In the early months of 1981 my parents traveled to Recife, Brazil. My dad grew up there, but my mom had never been. They spent a month walking the streets, swimming at the beaches, seeing the sights, and smelling all the tropical scents. Recife gave my mom insight into the man she was about to marry in a way that no other place on earth could. Brazil is a part of him and to go there was to understand that.
Everyone knew they were going to get married, but Recife was where they made their engagement official. My mom and dad went to a jeweler there and had him craft their rings. They picked out the stones and the design. A few days later they went back and picked them up.
One of my mom's strongest memories from the trip was a dinner at a traditional churrascaria. These all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ restaurants have finally migrated to the US, but back in the early 80s this was a tropical experience one could only really get in Brazil. My mom remembers the servers walking around with spits of juicy, hot meat and shaving it onto her plate.
Not knowing Portuguese, it was also a month of little communication and a time for reflection, she remembers. But communication isn't needed in order to see the disparity in wealth in Brazil. It is a country of slums and mansions in close proximity. My mom was already pursuing a career in social work at the time, so experiencing the contrast between beauty and suffering firsthand was powerful.
This painting she commissioned is of Boa Viagem, a beach community in Recife just south of the downtown. It was fun to paint in such a different palette, capturing the bright light of the equator shining on the enormous high rises with their tropical views.
What I think I love most about this cartographic story is that it highlights a formation. The formative experiences of my mother becoming a wife and social worker are caught up in Recife, a city far from where they live now.
My challenge to you:
Tell your formative stories. Revisit your formative places, at least in your mind. Remind yourself what they taught you. Write them down if you have time.