Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Actual "Carioca Confession"

This is, strictly speaking, old news, but a handful of people have asked me to post the travelogue I recently wrote on my trip to Brazil last month. My son, Jordan, lives there with his new wife Angela, where he is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts (he paints) at the Federal University of Bahia in Salvador, the country's third largest city and old colonial capital.

Friday, 11 August
We arrived in Rio after a journey of some 20 hours, beginning with a drive to Modesto (impressed that they had the ability to check our bags all the way to Rio) yesterday morning (and dealing with the new carry-on restrictions in light of the latest terrorist plot), an hour-long flight to LAX, dealing with a long and slow line at the American Airlines check-in, barely having time to grab some "fast" food in the terminal before they shut the door on our flight to Miami, and an eight-hour flight from Miami to Rio that took off an hour late due to three different technical difficulties (the last one being finding a "pushback" crew at midnight). A gracious flight attendant, when we ordered champagne to celebrate really being on our way overseas, went to First Class and got us some of the "good stuff." When we arrived in Rio, I took the advice of a crew member and went to the line for Brazilian passport holders, along with my American wife. The official did not take kindly to my inability to speak Portuguese, however, and rudely shunted us to the other line (but in the front of it, which made me feel even more awkward). No harm done, however.)

Jordan and Angela were there waiting for us when we cleared customs. After hitting the ATM for some Brazilian cash, Jordan negotiated a cab ride for us (disgusted that is costs more to go from the airport than to the airport) and we soon found ourselves at Evandro (my late father's brother) and Irene's (his wife) Copacabana apartment. We were delighted to find that Jordan is completely fluent in Portuguese, and Angela is not far behind. Plus, Irene speaks English quite well. So communication was comparatively easy.

Just in the category of "the way people live," I was immediately impressed by two things: no screens on the windows and no carpet on the floors. This, we would learn, is simply the norm in Brazil (or in the parts of Brazil we traveled in, at least). I rather enjoyed it, though I think it only works when there is a rather narrow range of temperature variance, both between summer and winter and between day and night. The boundary between indoors and outdoors is much more porous than it is anywhere in the U.S, that I am aware of, which was refreshingly enjoyable. In the chill of even a San Joaquin winter, however, I'm glad for rugs on the floors.

After resting for a bit, Evandro took us all to a local restaurant (to which we walked—Copacabana is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the world, full of high-rise apartment buildings), a place that sells food by weight, a concept that is apparently ubiquitous at lunchtime in Brazil. The trick is to learn how to take what you want, but only what you will eat, so as not to pay for wasted food. This is not a skill we mastered the first time, but we got better. The array was at the same time sufficiently exotic and sufficiently familiar that we really enjoyed it.

After some more visiting during the afternoon, the four of us set out, at first with the intention of catching a cab to Sugar Loaf to watch the sun set over Rio from that lofty perch, but we discovered that it was already veiled in fog. So we strolled up and down the Avenida Atlantica, learning quickly that if you take a picture of somebody's sandcastle, they expect you to pay for the privilege. Brenda was introduced to the delicacy of coco gelado, the juice of a highly-chilled immature coconut—still green, so the liquid has not yet acquired its more familiar milky consistency. It's apparently high in electrolytes, a sort of natural Gatorade. Eventually, we made our way (all on foot) to the adjacent Ipanema neighborhood and found a place to have dinner, in the open air, of course—across the street from the beach, where, even with passing traffic, we could hear the sound of crashing surf while we ate. Brenda, who worked as a waitress for many years when we were young, found it difficult to accept the fact that, in Brazil, one does not tip. A service charge of 10% is automatically added to the bill, but even that, Jordan tells us, can be declined. Still, Brenda insisted on tipping the restroom attendant, which only served to confuse everyone. She didn't try it again.

The kids introduced us to the unofficial Brazilian national cocktail—the caiparihna. The primary ingredient is cachaça, which is technically a rum, since it's made from distilled sugar cane, but it's rather less refined than anything José Cuervo puts out. Along with some lime juice and sugar, it's served on the rocks. We each had a couple.

