. Just like I braved the weather and found peace underwater, in my home, I’ll face the ones who spit on my face and find my ground.

 

Welcoming Florida

I’m walking down the Florida Mall when a sales guy from the bed sheet kiosk approaches me.

“Quer experimentar o lençol?” He asks.

Wait… This guy is talking to me in Portuguese. And I am in Orlando, Florida. How does he know I understand?

Vero Beach: the best ocean swim I’ve had in the the US

Orlando is a piece of Brazil in North America. People here not only speak Brazilian, they also dress, behave and look Brazilian. Sometimes I have to remind myself I am north of the Equator.

Later in the day, I stop by a nails shop owned by a woman proudly wearing a Brazil-flag t-shirt. I see ads in Portuguese on billboards. I hear conversations in my native language. For the first time in my seven years living in the United States, someone correctly pronounces my last name.

Having a Brazilian experience in a foreign country is like going on a cross-continental trip to the south. You witness familiar behaviors, recognize accents, eat your childhood food.

In Florida, you swim in the Atlantic Ocean.

I’ll certainly come back to this place. These few warm days I’m spending here are just a homecoming invitation. Next time, I’ll bring my parents.

Make Art; Make History – The Arts’ Impact on the Past, Present and Future

Egyptian Sarcophagus

This fall, I had the opportunity to visit one of the biggest museums on earth, the Louvre. One of the pieces that made great impact on me was the collection of sarcophagi from ancient Egypt (see picture).

As I examined each piece, I thought about all the knowledge humankind has gained because of these works of art. If there was no art – no sculptures left, no pyramids, no paintings and carvings on walls and burial grounds – our knowledge about the Egyptian civilization would be very limited.

The Egyptian sarcophagi as well as the countless artworks in the Louvre are great examples of the power of art in the formation and documentation of culture. Take the Italian paintings of the 16th century (see picture below). By looking at just a few pieces, you’ll have an accurate idea about the important role religion played in the social and political spheres of that period.

The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese

Like history books, art can lead us to discover our ancestors’ customs, political tensions, moral values, beliefs, societal hierarchies and so many other cultural aspects.

Coming back to Seattle, I felt happy for having the opportunity to work in the arts field and be constantly fed by the today’s creative minds, be it in dance, music, visual arts, theater or any other art form. At the same time, I know that I am part of the few lucky ones, as most people don’t have many chances to appreciate or create art. When I assess the economic reality of this country, the outlook is not optimistic. I see budget cuts for arts programs, museum closures, art teachers being laid off, and art education programs being eliminated.

This whole experience at the Louvre made me think, when we cut funds for the arts, aren’t we refraining ourselves from creating works that will become history? Aren’t we crippling future generations from knowing about our own culture? When less and less importance is given to arts education, aren’t we depriving our kids the ability to understand the historic, social, political and religious value of a work of art? When we make art superfluous or a luxury item, aren’t we reinforcing that all the knowledge we gain from works of art is also superfluous?

I understand that the current economical situation is one of the worse in the country’s history, but my hope is that these measures are temporary and produce minimal effects. Not investing in arts can be a vicious cycle, as the kids who will grow up without knowing who Leonardo da Vinci was will be tomorrow’s education leaders.

As an arts marketer, my role is to continue to believe and support the wonderful artists I meet every day. As for the future, all I have to do is to hope for the best; hope that future generations have the aspiration to see the arts thrive regardless of the economic situation.

The Soul Behind the Kitsch. How I’ve Learned to Appreciate the Taste of the Countryside.

This Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I went to Central Washington to relax. My goal for the extended weekend was to be inspired. I was in need for silence, peace and time to write and play music. I needed to be in contact with myself and be infused by the beauty of nature; or better, to feel myself an integral part of nature. I sought to feel the cold breeze of the Cascades and allowed myself to get wet by the constant sprinkles of the Pacific Northwest. I just wanted to take in whatever nature presented me.

The place we stayed in was inspiring and beautiful; we had great views of the Cascades and the Cle Elum River. I wasn’t aware, however, that I had come to this place with a bias; and with that bias, I couldn’t fully appreciate the region’s true beauty.

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During our first night, my husband and I went to Downtown Cle Elum for dinner. The restaurant was simple with a traditional/country atmosphere: flowery red-and-green carpet; Christmas-green wood paneling; paintings by a local artist on the walls; white, fake-lace curtains; and cheap lighting fixtures.

In the restaurant, I observed the locals: a teenage couple wearing cheap jeans discussing the math exam they just had, and a mature couple discussing more serious stuff. The male of the latter couple had longer hair and was wearing a t-shirt with a skull on the back and a baseball cap saying “Spokane, WA.”

These simple observations were good conversation starters for my husband and me.

“Would you live here?,” he asked. “Never,” I responded quickly. “I would prefer going to the worst city on earth than to live somewhere as remote.” How could someone who is so accustomed to beautifully designed clothing and furniture live somewhere where the word luxury is not part of the day-to-day vocabulary? How could someone who appreciates avant-garde art and state-of-the-art architecture live somewhere where art is kitsch and architecture is standard? Never!

I later realized how foolish that thought was. But I had to go to Downtown Cle Elum for the second time to recognize that. And I’m glad I did it.

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The following day we were back in Downtown Cle Elum. This time, we were there to attend to our customary weekly Catholic mass. As all constructions in the city, the church building was small and simple with wooden pews and wall paneling.

As I did in the restaurant, I observed the locals. This time, instead of noticing people’s exteriors – their clothes, conversations and actions – I sought to observe their hearts, the motives for their actions and behaviors.

There was a choir singing traditional old hymns. There was no instrument, just the voices of the voluntary ladies and gentlemen. Even though none of them seemed to be formally trained, they were singing beautifully, they were doing their best to animate the service.

There was also the usher, who patiently guided the tourists arriving late (ourselves included) to stand by the walls and not block the flux of people in the building. The priest himself was very humble and grateful. At the end of the mass, he thanked the community for praying for his eye surgery and commented how touched he was by the community’s love and prayers.

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Again, I looked at the lighting fixtures. They were cheap, certainly. But after observing the people in that church, I thought there couldn’t be better lamps to adorn that ceiling. People there were as simple as the building they were in, as simple as the town itself.

I asked myself, “What is luxury for if you can give the best of yourself with simplicity?” I thought about the artist who painted the pictures of that restaurant’s walls. Who am I to judge her art and say it’s bad taste? She probably doesn’t have as much access to resources as someone who lives in the city and is probably doing her best.

I’ve realized that if I look at the exterior only, I’m blinded about the interior, and it is the interior what really matters. The paintings, the jeans, the lamps, the paneling, the carpets, the curtains… everything are just ways for people to tell the world who they are, and isn’t it diversity what we aim for?

I came to the realization that the beauty behind the kitsch art and cheap home décor were the people behind it, the creative souls who dedicated themselves to their work. Even though I’m certain I’ll continue to attend to my arts events in Seattle and will certainly refine my taste for fashion and home decor, I guess I’ve learned to appreciate tradition and simplicity. People with earnest hearts and actions have taught me.