“I’m bored” turned into a backyard exploration and discovery of a place I’d no idea existed.
I’ll back up just a bit to let you know I’m in Curitiba, Brazil, a semi-permanent home or the closest thing a nomad can come by. A nomad without funds tends to stay a bit longer than he’d like in certain peaks, but that’s his problem not yours. And as far as cities go, Curitiba is a winner.
I could tell you about the parks, the enviable bus system, the ecological awards, the araucarias, pinhão, and quentão, but this is about fishing.
I, along with Weslei, a mature for his years 19-year old piá who works at the hostel where I live, had been pestering Bigode to go fishing for weeks. Bigode’s always ranting about his secret spots and boasting his skill with a rod. Bigode is an interesting subject. For a 69-year old, he has more girlfriends and more regular sex than most guys half his age (I’m almost exactly half his age and sadly admit it’s true- at least this month- but I’m making a comeback), a fact that hints at skill with various rods. He’s good shit, a true malandro, and I, majoring in malandragem, am in good hands hanging out with the guy.
So as Bigode relented, we weaved our way through relatively quiet streets in what I deduced to be the direction of the BR 277 and Ponta Grossa. All right we’re finally going somewhere, I thought. At this particular point in time, poverty had caught up with me again. Employment had soured, and I hadn’t been doing much except waiting for the holiday season to end and language schools to return to hiring.
The city had become quite tranquil as those with means went to the beach. Curitiba is a city of means (per capita income is 66% higher than the Brazilian average) and Brazil has nice benefits for the registered worker including a month of paid vacation after a year of employment. There is also the year-end bonus called the decimo terceiro which is basically a month’s extra salary. Many were enjoying a paid month at the beach along with a Christmas bonus jingling around in their pockets. But as we look to one side and the greener grass, we won’t forget Curitiba, though more prosperous, is not without its favelas and the only beach many know is from cheesy soap operas based in Rio.
So as the able went to the beach, enrollment at the school where I’d been teaching plunged and classes promptly cancelled for two months. A registered employee would have received unemployment benefits, but as my residency status was in limbo (another way to put it), it was left to the employer’s discretion to pay me. The employer decided I wasn’t worth it. I then came to the same conclusion about her and told her to go tomar no cu.
So we hadn’t actually gotten on to the BR 277 and it had been my assumption as we negotiated uncongested streets. Then approaching the BR 277 on-ramp, my assumption found its way to the shitter as so many of that species do and we headed straight. Ah, maybe Passaúna, I thought.
“Vamos pra Passaúna então?”
“Não,” Bigode answered. “É proibido.”
So we weren’t going to Passaúna Park as fishing wasn’t allowed. My next deduction was the Passaúna River, one of Curitiba’s main watershed rivers along with Barigüi, Belém, Atuba, Iguaçu, and Ribeirão dos Padilhas. The Passaúna Park boasts a large lake formed when they dammed the Passaúna. I’m sure Sherlock’s next deduction would’ve been the same as mine.
We drove along a winding road and were now on the outskirts and the prospect of country roads excited me. Curitiba is a green city and the Eco Hostel where I lived boasted many trees, vegetation, and a stream. But there is nothing like open country roads and flying along with the windows rolled down. We approached the first corn fields and I was suddenly back in Minnesota heading to a landscaping job in ‘bum-fuck Egypt’ as some of the more articulate crew members used to say.
As we turned off pavement in favor of dirt road, I had to cross my legs to hide my excitement. This Bigode’s going to deliver, I thought.
We were on the dirt road less than a mile before turning into a driveway. Weslei was first to vocalize our mutual realization.
“Pesque pague?” He complained. “Que é isso grande pescador?”
“Cala a boca seu mané,” Bigode warned.
Pesque pague, for those unaccustomed to the translation feature, is fish and pay. This mustachioed teller of big fish tales had brought us to a fish farm. As Weslei and his 19-year old tongue did their best to disgruntle our fishing guide, I noticed four quarries. The name of the place was Scooby’s and a good-looking country gal I’d later learn was Scooby’s wife came out to meet us. Weslei shut up upon her arrival. She pointed out the ponds, indicating that the first two contained tilapia, the second bagre (catfish) and the third carpa (take a stab seus mané).
As we gave Bigode’s ribs just the right amount of texturing, we unloaded his fishing gear and got comfortable around the first tilapia pond, Sherlock whispered in my ear that Bigode probably had a date later in the afternoon and that his 69-year old energies probably preferred to be spent sweating it out on some lonely ama de casa’s kitchen table rather than escorting a lippy young punk and an American import down a trail to a secret spot that neither of them had yet earned the right to.
It was around noon and we were the only, ahem, fishermen present. The noon sun felt good and the Skol and Antartica signs decorating the chalet encouraged the prospect of cold beer. I baited my hook with a worm from the stash we’d dug up at the hostel and dropped my line.
I propped my rod and secured it with some rocks. I then headed for the chalet. Upon entering, a waft of frying fish doubled me over with an appetizing blow to the gut. I knew what lunch would be, but lunch would have to wait until we produced. In order to pass the time at a still pond, aperitifs were needed. The local favorite seems to be Skol but they had Antartica Original, the obvious choice of those who know. I grabbed a couple 600ml bottles of Original and a two liter bottle of Guaraná for Bigode who’d been off booze for twenty years. He claims to have had a four liter a day cachaça consumption rate during his peak years. Although I have no doubt that on a good day this ex-civil police officer was capable of throwing back four liters, I suspect a bit of padding the stats and gave him a two liter a day average. However, friends of his attest to the always highly flammable aura that surrounded him back in the day. I was also told that when he finally quit it was because he woke one morning and couldn’t move his legs. He was then brought to the hospitable where he stayed for three months drying out and remedying all sorts of complications that had arisen.
