Updated: Aug 15, 2022
Among many unique weeks of my stay here in Brazil, which are among the most unique weeks of my life, this past week is in a class by itself. As I write this, I’m sitting on an airplane on the runway at Goiânia International Airport in Goiânia, the capital of the state of Goiás, in the midwest region of Brazil, waiting to take off. I’m embarking on the last leg of what has been a trip I couldn’t have imagined, a trip that in some ways I never want to forget, and in other ways, I never want to remember. When I sit down to write these posts, I’ve usually already imagined what I might write about. I envision the things I’ll probably talk about, like the things I have coming up that week. Ocasionally, surprises pop up, so I’ll include them, but nothing could have prepared me for what would happen this week. Settle in. This is going to be a good one.
Last weekend I had a nice gig with vocalist Carolina Emilia at a hip spot in Uberlândia, Flamber Gastrobar. I don’t have the chance to work with singers very often, so this was fun. Impressively, Carolina sings both in Portuguese and English. We had a good time performing a mix of Brazilian and American jazz. It was the calm before the storm.
With Carolina Emilia performing at Flamber Gastrobar in Uberlândia
This past week’s main event was a short tour of Brazilian cities— the nation’s capital, Brasília, and Goiânia. I left on Tuesday and returned on Saturday, five days and five flights in total. My flight to Brasília was delayed, and I thought to myself, “It’s going to be like this, is it?” but we arrived without a hitch, and the rest of my stay in Brasília went smoothly.
I was hosted by the head of the guitar program at the Federal University of Brasília (UnB), Bruno Mangueira. In the afternoon, I did a wonderful guitar masterclass with students from the music department. In the evening, I participated in a performance/jam session with professors, local pros, and students from the university. Earlier that day, I met up with a couple of Fulbrighters, Mariana and Anthony, who are doing research at UnB. As I‘ve mentioned before, it’s rare to find Americans in Brazil, never mind other Fulbrighters, so I welcomed the opportunity to meet them and hear their experiences. We had a bite at Cafe das Letras on campus and headed over to the jam session.
Jazz guitar masterclass at the Federal University of Brasília
With Mariana and Anthony, two Fulbrighters doing research at UnB
The next day, my flight wasn’t until 7:20pm. This gave me time to get out and see the Federal District of Brasília, Brazil’s Washington, D.C. Brasília is, famously, a planned city. The Brazilian government apparently thought Rio de Janeiro wasn’t cutting it economically and structurally, so they planned a new city. Pres. Juscelino Kubitscheck took office in 1956, and by the end of his term in 1960, the new city was complete, a victory for him and a feat of modern engineering. The name “Brasília” was chosen as the winner of a contest to name the city.
Yup... the whole country, really
I witnessed the marvel of Brasília on a walking tour I gave myself of Brasília’s equivalent to the National Mall. I passed one ministerial building after another, sitting pretty in a row on either side of the massive thoroughfare known unceremoniously as DF-002 (Federal District 002). I also made some key stops: Metropolitan Cathedral; the Supreme Court building; TV Tower, with its spectacular 360 view of the city (see video below); Palácio Planalto, where the president works; and Palácio da Alvorada, where the president lives. Most of these fantastic structures were designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, whose work we also saw in São Paulo. His distinctive modernist stamp is all over Brasilia.
From the top of TV Tower, overlooking Brasília. Most of the places I visited are in the distance at the end of the video. You can also see the giant “EU ❤️ Brasilia” letters… wait for it.
That same day, I was invited to be a guest on UnB’s music department podcast, hosted by musicology professor Hugo Ribeiro, to talk about my work here in Brazil as a Fulbrighter. So after touring around, I grabbed a delicious lunch near the hotel and took an Uber to UnB to record the podcast. Afterwards, I hailed what I thought would be my final Uber in Brasília to the airport to catch my flight to Goiânia. As I was checking in, the airline representative said, “What flight did you say?” I told her. “Sir, that flight left at 4:55.” It was almost 6:00. That couldn’t be right. My mind went numb. Or maybe it was my body. Or both. I’m not sure. I have never missed a flight in my (ahem) years on this earth. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what had happened. I checked my calendar, and it said the flight was at 7:20. I didn’t put that calendar entry in. The email with my flight information automatically generated the calendar entry, so it had to be right… right? But it wasn’t.
I still don’t know what happened. It was no use arguing with anyone. What was done was done. The airline rep directed me to the ticket counter upstairs. It’s bad enough having this kind of thing happen in your native country, but when it happens in a place where they don’t speak your language, your already scrambled brain has an even harder time deciphering things. In my dazed state, it felt like it took me forever to understand what she was telling me to do, but I finally got it straightened out, and the airline put me on a flight the next morning. So I caught that unanticipated Uber back to the hotel district, where Bruno very quickly acted to put me in touch with someone who had an open Airbnb for the night. I was thankful for Bruno’s help.
Mercifully, the airline didn’t charge me a re-ticketing fee, and more mercifully still, I didn’t have any commitments until the following afternoon in Goiânia, so the delay wouldn’t affect my events there. Unmercifully, I did miss what I’m sure was a scrumptious dinner at the home of my host at the Federal University of Goiânia (UFG), Fabiano Chagas, with his family, whose beautiful home I stayed at.
