Sunday, June 20, 2010

Olinda & Recife Outtakes

[Blognote: I backdated all the Maceió, Olinda, and Recife travel posts, so please use the links on the left sidebar (from May 28 onward).]

Ok, so, imagine... this big yellow generator (?) was being hoisted by a mini-crane from its position on the sidewalk, over the taxis, to the flatbed truck. I can tell you, the owners of these taxis were fixed on the sidewalk, nervously watching the procedure. Ha! My video fingers weren't fast enough to capture their nail-biting.

If I had the resources, this would be Jenny's Hostel--made perfect by the tree growing through the wall.

Technically these concrete slabs are for sit-ups, but, whatever!

Danger: Bathers in this area are at a greater-than-average risk of shark attack. Good to know.

You know, by now, that I have an irrational fear of dead bodies. Just taking this picture was an enormous challenge of will. (Zoom in! Click to embiggen! Make my trauma worthwhile--please.)

That concludes the Maceió / Olinda / Recife portion of this blog (for now, at least).

Happy traveling curiosity,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Odd fruit, odd friends

Me being me, I got into a conversation with the guys that run this corner fruit stand in Olinda. Very educational!

It all started because I drank cajá juice on the bus from Maceió. It was delicious--but, I wondered, what in Betsy's name was it? Turns out, the cajá looks like a tiny orange. There's loads of them in the basket on the left. In the foreground on the right, we have sapoti (looks like a kiwi but more round), and pinha. I bought some acerola too, which made a nice caipirinha!

Have you ever seen a cajú (cashew)? Before landing in Brazil, of course I was familiar with the nut, but I had no idea it came from a fruit! The fruit juice is okay--I'm developing a taste. I heard rumors that the oil surrounding the nut is toxic, but I've also read that there are medicinal properties to it. More interestingly, my zany new friend (below) told me that people use the oil in homemade tattooing procedures--yikes!

The red thing I'm sampling is jambosa, or, appropriately, rose apple. It looks like a giant radish and has a similarly crispy, crunchy texture, but tastes mildly sweet rather than peppery. In fact, it did taste quite like a rose and an apple. Que legal, hein?


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Copa no lado do Brasil

(A Cup on Brazil's side)

It is days like yesterday that remind me to appreciate the leap I took.

Monday afternoon, my corporate client called to ask if they could cancel Tuesday evening classes. "Sure, no trouble at all! We'll reschedule!" I happily replied, completely entranced in the spirit of things, myself.

Tuesday morning, my other clients called to ask the same favor, with the same reply.

Then it was just a matter of sipping coffee in my pj's until it was time to get the party started.

12:00 - went out to take pictures of the people and decoration around my neighborhood.

14:00 - met Maureen at Mercad0 Publico to have a small lunch (anticipatory damage control) and purchase a few supplies (namely, 6kg of amendoim japonês, which, as it turns out, will be enough to last us the entire World Cup!)

15:00 - the party begins at Zero de Conduta (which as you now know, has a magnetism far more powerful than my will to behave)

Nossa torcida internacional: Gustavo, Rudi, Maureen, Francesco, Scott, Danilo, Fernando, Ivan, Pau, and Eliana

15:30 - kick-off! Tim tim!

Four years ago I tried to ensconce myself in the World Cup as much as I could, stealing half-time viewing on lunch break whenever possible, but longing, pining, dreaming of being surrounded by the madness in Brazil. These days, the office is closed and everyone is in a party mood: the vibe is akin to the first warm day of the year in Chicago.

Mission accomplished. I really shouldn't take that fact for granted, even though I sometimes get wrapped up in a newer, shinier-looking mission. Noted.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

COPA [de cachaça]!

The World Cup has arrived!

I have really been looking forward to it. Let's (inaccurately) blame the opening of the Copa de Mundo for the fact that I've been in my pajamas all day and am just waiting for the pizza place to open so I can, without effort, feed myself. Yes, ahem, that's why me and thirty-some members of the Estrangeiros em Porto Alegre community stopped by to visit Danilo and Fernando at Zero de Conduta on Friday.

