Let me tell you about the places...
I've gotten my sweets and my bitters and my sours from
Hello friends! Last wednesday (July 27th) was my beautiful Leo b-day. Due to this (and running around crazier than usual trying to get some residency applications sent) I did not post a poem response to Kelly’s hilarious piece. I am not doing that today either, btw! As it was MY special day, I’m hijacking PTK this week to post something a little bit different. Here you will find some photos from my most recent solo show at SOMA Galeria and a little essay I wrote about my favorite thing in the entire planet: SUPERMARKETS BABYYYYYYYY!!!! I hope you allow for this bit of birthday self indulgence…. like c’mon, I can’t help being such a Leo!
With lots and lots of love,
Let me tell you about the places I got my sweets and my bitters and my sours from
Ever since I was a child I have been utterly fascinated by two things:
2. The concept of the American dream.
Having been brought up in so many countries and amidst so many cultures, it always fascinated me how each broached both of these obsessions, as well as where they intersected: in the “🇺🇸 American food 🇺🇸” in specialty minimarts and the aisles of expensive supermarkets.
While living in rural Indonesia, our family once embarked on a five hour pilgrimage to the US army base. We were there to buy nothing, but just to look around due to my dad’s curiosity. However, once there, tucked in the back of a TEXACO gas station, I found a new world with roads paved with Lucky Charms cereal and rivers flowing with high fructose corn syrup. I remember opening each refrigerator like a treasure box: admiring the gleam of the soda bottles and the endless rainbows of Gatorade. Each Jolly Rancher was a precious stone and each bag of Cracker Jack which “comes with a prize” contained a secret map to a promised land.
-“It’s like in the movies!” I said to my dad.
Being nine and having only lived in tiny forestry compounds in Brazil where everything revolved around eucalyptus and pine, with a mother who only allowed me three whole grain sandwich cookies once a week, this was a temple of perdition. I caressed the bags of Goldfish and the packs of Chips Ahoy remembering my dubbed Saturday morning cartoons and the bedtime stories my dad would tell me about the time he lived in Portland, Oregon for four months.
I wanted it all. I left empty handed.
Our tenure in Indonesia did not last very long, soon my father was transferred (to yet another small town) in China. By then I had learned how to speak English well enough to exchange my dubbed Nickelodeon shows and translated Princess Diaries books for their “original and unadultered” American English counterparts.
Despite the town being tiny (for Chinese standards) with only 60,000 people, I considered it to be an international megalopolis for the simple fact that for the first time in my life there were both a single McDonalds and KFC within 15 minutes of my house.
It was not however as international as I believed and in 2005 in a tiny town in China it was incredibly difficult to find foods which had been such a huge part of our family’s Brazilian upbringing. We could find rice, beans and meat easily but dairy products were hard to come by. Once a month we would embark on the 300km drive to the province’s capital in order to buy our butter and our cheese. The American Minimart, as it was called, was a tiny store on the ground floor of a residential building. My parents would go directly to the counter and ask for the assorted milk byproducts they had reserved while my sister and I would peruse the aisles (there were only two to be exact) making up imagined Disney Channel Original Movies in our heads; we were the main characters and we woke up in the morning to a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and took Lunchables in brown paper bags to eat in the school cafeteria (we were homeschooled at the time and the simple concept of a noisy soundscape of other children’s voices was only that to us, a concept). But our dreams of clouds of spray cheese were always interrupted by our parents telling us to leave and the fact that the coveted snacks were too expensive for us to buy.
After three years we moved to a big city (by any country’s standard) in a different province. There, within the enclosed bubble of our international school, my Finnish best friend and I would use our breaks to choreograph dances to American hip hop songs, and our pocket money (and newly granted pre-teen freedom of riding the bus alone) to go to Starbucks to eat New York style cheesecakes and to “Western Shops” to buy snacks (recently while looking back she commented that it was funny how these so called western shops rarely had any delicacies from either of our “western” cultures, no Brazilian pacoquitas of Finnish Fazer chocolates; asides from the rare german cookies or english Heinz Baked Beans, the definition of western seemed to always be “American”).
