Desk Notes explores writing, travel, and literature—with a new issue every Friday.
In São Paulo, there’s a slick, trendy restaurant hidden on a quiet street in Jardins, where you can have a ribeye steak with a bottle of red wine, then head down a long, darkened staircase—each careful step toward the basement bringing you closer and closer to a giant Magritte print—until, at the bottom, you’ll find a narrow barroom, with a few plush seats, a bit of yellowish light, and a small stage, where Brazilian musicians create a blend of jazz and samba and blues, the sounds crisp in your ears. Now imagine that it’s well past midnight, and that you feel the tug of each bass string, the force behind the beat. What you hear is overpowering, it’s an omnipresent sound, you feel the vibrations against your skin, as you feel the wine coursing through your blood.
The tempo never seems to slow. Four musicians crowd the small stage, and they cycle the solos and the spotlight, endlessly shoving the pace faster and faster and faster, always pushing the momentum just a bit harder. Yet it never feels rushed, there’s always a sense of control and sureness and levity to the beat. There’s confidence underneath the intensity, a confidence of purpose which redounds onto the audience: the crowd sits back, soothed, grateful, nodding along, drink in hand.
In the São Paulo summer, the air is salty and thick and the rains are always just minutes away. A faint light gives the room a yellowish tint. It illuminates the wood tables and reflects off the bottles behind the bar. Amid the shadows in the heat is a gloss of skin: bare shoulders, high cheekbones, fingers tapping a table.
And even the bartender has one eye toward the stage. Drinks aren’t ordered during solos, so he sways to the beat, as this night will certainly last decades. There’ll never be a tomorrow while you feel the heavy bass in your chest, nor will the sun ever rise while you’re still sipping wine. The music buttresses the dark walls, and you feel the rumble and pulse of each note. In the crescendo there’s no thought of later. No waiting until later. No living for later. So you look across the table, lean close, and speak directly: that’s the volume.