Saturday, 12 August
We awoke to a typical Brazilian breakfast, consisting of an array of fresh tropical fruit (guava, papaya, melon, passion fruit), bread (mini-baguettes would be my best description), fresh-squeezed juice, sliced ham, cheese, and strong coffee. More visiting with Evandro and Irene. Then we got a cab to the Botafogo neighborhood, where we looked up the address in my mother's old passport, the building where I lived with my parents on the eighth floor. The doorman, when my extroverted son explained things, was kind enough to let us in the lobby. I don't know what it was like fifty years ago, but now it's a rather swank building in a swank location. Overlooking Botafogo Bay, and with a view of both Corcovado (the landmark "Christ the Redeemer" statue) and Sugar Loaf, it's a hard view to match. Then on to the Rio Botanical Gardens, where the majority of the flora were, of course, exotic to our experience, and hence quite interesting. The collection of carnivorous plants and ferns that don't look at all like ferns, along with huge stands of bamboo, were of particular note. We walked up to a nearby place for a late lunch (open air, of course), and then caught a cab back to Copacabana.

Later in the afternoon, we attempted once again to do the sunset-from-Sugar Loaf thing. My cousin Paula had alerted me that there was a promotion that day. Those who could prove they were born in Rio (and hence bear the moniker carioca) would be admitted for half price provided they present a kilo of donated food. I was provided with a bag of rice and brought my Brazilian passport with me. Being a walking irony—a carioca who doesn't speak Portuguese—I needed Jordan to do the talking for me, but I got my half-price ticket. I soon had feelings of regret however—the same feelings I have when I board a roller coaster and the train reaches the top of its first hill. Once the cable car got moving, I was petrified. Those things really swing and sway. Can they really be safe? They are, of course, but I've seen too many movies where Clint Eastwood or somebody has a fight on the roof while a crowd of terrified tourists look on. When we got to end of the ride and I got off, I was immensely grateful for safe passage. The view was magnificent, though we were just a few minutes late for actual sunset. Then, to my dismay, I learned that we were only halfway there. This was only an intermediate stop, not the actual Sugar Loaf. So back on for another white-knuckle ride. My courage was amply rewarded, as the view of Rio at night from there is unparalleled.

Sunday, 13 A
The four of us had decided to attend the celebration of the Eucharist at the IEAB (Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil) cathedral (St Paul the Apostle) for the Diocese of Rio, though we weren't certain whether it began at 10 or 11, so we just got in a cab when we could (taxis are as ubiquitous and easy to hail in Rio as they are in New York, though they are consistently smaller and the drivers uniformly aggressive in the performance of their primary duties). Jordan and Angela knew where St Paul's was located because it happened to be in the same neighborhood (Santa Teresa) where they had spent their first night in Rio, at a sort of B&B owned by the friend of a friend. Santa Teresa is an atypical area of town—very old, hilly, with narrow and curvy cobblestone streets, and relatively quiet. There has been a significant amount of gentrification in recent years. We arrived at the church steps at about 10:15, but it turned out the service was at 11, so we explored the area, particularly a chic store that I'm sure depends on tourist trade.

St Paul's is about a 75 year-old English gothic building, originally constructed, so their website says, for British expatriates, but the congregation is now thoroughly Brazilian. Even by Brazilian standards, however (which are more relaxed about the fact that buildings age and start to decay, but this does not negate their usefulness), there are some unaddressed deferred maintenance issues, I would say. There were only about 25 people in attendance, including a handful of children. The music was led energetically by two men—one playing a mediocre electronic organ and both singing loudly. The liturgy included "Seek Ye First" and "Faith of Our Fathers" (it was Brazilian Father's Day), with texts rendered into metrical Portuguese, a couple of Taizé pieces (including the familiar Ubi Caritas), and couple of "Christian contemporary" songs that I suspect are indigenously Brazilian. The Brazilian BCP is clearly modeled on the American 1979 version, though, for some reason, we started in Rite I (which is, of course, not distinguishable by linguistic style, since there is no equivalent of Elizabethan pronouns and verb inflections, but by the presence of the Summary of the Law and the verbiage of the General Confession) and switched to Rite II (their equivalent of Prayer D) somewhere along the way. Their rubrics permit the Apostles' Creed as an alternative to the Nicene at the Eucharist, an option which the celebrant exercised. The presider-preacher gave an extemporized sermon of some goodly length, my Portuguese being good enough only to certify that it made some reference to "bread" and "life" (the gospel was from John 6). Jordan said later that some Father's Day themes were also woven in as well.

