Because our son Jordan and his wife Angela will be ending their Brazilian sojourn in December, and because we anticipated a modest financial windfall from the sale of our house in California (alas, still an eschatological hope), Brenda and I made another visit to the country of my birth this past July-leading-into-August, slightly less than a year on the heels of our prior visit.
July 24 (Tuesday)
We were on the road from Stockton just before 5 AM en route to San Francisco International Airport. Our itinerary called for us to catch a 10 AM flight to Los Angeles, then board a LAN fight to São Paulo (arriving at 7ish Wednesday morning) after a brief stop in Lima, and then catch a GOL (Brazilian domestic carrier--yes, named for that preciously rare event in soccer when a team actually scores a point) flight to Iguaçu Falls. In the inscrutable wisdom of the FAA, however, the aircraft we were going to be on was held in San Diego due to fog, forcing a series of delays. When it became evident that we were in danger of missing our connection in L.A., I hustled down to the United customer service desk, where they booked us on a flight that was technically a "later" one but was actually leaving earlier than our own. Go figure. While in the customer service line, I met another couple with the same issue, as they were bound for São Paulo to attend a wedding.
We landed in L.A. about 12:15, figuring it would be tight, but that we would make our 1:25 flight on LAN. We arrived at the Bradley International Terminal about ten minutes before 1:00, seeing the couple we had met on San Francisco, and who were on the same plane with us to L.A., rushing off to the gate with boarding passes. They evidently knew how to get from the United gates to the international gates, whereas we had to learn by doing. We also then learned that LAN closes their international check-ins one hour before flight time, and they have neither mercy nor flexibility.
I'll spare you the details (ah, did you think I was already giving you details?Not so!), but after consuming gobs of time from an extremely gracious United customer service agent who deserves to be named employee of the decade, we were on a shuttle to the local Motel 6 with two meal vouchers to be used at the adjacent Denny's. We had no choice but to cool our jets. And thank God for cells phones, by means of which we were able to connect with all sorts of people on two continents who were able to help us re-arrange our plans.
July 25 (Wednesday)
Back on the shuttle to LAX (wishing the driver would ax the Spanish-language mariachi station and turn on the A.C.) to catch a noonish flight to Houston on Continental. Everything goes smoothly. When we arrive at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (that's Bush the Elder, just in case you're interested), we find ourselves partially redeeming our misfortune at a wonderful eatery called Papadeaux's, within sight of the gate from which our new flight to São Paulo is scheduled to depart at 8 PM. I haven't eaten that well since leaving Louisiana in 1994--fried crawfish on one end of the plate, crawfish ettoufe on the other, and dirty rice in the middle, chased by sweet potato pecan pie. Mmmmm good.
For me, the overnight flight south was my most successful overseas flight yet, (Brenda has another opinion, but I'll let her share it), thanks to a glass of wine, a blindfold, ear plugs, and a little white pill called Ambien. The next thing I knew, they were waking me up for breakfast, with landing to follow shortly. The only way to fly.
July 26 (Thursday)
We entered Brazil without incident, I on my Brazilian passport and Brenda on her American one, landing not at the downtown airport that had been in the news the previous week due to a tragic crash, but at the international airport some distance from the center of the city. We immediately began scouting our now rescheduled connection on GOL to Iguaçu Falls. It was our first lesson, one that was reviewed several times during the trip, that in order to happily navigate the air transportation system in Brazil, one must be persistently proactive. Again, I won't give a play-by-play. Suffice it to say that delays are endemic, gate changes are unannounced more often than they are announced, and the same employee of the same airline can give conflicting information at different times for no apparent reason. Throw in the fact that Brenda's Portuguese is virtually non-existent, and mine is "weak" to put it generously, and you get some inkling of the level of our frustration.
Our scheduled 12:15 PM departure for Iguaçu Falls leaves about two hours late, and lasts about 75 minutes, putting us down at our destination late in the afternoon. A short taxi ride deposited us at our hotel, which was spacious, gracious, and surrounded by acres of lush subtropical vegetation around which strolled several peacocks. Just outside our room was a coffee tree--pretty exotic for a couple of North Americans. We were able to snap a few photos before the sun rapidly set.
