Journal Entry Day 6

Day six in Brazil, Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) and I had to go to Recife for Meu Cunhado  (My brother in law) to attend a Concurso.

Now, as a first thing, Minha Namorada and I are not yet married (although we are engaged, so sometimes you will see me refer to her as Minha Noiva – my fiancee).  So, it may seem a bit odd for me to refer to her brother as Meu Cunhado.  However, it is common in Brazilian Culture to refer to the significant other of a family member, even if not married, as if they were married.  Accordingly, Minha Namorada’s parents refer to me as Genro, and I refer to them as Sogro (father in law), Sogra (mother in law), and Cunhado (brother in law).   Some Canadians may be a bit scared by this, especially those who are afraid of commitment, but I found it very wonderful – from first meeting them, I had a place in their family.  I guess that’s more of a reflection of how I already felt about Minha Namorada than anything else, but it also felt so welcoming.

Now, a Concurso is a public competition for a job.  Think of it like any Canadian Federal Government job – usually there is a test involved, and a few interviews, and you are ranked against a number of other candidates with the top candidates getting the job.  These also tend to be the best jobs in Brazil, so it was important that Minha Namorada and I support Meu Cunhado in attending his Concurso.  This threw a wrench in our plans for the week, but as I told Minha Namorada, this was clearly important, and all I really cared about was spending time together, so I didn’t mind at all.

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RioMar, Recife

We drove out early, dropped off Meu Cunhado, and then we decided to spend the day at the mall while we waited to him, not knowing how long it was take.   The mall was very pretty, with very similar stores to what you’d find in Yorkdale or any other Canadian Mall).  Being tired though, I thought it would be a great time to explore Brazilian Coffee.

The first thing I noticed was that almost no store in the mall served brewed coffee or Americanos.  Even dedicated coffee shops almost exclusively served espresso.   I found this frustrating, but I realized it does make sense.  In a hot climate, you don’t want something warm to sip on for awhile – you want something that will get you the same effect but smaller so it won’t warm you up, hence the reason for the espresso.

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The other thing I realized is that coffee was surprisingly expensive in the mall.  After seeing how inexpensive I could find beer in places, I was surprised at how expensive coffee was relatively speaking.

Eventually I decided that the Canadian in me wouldn’t be satisfied with an espresso, so I elected to go to McDonald’s for a brewed coffee – banking on that McDonald’s is basically the same all around the world.  However, this turned into an adventure in itself, as Minha Namorada and I experienced a very hostile employee.

  1. First we were told they didn’t serve coffee, despite it being on the menu.  Luckily, the manager was walking behind the employee, overheard, and corrected the employee.
  2. Then we ordered, and the employee wouldn’t take credit card, because he said the internet was down.   We didn’t have enough cash, so had to leave and come back (the bank being a 10-15 minute walk to the other side of the mall).
  3. Then when we came back, we tried to order the coffee (along with other breakfast items), and we were told they didn’t have change to give us from the bill.  We were paying with a $100 note (about $40 Canadian), for a meal of about $28 (about $10 Canadian), nothing unreasonable.
  4. Afterwards, we decided to directly approach the manager, who was clearly upset at his employee, who then said he had lots of change.   We finally got our order (which had two wrong items the manager fixed for us), and left.

Now, I could have very easily been turned off by this experience.   The employee gave me many dirty looks, and it was clear he gave us trouble because I wasn’t Brazilian.  In fact, he even explained his actions to his manager that Minha Namorada just hadn’t understood him – presumably, not realizing that Minha Namorada is Brazilian.  However, this was a complete one-off situation.  I met countless other Brazilians on my trip who were excited to practice their English with me, or had large amounts of patience as I attempted to speak to them in Portuguese.   I just felt bad that this guy must have had a bad experience some other time by a foreigner to make him dislike me, and it just increased my resolve to show good manners as a guest in Brazil.