In hindsight, I am arriving at the conclusion that, as much as I adore their bar and their company, we cannot continue our relationship! This particular unplanned all-nighter included post-sunrise skyline appreciation at Morro Santa Teresa, a spontaneous supermarket outing to make a barbecued beef ribs for breakfast (like ya do), and the obligatory Saturday morning trip to the indoor soccer place. I felt (and looked) like the walking dead by the half-time of Saturday's USA x England match. I think I'm just going to lay low for a while. Uff.

[The generic Engov's I picked up in the Northeast, "Posdrink" and "Enjoy".
Yes. I did, thanks.]

But not for too long. I bought a cool new Brasil shirt in Recife which I will be sporting on Tuesday afternoon when, blessed with the schedule of an English teacher, I'll likely be perched in some dodgy lancheria with an unlikely-sized flat screen tube.

Vamo vamo Brasil!

P.S. Incidentally, I'm about to blitz the page with the continuation of my Northeast experience [pre-dated posts to coincide with my travel dates], so my day hasn't been completely for naught. Check back later and scroll down!

P.P.S. I just received a nice email from a Havaianas rep in New York who, apparently, follows the blog now and then. Cool. She passed along these videos, which did make me feel warm and fuzzy. These new World Cup Havaianas are sweet, y'all. And, New Yorkers: Check out the Havaianas World Cup parties!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My two visions of Recife

Truth be told, I have been doing a lot of thinking this year about what's next. I am still too confused about my own desires to have come anywhere close to an action plan, but I did create a notecard on Recife for the mental file.

When the plane was touching down, I had that old feeling... that twinge of excitement. It's a certain "knowing" that's rare to show but, in my experience, shouldn't be ignored. Something of a gut instinct, I suppose. I loved the skyline: modern highrises against a deliriously blue ocean. The airport itself was my favorite in Brazil thus far: clean, bright, well-organized, seemingly efficient, even artsy. I liked the city's size and buzz and colors: and I liked that I was, for the first time, seeing a face of Brazil that I'd so longed for.

Oh, Recife! The bridges, the old downtown, the history: all of it vibrant and interesting. My glorious 10th floor hotel room with a balcony facing Boa Viagem and the Atlantic provided enough entertainment that I had no inclination to go out at night!

"I can live here," I thought.

On the other hand, the buses were average; the metrô incomparable to São Paulo. Mercado São João was interesting, but neither as clean nor as agreeable as Porto Alegre's Mercado Publico (let alone Sampa's Mercado Municipal)--and the neighborhood felt downright dodgy. Moreover, I think I would become depressed sooner rather than later to consider the alarming poverty and the stench emanating from the polluted river.

So, though provocative, "I can't live here," I thought.

But I'm not sure. I certainly think another visit is in order.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Must-see Recife: Casa da Cultura

Instituto Ricardo Brennand is a tough act to follow, but Recife's Casa da Cultura did a pretty good job of delighting me for another day.

Architecturally cool, rich with iron embellishments, granite and wood features - this place was purpose-built as a prison in the mid-19th century. Here's a model to give you an idea of the overall design.

Now, however, the prison cells have been converted to small shops carrying a variety of handmade arts and crafts, culinary delights, and general oddities. Clearly, this place is right up my alley.

Don't mind the World Cup decorations: I'm certain the three floors of barred spaces didn't seem as festive to the original "inhabitants."


Monday, June 7, 2010

Must-see Recife: Instituto Ricardo Brennand

Before I even touch on my stay in Recife (hih-SEE-fee) proper, let me get right to the absolute highlight of the trip. I had read about Instituto Ricardo Brennand before I left POA, and knew it was a must-see.

I found a bus from Olinda that went to the Recifan neighborhood of Cidade Universitária - close enough! I walked through the massive steel gates to find myself in Wonderland - or close enough.

Ah, the peace in symmetry.

At the far end of this lane, you reach lovely, manicured gardens that create a fabulous oasis amid the urban sprawl.

