“Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”
― Joss Whedon
I’ve been awake for 36 hours and counting and I am starting to feel it. I am beginning to regret why I signed up for this city tour. The alternating heat of Rio and the chilling cold of this coaster bus makes me feel even more tired. We’re only half-way done. I’m honestly losing interest on what is the next destination. I just want to go back to my hostel and take a nap. It’s been a long while since I had my shut eye.
The coaster stopped and Alexander told us that we are now in Lapa. From there, we will walk around town and head towards the famed steps of the late Chilean artist Jorge Selaron. Finally, the Escaderia Selaron.
Lapa, as most tourists know, is a popular spot for historical monuments and vibrant nightlife. The place is home to a strip of cafes, restaurants, and boutique hotels which are a great stop for the ultimate Brazilian food trip during the day and party til you drop from dusk til dawn. The streets are also covered with street art, murals, and graffiti. It is an artists’ haven as I would call it. Painters, sculptors, and musicians are everywhere. You would see them in every corner. As we continued to walk to the busy intersection of Guimaraes street, I can see the charm of this neighborhood more.
As expected, the Escaderia Selaron was chaotic and busy. I visited on a wrong day (Sunday). Every tourist would try their best to snap their best along the steps not minding the flocks of other shutter freaks photobombing and ruining the entire shot. I waited for my turn (impatiently) and let the steps free up a bit. I kept myself busy observing that rather interesting surrounding I am in. The music from those random street performers, the noise from the tourists and the thick Portuguese accent from street vendors blend really well and sounded like a sweet melody in my ears. Weird. I took a moment and recorded a snippet of these street performers. They caught my eye as they looked very calm and serene amidst the busy surrounding. They are like in a bubble or somewhere peaceful and all they care is doing what they love— for them, it is music.
They call him Thiago
I took a bold move and started a small talk to one of them. I met a guy named Thiago. He has been performing in the streets of Rio for several months now and making both ends meet by playing his flute wherever there is a big volume of tourists around. That day, he decided he will play in Santa Teresa. I dared to ask more and in his broken English (and my rusty Spanish) I learned that he is from Argentina and was a music teacher; a very good and reputable one I must say. He quit his job from a university in Mendoza and went to Rio to pursue his passion for music. He knew it will be tough but his love for music and arts was strong enough to make that gallant move. He dreams of becoming a better musician and hopefully, comes with a better pay. Rio for him was the place to realize that dream and he is holding on it firmly.
Thiago’s story is just one of the dozens of artists I saw that afternoon. I’m sure each one of them has an interesting story behind every song they play, an abstract image they try to paint, or a modern art piece they try to create. Life is tough they all agree, especially in terms of money. But they also agreed that money was never the first priority. Happiness doesn’t solely come from how much your bank statement says. Happiness fuels from your intense love in doing what you are really interested in. That fuel is passion. When the going gets tough and the lumps along the road get even bumpier, you will go back to it and remind yourself why are you doing it in the first place.
Finally, I saw that golden opportunity to have my photo taken with the steps. I waved goodbye to Thiago and ran across the street and up to the steps. I handed my phone to a random stranger from a separate tour group and asked if she can take a photo of me.
More than a Hipster’s Place
Escaderia Selaron and the entire neighborhood of Lapa and Santa Teresa might be tagged as the home of hipsters and weed junkies but what I would remember from the place more than the brightly colored tiles that Jorge Selaron patiently and meticulously rebuilt each step. For me, it is the home of passionate people. Like Jorge, who remained unfazed by the attention and onlookers as he continued his masterpiece. Until his untimely death in 2013, he was living and breathing passion. I would always be reminded of that and these artists will carry on the same flame Jorge once had.
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