The graffiti-ed walls of the Jockey Club had tempted my inner aspiring photographer almost every day of my two months in Rio de Janeiro. The bus seemed almost to slow down as it paralleled the long, high wall as if to give me time in my routine to analyze through the plexi-glass bus window each artist’s mark along the linear path of the wall. I wanted desperately each time to jump off the bus with my camera and just exist for a few hours in the time warp of thought and expression that passing that wall created for me.
Each bus ride my eyes would turn just as we rounded the corner to pass the wall, and each day the images offered something new. Perhaps it had something to do with the weather or time of day, or what awaited me at the end of the bus ride, but the colors and faces and shapes and words on that wall seemed to constantly shift, keeping my fascination with them fresh and unyielding. It was on my second-to-last day in Rio that I finally pulled the cord and finally got off the bus to be with my graffiti.
I’d formed this bond with this wall, and on that late afternoon the wall and I were suddenly and perfectly alone together. Pausing in front of each painted scene for a while to contemplate its angles and meanings and take a few photos, I realized quickly that I was not, in fact, alone. Emaciated and with bald patches, a black and white cat weaved between my ankles, stopped next to me, sized me up, and then followed my gaze up at the graffiti. Two more appeared around a break in the wall, observing me from afar as I photographed. A rusty shopping cart then slowly squeaked into view, driven ever-so-slowly by a wrinkled man just as bony as the cats, and stopped about 20 yards up the sidewalk. I ceased to exist, ignored or just unnoticed, as the man struggled to pour cat food from a bag in his cart into old meat trays and place them along the wall. Without a sound from the man, cats emerged from all directions and congregated around his cart, patiently weaving between his ankles as he prepared each meat tray. He stopped suddenly, placed the bag of food back in the cart, turned, and rolled back down the sidewalk in the direction from which he’d come.
The cats vanished and I breathed again, still shocked by the intimacy I had just witnessed. I looked back at the wall. “Mais amor, por favor” (“More love, please”), it said. It’s here, I’ve just seen it, I thought, and continued on.