They are truly a unique and unlikely treasure.

Hold up, let's zoom in on that cannon!

Ha! "Alternative Security" perhaps?

Yes, that is a real Rodin sitting in the front gardens of the Castelo and Pinacoteca (or, castle and art gallery).

It is impossible for a layperson as myself to capture the size, diversity, or grandeur of the facility and its collection.

Aside from these parading, life-size horses (presumably stuffed, but I was too in awe of everything else to notice), this particular room had several full sets of armor; literally thousands of swords, knives, and guns; numerous artifacts from European cathedrals, including the massive stained glass windows; paintings, sculptures, and chandeliers.

Mesmo que chovesse canivetes, in this case, might have to be amended.

As if the castle and its treasures weren't satisfying enough, I still toured the art gallery. In addition to, well, art--there were artifacts! Some of the first books ever published in Brazil, as well as these:

...the first, hand-drawn maps of the Northeast coastline, courtesy of the Dutch. Not to mention the quirkier items: this mug and chalice, fashioned from silver-trimmed coconuts...

...and this... head on a plate! (So the expression did come from somewhere!)

This is a photograph of a painting of Mr. Brennand standing beside an Italian marble sculpture of a family fleeing Pompeii. I saw the actual sculpture too, and, while it was one of my favorite pieces, I remain equally impressed and curious about Mr. Brennand himself (Português) (English).

He has built a stunningly diverse collection, seemingly only glued together by his personal fascination for the pieces, then created a most elegant home for them, and opens the grand spectacle to the public for, certainly, less money than the monthly groundskeeping expense.

Olha, que linda!

Thank you ever so much, Mr. Brennand. Your institute is among the most impressive sites I've visited in all of my travels.

Loquinha Gauchinha

Sunday, June 6, 2010

O linda!

Though I spent three nights in Olinda, the plan was motivated by strategy and cost. Olinda is well-situated (just 7 kilometers from central Recife), and with quieter and more affordable accommodation. The town is very charming, I knew that one afternoon walking around the hilly, pastel-cloaked, cobblestone streets is sufficient.

It's a safe (compared to neighboring Recife) community, dripping with artistic flair. Almost all of the colorful properties serve as art galleries, bed & breakfasts, or both.

Supposedly they have one of the best Carnaval celebrations in the country, and I saw a museum of the bonecos that have been used in the parades.

I walked to the top of the hill to check out the church that's perched up there. That's where this weird cat started harassing me.

Get off of me, freaky furball.

Ok. Sorry.

Anyway, I caught an agreeable sunset over the village, with the Recife skyline in the background.

And despite traveling during the Northeast's rainy season, I only had one day (of 10) with a bit of rain. Even that was a treat, watching the storm listlessly ramble in from the sea.

Per the plan, Olinda proved to be a great base for exploring Recife.
To be continued...

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,

Friday, June 4, 2010

Maceió Extras

In the "food and drinks" category:


Warning: cocktail crossing.

Chiquita Banana's granddaughter, the potato chip and peanut vendor.

Preferred beach standbys: toasted cheese on a stick and cold beer. (Who knew that packaging tape had insulating properties?)

"Sale! Johnnie Walker Black: R$129!!!" Luckily, that is, I confirmed, for a bottle and not per shot.

Though they may be served over ice, these spirits are known to be hot!

From the "Fun With Portuguese" file:

"Corrida Maluca!" (which was the Brazilian name for the cartoon "Wacky Races")

Subbing the English "K" for the the Portuguese "Q[ue]" in "Fique Chique" (which translates to the command "Stay Chic"), this cosmopolitan salon takes on an almost Chinese air. Fun to say, too: fee-key she-key!

Finally, from the "general oddities" file:

some make-shift sun screens,

an unlikely location for a criminal court facility (in the central bus station), and

a duet I coined "Os En-cantadors" (word play with enchanting singers). The man with the coke-bottle specs and a few teeth shy of a full set, accompanied by his stoic friend, improv'd a little ditty about an angel from the land of Al Capone.

That's me,