The days I had left in Petropolis I spent walking and writing. I felt as if my visit to that city had unleashed my creativity and it flowed through me like water from my fingertips onto pages and pages of writings. It was Lota, Elizabeth, Portinari, Dorothy Draper, textures, and colours that came together in my mind and, guided by my grandmother, I transmitted onto the paper.
It was between those dreams of linen and velvet that I’d walk through historic Petropolis. Everything is incredible here; here the colonial, the historic, and the imperial are one with nature in a way I’ve never seen. It’s proof that opposites do not repel. I loved the Cristal Palace with its structure similar to its counterparts in London or Madrid. Today it is a symbol of equality and common humanity as it is the place where Petropolis’ last slaves (and the worlds as well, in fact) were liberated. It was the place where a new world era was ushered in.
I also visited Santos Dumont’s summer home. History radiated from the walls of this small building. Located on a small elevation, just a simple visit to this home would remind you of the adventurous spirit of this man. Superstitious by brith, Dumont believed in that everywhere must be entered with ones right foot. That’s why he modified the steps on his home to ensure one would always enter with the right foot.
How he enjoyed those small superstitions! In fact, today I’m writing about all the ones I'm picking up around the globe. I consider them little treasures and I love collecting them. I inherited this from my grandmother who also was full of superstitions, especially those surrounding food. I remember that if I spilled salt at the table, I’d have to take a handful and throw it back over my right shoulder; or how when I was little I could not take part in toasts since one cannot toast with water!
As I walked through Santos Dumont’s house, I felt her presence again. As I walked through the compound I would jot down all the different quirks this pilot had. But as I reached the dining room, I stopped as I had come to a realisation.
My grandmother loved to decorate her dinner tables with candles. The dancing flame and tinkering light they’d emit were the perfect complement to any dinner set. I was always happy and willing to help her set up these elaborate displays. During one of these instances I discovered how every time she would light a candle, she’d hide behind the dining room door.
“Grandma, why do you hid behind the door to light the candle?”
She grinned at me.
“Manuela, can you keep a secret?”
“When I was in Brazil, a great friend of mine has a very important dinner one night. As I helped her prepare the table and went to light the candles, she stopped me and took me behind the door. ‘This is the only was to avoid the evil eye,’ she said. Since then, I have always followed that superstition.”
I also picked up that superstition since then, happy to join in on the fun. It was fun to think that behind those doors is where this story probably had its origins.
Santo Dumont’s home was my last stop in Petropolis. I loaded my luggage into the car and reluctantly said my goodbyes to the city, promising I’d be back someday soon. I knew I was leaving a part of me here, but also taking a newly discovered one filled with ideas, colours, and stories. But I didn’t have all the answers I wanted. I was missing one piece: Lota and Elizabeth’s journey through Rio de Janeiro.