Even more unmercifully, however, as I was about to check in the next morning to fly to Goiânia, I noticed that my travel bag felt unusually light. I felt around, and that familiar bulge on the side of the bag was not there. I tore open the zipper and, sure enough… my laptop was gone. We all know that our whole lives are on our laptops. There was just no way I could not have it. I had just barely recovered from the missed flight, and now this. I went into panic mode. Where was my laptop? Did I leave it somewhere? Where? Did someone pilfer it? Back at the hotel? Here at the airport? My mind was racing but my body was numb all over again, and I had a sickly feeling in my stomach. Even though I was still in Brasília, there was no way to go back into the city to get the laptop. I would miss my flight… again. So I reluctantly kept going, like a zombie, through check in, security, and boarding. As the shock wore off, I slowly came back to reality and started messaging anyone who I thought might be able to help get the laptop back.
By the time I landed in Goiânia a couple of hours later, my wife, Shaunna had confirmed that the hotel still had it. What a relief! Even more, within a couple more hours, Fabiano had arranged with a friend at a shipping company to pick it up and bring it to Goiânia at no charge that night! I was in shock (again). I was actually going to get my laptop back! The wonderful people in my life had helped me. I felt so grateful, and I could finally relax a little and focus on what I was there to do, a workshop and a perfomance.
Because of my delayed arrival, the day got scrunched, but I got to have lunch with Fabiano and his family. The meal was replete with yummy regional dishes. After lunch we headed to UFG for the workshop. It went well, and there were lots of great questions from students. Fabiano and Shaunna were working hard independently behind the scenes to coordinate the laptop pickup, but something went wrong, and the hotel wouldn’t release the laptop to the driver. She couldn’t wait and had to keep going to stay on schedule. Fabiano gave me the bad news after the workshop. Ahh, so close! My golden opportunity! My heart sank, but at least we knew the laptop was safe. Now the question was, how to get it back?
Jazz guitar workshop at the Federal University of Goiânia
An obviously sunny day overlooking the major city of Goiânia
There was no time to mull it over. I had to keep moving. We made a pit stop for a snack at Lanch Arts lanchonete on campus, where I had a seriously delicious rosca húngara, kind of like a powdered roll, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. There’s nothing like Brazilian cuisine to take the sting out of losing and almost getting back your laptop.
Rosca húngara and fresh-squeezed o.j., a much-needed respite from the laptop drama
The perfomance was at Elegia Café, a hip place in Goiania’s city center. It was packed, and lots of artsy folks were hanging out. The show went well with typical Brazilian enthusiasm flowing from the crowd. Many local musicians sat in. The strong scene in Goiânia was a pleasant (for once on this trip) surprise for me. As soon as the gig ended, it was back to Fabiano’s home to sleep for a few hours— literally— to catch my 5:45am flight back to Uberlândia, and that brings us back to where we started, on the runway at Goiânia International Airport.
At Elegia Café in Goiânia. l-r: Tullio Mesquita, guitar, Lucas Tome, drums, me, Mere, bass
What a week. I say that a lot in these posts, because it’s true, but this one really takes the cake. You can see now how I both want to remember and forget it. The missed flight and lost laptop threw me off my game, and the whole day in Goiânia was a series of highs and lows as I went back and forth checking messages and getting updates in between events. I really wanted to devote my full energy to the events, but there was an ever-present hum in the back of my mind of, “How am I going to get this laptop back?”
I hate for the problems to overshadow the successes. I could just leave the bad out and focus on the good in this blog, but then I would be omitting major parts of my Fulbright experience. As awful as they are, I’d rather include the bad parts and document things as they really were. It’s all part of being a musician or a Fulbrighter, or really, just a human being. There is adversity in all things. It shapes and refines us, if we let it.
Despite the issues, getting out around the country, experiencing different cities, and meeting new people makes the bad stuff worth it in a way. While all of these cities have certain elements in common as being Brazilian, they each have their own identity, and each has its own feel. The people I meet in these places share their perspective on what life is like in their city. It gives me at least a tiny sense of their reality. Goiânia, for example, has a population of 1.5 million people and is the tenth largest city in Brazil, which is the fifth largest country in the world, so Goiânia is a big city. The chief industries are agriculture and ranching, similar to Minas Gerais. I learned that Brasília was originally part of the state of Goiás, and that Goiânia (the capital) was also a planned city. But the two cities couldn’t be more different— Brasília, completed in 1960, with its modernist architecture and highly-organized infrastructure, and Goiânia, an older city completed in 1933, with its earthy and irregular urban sprawl, much more characteristic of Brazilian cities.
Now the big question: did I get my laptop back yet? As of the publication of this post, no. We return to the U.S. in just over two weeks, so if it were to be mailed, it would have to hoof it, and considering the speed of Brazilian mail and the relatively high risk of a package not making it to its destination, this is not the ideal option. Option two is to hire a shipping company, and option three is to drive to Brasilia— five hours— to retrieve it. I guess you’ll have to read the next post to find out what happens. I’m as curious to know as you are.