The question came from a woman sitting across the table from me. She was leaning forward, emphasizing what I couldn’t take my teenage eyes off. She wore a bikini and a pareo and had just come in from the beach. Her hair was dark and wet, uncurling as it dried in the early heat of the day. Her eyes were black, the shade of any cliche you want to imagine. Her skin, the colour of the coffee getting cold in front of me.
The table was on a little shelf of a verandah, at the entrance to the small hotel I was staying at on my first visit to Rio de Janeiro. I was a few days early for the big day, for the Noite do Carnaval, when all the samba schools paraded down what later became known as the Sambodromo and was then just an avenue in the business district.
The air was alive with samba music and beautiful women. Kids in torn shots walked about beating out the samba rhythms on their clogs and tin cans they picked up in the street, or boxes of matches.
There were probably quite a few men around, too, but at seventeen my entire bodily system consisted of testosterone. Keeping my eyes in their sockets required an effort I found difficult to master.
Did I like sex? What little I had experienced was, yes, very pleasant, thank you. In Rio I thought I might find something more than just pleasant. And here I was being offered exactly that.
The fact that this was a woman considerably older than myself — she must have been twenty five, I’m guessing — didn’t bother me at all. My over-fertile imagination, working overtime, didn’t allow for considerations about the age gap.
She had simply appeared at the table, one of three on the little terrace, and just sat down. I hadn’t seen her approaching, silly me. Her conversation starter about sex startled me. Her direct approach was way beyond the manners I had learned. I tried not to show my astonishment, being the man I believed myself to be. But I may not have succeeded.
“Sex,” she asked again, “you like?”
“Yes, thank you,” I stuttered. “How much?” I had heard about prostitution in Rio from older school mates.
“What you say, how much?” Her face turned a litle darker.
It was then that I noticed that her accent was not entirely Carioca, not from Rio, but Brazil is a very large country and people come in for the Carnival from all over the world. I wasn’t thinking exactly in those terms at the time, but I did notice the accent.
“Sex! Sex, you like or no?”
“Yes, yes! Thank you, yes!”
“Lissen,” she said, boring my skull with her extraordinary eyes. “That player is Estan Gest.”
Now I was befuddled. What the hell was she talking about? Not sex? What then?
And what player was … who was playing what, where?
On the terrace the music was something Brazil had given the world just a few years earlier and for which the world should be eternally grateful: the Bossa Nova.
The world, especially Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley, had taken it up with enthusiasm. Singers from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to Elvis Presley and Andy Williams, Quincy Jones to Lionel Hampton, had recorded the compositions of Antônio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes, Dorival Caimi and a host of brilliant Brazilian musicians. It is a long way from the famous Carnaval samba though it used many of its complex rythms.
I hadn’t been aware of the music, my concentration being as it is. But at that very moment a particularly beautiful piece a by-then famous Bossa Nova: The Girl From Ipanema.
Did I like sax? Yes, but not as much.
(c) Alberto Bullrich 2015 A great selection of Bossa Nova by Tom Jobim