Just as I returned, Bigode snagged one. “Woo hoo!” he yelled, reeling in a nice sized tilapia. “Assim é a pescada seus moleques,” he bragged to us. Weslei started in with the usual banter about dumb luck but soon Bigode’s dominance was declared. In a seemingly equal opportunity situation, Bigode appeared to transmit the vibe that landed four to our combined one at the end of his line. Weslei was getting angry. I told him to calm down and grab another Original as it was his round. When he got up to leave, Bigode turned to me, didn’t say a word, and chuckled in a way we both knew meant that apart from reeling in more fish than us, Weslei’s frustration was an added bonus.
Weslei returned with the beer and filled my cup. It was still early and we the only anglers present. I took the initiative and announced I was moving out from under Bigode’s shadow to try pond number two. Weslei must have thought it a good idea and followed but was savvy enough to know quiet time was upon us and took a seat on the opposite end.
Quiet time and a rising heat index had me getting more and more comfortable in the shade. I pulled a small tilapia from the pond and threw it back, making plans for a reunion at a later date. I wasn’t seaside or at a secret mountain lake. I was only down the road, but changes in scene and routine have magic. I was transported far away again as the sun glimmering on the pond and a gentle breeze rippling had me momentarily possessing a ten year old’s body. The ten-year old was in a canoe with his younger brother in search of walleye but only able to snag rock bass. It didn’t matter to him. He appreciated the fight. His seven-year old younger brother wasn’t all that fond of fishing but sometimes humored him and went along for the ride.
I made a note to write my brother, who was living in Honolulu, as Bigode pulled another keeper and our stringer was nearing a dozen. “Filho da puta,” I heard Weslei say. The count was seven Bigode, two Weslei, and two me.
My mind drifted from my brother and family to economics and that miserable conundrum that gets in the way of true living. It’s such a neglected subject of mine and usually only boils down to if I have the money I spend it, if I don’t well hopefully I’ve learned my lesson about borrowing. But whereas I used to enjoy honest work in landscaping or cooking and money was a byproduct, exploitation and loftier goals had soured my whole outlook on the deal and my poverty seemed part protest and curable if I could summon that winner’s spirit. But my mind naturally strayed from economic questions if I was eating (and drinking) everyday and had a roof over my head (check and check).
I’d been living paycheck to paycheck with nothing left over and when things fell through with the school, I discovered why most people concern themselves with things like savings accounts, retirement plans, health and dental. I thought about the fact that I had no money for a flight home and if for some reason I were to be deported (my residency is in limbo remember) things could go the way they went in Buenos Aires. And, and…
And with a sigh to purge, I let it go. I let it all drift up and off with the wind and remembered the next sure step can beget an inspired glide into unchartered territory and nothing is lost when you know a little something about navigation.
I landed (haha this fishing jargon…) another tilapia then walked over to put it on Bigode’s other stringer that he’d had to resort to. I sat down next to him and after we changed a few observations about the way the fish were biting and the beauty of the day, I sat back and had a moment of bliss where for a moment everything seemed perfect in an unspectacular way. We hadn’t traveled far or been away long, but a momentary reprieve from familiar surroundings and well-played rhythms added a special texture to the sun shining down on us.
After Bigode plucked two more tilapia and a half dozen workers from the Volvo factory showed up to try their luck, I suggested lunch. We stowed our gear and left our catch on the stringers for the time being.
At the chalet we ordered a few portions of fried tilapia, another Original, and Bigode switched to Coca-Cola and the stronger stuff. Scooby’s wife asked if I was from Argentina, the usual first guess. “No,” I answered. “Sou gringo de verdade.”
After demolishing the spread, fatigue began to set in. More of the Volvo crew had shown up and the afternoon’s sossego had given way to happy hour. We settled our bill then had the fish weighed and settled that bill too.
Weslei slept in the back seat as I struggled to keep my eyes open. When we arrived at the hostel, Bigode split the catch 50/50. He loved to fish but not to eat fish. He would take his stash to one of his girlfriends in exchange for dessert. I would take a nap as I’m sure Weslei would continue to do in one of the hostel’s hammocks before his shift. Later I’d clean and fry up the fish with Weslei and whoever else was around and charge beers to my tab and enjoy everything as it comes and as I can.
Author’s Note: Bigode has since taken us to three river spots and has bested us every time, a fact only that only ruffles Weslei’s feathers as I do my best to let the medicine heal the ailments. Bigode still only sleeps alone when he wants to, and I’ve gone on some dates but nothing to report in too great of detail.
I’ve found work at a language institute though I’m still working to fill up my schedule.
I’m still scraping by and just yesterday was lamenting the less than ten reals in my pocket and a R$5.50 bill for a x-egg and a cup of coffee I was dining on in the Chinese luncheonette I sat in, as two homeless (seemingly, obviously) twelve or thirteen year olds, no doubt hungry and panhandling indoors to escape the rain, brought it all back to me. Even though it wasn’t much, the fifty cents I gave each of them was something and certain lessons keep coming back as most of us spend the better part of most days just trying to get by.
Currently Nathan Peligeiro is probably somewhere in South America, but it’s hard to say because he moves around a lot and burns through money, a phenomenon he blames on a space between his two front teeth that he hasn’t gotten fixed yet even though an old Chinese sage told him it was bad physiognomy and he’d always have financial problems while the space remained. He likes to write when he’s got something to say. When he doesn’t, he keeps his mouth shut and his pen capped. He is author of Behind the Wheel, a tale of fifth graders, Mexico, debauchery, drug cartels, and fish tacos. BtW is available for purchase through Musa Publishing . He is also author of a blog by the same name found at npeligeiro.blogspot.com.br/.