From Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother. Published by Dundurn Press in 2013. Priscila Uppal is author of The Divine Economy of Salvation and To Whom It May Concern. Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Prize and the Governor General's Award. She lives in Toronto and at priscilauppal.ca.
TEN THINGS I CAN CHECK OFF MY TRIP TO BRAZIL LIST SO FAR
1. Meet Runaway Mother for the first time in twenty years.
2. Buy Brazilian poetry books and attempt crude translations.
3. Go to a movie with Mother.
4. See a Brazilian musical.
5. Swim on a São Paulo rooftop.
6. Spark first fight with Mother.
7. Visit Brazilian art museums and exhibitions.
8. Encounter an elaborate display of giant rabbits in human costumes amid a field of chocolate eggs.
9. Discuss divergent religious views with Mother.
10. Try cashew juice.
Not bad for just a handful of days. I squeeze my mother’s arm. I am having a wonderful time, I tell her, in part to convince myself and in part to thank her for all the bustling about she’s been doing on my behalf. It’s my version of an apology and she seems placated.
To Paulista shopping centre, she announces like a black-and-white film diva to Soares, who is reliably waiting for us, contentedly eating hot dogs grilled at the back of an old woman’s car trunk. Soares explains she has served her famous hot dogs to presidents and movie stars.
But that is second-class shopping, Soares argues.
Maybe we can afford it then, I banter back.
Mr. Soares no understand why you no live here, the hot-dog lady admonishes, waving a bony finger at my nose. If you like country, you stay. He try make you like country.
That’s sweet, I reply, and smile at Soares as he caresses his full stomach.
My mother tilts her face toward me and whispers: Don’t eat the hot dogs.
As we drive along Paulista Avenue, a street Soares states is “paved with money,” he points out that all the intersecting streets are named after countries, including a rue Canada. Brazil is the second biggest country in the world, not Canada. Your mother has a big heart, bigger than Brazil, he says.
My mother explains it is very common for Brazilians to claim Brazil is the second biggest country because in Canada we have too much land that people don’t actually live on but in Brazil people live everywhere.
It’s not that we can’t live there, we don’t want to, I counter, and Soares finds this incredibly amusing, chuckling to himself about it for the rest of the ride.
In Brazil, if you find a hole in the road, and throw a seed in it, by morning you’ll have glorious fruit. That is Brazil.
I look at my mother, who beams from Soares’s declaration. I thought if there was a hole in the road, Brazilians built another road. I suppose this is another option. Good. I sincerely hope he is right.
At the shopping centre (another plaza where she’s already seen every movie currently playing) my mother buys me several items of clothing: a playful leopard-print sheer blouse, a sci-fi-inspired turquoise off-the-shoulder evening dress, and elegant black dress pants with a sheer black sash. (I will end up wearing all three for years to come.) My mother likes colourful, artistic prints, designs of flowers or circles or wavy lines. She does not wear black and does not like to see anyone in black, in honour of her father who hated the colour. But she buys me the black pants nonetheless, because, she concedes, I am Canadian and Canadians mistakenly think black is a colour. I am constantly offering to pay, but she won’t hear of it. This is all I get to do for you, she sighs, and since she is somewhat right about this, I accept the gifts. I cannot hide the fact that I do love clothes and Brazil is one of the centres of world fashion. Here clothes are central to the personality of the country. It’s one of my only complaints about Canada; with the exception of the French in Montreal, Canadians dress without imagination, thinking only of shelter from the elements and comfort, like postal workers.