There was a planned lasagna (delivered) lunch back at the apartment, along with Evandro and Irene's two daughters, Claudia (whom I remember being "introduced to" in absentia by my parents by the diminutive Claudihna) and Paula, along with Paula's adopted five-year old daughter Isabela. Paula works as a translator and Claudia works in the foreign exchange student field, so their English is quite conversant. Then all of us went, in the two cars owned by Paula and Claudia, since their parents do not own one, to the neighborhood of Urca, which is not far from Botafogo and near the base of the Sugar Loaf cable car, but, because of certain topographical idiosyncrasies, is off the beaten path of traffic and therefore enjoys a secluded feel. This is where Irene is from (after spending her first ten years in Manaus), and where she and Evandro lived before moving to their current building in Copacabana fifty years ago. They showed us the apartment building where my parents and I moved in with them for a time (they say several months, my mother says three weeks!) prior to our move to Chicago in 1953. Here I had a quite uncanny experience. I’ve always carried around a sort of “pre-memory,” just a vignette of a scene, and the way the air felt—a quiet afternoon in a quiet urban neighborhood, cobblestone streets opening out into a sort of plaza, somewhat sultry but not overpoweringly so, with a familiar feminine presence. I’ve never known whether I was making it up, or if it really was a memory. But when I got to Urca, particularly to the plaza (now a children's playground) in front of the apartment building, I knew instantly that it was the location of the vignette. It felt like I had been there before, because I had!

Later, with Evandro and Irene, we looked at the DVD my brother-in-law Larry made for Dad's funeral (January 2005). They had seen it before, but this time we were able to put names to faces for them in a lot of the pictures, and they did the same for us in a couple of the older shots.

Monday, 14 August
This was a travel day to Salvador. The kids had an earlier flight, so we took separate cabs. When Irene put Brenda and me in a cab on the street in front of her building, she was careful to tell the driver that we do not speak Portuguese, so he was appropriately mute all the way to the airport. Our TAM flight was delayed an hour because the aircraft itself was late getting into Rio from whatever other runs it had on its itinerary for the morning. I therefore learned what atrasado means when it appears on a departure information screen. While we waited, I must have displayed some discernible interest in a souvenir map in one of the shops, because the proprietor did not hesitate to demonstrate what may have been the extent of her command of English: "Big discount!" On the two hour flight to Bahía, I was seated next to a Petrobras employee traveling on business. He was eager to practice his English on me. It was a good bit better than my Portuguese at the time, but maybe not so much better than my Portuguese at the end of the whole trip a week later.

Once again, Jordan and Angela were waiting. My cousin Leda had been kind enough to send her car and driver. (A limo it was not—a rather modest Brazilian incarnation of VW. Most of the cars in Brazil are from manufacturers that Americans would be familiar with, including Ford and Chevy, but the models are drawn from a completely different palette. The overwhelming majority—99 %, probably—would be considered "compact" or smaller by American standards. Both the cars Brenda and I drive, which are of quite unremarkable size, would be behemoths in Brazil.)

Salvador has grown and changed remarkably in the 36 years since I last visited. Jordan provided an ongoing social narrative as we took a modern four-lane controlled-access highway from the airport into the heart of the city. It is a place of deep contrasts—wealth and poverty, beauty and squalor, pride and neglect, creativity and slavery to habit, imagination and stultifying bureaucracy. About 45 minutes later, we were deposited in front of their apartment building in the Rio Vermehlo neighborhood. More ambiguities: Full security and a rather attractive covered outdoor pavilion as an entry way, the apartment itself with wood and ceramic floors, somewhat spacious, but the view out the window is of the backs of other buildings, and no one seems to care how terrible their own building looks in the eyes of others; it actually seems quite "third world" from that perspective. Anyway, this is our first chance to check email, and we do so.

Then we change clothes, repack in a downsized fashion, and catch a cab to the dock area in the old city. Our plan is to spend the night on Ihla Itaparica, about a 45 minute ferry ride into the Bahía de Todos os Santos from downtown Salvador. Jordan has a place in mind for us to stay, but we have no reservation. All turns out well. After asking a couple of questions in the dockside town of Mar Grande, we find our way to a pousada (Bed & Breakfast is the best dynamic equivalence translation I can think of). It's an old mango plantation. We're the only guests (double whammy of off-season and weekday). The owner is an easy-going middle-aged guy, sort of an aging hippie. He shows us the available rooms (which effectively amounted to all the rooms!) and we elect a pair for $R99 each (about $45USD). "Quaint," "exotic," and "picturesque" don't even begin to describe the place. Again, by American standards, one might have called it "seedy," but not if one factors in the general Brazilian tolerance for edificial entropy. As it turns out, the owner is also the chef (as one might imagine—and his lone employee wore many different hats, including bartender), and has had one of his creations featured in a prominent travel magazine. In time, we repair to the "restaurant and bar" section of the facilities (once again, completely out of doors, under only a thatched canopy). It is a languorous experience, as the entire meal is prepared from scratch by one person. Our drinks—variations on the caiparihna theme—feature sections of citrus (lime and tangerine) in the bottoms of our glasses. As I recall, the tab was $R148, around $65USD for dinner for four, including drinks and dessert. We are enjoying the contrast in the strength of the dollar between Europe and Brazil.

