A few years ago, we traveled to Rio de Janeiro for my cousin’s wedding. My cousin had been engaged once before, but a few months before the wedding, they broke it off. My cousin was heartbroken, had to un-invite all the guests, explain without explaining too much. But then he manned up, went to law school up in New Hampshire, met a vibrant and beautiful Brazilian girl, and ended up having what would literally be a fairy-tale wedding in Rio. Let this be a lesson to all of you who are nursing a broken heart: things can work out like the following.
Up until this trip, I had been out of the United States exactly one other time. We went to the Bahamas for a weekend. It was rainy and overcast the entire time, except for approximately 15 minutes. I have never been abroad. I have never been to Canada or Mexico. Despite my adventurous trek cross-country, I am hardly a world traveler.
But we were going to Brazil! This magical mantra served us well in trying to get the necessary time off for the trip. My brother is a first grade teacher. It would be his only vacation time for like four years. I just started temping a data entry position for a pharmaceutical company. I might not have a job when I returned. But we were going to Brazil! Just the concept of going to a foreign country seemed exotic and alluring to our countrified PA asses.
Little did we know what we were in for.
My family is close. Cousins are like brothers, it’s just the way we were raised. Fernanda, my cousin’s intended, had spent several Thanksgivings and Christmases with us, so we already knew how much we liked her. But her family embraced all of us with open arms as if they were going to marry us. Fernanda’s parents were divorced, so we weren’t ever sure who was who. There were so many family members, but everyone was so loving and kind, we just ended up hugging and kissing everyone. As far as we were concerned they were all our family, and they loved “The Americans!”
The wedding was taking place in Rio, and we were staying in hotels near Ipanema Beach, which served a young man well in penning a song about a certain girl from Ipanema who went walking, and Copacabana, which served a not-so-young man well in penning a song that continues to moisten adult diapers to this very day.
For most of the trip we careened around from celebration to celebration, never knowing what was going on. None of us spoke a lick of Portuguese. But we were determined to be adventurous. The first night, we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant, and the menu had some Portuguese words, and some Italian words. I just picked something at random. Erico, Fernanda’s father, asked what I ordered. I said, “I don’t know. I hope it’s good!” It turned out to be boiled bull scrotum. But they seasoned it so good, you’d never know!
(Actually, it was a variation on chicken saltimbocca. I’m adventurous, but I’m not retarded.) I went home and promptly learned all the words for different foods. This is how I was able to learn how to order from the juice bars and different restaurants. It didn’t work so hot when my brother and I wandered off to Bob’s Burgers for lunch, only to get Grade K meat (some orphan meat, mostly soy and lawn clippings). It was the only slip up in an otherwise magical trip.
There’s no decent way to say this, so I’m just going to put it out there: Fernanda’s family is pretty much royalty. Her father works as one of the executives for Globo, which is THE network in Brazil. Over 85% of the homes in the country watch Globo. They’ve got money and power and influence. We just assumed all Brazil was like this. We have been spoiled and it is worth it.
The engagement party was held in their penthouse apartment overlooking Sugarloaf, which houses the big statue of Christo, the giant huggable Jesus that you’ve seen in every shot of Rio ever taken from an airplane ever in the history of ever. We rode in through the gated entrance, flanked by guards in bulletproof vests and armed with semiautomatic machineguns. They sent us up, six at a time, in a small elevator, which opened on their apartment. There, everybody that is even remotely related to the wedding was there, dancing around in the huge apartment, and pounding liquor. They would serve caipirinhas, which is sort of a Brazilian martini. Essentially, you take two shots of liquor, mull it with fresh fruit, and serve chilled. It’s called different things if you use vodka, or sake, or whiskey, or rum. Usually, they serve it with Cachaca, which is a version of rum that tastes like rocketfuel teabagged with a monkey sack when taken straight, but magically tastes like Kool-Aid when mixed with fruit. Erico constantly kept on hand Johnny Walker Blue Label. His step-son Fabio, a true party-machine, always kept on hand cases of Sugar-Free Red Bull (sugar free means you can drink more and keep the same caffeine effect without getting sick). I love Brazil!
They told us they had a little surprise for us. Up the elevator comes a bunch of guys carrying various instruments, all dressed in Hawaiian shirts. We’re like, Oh, sweet! Live music.
Then the first samba dancer arrived.
She was easily over six foot, and that was before she wore sparkly heels, and a giant two foot bedazzled headdress. She was cocoa brown, and wore nothing much more than a glittery bikini, draped with beads. We were agape. Then the next one arrived. And the next one. And the next one.
