LAPT Grand Final: The beautiful life
The first time I set foot in Brazil was on Friday, February 8, 2002. I came for Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. It was the first trip I took out of New York since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 reduced a building in which I once worked to a stories-tall pile of smoking rubble. Five months had passed, enough to take a bit of edge off that day, the day the city I love more than any other - my home - came under a brutal attack. But I was still a little edgy about traveling, especially to a country I'd never before visited.
I didn't know what to expect in Brazil. I had only a vague conception of Brazil as being full of beautiful women and Carnival as being a four-day street party of bacchanalian excess. Both sounded incredibly enticing to a single 25-year-old.
What I learned over the course of a week was that my conception was a gross caricature of Carnival. It's true that there is drinking. A lot of drinking. One statistic I heard last night (as we were out drinking and welcoming the arrival of this nation's biggest holiday) was that 80% of the beer consumed in Brazil annually is consumed during Carnival. This isn't a small country - 20 million people live in the São Paulo area itself. That's a lot of beer.
It's also true that there is partying in the street (lots of partying in the street) and beautiful people everywhere you turn. I don't know what they put in the water down here, but whatever it is, it's working.
Yet calling Carnival a four-day festival of binging is a gross caricature. It misses out on the true essence of the festival - celebrating the spirit of beautiful life that permeates everything that Brazilians do, the way they live their lives every single day.
I experienced that spirit first-hand in the conversations I had with random Brazilians that I met during my week in Rio. They took me in and made me one of their own. Casual acquiantances over beer at a bar quickly became friends inviting me to the beach to smoke and drink on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Any mention that I was from New York City brought a heartfelt outpouring of sympathy for what my city had gone through. What I had gone through.
Today several hundred poker players are sitting in a large ball room at the WTC Sheraton in São Paulo, hoping that in four days they will grab the last champion's trophy of LAPT Season 4. But win or lose, make it to Day 2 or get knocked out on Day 1 before dinner, everyone will be celebrating tonight. And tomorrow night. And Sunday night. And Monday night. They'll be celebrating the beautiful life, because what Brazil teaches you from the moment you arrive is that life's too short to pass up the opportunity to remember and to celebrate that living is a wonderful thing.
Though let's be honest -- winning a few hundred thousand dollars would certainly help the celebration.