The night is marred a bit by mosquitoes. The rooms were equipped with mosquito nets, but Brenda never could get ours deployed to her satisfaction, and I got claustrophobic when inside it. If we had only discovered that there was a working ceiling fan before the light of day...

Tuesday, 15 August
We spent the whole day on the island, first just lazing around the pousada, then doing some shopping (Brenda and I both neglected to pack bathing suits) and then indulging in a bayside lunch, wherein Brenda and I were introduced to moqueca, which I might describe as the element in Brazilian cuisine that corresponds to ettoufé in Louisiana cooking, in that, after a couple of essential elements (coconut milk in the case of moqueca), there is an almost infinite number of variations. We had two kinds—one with fresh local fish, and one with shrimp. Then Jordan negotiated flat rate taxi transit to the ruins of the Igreja Vera Cruz, reputed to be the second oldest church building in Brazil, constructed in 1552 (55 years before the first permanent English settlement in Virginia), in an isolated location almost clear across the island from Mar Grande. It has long since been abandoned—I would suspect for a couple of hundred years or more—and the structure is now literally being held up by a giant tree that has grown in and around the walls. Without the tree, I think the whole building would be just a heap of rubble. Interestingly, while the church is derelict, the adjacent graveyard is not. Somebody is maintaining it. There are fresh graves, and a new concrete fence is going up. But it wasn't just the destination that was interesting; it was the getting there too. For most of the way, the road was in unbelievably poor condition, with deep potholes every few feet. In the dark, it would be impossible to even drive on safely. Our kidneys got a good workout. The journey also gave us a look at rural Brazilian poverty, as distinguished from the urban variety that was more visible for most of our trip. Yet, in a way, it may be "easier" to be poor in rural Brazil than in, say, the rural south in the U.S. The lack of governmental interference by way of building codes and zoning laws makes possible a certain ingenuity that is stifled in a more regulated environment. People adapt and cope in creative ways.

As it got dark, we boarded a ferry back to Salvador, where Brenda and I checked into our hotel, just a few blocks (and significantly downhill) from Jordan and Angela's apartment. It was gorgeous, a comfortable blend of Brazilian authenticity (not a carpet to be seen, indoor/outdoor spaces) and some of the amenities that American and European tourists are accustomed to (like hot water on demand in the bathroom, and air conditioning). We then walked (on crumbling sidewalks, some with cars parked on them so that we had to step out practically into busy traffic lanes to get around them) to a very chic pizza restaurant, with an incredible dessert menu, the ambience and décor of which would have been appropriate in most any American or European city of significant size.

Wednesday, 16 August
A day of touring in Salvador, including Jordan's school, where we met his academic advisor, and the Pelourihno district, the most historic area of colonial Brazil, including the magnificent cathedral church (wherein I observed that the Roman Catholic leadership has finally responded to the challenge of evangelical Protestants and para-Christian groups that made huge inroads over the last couple of decades, by staging their own national evangelization effort), and the hilly-narrow-cobblestone-street shopping area that depends completely on tourism. Brenda did her bit for the local economy, becoming fast, if temporary, friends with two proprietors in the process. We were just seconds too late to watch the sun set over the bay as we refreshed ourselves with caiparihnas.

