Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Samba Master Beckons, or Why I Love Spontaneity & Road Trips

I took this pic, and the pics on flickr in my right hand column, on Saturday night at Austin's Carnaval Brasileiro 2006, which is ONE TERRIFIC PARTY. (Note: to view the pics, click on any photo and when you get to the Flickr site, click on "slideshow".)

I went to Austin on Saturday evening for
Carnaval Brasileiro, billed as "Austin's 28-year-old version of Mardi Gras". It was a completely spontaneous trip. If you’d asked me Saturday morning what I intended to do Saturday night, I’d have said I’d be staying home, drinking tea and trying to get over a persistent case of bronchitis...but then I checked my e-mail, and there was another note from the Samba Master...

I’ll start at the beginning. Last Wednesday morning, I got a very nice e-mail from the Samba Master, asking me if I’m spontaneous and inviting me to the Carnaval. My immediate reaction was, "Well, of course I’m spontaneous!" But then I realized that’s not entirely accurate. Although I'll admit there are times that I throw caution to the wind and am dangerously spontaneous...there are also times that I'm cautious. The problem is, I’m highly intuitive, and when I have a gut feeling about something being right or wrong for me, I tend to go with it, without any second thoughts. This has worked surprisingly well for me in a variety of ways, not least of which is finding decent inexpensive wines (e.g., Equis). I applied the method (going with my gut feeling about things) more freely when I was younger, for example, I chose one apartment solely because it had a sun porch off the living room that I knew would be perfect for a live Christmas tree, and I chose another apartment because it had window boxes. It turned out that both of those were great places to live, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized there are factors that must be considered in choosing a place to live other than the gut feeling that it’s going to be a great place. Plus, there are plenty of things about which I don’t have gut feelings (and for most decisions like that, I consult Consumer Reports). Truth be told, much of the time, rather than being dangerously spontaneous, I’m probably more like that tv character, spices are alphabetized, my shoes are all in identical plastic bins with labels, etc., etc...not that this prevents my desk from being a total mess most of the time...but I digress.

Back to Carnaval. Although I wanted very much to go, for a variety of reasons, I had trouble deciding whether or not to go. First I planned to go, then I decided not to, and at my request, Xander spent the night with me on Friday night, so I got off to a slow start on Saturday. When I finally checked my e-mail, at a little after noon, there was another nice note from the Samba Master, saying, "You’re still invited! So if you get the inspiration..."

Magical words...immediately, I got the inspiration. To check out whether the fates were with me ("looking for a sign"), I called the Austin Motel to see if they had any rooms available for Saturday night. Luck was with me; they’d just had a cancellation, so I made a reservation, e-mailed my acceptance to the Samba Master, and started packing.

By the time I was ready to go, it was a little after 4:00. I tossed my bag in the back of my car, loaded up appropriate CD’s, filled the tank with gas, and made my way out of Dallas. Austin’s an easy trip, just get on I-35 South and drive approximately 200 miles, but it took me awhile to get to I-35. Once I got beyond the city, though, the ribbon of the road unfurled before me, and I sailed down the highway at 70 mph. As the sun sank low on the horizon, the sky became amazingly beautiful. It blazed as if it were on fire in the west, while overhead the thin and wispy cirrus clouds turned as pink as cotton candy. God, I love road trips. I felt incredibly happy and free.

When I reached Austin, I exited I-35 and drove toward the motel. As I passed the Palmer Events Center, where the Carnaval was to be held, I saw a huge number of people already queued up outside the center, waiting for the gates to open.

To my surprise, I found my way to the Austin Motel with very little trouble. (Note: I have a BAD sense of direction, and the cheap compass that I bought on sale at Target and mounted on my dashboard with double-sided tape only seems to make things worse). Furthermore, the clerk who’d made the reservation had assured me that there was always parking available in front of the motel, but that wasn’t the case when I arrived, so after circling the block twice, I parked illegally in a fire zone in front of the Motel, and went in to register.

The registration clerk was a guy about my age who apparently needed glasses. "I have a reservation..." I began, as I handed him my driver’s license and American Express card. Before I could continue, he looked at my license, did a double take, looked at me, and blurted out: "Oh my God! You look just like her! That actress..." Damn. I didn’t want a conversation. All I wanted to do was sign the necessary paperwork, get my room key, dump my bag in my room and get on with my evening. "What actress?" I said, trying to be nice. "You know! That blonde one..." Oh, the BLONDE one. Sure. "Um, WHICH blonde one?" I said, thinking if he said Shelley Winters I was going to have to kill him. He beamed at me. "You know! The one who was in Upside of Anger! You look JUST like her!" "Joan Allen?!?!?!" I said incredulously, both relieved (because he hadn’t said Shelley Winters) and amazed (because I look nothing like Joan Allen - for the record - I look nothing like Shelley Winters, either, at least I hope I don’t).

