On Saturday my roommate gave me a ride over to my office in Williamsburg to pick up my suitcase from my Chicago trip earlier that week. When I got out of the car, my eyes were hit with the colorful brilliance that is a Kobra mural. I was recently introduced to his style by a project at work, and instantly was attracted to his remixes of iconic black and white images with bright geometric patterns of color. (Bonus points that he’s from São Paulo, home of my most favorite street art covered alleys.) Eduardo Kobra’s been painting for twenty years and has done work all over the world, including my favorite piece on The High Line. So when I saw that he was painting a wall outside of my office, I was pretty excited.
Moments like this are a large part of the reason that I moved to this city: you literally never know what could happen. Magic seems to always be lurking in the most unsuspecting corners. This time, it just so happened to be one that I pass a half a dozen times a day.
I didn’t stop and talk to him on the wall when I first saw him half because I was dressed in what I thought wasn’t cute enough to engage a stranger in broken Portuguese and half because I was so intimidated to stop him in front of the large crowd that had formed by his wall. So true to digital first form, I hit him up on Instagram on Monday to see if he’d be able to make time to chat with me for a few minutes about the project. Between my love for but total ignorance of the history of street art and my language lessons, I figured it’d be the perfect opportunity to test myself and also get some bonus blog content for work.
He hit me back and invited me to drop by the wall at any time, so I practiced saying, “Hello, I’m Jessica. I need some time to translate my questions for you. How long will you be working today?” during my ten minute walk from the G to the office on Tuesday morning. That’s ten minutes of walking to try and memorize three simple sentences. And then I got there and as I was saying it, my mind got all nervous and lame, but I got the details I needed and ran upstairs. Unfortunately I spent the next nine hours at my desk, so I didn’t get a chance to meticulously translate my super basic questions before day had turned to night and he was gone.
Figuring that I lost my chance I was bummed to say the least, but when I turned up at the office today, there he was: back on the wall despite a consistently irritating rain. I promised myself that regardless of how busy or nervous I was, if I didn’t engage the artist while he was literally at my doorstep, I couldn’t forgive myself for bailing on a cool opportunity.
So naturally, I spent all day working myself up over not knowing verb tenses or accidentally saying the Spanish word preguntas instead of the Portuguese perguntas or being intimidated by talking to not only to this killer creator but also in a language that I’m a total beginner at. Sometimes I’d use work as an excuse to not go downstairs. Other times I’d use the rain. I find that I kinda do this a lot to myself: overanalyze a situation to death and convince myself that I’m not prepared to deal with it properly. It’s amazing how complicated confidence can be. (And lord, has the last two months living here been a testament to that.)
In any event, I located my damn mind and made time to steal away and approach Eduardo as I passed by on my way back from the shop. He was ever so gracious enough to hang out with me and answer my quick questions. Being me, I had convinced myself that there was no way I could remember how to say the questions I had prepared, so I printed them out and had him read them and then respond on camera instead of being a normal person and speaking them aloud to him myself. As it was happening I was sooo disappointed in myself for not going all in on my language game. I had created my own awkward prison and even though he totally didn’t act like it, I knew I wasn’t doing the situation any justice. But in the moment, I froze and left abruptly after we were done, trying to quiet my personal embarassment with excitement that the whole thing even happened at all.
The embarassment ate away at me for the rest of the day to the point that I knew I had to right the situation for myself. So I prepared a small thank you gift and decided to use that as my in to re-engage him in conversation, but this time without notes or intention. And guess what? He totally understood everything that I was trying to say and vice versa. And the one thing I didn’t get on the first try, he slowed down and repeated himself so that I would understand. He was interesting, engaging and lovely, like every other Brazilian I’ve ever met. There’s something about being around Brazilians that just makes my soul feel full.
I walked away from our casual chat on the corner with the biggest smile on my face, really proud that I faced a fear (no matter how silly it might have been in theory) and in my mind, redeemed my earlier disappointing performance. I don’t know why I stress out about speaking foreign languages so much because I know damn well how cute I find broken English to be. But time and time again, I find that the less I think and the more I speak, the better off I am. Today was just a tiny but important reminder to take it a little easier on myself and not let self-doubt get in the way of a good time.
Today was a win. Especially when I heard him speak broken English to a stranger on the street as I walked away. ;)