Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gildo's Place

I spent three nights in Olinda at the budget accommodation, Pousada Marin dos Caetés--an unusual place. I suppose, whether you would accentuate that last phrase with positive or negative intonation would depend on whether you are a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full type of traveler.

I'll begin with an introduction to the unique architecture of the place. Senhor Gildo explained that the colonial home was essentially in ruins (apart from the façade, protected under Olinda's designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) when he bought the property. It's a great location: across from the central Praça do Carmo, at the bottom of the hill (key, when you have luggage or are too pooped from the day), and it basically backs up to the seafront (providing refreshing breezes on the rooftop patio in the evening).

What he lacked in resources to restore the place, he has more than made up for in creativity. Gildo collected scraps of wood, corrugated metal, plastic, and styrofoam where he could and, slowly, constructed the eight-bedroom, two-story interior of the bed & breakfast. The stairs are lethally steep, the corridors are narrow, and the walls are thin: I was thankful that, being low season, I was the sole guest and, as such, didn't have to learn what a full-house sounds like. The fixtures are largely recycled too. This egg-carton ceiling and soda-bottle light-shade seem more artful given the brightly painted walls.

Each room has a culturally significant theme tied to the region. Mine was Chico Science, a locally-born musician who was instrumental in the Mangue Beat movement, and collaborated with the band Nação Zumbi--a group I started rocking out to a couple years back, coincidentally. I had selected the room from the website because it was blue...

...though...quite...small. (smile)

Most of the rooms are equipped with bathrooms en suite, except mine. No worries, I thought, after ten years of hosteling, just having my own room would be a luxury. That part was true, but I confess that the small bathroom down the hall did leave a great deal to be desired. I learned long ago, however: Never leave home without the wine opener and the havaianas! And, really, for $20 a night...

Twenty bucks which included a most interesting breakfast. Fresh fruit juices, ham, cheese, bread--of course. And escondidinho? That's kind-of like a Brazilian Shepherd's Pie. And what's that? A sliced hot dog casserole? Okay. And what have we here?

I have no idea, but I think someone forgot to put the cornbread batter in the oven.
It was rather unusual, but I ate it more than once.

The best part about the pousada, though, was the staff and the bits of life I learned from them. The receptionist Laiza was so sweet and helpful with bus links and directions. I spent several hours one evening talking to the overnight reception guy--a 27-year-old who's name has, annoyingly, escaped me. From him, I learned about the struggle to save for his own place so he can start a family. I learned that, for the former, he needs about one thousand dollars.

I thought about that for a long time.

I also thought about the homeless man that didn't have a wheelchair. Wearing only shorts, he dragged his paralyzed and uncovered legs, kneecaps down, across the cement sidewalk to hoist himself onto a bus. (It is one thing to read about the poverty problems associated with Brazil's Northeast. It is another thing to see them. I am thankful for having the opportunity for the reality check, as I am thankful that it's not my reality. But this blog isn't really about that stuff, intentionally.)

Back to the hospitality of my hosts, my warmest thanks go to Gildo. He treated me as an honored guest and a friend. He inquisitively asked me all about my travels, my purpose, and my Portuguese! He kept trying to sneak in that traditional third kiss on the cheek "pra casar" (to marry) when greeting me; taught me a great deal about the region and its history; and he even made a special breakfast of pineapple with lime zest and catola, a baked banana and cheese dish with cinnamon sugar. When it was time for me to leave, something happened that's never happened to me before: Gildo gave me a present! It was a little ceramic jewelry box. He explained that, one day, it was "pra seu anel de casamento" (for your wedding ring)! Ha ha ha! Muito obrigada o Senhor Gildo!

Glass full,