The future has arrived at Praia do Futuro. Here is what I had the chance to buy while sitting with my companions under the shade of a thatch umbrella: caipirinhas, bikinis, boiled shrimp, fruit salad, football caps, giant conch shells, sarongs, CDs of forró music, lace table cloths, massage, facial, lymphatic drainage, sunglasses, tattoos, a pair of polished magnets for stress relief, hammocks, screen prints, necklaces, spontaneous song by repentista, crab paws. Yes, crab paws. They were delicious. But the most wonderful were the bikinis. Armloads of all colors carried table to table. I saw a woman try one on while sitting at a table with a group of friends and family. No giggles or embarrassment. Finesse in the way the new bra was slipped over the old and the old slipped out from underneath. It made me think of the trauma it is for women in the U.S. to buy a new bathing suit, an experience we joke about because we dread it so much. We hate our bodies and feel shame not at the hating but at the imperfections. Here, whatever a woman has is on display and not a cringe in sight. One of our traveling companions is Maria Jose Barbosa, a Brazilian scholar and translator who teaches at the University of Iowa. When I asked her what is the situation of women in Brazil, she said that everything in Brazil is a negotiation of contracts. A man kills a woman thinking she’s having an affair and he gets acquitted. A woman is president. But the idea of femininity, she said, is not to be embarrassed by your body — to take ownership of it. The saintliness of motherhood is emphasized, but contraception is available and subsidized for the poor.
The most disturbing vendor seemed to be a ventriloquist. I still do not know what he was selling — some small thing like a candy on a strip of cellophane. He walked among the tables beating a cardboard box with a stick and each time he struck it, a wail rose up like a crying baby.
We bought shells, caps, cairpirinhas, and let the warm Atlantic waves provide the massage — water never more perfect for swimming and wave bashing and working up an appetite for crab paws.
Alison Hawthorne Deming, Professor of Creative Writing and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair of Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona, is author of four poetry books, including Rope (Penguin 2009), and four books of nonfiction, including Writing the Sacred Into the Real and Zoologies(Milkweed 2014). She’s received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bayer Award in Science Writing and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her poems and prose have been widely anthologized, including in The Norton Book of Nature Writing and Best American Science and Nature Writing.