Thursday, 17 August
After another lovely Brazilian breakfast, the four of us were met by Helcio, my cousin Nicia's husband, who chauffeured us to Praia do Forte, about a 90-minute drive to the north, where my other cousin Leda owns a beach condo, which she graciously invited us to enjoy for the night. So we spent the afternoon walking along and lounging on a drop-dead beautiful Atlantic beach. In the evening, we discovered there was a Mexican restaurant in town. Jordan explained that Mexican food in Brazil is a dicey proposition, the chief reason being that there are no actual Mexicans to make it happen, so it's Mexican food with a heavy Brazilian accent. But we were all hungry for it, so we took a chance. It wasn't bad, and the spices hit the spot, but it was way over-priced. Afterward we found the most unique sorveteria (ice cream shop) I have ever seen—it's a "scoop your own" affair, sold by weight. I like the concept. Even more do I like chocolate com pimento, chocolate ice cream laced with hot pepper! I don't expect Cold Stone to adopt it as a mix-in any time soon. But they should.

I chose to sleep for the whole night in a hammock on the veranda of our upstairs bedroom. It was idyllic. Under a brilliant starlit sky (without the constellations we're familiar with in the northern hemisphere, of course), with the surf crashing in the background, it was transcendent—probably the spiritual highlight of my trip, and I mean that seriously.

Friday, 18 August
I happened to wake up in the hammock as the eastern sky was beginning to lighten, but the sun had not risen yet. I got up and walked the few yards down to the beach in order to watch the sun rise over the ocean. In a few minutes, one of the clouds on the horizon began to glow. A minute or two later, I had to avert my eyes, and shortly thereafter the entire sun was visible. For someone who has lived so much of his life near the Pacific Ocean, where the sun sets, this was indeed an exotic experience.

We needed to hit the road at a reasonable hour in view of a 1 PM family luncheon engagement in Salvador. This meant catching a scheduled bus. When we got to the appointed location, we found all manner of vehicles and drivers clamoring for our business. Jordan negotiated what we thought was strictly private nonstop transport directly to their apartment for $R80. For four people, and given the distance and the convenience of to-the-door delivery, this seemed reasonable enough. We got taken, however, as the van stopped several times at clearly marked bus stops (with the cobrador sliding open the door as the van slowed down and announcing, “Salvador! Salvador!”) to take on and put off passengers. No sweat, we figured. We would just pay an appropriate amount lower than the negotiated price. In time (more time than we expected) we were delivered to the apartment building in Rio Vermehlo, as agreed. Jordan slipped the cobrador $R50 and moved quickly inside the security fence. The fellow was more tenacious than any of us expected, however, and in the end, after a lengthy and animated dialogue, only reluctantly conceded a $R5 discount.

Lunch was at the apartment of Mabel, widow of my uncle Evarado. Serendipitously, her daughter Babette, who lives in Michigan, was there on holiday. Babette's brother Eduardo ("Duda"), who lives in town, also showed up, along with his 15-year old daughter Juliana. As the saying goes, "a good time was had by all."

Later in the afternoon, the four of us made our way to the lower portion of the old city, to the Museum of Modern Art, where there was a special exhibition of a photographer named Verger, who specialized in Bahian scenes. Once again, drinks on the bayfront just as the sun had set. (Sunset was "early" by our reckoning, about 6:00 PM, due both to the low latitude and the fact that it's actually late winter in the southern hemisphere.)

Another cab ride took us to the home of Nicia and Helcio, where we were joined by their two sons, Helcihno (the equivalent of "Helcio, Jr.") and Daniel. (Helcio, by all accounts, hit if off extremely well with Dad, so he jokes that since, in Portuguese, "Helcio" and "Elson" are not only alliterative but almost rhyme, it is appropriate that they both have a son named Daniel!) We are joined shortly by Leda and her husband Jose Antonio. Another cousin, Nicia and Leda's brother Roberto, who lives quite a distance into the interior of Bahia, but happened to be in town, was also there. By means of a webcam and an internet connection, we also visited with Daniel and Helcihno's sister Luciana, who lives in Brasilia and is more than eight months pregnant. (Luciana is one of the primary movers in keeping the American-Brazilian family connection alive.) Then we did the quintessentially American thing and ordered out for pizza! (Interestingly, Brazilians are prone to put ketchup on their pizza, and they eat it with a knife and fork. Hmmm.) Nicia provided a scrumptious homemade dessert, along with some ice cream.

