Sunday, July 20, 2008

Things To Do In My 34th Year: “Eat wild boar.” Check.

Where to begin?
At this moment, estou muito cheia (I'm totally full!). I should say estou muito satisfeita, because in Portuguese you say you are “satisfied” instead of “full” (like the moon or a cup) but it doesn’t quite convey the intensity of how stuffed I am. I feel like I just had two Thanksgiving days in one.

This gray Sunday, I treated myself to lunch at Na Brasa, which I heard was the best churrascaria in Porto Alegre. Churrasco, if you're not familiar, is southern Brazilian barbecue. Numerous cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and lamb (traditionally) are salted and slow-cooked on giant skewers over an open flame.

I was seated at a table in the center of the restaurant next to the enormous salad bar and with a view of the churrasqueira na cozinha – dozens of meat kebabs rotating rotisserie-style over the fire. At first I felt intimidated by this placement, dining alone amidst a sea of families. “Better get used to it,” I thought, and then I made the most of my status as intriguing single foreigner by chatting with the staff that passed, learning the cuts of meat, a little futebol chatter, and bonding in general. A smile goes a long way, and in this case I was treated to a tour of the amazing wine cellar. Someday I want one just like it in my house!

Beyond tasting an assortment of the usual suspects, I ate a bit of javali (wild boar, which was tough and dense but flavorful) and avestruz (
ostrich, which was surprisingly beefy, rather than the chickeny taste and texture one would expect from a feathered former friend). I am writing to you now through my food coma – workin’ through the pain… err, the will to nap.

I’ve hit a groove, I noticed this week, as I went about my everyday business– lessons, errands, socializing, and exercising. I have a routine here. But more importantly to relay at this moment, I have good friends here.

Earlier this week while having coffee with the gals, they asked what I’d like to do to celebrate my birthday. I’ve had some disappointing ones in recent years and I tend to be in a dark mood around my birthday so I tried to be evasive. Nevertheless, Joanna, Victoria and Clair decided to make it their mission to change my mind and my experience. Last night I semi-reluctantly appeared at Joe & Joanna’s place to celebrate my 34th with an international cocktail party. Each of the guests, which numbered far more than I expected, brought something dangerous to mix and introduce, dishes to pass, and a warm smile.

I. Had. The. Best. Time.

Guatamalan Martin, Victoria, and Adam

Joe & Joanna (foreground) and Billy, Jennifer, and Stephanie (background)

Carlos, Clair, and Rafael

Fabio, Maria Luisa, and Bruno (oh, and Eduardo, outside!)

Jennifer and Victoria (on cleanup duty at 3:30 am)

My new friends set out to change my mind about my birthday and they succeeded. I felt warmed, welcomed, even celebratory about my “special day” for the first time in years. The multinational group sang to me (with candles in Joanna’s incredible homemade brownies and chocolate chip cookies) first in English and then in Portuguese (another first for me), and I simply had the most spectacular time.

What’s more, my new friends gave me the most thoughtful, knowing, gifts: gourmet chocolates, a book about Mario Quintana (whom Casa de Cultura takes its name from, remember?), and a dvd of a historical drama about the life of a family in Brasil’s southern interior. Despite loving all of these, the coolest of all was my new cuia and bomba—Victoria peeked in my day planner one day, unbeknownst to me, and saw that I was planning to buy one, and then took it one step further by having it engraved with “Loquinha Gauchinha” on the back.

That rules. That’s totally something I would do! I can’t say enough about how these three girls in particular, and all of my other new friends and acquaintances, surprised and delighted me yesterday.

I am a really fortunate person.

Beijos a todos,