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A genius down the river

21 February 2011
Published in Blog, Primo Piano
by Eleonora Corsini

The boat could go no further as the water grew too shallow. But we were not far from the pristine island I wanted to reach, thumb so I jumped into the river, medicine walking with the water up to my belly bottom, viagra and made my way to the islet. Once there, I felt as though I was the first person to discover it – a modern day Robinson Crusoe. In my excitement I waved to the others and went running all over the shoreline, when suddenly Aléx shouted to me: “Stop it! Come back! You’re walking on quicksand!” I looked down and discovered that my left leg had sunk to the middle of my shin, and the right up to the ankle.

For a moment I was worried, but realizing that this wouldn’t prevent me being engulfed, I looked back to my host and pretended to be calm. I asked: “What should I do?” He said: “Look at your footsteps behind you and come back the same way. Move slowly to pull one leg out, then you’ll follow with the second.” It worked. In a few minutes I was out of danger and, deciding to abandon my conquest of unexplored lands, I went back into the water and reached the boat in which ‘Uncle’ Gabriel and ‘cousin’ Alex were waiting for me.

Neither Alex nor Gabriel were my relatives, but they became so in those three days when they invited me into their lives in this remote village – Nagè – on the Rio Paraguaçu in Brazil. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” was the first thing Alex asked me when we met. I said yes as I entered his house, he gave me a pillow to sit on before he took an old clothes iron plugged into the mains and threw it into a bowl of water.  A singular way to make water boil, but the coffee was delicious.

I was there almost by mistake. Some days before arriving I had heard about a guy who built his house from plastic bottles in a ‘nowhere’ place at the end of the river. I was skeptical about the news, but decided to go and take a look. As soon as the bus reached Nagè, early in the morning, I saw from the window a green house, which stood out from the rest. Intrigued, I went looking for its owner and there I met Alex, 26, who immediately decided we were cousins.

My first question was about his house. I wondered how could he live in a home made of plastic bottles. He smiled and explained to me that plastic bottles, inflated with the right amount of air, are more resistant than stone. I was surprised and kept asking questions: How did you know that? How do you inflate them? How do you stop the air from leaking out? And so on. He laughed and he showed me his tools: a piece of old bicycle; a piece of a spray gun; a nozzle from a perfume bottle; a razor blade, and one or two other bits of kit. They were joined together in a single machine that he had made, designed to cut the bottle in a precise circle, fill it with air, and then fit the bottle into the next. There was no glue at all in his construction.

He spoke a lot and everything he said pointed to a possible idea for the next invention.  His bed, his tables, his shelves, and the outside garden with several weather vanes, so that each of the four winds could have its own, all were built by blown bottles. The carpet that linked the gate to the door was made of bottles filled with water, to give the feet a pleasant massage. I was amazed, even more so when I discovered that Alex was not able to read and write. “How do you know all this physics?” I asked. “I like to observe”, he answered, “sometimes I spend hours just looking around me and thinking.”

While I was finishing my coffee he went out for a second and came back with two bikes. Mine was small, red, and in good condition, while he rode on a green one without brakes. We cycled all over the village to show me how people were living there, as if he was reading my mind. I saw the ladies sat on the ground of their stone houses working at ceramic pots, the famous “paille de barro” which are sold in the nearest city. I saw the men working at rolling cigars, in dark rooms of abandoned little factories. Here and there we stopped at some friend’s house, where I was offered delicious cakes or pastries straight out from the oven.

To end the day we went up the hill, where we left the bikes and climbed an old water tank from which I could see how all the houses where placed to follow the shape of a big bookshelves.

We watched the sunset and came back down. At night we had dinner at the house of Gabriel, who informal. He lived in pentagonal house build above the water, full of white geese and a dog.

Uncle Gabriel invited us to have a soup of fresh seafood – Rio Paraguacù is a salty river. Unlike Alex, my new Uncle asked me several questions about where I was from and where I was going. Then he decided on my behalf that I should stay at least a few days, because I couldn’t leave the village without having a trip on his boat to see the people fishing and the wild islands on the river.  I was happy to listen, and I stayed three days more in this place which lies so far from any tourist path, but so near to the kind of Brazil I wanted to know.

They made me sleep in a local school, that for the occasion become my personal hotel. Uncle Gabriel and cousin Alex took care of me as though I were part of their family, the family of Nagè. I spent the most simple and beautiful days of my three months in South America. This village, which was originally one of the first places where Europeans arrived when conquering Brazil, allowed me to be part of the local culture without asking anything in exchange. And when, three days later, I took my backpack and hit the road again, our farewell was a simple “See you”. No matter how, and no matter when.

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