Saturday, 19 August
I knew Brenda had an appointment in the morning for a deep massage from a Japanese-Brazilian woman (second or third generation, she speaks no Japanese) who is also Angela's yoga instructor. The four of us walk to the vicinity of her studio, then Jordan and I head back to the apartment, where I figure we're just going to kill some time. After a while, however, Jordan says "Let's go," and I follow him down the hill (completely turned around, as usual—my normally reliable internal GPS simply did not function in Salvador), where we board a bus that heads up the coastal road. It turns out that plan is for me to have a massage as well, but nobody bothered to clue me in! Oh well, that's the kind of surprise I can handle. The massage-givers are all set up under umbrellas along one of the beaches. So, for about twelve or thirteen dollars, I enjoy a full hour of massage, like nothing I have ever been treated to in my life—and at beachside, no less! I think if I lived in Bahia I would have one every Saturday. By Brenda's account, hers was even more magnificent.

Although by this point in our trip, we had all eaten enough for the rest of the month, one of the items on our to-do list was to eat at a churrascaria, a place that serves a distinctively Brazilian kind of grilled meat. We grabbed a cab and headed up the coastal side of the peninsula, past where I had gotten my massage, to a place that had been recommended to us. It was stunning. For a flat rate of about $22USD per person, plus drinks and dessert, we were treated to an astonishing array of buffet items and meats brought to our table by waiters bearing long skewers. The food was outstanding and the service was unbelievably attentive. (Since labor is so cheap, most service-based businesses are significantly overstaffed by American standards, but this inures to the customer's benefit.) The cab driver who took us there told us he would wait (off the meter, of course), and he did. So we had him drive us down to a supermarket to pick up some Brazilian coffee and some cachaça to bring home. Once again, the driver waited, even while we indulged in some more sorvete—yes, chocolate con pimento again; I couldn’t get enough.

The same driver then drove us a good distance (was this a pretty good day for him?), across the width of the peninsula, first to our hotel so we could unload our purchases, then back to the lower part of the old city (separated from the upper part by a landmark pedestrian elevator that has become an unofficial icon for Salvador) to a flea market called Mercado Modelo. There I hung on the sidelines (until it was time to hit the ATM for cash) while Jordan, on his mother’s behalf, negotiated the purchase of three hammocks for us to bring home and…I’m not sure…do something with…future Christmas gifts, perhaps? Anyway…I picked up a T-shirt for myself in the process, and proudly put my growing prowess in Portuguese on display to order a bottle of water, first specifying that it be carbonated (con gás) and seeking reassurance that it was well-chilled (ben gelado). I didn’t bother to haggle over the price.

Later that evening, even though there was little physical motivation to eat just for the sake of eating, we walked with Jordan and Angela to a plaza next to our hotel for some acarajé—the distinctive Bahian street food, a fritter made from bean meal deep fried in palm oil, laced with some sort of hot sauce and, in our case, small shrimps that one eats whole, shells and all (OK, the heads and tails were removed, but still…). I survived. I even enjoyed it.

Sunday, 20 August
Although being absent from the Lord's Table on the Lord' Day rips crosswise against every fiber of my being, and although I had greatly looked forward to making some contact in the Diocese of Recife, given the tortured state of things there, scrupulosity on this day would have caused great offense, so I had to swallow the horse pill for a reason I pray is, as the Orthodox would say, "worthy of a blessing." Leda and Nicia and their families had extended themselves to rent a covered boat for an all-day excursion into the bay, with stops at two islands. What a beautiful time it was; how utterly different from anything in my normal experience. Paolo, my aunt Eva's son, also joined us with his wife Fernande (a Spaniard who doesn't speak Spanish, it turns out, even as I am a Brazilian who doesn't speak Portuguese), along with a couple of friends of Nicia. However, somehow Brenda and I never got the memo that we were supposed to wear bathing suits under our clothes so we could just jump off and swim to shore when the boat anchored at a beach. So when we got to the first island, they had to first tie up at a dock in order to separate those who were andando from those who were nadando. It was easy enough for me to take my shirt and sandals off and swim in my shorts. But Leda couldn't stand watching Brenda just stand on the beach, so she insisted on walking Brenda up to the conveniently located beachside boutique and helping her pick out a bathing suit, which I happily sprang for. When it came time for us to move on, we were all swimmers, no walkers. The next stop was a little resort on the north end of Ihla Itaparica, where there was a wonderful buffet lunch available. (This time, however, we were ferried to the beach by a shuttle craft.) Then Helcio walked us up the beach to show us the house that had been in his family for years, and was only recently sold. After some more beachside lounging, and one head dip in the balmy water that gave me the fungal and bacterial ear infections I brought home with me, our two crew members hurried us back into the boat in order to get us back to Salvador before dark. We watched the sun sink beneath the horizon from the stern. A delightful day.