Our original plans had called for us to take a tour of the actual falls that afternoon, but we were able to get that moved to the following morning, as we had plenty of time before our originally-scheduled flight back to São Paulo, which would put our entire itinerary back on the rails. We were, however, able to keep our plans for a churrasco (southern Brazil's version of barbecue) dinner and Latin American "ballet folklorico" sort of show. The dinner was not quite up to the standard we had experienced in Salvador on last year's trip, but it was quite nice nonetheless. I especially enjoyed the chocolate flan on the dessert buffet. The show had its high points (an Argentinian dancer-performer armed with hard balls tethered to leather straps--she bounced the balls on the wood floor of the stage rhythmically, somewhat emulating the aural effect of a team of tap dancers, and probably praying all the while that none of the balls would come loose from its tether and take out a section of the audience) and its low points (pretty much the same cast of dancers and musicians changing costumes to be Bolivian one moment and Argentinian or Mexican or Peruvian or Chilean the next).
It is worth noting at this point that we were cold. Not (yet) insufferably so, but more or less constantly uncomfortable due to temperature. It was winter in South America, of course, and Iguaçu Falls is at a latitude comparable to northern Florida. We both were wearing long sleeves with the equivalent of light wrap, which would have been fine presuming access to heated indoor space. But the restaurant was not heated. We were glad to return to our room, which had a wall-mounted heating unit. We were followed back to our hotel by a multitude of party animal Argentinians who were on winter vacation and had bused up from Buenos Aires, about 1,000 miles.
July 27 (Friday)
Finally, the big event--our tour of the falls themselves and the surrounding national park. Iguaçu Falls is really a collection of 276 individual falls, some of which are dry part of the year. It is neither the highest nor does it carry the greatest volume of water, but it is the widest in the world. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as remarking, "Poor Niagara!" when she saw Iguaçu. In retrospect, we were glad that the change in our itinerary necessitated a change in our tour, and we were able to see the falls from the Brazilian side rather than from the Argentine side as per our original plan. Since most of the falls are actually in Argentina, the view is therefore more spectacular from Brazil.
The walking tour was magnificent enough, but there was also a boat tour on our schedule. On our trip in from the road to the water on some sort of safari vehicle, we were with a large group of Japanese tourists with their own Japanese-speaking guide. So we were assigned our own English-speaking guide, a very engaging young woman who was born and raised right in the area, but who spoke excellent English, but yet was grateful to learn from us the distinction between "bark" and "rind"--as in trees have bark and oranges have rind. In Portuguese, it's the same word for both! This was occassioned by her pointing out wild orange trees on our route. Alas, it was not the season for seeing any of the hundreds of species of butterfly that are native to the park, not the tens of species of snake (no "alas" there). We make a mental not to come back sometime in November, the optimal month for visiting that area.
Now...I was talking about a boat tour, right? Actually, it's an "inflatable"--a raft with rows of chairs and an outboard engine on one end. We were issued disposable rain gear and advised to leave our shoes and socks on the dock. Reluctantly, we complied. This was all because, as we were warned when we booked the tour, we were going to get wet. Very wet. All in a good cause, I told myself. If getting a good close look at the falls required tolerating a little incidental soaking, then so be it. Life is too short to complain about such things.
But I was misled. It was not incidental soaking. It was gratuitous soaking. There was no valid touristic (did I just invent an adjective?) reason for us to drench ourselves. It was purely, "Hey, we're here, right by a huge waterfall, let's get wet!" I would just as soon have foregone the thrill. Brenda's response? "This is fun! Can we go again?" Do you see why I love her?
At any rate, we were already packed, so we headed right for the airport and on to S.P. The weather in Iguaçu Falls was coolish--I would say low 60s farenheit--but bright and sunny. Quite pleasant. São Paulo was another story entirely--completely overcast (part clouds, part smog) all the time, reaching the upper 50s during the day and around 40 at night. Again, not intolerable weather, presuming that one is properly attired and that there is recourse to heated indoor space. We, however, were wearing every long-sleeved garment we brought with us, and had been for the last couple of days. And there was nary a heated building to be found--not our hotel, not any of my relatives' homes, not any the restaurants we ate in, and not the church I went to on Sunday. The only time I felt warm air was upon entering a metro subway station! Apparently, this was a bit of an unusual cold snap for them, and the need for heat is so rare than nobody invests in the infrastructure.