Surprisingly, Meu Cunhado finished his concurso shortly after we had our delayed breakfast/lunch, and we headed off to pick him up.    We went out to celebrate him finishing the Concurso (it is important to celebrate finishing BEFORE you know the results – so everyone can celebrate, that’s what Chartered Financial Analyst’s do in Canada).   I won’t tell you the results of the Concurso, because that is Meu Cunhado’s story to tell, but I will tell you that the restaurant we went made a giant Risotto for us, and between the four of us (Meu Sogro, Meu Cunhado, Minha Namorada and myself), we ate enough “servings” for six, of which I probably ate half.   The food is just so good in Brazil.

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I ate probably four times this much

Journal Entry Day 5

On my next day in Brazil, Minha Namorada (my girlfriend) and I went to a bunch of tourist locations.

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Saint Francis Church and Saint Anthony Convent
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Cabo Branco lighthouse next to the Ponta do Seixas

Now, Tourists in Brazil are generally not American, or English speaking. I only met one group of English-speaking people the entire time I was in Brazil, and it was on this day. They overheard Minha Namorada and I speaking, so came over to talk, and upon noticing my hat (at that time, a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap) they recognized that I must be Canadian (I guess there aren’t that many American fans of Canadian teams). I assume they had the same experience with few English-speakers, otherwise they wouldn’t have struck up a conversation.

In fact, most of the tourists that I saw were from Argentina, which makes sense, as it is a very large Spanish speaking country that borders Brazil. I also found out that day just how similar Portuguese and Spanish are, as Minha Namorada gave directions and spoke briefly with some Argentinians who were lost, and later explained to me that she just spoke Portuguese to them, and they spoke Spanish, and they understood each other. I had previously believed that they were similar in the way that German and English are similar – singular words can often be understood in context, but I didn’t realize they were fairly mutually intelligible. In fact, since then, Minha Namorada has even watched an entire Columbian telenovela (soap opera) in Spanish without any difficulty, so clearly the languages are much more similar than I ever realized.

The architecture of downtown João Pessoa was very fascinating, which I only understood later when I remembered the fact that Northeastern Brazil used to be a dutch colony – which is very much reflected in the buildings. This is a very important part of the culture in Northeastern Brazil, with many Dutch Brazilians and the war helping to shape the country. Much like Canada was shaped by the battles between France and Britain, Brazil was shaped by the old world empires as well.

You can really see the dutch influences in parts of downtown, like Antenor Navarro Square:

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Zelma Brito [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
We also went to some cultural parks, and a science centre, but they were sadly all closed. It meant we got to walk around for free and see the large permanent exhibits that aren’t removed regularly, but I would have rather seen the full sites.

One important thing I realized though, is even if you are walking on sidewalks in Brazil, you need to wear bug repellent. I got bit by an ant in Brazil, and it actually made me stop walking it hurt so much. It felt like a painful cramp all of a sudden in my leg, and I had to ask Minha Namorada if we could cut the tour short and head back to the car… luckily, it only hurt for about 15-30 minutes, but I’ve never had an ant bite hurt that much before.

 

Pão de Queijo

pao de queijo

In my opinion, Pão de Queijo is one of the best foods Brazil has to offer.

Pão de Queijo translates simply as “bread of cheese”, but it is so much more.  Imagine the rolls from Red Lobster (TM), but more moist, and with a soft exterior.

Pão de Queijo is very common in the region of Minas Gerais in Brazil, but can be found anywhere. It is not made with wheat, as its history comes from a time and place where wheat was in short supply. Instead, it is made with a base mostly of Cassava and Tapioca – both staple crops in Brazil. The actual cheese used varies from place to place, but brand name stores, such as the Casa de Pão de Queijo (TM) will be the same across locations.

Pão de Queijo used to be more difficult to make in Canada due to the difficulty in finding Tapioca or Cassava Flour, but the increasing number of individuals with gluten sensitivity (celiac disease or otherwise) has created more of a market for wheat flour alternatives, so tapioca flour can now be found at places like Walmart.