Monday, 21 August
Our flight was not until mid-afternoon, so I had time for one more trip to the beach, which was walking distance from the hotel. It was the sort of body-surfable wave action that I remember from my family's two weeks at Praia Itapuá in 1970.

After arranging for a slightly late check-out, the four of us had lunch at a local "kilo" place. Jordan then arranged for a cabbie who had once been one of his English students to drive us to the airport. He was eager to try out what little English he knows, and it didn't seem to bother him that I didn't speak any more Portuguese than he spoke English. We managed to keep the conversation going all the way to our destination, including a small sight-seeing side trip in Itapuá, which he decided we had plenty of time for after I deduced that he was asking me what time our actual departure was. Interesting fellow.

As usual, it seems, our departure was delayed by the absence of an aircraft. But everyone is really hang loose about it, and when the plane finally arrives, they're very quickly ready to board, and instead of making a huge production with groups and rows they just say, in effect, "OK, time to go," and everybody just gets on the plane, and they go. And when you get on, if you want a beer, they bring you a beer, no extra charge. So what do they know that we don't? Not to mention the fact that clearing security is not nearly as traumatic as it is here.

The American Airlines terminal in Rio was not as much of a circus as it was at LAX, but it was bad enough. By the time we had our boarding passes, we knew we would need to eat, but figured there would be something inside the secure zone. We figured wrong, and had to content ourselves with some nuts and chocolate from a duty-free shop. Soon after we were airborne for Miami, Brenda was sick. It may have been the nuts or it may have been a bug she picked up in the bay, but our travel experience headed south even as we were heading north.

Tuesday, 22 August
By the time we pulled in front of our house, it was about 29 hours since the time we kissed Jordan and Angela goodbye in front of their apartment building. Brenda was still feeling horrible.

So what was it like for me being back in the "homeland"? This is a question that elicits a complex answer. At one level, it felt very integrating. My life is so episodic, and the episodes are defined by places. I always appreciate the opportunity to re-connect with the venue of one of my previous episodes (south Louisiana, southeastern Wisconsin, northwestern Oregon, southern California, the Chicago area). The Brazil “episode” is, for obvious reasons, more difficult to re-connect with, so I was glad to be able to do so.

And simply on the level of tourism and vacation, it was a great trip. Rio and Salvador are both fascinating places if one is at all interested in history, geography, the arts, culture, or just the way people live. I got a whole new insight on the phenomenon of favelas, which one usually associates only with abject poverty, but which have a richer and more subtle aspect to them. And winter in Bahia (Salvador is just as often referred to by the name of the state in which it is located) is as close to meteorological perfection as one can imagine outside the Garden of Eden (ranging from the low 80s during the day to around 70 at night, and almost always breezy).

But on another level, particularly as the trip included seeing family, I had strong feelings of embarrassment bordering on shame. The catalyst for these feelings was my inability to speak Portuguese. I felt like a walking irony. Since Jordan and Angela were with us all the time (Jordan is frighteningly fluent, almost accent-free and using slang after ten months in the country and Angela is not far behind), and because many of my relatives speak some English, a few fluently, we were never at a loss for being able to communicate. But I was always “the Brazilian who doesn’t speak Portuguese.” In fact, my birthday happens to be the Brazilian equivalent of the 4th of July, which compounds the irony! It is clear that my relatives there have kept my father’s American progeny more on their radar screens than we (or I, at least) have tended to keep them. And with me, especially, having been born there, they seem to have an investment in my laying claim to my Brazilian-ness. I don’t know if that will, or even can, happen, at my advanced age, and I have some feelings of regret. I surely do wish my father had attempted to keep Portuguese alive at home during my early years, when I really could have learned it. But beyond a handful of words and a couple of phrases, we were a mono-lingual household.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A. As I read through your story, I remembered each place and each person you named from our own trip. We had Elson as a guide instead of Jordan, so things were a bit different, but it was still great to "go back" for a bit.

B. Helcio was our guide on Itaperica, so we only saw the sites that his construction company helped dig, helped build, helped tear down, whatever--hours of driving around in a big van--blah, blah, blah. Your experience sounds so much more interesting.

C. Praya de Forte was amazing for us as well, although there was somewhat of a hurricane during our visit, so we spent quite a lot of time sitting in Leda's apartment. Still fun.