Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
Though I was in Brazil for work, the people that I'm working with are extremely hospitable and very eager to show me around both for our project's sake and also for my general enjoyment. I have absolutely no qualms with that. For me the trip I just took was the perfect blend of guided experiences that deepened my understanding and wide open expanses of solo wandering. One of my colleagues, midway through my week, said to me "before you fly back, I have to show you the island!" To which I responded, "Uh, yes, that does sound like something I could squeeze in."
Heretofore I have not had the kind of life where anyone has told me they have to show me "the island" save for that one semester I interned with Dr. Moreau. The closest I got to having to be shown the island-status was in middle school when we were reading Misty of Chincoteague and I brought home a permission slip for our field trip to Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. But--no shade to middle school or the Eastern Seaboard--those islands don't really compare to "the island" off the coast of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, though it was a very fun field trip. We did a lot of marsh-walking on Assateague; I seem to remember taking the pH of the water in the Chesapeake Bay; I think there was a talent show. Oh, and the highlight of the trip was when our classmate Keith got bitten by a horse. It wasn't a bad bite but we did talk about it for the rest of middle school and into high school even though Keith transferred to a different school in ninth grade. Sometimes I worried that the fact that we wouldn't leave the horse bite story alone was the reason that Keith transferred, but after 30 years I think we should all admit that Keith was antagonizing that horse. It's okay to reassign the blame: the stallion of limitations has expired. Keith was a very funny person who liked to do impressions from Family Matters and Martin, which were popular at the time. I believe he was in the middle of doing a Sheneneh bit for the horse (She-neigh-neigh?) when the horse decided to express its ambivalence about the comedic stylings of Martin Lawrence. Everyone's a critic!
We couldn't work out a time to get to Ilha de Mare, which means Island of the Tide, until the day I was due to fly back from Brazil. Now, I am very much not a "Get to the airport with plenty of time" kind of person (much to the consternation of my husband), and this has only been exacerbated by having TSA PreCheck which only reaffirms my belief that I should be able to just walk from a car that I've left double-parked at Departures, through security drinking from a jug of water, and directly on to the plane. That being said, I did feel like I was pushing my airport karma by sequestering myself in a place that you can only get to by little teeny motorboat in a country where I don't speak the language. Like, does the Budget Rent-a-Car Airport Shuttle stop at "the island"????
I trusted my colleague to get me to the island and back and then to the airport in time for my plane but I was also very aware that I had absolutely no idea where I was going or what was going to happen. The chaos of a leisurely vacation day. I was like "Well, lemme just go on and climb in this boat like Ishmael and then see what happens."
You can't really tell from the photo but the seas were mighty choppy once we got out a little ways. We were dipping and dropping and flipping and flopping like we were on Splash Mountain. I was gripping the sides of the little boat, which only held 5 of us and could only fit maybe 3 more, like it owed me money. Then when my colleague asked me if I had some cash to tip the boat captain and I pulled out 5o Brazillian Reis which promptly got carried off by the wind and pulled down to Davey Jones' locker, it really did owe me money.
I wanted to keep taking pictures where I am pretending to be very cool and chill with everything that is happening despite having a panic attack, like the photo above, but the boat was doing the most acrobatically and I really didn't want to try to negotiate air travel without a phone. So, I zipped it into my little body wallet and made a mental note not to tell my parents I took a Gilligan's Island tour until after I was safely back in America.
Here's the view as we approached the island, having battled the sirens and such:
The water all around Salvador, even in busy commercial areas, was the clearest, most extraordinary emerald color. You could see right through it and smelled amazing, which was great for me as I was completely soaked by sitting in the Splash Zone called life.
Here's me taking a picture on the shore of Ilha de Mare, pretending that I am very cool and that boat ride did not faze me at all:
Y'all, I was out on that water literally praying to Jesus like "I don't want to die a leisurely death today, m'Lord!"
There was no real plan for the island except to just enjoy it, which is my favorite kind of agenda. We were going to get lunch from one of the beach-side eateries, walk up to a lookout point, and just hang out. While other nearby islands have been developed into tourist traps and playgrounds for rich Brazilians, Ilha de Mare remains beautifully simple. The boats that take you over are like jitneys or the little bicycle cabs that wait for people outside of Broadway shows; you haggle over the price and then they take you on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to a beach that isn't clamoring for outside attention or increased traffic. There's a couple restaurants set up next to a bunch of seaside houses, some tables and chairs, and the endless expanse of the sky.
One of the reasons that Ilha de Mare isn't as much of a tourist destination is, from what I understand, because it was founded by escaped enslaved Black Brazilians and to this day the entire population of the island is Black. This has meant less access to some things that white Brazilians on other islands and in the country at large, have access to. But it has also produced a kind of refuge, a place that I felt very welcome, despite the fact that I don't speak the language. The story I knew, even though the words were different.
We ate, we walked, we talked about diaspora. We were a group comprised of Black Brazilians, Black Americans living in Brazil, and two Black tourists, myself included.
We saw a horse but no one tried to do any Black sitcom impressions for it.
And then it was time to get me back across the angry seas, to ride back to the airport, and somehow return to my life.
Though the sun had come out, the wind had picked up and the waves were ridiculous going back. We were also traveling against the tide, so we're getting knocked to the side, and back, and lifted up and slammed down. And I'm sitting in the front again, and I'm soaked, again. But it feels different going back. I'm laughing and clapping like I'm at Sea World every time a wave comes up and threatens my life. I'm giddy. And I've thought about it a lot in the week since--what shifted? For one, I think I was like "Okay, yes, I do believe that I will make this plane. And yes I will be flying for the next 22 hours soaked in sea water, but half the candles I own advertise themselves as "ocean breeze"-scented, so really this is a service to the global community. (Actually, I had a change of clothes readily available in my backpack in the car and did a full transformation in the airport bathroom.)
I think more than from relief, I think the excitement of that second boat ride came from an expanded sense of what's possible. It's possible to take this trip across the globe, something I didn't think I could do, and it's possible to say yes to getting into a rickety Matthew 14:22 boat and head across a choppy expanse to a destination I know nothing about. It's possible for ancestors whose lineage somewhere once crossed with my own to free themselves and build a refuge in the middle of the emerald water, one that still stands today. It's possible to enjoy the pitching and turning of going against the current, heading toward the familiar but still unknown. It's possible.
The series finale of Dickinson airs in two weeks on December 24th on AppleTV+. I co-wrote it with series creator Alena Smith, who is a genius. I hope you'll check it out!
Also, one of the things I'm going to be doing in paid subscriber Wednesday posts from time to time this year is answering questions in themed Q&As and the first one will be about the experience of writing on Dickinson. Obviously, I am not the preeminent Emily expert, but if you're curious about the writer's room or the eps I co-wrote or really anything, drop a question into this Google form. I'll post answers the second week of January so people have time to watch the show if they want.
Random Thing on the Internet
I was just thinking about what it must have been like to hear "In the Air Tonight" for the first time and have your eyebrows blown right off your head. I think a lot about what it must have been like to hear classic songs before we knew what they were and just completely lose it. I definitely still remember the first time I heard "Single Ladies" and "Dancing on My Own". When I invent time travel, I'm just going to go to a bunch of night clubs in the past.
lemme just go on and climb in this boat like Ishmael,