"Yeah, look!" He pulled out a small TV beneath the sign-in counter and turned it toward me a bit. Lo and behold, he was watching The Upside of Anger when I interrupted him to check in. "You look JUST like her!" he said, beaming. Then he grinned shyly and added, "I bet you hear that all the time." The shy grin got to me. I softened. "No," I admitted, "I’ve never heard it before now, but thank you." He checked me in without further ado, and I got my room key, moved my car to a legal space, and put my bag in my room.

I was hungry, and decided to see if I could get dinner at my favorite Cuban restaurant in Austin,
Habana. I called the restaurant to get the address. The phone was answered by a pleasant sounding young man. "What’s your address?" I asked. "Well," the voice drawled, "That’s a rather personal question, wouldn’t you say? I mean, I don’t even know you, and you wanna know my address...I dunno if I should tell you..." If I’d been drinking ice tea, I would have spewed it. I love a smart ass, and this was apparently an English- major smart ass, so I rephrased my question: "Will you please tell me the address of the restaurant, Habana, and by the way, do I need a reservation for dinner for just one person?" He gave me the address and told me where I could park and that they had plenty of seating available.

I drove there with no problem, and even found the place to park, which was pretty amazing for me, considering that it was across the street and down an alley. I had a delicious dinner of lechon asado (roast pork) and yuca grilled in olive oil followed by a cup of Cuban coffee. Then I drove over to the capitol and took some night shots before making my way to the Carnaval.

I read somewhere that 6,000 people were expected to attend the Carnaval this year. I don’t know how many showed up, but I do know that there were people standing around hoping to buy tickets when I arrived. I felt bad for them, that they didn’t have tickets to get in, and I also felt very happy and grateful to have been invited.

I felt the music before I heard it. What I felt was the drumming, and there is a beautiful Brazilian word for this: batucada. There was this incredible beat, and an amazing sound that produced an amazing feeling. I felt it in my chest, yes, but also in my gut; in my lips and in my nose; in the soles of my feet and the tips of my fingers, and I’m sure it was reverberating in the sulci and gyri of my brain. I’m not a dancer (too self conscious, and with good reason) but it was impossible not to move to that sound. And in addition to batucada, there was other music: Samba, March, Frevo, and Trio Eletrico (I got those terms from the Carnaval website) .

I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, so I don’t have a basis for comparison, but I can’t imagine that Mardi Gras is better than this. Above all else, Carnaval was FUN. There were thousands of people, many (but not all, by any means) in terrific, creative costumes, but costumed or not, everyone was enjoying the music and many were happily dancing the night away.

Normally, I don’t like being in crowds, but this was different. Although I was there by myself, not wearing a costume, not dancing, and carrying a digital camera, I had a great time. Without exception, people were nice. There was a cash bar, and people were drinking, but I didn’t see anyone who was drunk, and I didn’t hear about or see any fights. Everyone I asked was gracious about posing to have their pictures taken, as you can see by the pics I’ve posted on Flickr. (I shot a couple hundred pics and have posted the best on Flickr). A regular attendee described Carnaval as, "an opportunity to dance and laugh with some of the nicest total strangers I could ever hope to meet". I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Carnaval will be in Boston in two weeks, on February 18th at The Castle at Park Plaza. You can read all about it

I checked out of the Austin Motel this morning. For breakfast, I drove to the Austin Java Company, where I sat outside on the patio in the morning sunshine and enjoyed a cheese omelet and double cappuccino. Then I went back to the capitol. I spent some time exploring it inside, this time, as well as walking around on the beautiful grounds outside. Then I got back in my car and drove back to Dallas, revitalized after one of the best short road trips I’ve ever taken.


Shelly said...

Some great costumes.

emmapeelDallas said...

Yep, there were beautiful and elaborate costumes, and the music was terrific!


Tammy said...

Wow, great job! I felt like I got to go too. You are spontaneous to just go on your own like that! I loved the hotel signage (phallic symbol) TeeHee. The costumes were so colorful and a few of them should have kept more covered. lol The 1st lady in the blog was my favorite, she seemed to symbolize the fun and colors of the carnival!

Thanks for sharing this trip, I'm living vicariously through you! Where are we going next?


Paul said...

'Fess up, Judi...Fringe Dancer was you. wasn't it.

Squally said...

Like Tammy I noticed the suggestive signage, glad it wasn't just me!

I came via the Monday photo shoot. I like those vivid oranges in yellows in the first cloud photo.

tess said...

Nice trip thanks for taking us and psst- the sunset was beautiful. Austin is one of my favorite cities.
Waiting for Mardi Gras here in new Orleans...

Judith HeartSong said...

oh what an adventure you had!!! Way to go.

Lisa :-] said...

This sounds so great. I'm planning my own road trip next month, and I've really been waffling about it. You've given me shot of courage to go for it...

Mrs. L said...

Hey -- what a great trip. I drove to Kenosha, WI today on a whim. Well, actually the POWERBALL lotto had reached over two hundred million so I left Illinois to gas up in Wisconsin and get a ticket too. If I win, want to take a road trip around the country visiting bloggers?

DEREK said...

You do look like her, she's one of my favorite actress's. I loved "The Upside of Anger"