The neighborhood in which we live in Rio De Janiero is named Itanhanga. The community in which we live is called Jardim de Itanhanga. The word Itanhanga in the indigenous language of Tupiguarnane means Devils Stone.
There is a good reason that our neighborhood and community have this title. It is an 842 m ( 2762 ft) granite dome. It is among the highest mountains of the world along the Ocean shores. It dominates the area and is visible from virtually everywhere in Rio. In 1501 the Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos named it Pedra da Gavea meaning Crow’s nest of stone as he thought the peak of the mountain look similar to the observation platform on his ship.
The reason I bring this up is that the mountain is the constant companion on my daily walks throughout the neighborhood. I have initiated these daily walks as I have a near pathological need to exercise and the places here where I normally would scratch that itch are a gym, that seems to me like a sure fire place to catch the virus, and the path that runs along the Praia (beach) but that too seemed a little dangerous from a social distancing point of view.
So I walk. I walk to relieve the stress. I walk to feel like I am doing something positive for myself. I walk for the Vitamin D. But mostly I walk because it provides me time to think. Even when it feels like 100 F as it did today, and thinking is more of a challenge.
One of my continuous thoughts over the last few days has been how fortunate we are to live here. In this community most of us live behind two walls. The walls that guard the perimeter of our community and the three-meter walls, often with barbed wire or electrified tops, that surround our homes. We are secure and protected and mostly feel safe but it makes for very light foot traffic. In an hour walk I saw 9 other people including two guards. But today it also struck me that the two walls could also be considered metaphorically . Aren’t we all living behind at least two walls these days. The first wall being the normal wall we set up in our lives to protect us from heartache, disappointment, intolerance and all the things that normally plague our lives. And now we have a second wall. The one we use to keep Covid-19 away from us and our families. The social distancing. The handwashing. Prayers.
During my walk the mountain followed me. No I don’t claim to be Mohammed. But it is hard to avoid the mountain as it is large and viewable from every street in our community. But today it was lacking a few of its normal elements. Normally you can see technical climbers on its rock face. Today there were none. On most days there are hikers easily seen on the exposed trails. I didn’t see any today. Sometimes we even see hang gliders circling near the “Gavea.” Only the birds soared near the mountain today.
Whimsically, it made me wonder what the mountain had seen of man in the past. I wondered what it made of our short lives and the crisis’s that seem to follow us where ever we go. Our frantic efforts to solve the problems that we have created for ourselves. I wished I could ask the mountain’s advice. What did it see from its Crows Nest that would help us navigate these difficult waters.
For a moment, I thought I could hear the mountain talking to me before I realized that it was just an army helicopter passing over me. So I turned to my Audible book because I was really thinking too much. Harlan Coban’s newest “The Boy From The Woods.” Pure escapism especially for a boy from New Jersey who kinda misses his home.