Ingredients:

500 g of Tapioca Flour or Sour Cassava Flour
250 ml of water
250 ml of milk
125 ml of oil
2 eggs
100 g grated Parmesan cheese
salt (as desired)

Instructions:

1. In a pan, boil the water and add the milk, oil and salt.

2. Add the flour, mix well and remove from the heat. This is also a good time to begin to preheat the oven to 350 F.

3. Begin to knead the dough.

4. While the dough is warm, add the parmesan cheese, the eggs and mix well.

5. Using your hands, create small balls of approximately 2 cm in diameter.

6. Place the balls on a non-stick baking dish, leaving a small amount of space between them.

7. Bake in the oven (at 350 F) for about 40 minutes.

 

Carnival

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Sérgio (Savaman) Savarese [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D
One of the things Brazil is most well known for is Carnival. But, most people don’t even know that Carnival is associated with Lent (and accordingly Easter), being a celebration right before the beginning of the forty-days of fasting. So, Carnival actually varies by a couple months every year, the same as Easter does. So, in 2018 Carnival was February 9-14th, but in 2019 it is March 1st-6th.

Most people think about the parades for Carnival (which are the main events), and particularly well known are the Samba Dancers that I’ve discussed before in my misconceptions section. The parades are quite large events, attracting tourists from around the world, and with presentations by schools that prepare year round for a dance competition hosted over four nights.

There are a lot of cultural differences between the various Carnival celebrations, with different variations of music being one of the largest signs. In the Southeast Region, Rio De Janeiro and São Paulo mainly, the music is mostly Samba, in the Northeast Region you’ll find more Frevo, and in areas like Salvador, Axé Music the look and style of each dancing troupe will vary significantly along cultural lines as well.  When you think about Carnival, odds are you are thinking about  the Southeast regions, like Rio De Janeiro and São Paulo, as those are the two most famous celebrations.

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Typical Samba dancers, from the Southeast Regions,  – PlidaoUrbenia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
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Frevo dancers from the Northeastern Region – Prefeitura de Olinda [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D
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One of the most famous Axé singers, Daniela Mercury.  Axé Music started out as an attempted derogatory term to refer to any musicians from Salvador, but the derogatory nature of the term never took shape, and now it simply described this genre of music  – Agecom [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D
There is some variation in that cities such as São Paulo prefer more confined isolated Samba parades, with less interaction from the public, with the main official competition actually taking place in the “Sambadrome.” Whereas areas like Recife and Belo Horizonte allow for more public involvement in the parades themselves.

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The Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, in Rio de Janeiro – Agência Brasil/Marco Antonio Cavalcanti [CC BY 3.0 br (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)%5D
Beyond that Carnival is very similar to Mardi Gras, or other themed week-long celebrations (like the Calgary Stampede). If you have ever been to Calgary for the Stampede, and seen just how into it the whole city gets, imagine that on a country-wide scale, but less cowboys.

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Foto:Antônio Cruz/ABr [CC BY 3.0 br (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)%5D

Recife

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Sandro Helmann [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I will freely admit that I did not get a good first impression of Recife. My first time in Brazil I flew into Recife, but the airport, and highways out of town (we were staying in João Pessoa, 1.5 hours away), are near some favelas that are not nice. In addition, I had just flown for over 24 hours (including the layovers). I felt a bit uneasy about Recife, and Minha Noiva (My Fiancée) even apologized for the part of Recife we were in, and told me not to judge Brazil by that area. To be clear, it is not all of Recife, just the area by the airport and the highway out of town that was a little bit rundown. There is also a bit of a city rivalry between João Pessoa and Recife (think Toronto-Ottawa, Calgary-Edmonton, or Montreal-Toronto), and with Minha Noiva’s family living in João Pessoa, I have to be loyal to her city. My trips to Recife have always had a specific reason, rather than simply enjoying what Recife has to offer. My next trip will involve a lengthy stay to see the sights in Recife, and I’m hoping to change my opinion of the City.

That being said, Recife is actually a very well-known city in the Northeast of Brazil, being one of the three biggest locations for Carnival in Brazil (the other two being Rio de Janeiro and Salvador). Despite Carnival not starting until February, events begin in Recife in November or December, and even that early tourists start to arrive.