In words I still did not possess at 13, this hegemony became even more obvious upon moving to Uruguay. For the first time our international school specified “American” in its name. Fifty percent of the staff were from the USA. So were the students, most children of Mormon missionaries or people who worked at the American embassy.
In this new reality, a bartering system occurred; whenever our American friend would “go back to the States” for holidays and family reunions, us non Americans would patiently wait for their return as it inevitably meant bringing back with them a box of PopTarts or some LaffyTaffy. These goods would be exchanged—around cafeteria tables, by the lockers, on the gym bleachers. In turn, we non Americans would offer Dutch Stroopwaffles, Brazilian Guaraná, Peruvian Inca Cola. An international teen trade agreement fueled by sugar.
It was around this time that my relationship with my mental health began to deteriorate and the external symptoms were manifested mostly through my relationship with food. Isnt it such an after school special cliché and to develop many eating disorders in your teens?
During my Junior year of high school I applied for a painting competition hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design. The prize for the top 50 applicants were scholarships to attend the Rising Star summer program at the university. I placed 33rd. I was overjoyed at the news: I would be able to attend college level art classes! I would be in the United States of America by myself for five weeks! I would be able to buy my own PopTarts!!!!!!!
My time at SCAD was marked by charcoal and Bolex film cameras and culture shock. This wasn’t the hypothetical USA of my television sitcoms or my school’s thanksgiving lunch. It was a bursting of a bubbly dream. It was a lot like the coming of age marked by a loss of innocence part of Campbell’s Hero Journey which I was studying in my SCAD film class, (though despite this, my time in the program did convince me I did need to pursue an education in art and I did buy my own PopTarts).
Around this time my political ideas began to shift as did my politics. I became frustrated at the lack of focus on World, and especially Latin American history I was receiving at school. When I was eventually accepted and given a partial scholarship to attend art school in Paris, I had compartmentalized my fascination with the American Dream, dismissing it as a silly and naive part of childhood, not unsimilar to wanting ice cream for dinner or seeing your parents as your heroes. Kid stuff.
However, once in France I was shocked at people’s perception of an aspect of myself which had once gone unnoticed to me: my accent. Europeans believe I was an American. When I spoke French I had an American accent. With each new interaction I had to persuade my interlocutor that I was in fact not American, that I had never lived in the USA, that my parents and citizenship were in fact Brazilian. To this day many of my university friends and professors still forget this fact.
I joined in conversations by French acquaintances about frustrations at English words being incorporated into everyday French (which I barely even spoke). I agreed when they said that the American tourists were annoying and loud (though so was I), and that the USA lacked history and culture because it was such a young country (though so is Brazil). I vehemently agreed (and still do, because there’s nothing better in the world than French butter) that French food was superior; however I often found myself going to have brunch at Breakfast in America or perusing the American foods shelves filled with desire.
Larissa Fantini, July 2022
I know that was a tiny bit different but I hope you liked it! And if you didn’t, then just relax and stick around cause we are going back to the regular poetry stash next week and I won’t post another one of these until next year!
Big Kisses from the Birthday Boy
What a lovely read, Larissa! I greatly enjoyed this. As a relatively nomadic expat myself, I can relate (although we have not been living in that many parts of the world). Your story gives me a beautiful insight into what could be going through the heads of our children. Interesting.
Different cultures are fun. I loved the bit about Inca Cola, Fazer chocolate and stroopwafels. I like that image of exchanging cultures through food.
Paris is great. We live close to it now, have lived there a decade ago. We still go to Monoprix. Fortunately, the "international section" at the Carrefour Hypermarket now has things from many countries. Although Brazil is not there.
Anyway, great essay, happy belated birthday, and I hope you have a better relationship with your mental health at the moment.