There were about five or six in all, when the samba players started jamming. Everyone danced with the samba dancers (from the best samba school in Rio – according to Duda, Fernanda’s brother and a party promoter). It was insane. My tiny mom and dad are jamming out with these Amazonian goddess in spangled finery. I thought things can’t possibly get better than this. And this was knowing that full well, tomorrow afternoon we’d be served dinner at a chirrascuria, which is an all you can eat meat buffet where they bring grilled meat out on swords until you belch out “No Obrigado”.
However, my cousin, his girlfriend, and I myself were whisked off that next afternoon to see Globo, while everyone else went sightseeing. Because, we were the screenwriters. I was fresh from graduating from BU, and Mark was in the middle of signing a deal to option his television pilot with the networks. So we were the screenwriters, and we got our own private studio tour. Which was amazing. They make a serial soap opera called “Bang! Bang!” which is set in the American Wild West, and features characters like Zorro, who is an incredibly gay blade, and Elvis. It’s somewhere between Deadwood and Arrested Development. It’s hilariously Telemundo. One thing that’s pretty amazing about their soap operas is that they only run it for one year. No matter how popular they are (and the numbers on this thing are ridiculous – everyone watches it) they cancel the show after one year, and then start with a new show entirely. I think this is a great idea.
The wedding itself was amazing. Fernanda had about 60 bridesmaids and groomsmen. There were three flower children, and the front tableau was my uncle, Fernanda’s mother and step-mother, and her father and step-father, as well as my mother and father (my aunt had died, and so my cousin wanted her sister – my mom – to stand in for her). I was paired up with my cousin’s cousin, so we were both smiling clueless Americans. My brother got paired up with this gorgeous Brazilian girl, who, as we were walking down the aisle, started shaking like a leaf. Later, we asked her why. She was explaining that most of the celebrities in Brazil were in the audience. It would be the equivalent of walking down an aisle and seeing the cast of Oceans’ Eleven on one side and the cast of Charlie Wilson’s War on the other. (and yes, I know Julia Roberts is in both, I assumed she’d be cut in half and portioned appropriately.) The wedding ended up getting written up in the Brazilian version of People magazine. My mom was in People magazine. I want to see how that ties in to Jury Duty.
That was the best part of the wedding. Nobody cared who anyone else was, we just all danced and laughed and had a great time. The reception was held in the Natural History Museum. It was more like a rave. There was booze and food and techno music. They busted out glowing sunglasses and glowsticks, and flashing rings and necklaces, and those LED whisk looking things. It ran until 5 AM. I spent most of the time drunk on caipirinha and Johnny Walker Blue and Red Bull. Fernanda told me I kept coming over to them and jumping up and down and asking when Carnival was. I was invited by six different people to come and stay with them. At one point, I blacked out for two hours. When I came to, I was kissing this statuesque beauty and still dancing. I was going to go home with her, when my cousin pulled me aside and said, “Noooo! Dude, I’m all for everyone having a good time, but that’s dangerous.” Turns out she lived in the most dangerous favelas. So there would have been me, in my tuxedo, wandering the streets of the Brazilian ghetto at 4 AM, trying to get a cab. Still, it might have been worth it.
We spent the rest of the week recuperating at their villa in the mountains. Yeah, it was a villa. It was insane. We watched Mozart and the Whale two years before it came out in theatres in their private screening lounge. I got regaled with epic tales of my drunken cavorting. They kept telling me I made friends with Jo Soares. And I’m like who? And they said Jo! He loves you! He wanted to take you home so you could marry his daughter! He keeps asking how you are. I said, “Tell Jo I’m great!”
Jo Soares, it turns out, is the Brazilian equivalent of David Letterman. He wanted to have me on his show. Later on, I found out that Jo apparently was up visiting with television executives up in New York, and he was telling them how he met their Brian Prisco. And they go, “Who?” And he says, “Brian Prisco! He is a screenwriter! He is very wonderful!” He was under the impression that I was a celebrity. So was I.
It was a magical time, and I am forever ruined from ever leaving the country, because it will never be as magical a time as that wedding with my family. But take three things away from this: 1) if someone breaks your heart, the best revenge is to marry a beautiful Brazilian princess. 2) never be afraid to try new experiences, unless they involve fast food restaurants and ghetto murders. And 3) always get drunk at weddings, it will make you a star.