The Lost Ark
I was 18 when I moved to Lisbon. I wasn't really sure who I wanted to be, and I mean that quite literally. I was very much aware that, having just left my home country, I had a chance to choose who I wanted to be, in a sense. Of course I couldn't just throw away all my baggage and persona, a lot of it was going to be part of who I was no matter what, but somehow it felt like a chance to pick new hobbies, new habits, things like that. I'm not entirely sure how I chose to collect vinyl records and make audio a hobby, in hindsight it was the union of a lot of things that I loved deeply: music, analog circuitry, DIY1, woodworking, collecting, and on it goes.
I very quickly fell in love with the hobby, I'd spend my weekends going to record stores in Lisbon looking for whatever record I was obsessed with that week2, and most of my free time during the week went into reading about amplifier design and things like that. Being a software developer I quickly turned those projects into increasingly large amounts of analog-digital Frankenstein madness. It was a whole lot of fun, and I look back at that time with a deep sense of nostalgia.
Sadly all good things must end, and that was definitely true for my time in Lisbon. I had grown increasingly frustrated with the university I was attending, and I had slowly become completely intolerant to the racism I had directed towards me by many Portuguese3. I was depressed, because school was deeply unfulfilling, and because I felt that I had to work hard at hiding my nationality and culture in order to be respected or liked by a large portion of my peers. I was done with all that, and it was time to go somewhere else, so I did.
I decided to move to the US, to Santa Barbara in particular, and with the help of many friends I had set up my move fairly quickly. One question, however, remained: How to get all this fragile and expensive audio across the Atlantic and to my new house in California. Luckily my girlfriend at the time worked in the art business and had some experience shipping things like that to the US; she hooked me up with a great freight company and problem solved. I sent everything with the company, except my record crate, which I was too scared and too attached to send on a long, shaky, trip like that. Those would need another solution.
Right about the time that I was beginning to lose hope, and when I thought that I was going to have to leave them behind, my mother offered a solution. A good friend of hers had recently moved to Lisbon, and had offered to take my records back to Brazil with her on her next trip back home in a couple weeks. I packaged my records and went to her house, showed her how to lock/unlock the case, and asked her not to lay the carrying case on it's side, records should be stored upright. She cooked us lunch, we chatted, and then I was on my way, happy that I had found a trustworthy warden to herd my collection across the ocean.
When I got back to Brazil I immediately contacted her to get my records back, but got no answer. She eventually blocked me on WhatsApp and told my mother she couldn't bring them because the case was too heavy. The case had stayed in Lisbon, I had broken up with my girlfriend who lived there, the few friends I had in the city had moved away. They were lost, I had placed my trust in the wrong person. I was heartbroken, that case represented so much effort and love, and it was simply gone, I would have to start over.
Moving into my house in Santa Barbara was a stark change of scenery. I went from living in a spacious studio in Lisbon, with a view I had grown to enjoy and a balcony I had grown to love, to the smallest room I had ever seen, in a house so close to the highway it shakes when a truck passed by. In addition to that I quickly discovered that being under 21 in America means it's illegal for you to engage in any of the social activities you're used to as a foreigner, you cannot go to bars, you cannot enjoy a beer at the end of a long day. It wasn't a great start, I missed the freedom I had had all my life; being 20 in America feels like being 13 in Brazil, and I swiftly discovered that the maturity of my peers mirrored that, for the most part.
I tried setting up my turntable in my room, even though I only had one record in my new collection4, but it wasn't possible. The vibrations from the highway were so pronounced that it caused the needle to move around, it would skip grooves, or just sounds like garbage whenever a truck or the train passed by. I was so frustrated I packaged everything back in their respective boxes and placed it in a remote corner of the house where I would positively forget about their existence. That never quite happen, the amplifier box that I hid under the sofa created a pronounced bump on the cushion, a mildly annoying reminder of the passion I had left behind. Much like my equipment, the sofa quickly felt into disuse.
This was all about two years ago, and now I find myself in a similar situation that I did in Lisbon. I've been utterly unable to form meaningful relationships here in the US5, and I'm convinced my concept of a friend is somehow incompatible with its American counterpart. I am, again, disappointed in my studies as well. I thought Computer Science was the right major for me, given that's what I do in my day job and I love it, but I couldn't have been more wrong about that, it's a remarkably boring major. I can't help but wonder where exactly did I go wrong to end up back where I started, and I do not know the answer.
Amid all this, my mother and her husband took a trip to Europe, they were going to Spain, Morocco, and finally Portugal. I had been so frustrated in my attempts to communicate with my mother's friend who held the records that it took me a while to realize what an opportunity this was. Luckily my mother is always at least two steps ahead of me, and had somehow arranged with her rogue friend to retrieve my records. She succeeded, and brought them back with her to Brazil, where they now wait safely for me.
I'm not entirely sure through what mechanisms this happened, but somehow this gave me a tremendously clear goal at a time where I felt like life had turned into a Maelstrom that was slowly engulfing me, like a lion desperately confused chasing after zebras in the savannah. Suddenly I knew which direction to swim in, I had zeroed in on my prey and I was ready to conquer it. It was the first time in months I had felt centered, with a clear goal. I had to get them back, sit down, and listen to my favorite record6.
I haven't achieved that goal yet, but somehow just having this mundane victory to look forward to helped me climb out of the hole that I had dug myself into. I can't help but feel that the records rescued me more than I rescued them. Somehow this entity of what I thought was my past has come back to help me cope with the present, and I can't wait until I have them back; until I have my hobby back.
- This might be surprising to the uninitiated, but there is a lot of DIY projects around audio amplifiers and speakers. [return]
- I once went to every single record store within 100 miles looking for a Stockhausen record, eventually surrendering to getting it on Discogs. [return]
- I am Brazilian, and a portion of the Portuguese population holds a deep grudge against us that I have a hard time comprehending. It's a very weird form of xenophobia. [return]
- I bought Yusef Lateef's "Eastern Sounds" at Amoeba in LA. [return]
- With the exception of my girlfriend. I find that it is not uncommon for expatriates in the US to feel like Americans do not have friends, there is something really peculiar about how Americans deal with friendship. [return]
- If you are wondering, it's Quarteto Novo's self titled album. [return]