At any rate, as our taxi pulled up to the pousada where we were staying, my sister Nancy and her family (husband, three children, and one son-in-law) from Illinois walked up, along with Jordan and Angela, so it was great to see them. We dined at a very chic and trendy Japanese place (hey--they had outdoor heaters!), and strolled around for a while, dropping in at a two-story Haagen-Dazs store for dessert. (Were we crazy? I think so, but we didn't realize yet how unrelenting the cold would be.)
July 28 (Saturday)
Most of the day was spent at the home of my uncle Efrem and his wife Norma. We were joined by two of their three children (my cousins), along with their spouses and children, along with, of course, Nancy and her clan and Jordan and Angela. So it was quite a crowd, but we had a great time, despite language barriers. (Jordan and Angela are both completely fluent in Portuguese, so they lubricate any social situation.) My uncle and aunt have lived in that same house since the day they were married, more than fifty years ago. The city has grown up around them, but they have stayed put. This is remarkable, given the American predilection for "trading up" every few years. It's a modest house, but American middle-class standards. Yet, they employ a maid more or less full time, who cooks and cleans and does various other odd jobs. Labor is cheap in Brazil. Everybody has a maid. Even the maids have maids. So something that most Americans would consider an unthinkable luxury is taken for granted by Brazilians who live in homes that Americans would consider veritably Spartan. Interesting.
July 29 (Sunday)
In the spirit of the Christian discipline of participating in corporate worship on the Lord's Day "unless for good cause prevented" (per the canons of the Episcopal Church), I stretched my comfort zone and took a taxi alone to the only parish of the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil that was in a neighborhood included on my map of São Paulo. Appropriately enough (given the dedication of the parish of which I was still at that time technically the rector), it was the Paroquia de São João--St John's. The early liturgy there is in Japanese. As you might have surmised there is a large Japanese population in southern Brazil. The Anglican bishop of São Paulo is named Hiroshi Ito. But I attended the 10:30 celebration, which was in Portuguese. This was the second IEAB parish I had visited, and it is quite evident that it is a spinoff from the Episcopal Church; the ethos is discernibly similar to what I have come to identify as plain-vanilla middle-of-the-road mainstream Episcopalianism. When I introduced myself to the rector as a priest, he invited me to concelebrate, which was incredibly gracious on his part. But since I felt inordinately grungy and was still wearing the same layered long-sleeve outfit that I had been wearing since what felt like time immemorial, and since I had to leave after communion in order to keep a family engagement, I declined. But I very much appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to worship. I got to sing "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones" (ubiquitously familiar to Episcopalians) and "How Great Thou Art" (not so familiar to Episcopalians, but certainly well-known to other Christians) in Portuguese, which was great fun. The church was about half full at 50, but the acoustics were good and the music was accompanied by a decent electronic organ. I couldn't understand most of the sermon, but I know it had to do with the gospel reading of the day, and it was delivered with energy and skill.
I then rushed off by taxi and subway to meet Brenda and Jordan and Angela, and get in yet another taxi to, of all places, an Outback restaurant that is one of a half-dozen or so locations in the metro area overseen by my cousin Mauro, who hosted our meal. Did the Outback have central heat? (I actually had to take off one layer.) At least is was carpeted, which is rare in Brazil. Outback and the other American-style chains scrupulously try to emulate both the fare and the ambiance of their American counterparts. Actually, I thought the Bloomin' Onion was better than any I've had in the states.
After a long and leisurely lunch, we repaired to the eleventh floor apartment of my cousin Vania and her husband Eloy. Once again, it was great fun reconnecting with family. Everyone seemed to get a big kick out of the fact that I was born on Brazil's equivalent (roughly) of July 4th, and carry a Brazilian passport, but speak what, at best, can be described as "broken" Portuguese. And once again we were cold!
