Here is a big difference between my wife and me. Later this month I will be speaking in Rio de Janeiro and I asked her if she wanted to join me. She said she would love to, but she had to pass because she’s a photographer and she was more excited about chronicling Kansas. So, while I am in a hotel on the beach in Rio, she will be taking pictures of the world’s biggest ball of twine in Cawker City.
In all fairness, she will also be photographing Truckhenge in Topeka and silos and barns in magical sounding places like Plainville and Pratt. It’s not only the biggest ball of twine that has her pretty darn excited about visiting the Sunflower State.
Moreover, I like Kansas a lot, too, and I did consider joining her on her trip when she invited me. But, in truth, I didn’t consider the idea very long. I’ve never been to Brazil and any country that has a bikini wax named after it clearly has its priorities in order.
Brazil is, of course, a lot harder to get to than Kansas. An American needs a visa to enter the country, not merely a passport. To get to Kansas, you merely need to evade the talking trees that throw apples, cross the fields of magical poppies and slay the Wicked Witch of the West.
In any case, I went to the Brazilian consulate in New York City to get my visa. A Brazilian visa costs $130, and the consulate does not take credit cards, business checks, personal checks or cash. I had all of the above when I arrived at the consulate.
What they do take is a money order from a U.S. post office made out to the Brazilian consulate. (And you thought your post office would be obsolete someday soon.) This meant that I got to stand in long lines twice when I was in Manhattan, although the line at the consulate was actually pretty fun. Everyone in line at the post office was either overburdened with packages or so busy texting that they were a little ornery, and many of the folks often had no idea when the line had progressed; meanwhile, everyone in line at the consulate wanted to talk about soccer. OK, not everyone. The women ahead of me were American and they wanted to talk about body hair. They were worried they had too much (Obviously, they hadn’t seen me with my shirt off). But they were still looking forward to a vacation and they were in much better spirits than everyone had been at the post office.
I don’t expect I will be worrying all that much about my own body hair when I’m in Rio because I’m a complete lost cause in that department: I don’t have enough hair where I’m supposed to and I have way too much in places like my ears. Besides, when I’m in Rio, I will be discussing my novels and I will always have a shirt on.
On the other hand, my novels are published in Portuguese in Brazil. And so I have to presume that most of my readers speak Portuguese. I don’t. That teeny tiny detail makes me a little nervous. I have been to Portugal, but I was 10 years old and I spent most of the visit dangling toilet paper out the hotel window with my older brother and seeing if we could get it to waft into the hotel window below us. I didn’t learn a word of the language and I may regret that when I am speaking in English in Rio de Janeiro.
Still, I’m game. I’m excited. Everyone tells me that Rio is an absolutely beautiful metropolis, and would be the Cawker City of South America if it could ever get its act together and build a really big ball of twine. I’ll keep you posted — and, yes, I’ll keep my shirt on. The last thing I want is for my back to cause an international incident.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on September 13, 2009.)