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A bloco party on the streets of Recife Raul [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
They regularly have indoor-outdoor block parties you can attend (called blocos) and random live shows either outside, or inside bars – remember though, like many cities in Brazil, if you are in a bar and a band starts playing, you may be expected to pay something towards their compensation. It is worth it as Brazilian Music is wonderful, but just be aware.

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A frevo dance and music performance Prefeitura de Olinda [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
As a major tourist destination, there are lots of English on signs and in malls – one of the most unusual sights I saw was a Ben & Jerry’s, where all the signs were in English, except for the actual names of the Ice Cream, which were still made up of English puns.

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Praia de Muro Alto Cleferson Comarela [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Recife is named after the reefs just off its coast, so you can imagine that it has some beautiful beaches. However, you need to be careful in the water there, as the reefs are not coral reefs, and so the beaches do not have the same protection from sharks that other beaches along the Brazilian coast have. Attacks, while still rare, are more common on the beaches here than in other locations. In fact, surfing has been banned on the beaches of Recife specifically because of the risk of shark attacks, and swimmers are specifically warned by many beach signs to avoid swimming beyond the reefs. Personally, I stay on the dry land.

Journal Entry Day 4

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Oddly, this was basically my first “beach day” in Brazil. This is because I wasn’t looking for a generic beach holiday. If you are looking to do a generic beach holiday, while Brazil is lovely, I’m not sure if it will be what you are seeking. Generally speaking, there are lots of all-inclusive destinations where you can find a hot beach to relax, enjoy good food, and free alcohol. Those can be a lot of fun, but I don’t find you really experience the cultures of the places you visit. Especially for me though, I was there to meet the family of Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and experience her culture. I wanted to see where she grew up, and learn more about her.

That said, the beaches in Brazil are lovely. You do have to be a bit careful as to which beaches you choose, as the water CAN have dangerous animals (read: sharks), but generally the beaches in João Pessoa are protected by Reefs that keep out the sharks and it is generally easy to tell the beaches apart – are there a lot of people swimming there? Then you don’t need to worry.

However, when going to the beaches in Brazil, I cannot overemphasize the importance of sunblock. You do not want your trip ruined by a bad burn. Minha Namorada actually bought me a UV shirt that was designed for swimming – don’t worry, lots of Brazilians wear these shirts too. As I’ve written about before, Brazilians are very smart about how to dress for the Sun.

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In the evening, Minha Namorada and I went to Praia do Jacaré (Alligator Beach), before heading out for supper. I got a very wonderful shirt that gives Inglês to Nordestinês (English to Northeasterner). While much of the humor on the shirt is still lost to me (given my rudimentary, but improving understanding of Portuguese), I still like the shirt, and it allowed me to understand how Nordestinês are viewed in Brazil. They are the equivalent of our Newfoundlanders (its easy to imagine an English-Newfie T-Shirt). This has only become more cemented in my mind as I learn more about Brazil, reading articles that mention Nordestinês in the way that I find much of Canada speaks of Newfoundlanders . To be clear, I am not suggesting it is a derogatory way of speaking (nor is it in Canada when speaking of Newfoundlanders ), it is simply an area with a different way of life, and a unique culture. That same niche that is occupied by Newfoundlanders in Canada, is occupied by Nordestinês in Brazil.

English Northeasterner Translation

After the beautiful sunset, Minha Namorada and I went to a bar because she insisted that I try a Caipirinha. This is a very popular drink in Brazil, and it is a must-have for any gringo visiting. Caipirinha is made with a unique Brazilian spirit called cachaça. Mexico has tequila, Cuba has rum, Brazil has cachaça. A Caipirinha is very easy to make, and involves just adding cachaça, ice, and the fruit of your choice (limes or lemons are the most common). Its a hard taste to describe, but well worth seeking out. You CAN get cachaça in Canada, but it is expensive here, and generally it is the low quality version.

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Caipirinha