July 30 (Monday)
After sleeping in our clothes under four layers of blanket, and no bothering to shower, and after wrestling with more delays and unannounced gate changes, we finally arrive in Salvador, in the state of Bahia, some 1,200 miles up the coast from São Paulo (about the latitude of Costa Rica). It was warm! We were met by Sergio, the cab driver that Jordan had arranged for us. He drove us to our hotel--the wonderful Hotel Catharina Paraguaçu in the Rio Vermehlo neighborhood. Not only was it where we stayed last year, but we were given the very same room, which we once again enjoyed immensely. After showering and changing, Sergio took us on an expedition to a church I had voiced a desire to visit. Unfortunately, it is closed on Mondays, so we only got to see the outside. It is the spiritual heart of the history of Salvador (an ancient city--the old colonial capital of Brazil), the Igreja Nossa Senhor Bomfin--Church of Our Lord of the Happy Ending (one plausible rough translation). I have never heard of any other such church dedication. First, this is the only instance I have encountered of a church being under the title of "Our Lord..." of anything. Our Lady, yes (and meetly so, of course). But not "Our Lord." And "happy ending," or "good outcome." Again, to my knowledge, this is unique. To Anglican ears, it is redolent of the Prayer Book petition for a "happy issue out of all our afflictions." It smacks of hope, eschatological hope, even. I love it.
After returning to our hotel, Brenda and walked up to a familiar-from-last-year and very classy pizza restaurant in a nicely re-habbed old building on an historic square on a perfect evening just a block from the crashing surf. It was good to be in tropical territory.
July 31 (Tuesday)
Nancy and her crew, as well as Jordan and Angela, had arrived in town late the previous night and early that morning. After a leisurely morning and lunch in the neighborhood at a "kilo" place, where you pay for your food based on its weight (a concept that has merit, IMHO), we journeyed by bus to the old city center and the touristy historical neighborhood of Pelorihno. We spent some money on trinkets and such, and in a luminous moment of serendipity just at sunset, chanced across a church that was full of people. At first we assumed there was a Mass in progress, but upon a closer look, it was Benediction. Though they were singing in Portuguese, I recognized the tune of the Tantum Ergo, so I knew that the high point was only moments away and was able to be on my knees in time for the blessing with the sacramental Body of Christ. Way cool.
After drinks in an old convent that is (sadly, but beautifully) now a hotel, we once again had pizza for dinner.
August 1 (Wednesday)
Jordan, my resourceful and entrepreneurial son, arranged for a van to take the nine of us about 100km away to the town of Cachoeira, some distance inland, on the Paraguaçu river a few miles upstream from where it drains into the western side of the great Bahia de Todos os Santos (All Saints' Bay). Cachoeira is nearly as old as Salvador, and figures prominently in Brazilian history as the place where the first shots were fired in the short-lived and half-hearted (from the Portuguese side) war for independence from Portugal. It is not yet a huge tourist destination, however, so we got to experience something of the relatively pristine near interior of Bahia. For lunch, we walked across the bridge over the river to the village of São Felipe and caught a taxi-van up a steep hillside to a ranch-cum-restaurant with a panoramic view now only of the twin towns but upstream to a huge dam and reservoir in the far distance. The grounds were strewn with all manner of exotic (to us) tropical flora, including a cacao tree, from whence cometh...chocolate. I felt like genuflecting.
Back in Salvador, we snacked late evening on acarajé, an Afro-Brazilian staple and a signature element of the Bahian ambiance.
August 2 (Thursday)
What else is worth remembering from this day except an hour spent in heaven itself--a full-body massage on the beach, with the sound of crashing surf in the background, and the sight of coconut palms swaying gently in the tropical breeze, all for the fortune of about $16 USD?
Oh, in the evening we went by the home of my cousin Nicia and her husband Helcio. Various other local relatives were also there. Once again, we had...you guessed it...pizza. Brazilians need a talkin' to about the way they eat pizza--that is, with a knife and fork, and with...I can barely bring myself to say it...ketchup. Yeah...I know.
