Have a Nietzsche Day in Santa Teresa!

by | Jul 4, 2010 | Travel | 5 comments

Just another morsel of poetic terrorism in Santa Teresa

Every day when I got on the bus, or on the poetic yellow cable cars rambling through Santa Teresa, Rio’s hilltop bohemian neighborhood, I would see this splash of graffiti, if you could call such simple handwriting graffiti. “Have a Nietzsche Day!”

What an intellectual neighborhood I chose to live in for a while, I thought to myself, smiling. At the nearby Mercandinho, an impossibly small corner store that sells coffee, beer, carpaccio, papaya, laundry detergent, I meet poets who had hung out with Allen Ginsburg. Everyone is an artist, writer, translator, weird Carnaval bloco organizer. Maybe an American working on her Fulbright in poetry. Or someone like me, just bumming around and enjoying.

Poetic terrorism is what my friend Roma calls it. According to Urban Dictionary, poetic terrorism is a “movement dedicated to spreading random acts of beauty, poetry, wonder, magic and thought-provocation. The concept was originated by the writer Hakim Bey and has appeared in movies such as the cult French film Amelie. Poetic terrorism differs from the concept of “random acts of kindness” in that its acts are not always kind, but its ultimate goal is not malice, but broadening of the mind.”

Roma’s girlfriend Iracema studies Nietzsche. She too lives in Santa Teresa and often tells me to have a Nietzsche day a lot. I don’t think she is responsible for the scrawl, but she has adopted it for her lexicon.

But what does “Have a Nietzsche Day!” mean? I had always associated Nietzsche with nihilism, meaninglessness, being adrift without a moral compass. Why would I want my day to be like that? Downtown from Santa Teresa, which is calm and beautiful, the Centro and Lapa are beautiful too but much more hectic and chaotic. And full of malandros, sneaky characters who lack a firm morality.

Iracema and Roma gave me a different take on Nietzsche. Iracema wrote her doctoral thesis on him, and from what I gather, for them, Nietzsche is about breaking through social rules and affirming life according to authentic desires. Iracema says, Having a Nietzsche day means “a day in which we not ashamed of who we are.”

So having a Nietzsche day for them means smashing paradigms, living fully, authentically. There’s a non-cheesy Carpe Diem feeling to it, a live-every-day-as-your-last, because death is not so bad. It’s just the conclusion of a well-lived, full life.

Our conversations, if not the exact definition, remind me of early talks that I had with my friend Marcello, who also lives in Santa Teresa. Marcello, who works at a bank, and is quirky but not an artist, warned me early on that it’s a crazy neighborhood, and all his friends, some of them expatriates, act like they are living each day as their last. How is that possible to sustain over years? That was his question.

Brazil is very much about the moment, and Santa Teresa and Lapa take the energy around the present moment to another level. The music never stops. Maybe only on Mondays.

In San Francisco, Sunday night is a time to be quiet and prepare for the coming week, Maybe make some soup. Do your laundry. Not in Santa Teresa. It’s time to drink beers in the street in front of Bar do Mineiro for 6 hours straight, or to go to a roda de samba. Living out loud in the streets is relaxation. Life is lived at a different frequency.

Would I be cut out for such a life, for having a series of Nietzsche days? Could I be a superperson? Could you?

Living at a high frequency all the time leaves me rather exhausted. So does rewriting all the rules, though I seem to enjoy tinkering with them.


  1. Chris

    That’s funny that your previous Nietzsche associations were so negative. When I was younger I was drawn to him as a thinker because of his critiques of the most restrictive social norms, and I thought of him as an optimistic iconoclast more than a pessimistic nihilist. One of the reasons so many pretentious teenage boys (ahem) become obsessed with Nietzsche is that he’s constantly telling readers that they have the potential to be great and authentic men.

    One irony is that Nietzsche the man led a pretty non-exemplary life. In his 20s/30s he was a pretty conventional classics professor, in his 30s/40s he was a penniless wandering writer, and in his final decade (40s/50s) he went completely nuts and was under psychiatric care (probably from a bipolar psychotic break with other complications). It’s fun to think about Nietzsche again, who I used to be so into but haven’t thought about in a while.

    Anyhow, my other reaction to this post is that I wonder if Greenpoint is Nietzschean in the sense you were using it. Sunday is party day here, too (starting with boozey brunch, continuing with live outdoor music, and for those still standing going on through the night as one of the cooler nightlife nights). It’s also just stunning how many people manage to live here without conventional jobs or predictable routines. People sustain that through their 30s, though you don’t see as many people in their 40s dancing and boozing (no health insurance for their cirrhosis?).

    Yeah, everybody’s got a bomb
    We could all die any day
    But before I’ll let that happen
    I’ll dance my life away

  2. Sasha Cagen

    Chris, is this an attempt to get me to move back to New York? I will have to get to know the Nietzschean side of Greenpoint. All I can remember is trying to sleep in your apartment and there was so much noise it was impossible. Also similar to Santa Teresa!!!

  3. Chris

    Haha I had forgotten about that. It was probably my neighbors’ salsa night.


  4. Vilde

    I am very much enjoying your reflectations and descriptions of travelling solo as a female in South America. I find it inspiring and empowering, as opposed to all the tranquillizing writings based almost solely on precautions (ALL of the things you have to do to avoid ALL of the things that might happen to you).

  5. Sasha Cagen

    That’s great Vilde, thank you! I certainly did not feel unsafe when traveling in South America. There were only a couple of times when I at all worried about safety.



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