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(part seven of Thirty Days in Brazil: Fiber in a Faraway Place)

The concertina wire is getting to me.

It's everywhere. On concrete walls. Wrapped with blossoms. Fluttering with the penants of caught plastic bags. Flecked with feathers. Gleaming in the sunshine of a perfect Brazilian spring day. Company to brilliant graffiti over faceless cement walls. Dew-eyed children crowned in razors. Bending, mask-like faces with staring eyes. Jagged, crude black gang signs on the infrastructure.

Wires. Electrified wires strung three high on prongs of gleaming metal. Thin, almost imperceptible. Bright-roofed houses. Bright-walled houses, sea green and turquoise blue. Folding doors, flowered courtyards, locked away, sequestered silent beside each other. Outside, the natives press cheeks and kiss, as if trying to break down the walls they've built to keep themselves safe from each other and the unknown.

S„o Paulo is a very beautiful, and a very bent kind of city.


Baltimore gets to me too. Baltimore, where they put cinder blocks in the doorways and windows of abandoned rowhouses. Baltimore, where they have issues with people dumping bodies in the buildings if they leave mere boards and windows over the gaping wounds left from doors and glass. Baltimore, filled with begging bums. Baltimore, with toothless women in doorways. Baltimore, where the North side and the East side look like horror movies.

Cranes rising stark against the sky, urban renewal knocking down generations-old buildings, graffiti scarring the rest, cameras perched impotently over stoplights. Rowhouses, scarred with the black slashes of explosions from meth labs.

Baltimore, with the blue lights on every corner, warning: stay away. There is danger here.


Alphaville is a horror in its own way, all cops with machine guns parked just out of sight, brooding in the dark when the tourists and foreign workers are hurrying home (one eye over our paranoid shoulders) from the restaurants. It's too perfect, too palm tree, too strange with McDonalds filled to the brim with Brazilians and the churrascarias stuffed to the gills with Americans.

Then there's the hotel.

The hotel has placed me high up on the top floor, a curving penthouse-esque section where I see no one, not even maids. The lights are triggered: they flicker on in a dim hallway when the elevator door slides open, and as I walk, they pop on one by one, all the way to my room.

To one side, doors. To the other, portholes opening in the wall, providing dim light and a view of the sprawling metropolis, gleaming orange by night and brooding smog-shrouded by day.

As I close the door, I hear them click back off, undisturbed for the next eight hours while I sleep, insensate, in my corporate-paid luxury room. No one passes in the night, and there is no noise to either side of me, no luggage passing in the dim-lit hall.

In the morning, they accompany me, the lights, back to the hotel and down the column of floors to the lobby. As the door slides shut, they flicker off again, leaving my ghost-forsaken floor alone.