August 3 (Friday)
More lazing around in the morning. Then a hammock-shopping expedition (we have gifts to bring home, after all, and hammocks can be had in Brazil for a fraction of what one would pay in the U.S.) and another visit to Pelorihno, where we witness a capoeira school in action. Capoeira is part martial art and part dance, and is woven into the fabric of Bahia's Afro-Brazilian culture. Sociologically, it's sort of like ballet or soccer for middle class American families. It's something that even wealthy and very non-African Bahian parents "put" their kids in.
August 4 (Saturday)
Realizing that our travel plans will constitute a "good cause" that will prevent from attending the one Anglican parish in Salvador the next day, I nonetheless want to at least see the joint, so I once again venture bravely on my own in a taxi (finding that I have enough Portuguese to actually make a little bit of small talk with the driver) to the neighborhood of Pituba and the Igreja do Bom Pastor (Church of the Good Shepherd). Now, Salvador is in the Diocese of Recife. In-the-know Anglicans will be asking, "Which Diocese of Recife?" The one under Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti and now under the primatial oversight of Bishop Venebles in Buenos Aires? Or the IEAB diocese reconstituted from what was left after Bishop Cavalcanti was deposed by the IEAB and fled with 90% of his clergy and laity to the oversight of Bishop Venebles? I don't know for sure, but I think it's the latter. Apparently, the IEAB built the building, but they now share it with some Prebyterians, and it was three or four Presbyterians whom I found aound the building on a Saturday morning.
While I'm somewhat on the subject, a note about Christianity in Brazil. It is, of course, historically a Roman Catholic country. Something like one in every three Roman Catholics in the world is Brazilian! Two other significant forces are at play, however. In regions like Bahia, there has historically been a great deal of syncretism, wherein the infrastructure of Catholic piety has been sort of hijacked by evolved form of indigenous African religion. On the surface, Catholic practice looks to be present, but if you scratch very deeply, you find something else entirely. But over the last few decades, and somewhat in response to the rampant syncretism, I think, evangelical Protestantism (along with cognate cults like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) has made astonishing inroads. All over Salvador, one can see evangelical churches inhabiting large buildings and displaying large signs. There is even one veritable "mega-church" in a gargantuan new structure right across the street from the primary shopping mall of the city. The Romans may have been slow to see this coming, but I have to say that I am impressed with what they are doing in response, even it it's on the late side. Their own preaching and teaching and P.R. has gotten much more...well, evangelical, but in a Catholic way. It is, from what I can glean, very Christo-centric, with comparatively less emphasis on Marian piety and devotion to the saints than one traditionally associates with Latin America. I am, of course, a big fan of Marian piety and devotion to the saints. But even a good thing can get out of hand, and what we are seeing in Brazil is a needed and appropriate mid-course correction. I wish our Roman friends well in their efforts.
We spent the afternoon at the high-rise apartment of Mabel, the widow of my uncle Evarado, who died in 1979 while in his 4os. It turned out to be one of those "Babette's Feast" sort of events, full of surprises in relationships discovered over the course of a meal. I was once again struck, as I was last year, with the blessing of reconnecting with my Brazilian family, particularly, perhaps, moreso in the wake of my father's passing two-and-a-half years ago.
In the evening, we got all dressed up (such as we could) and attended the party following the law school graduation of Nicia and Helcio's son Daniel. It was a very elegant event, held in, of all placed, a derelict water park (Wet & Wild).
August 5 (Sunday)
I got up on the early side, having done most of my packing, and strolled across the road behind the hotel, to the parish church (Roman) of...and how appropriate is this, having been to a St John's the previous week?...St Anne. I had tried the day before to find out the Mass times, but to no avail. I walked in during the Gospel Acclamation and stayed through the Lord's Prayer. The church was effectively full--not jam packed, but no empty pews (about 35o people, I would guess). The liturgy had integrity for its location and culture. The homily was no mere sermonette, but was of fairly considerable length and substance, and related to the readings. The piety of the congregation seemed heartfelt and genuine. I was impressed and blessed.
Then we headed for the airport--back to São Paulo (where it was still cold), then, finally on LAN (which Brenda greatly approved of) to Lima and Los Angeles, and American to San Francisco, arriving about noon on Monday the 6th.