Recife Revisited

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It must have taken us fifteen minutes to get a picture without anyone else in it.

So, this past trip I went to Recife again, in hopes that I would learn to appreciate the city Meu Cunhado (my brother-in-law) calls home. Long and short, I still don’t like the city, but I found some gorgeous parts.

Now, one important thing you will notice in Recife is the heat – unlike many coastal towns in Brazil, Recife grew too big too quickly, with large apartment buildings all being built right along the coast. While this is nice for those who live in those buildings, this is poor city planning. The large apartment buildings block the ocean winds, and the entire city suffers from higher temperatures as a result.

However, the city has tried some other ways to actually improve the gentrification and prevent the poor from being pushed out of their homes. Basically, they have attempted to prevent there to be as many designated favelas (read: ghettos) as compared with the affluent areas. Instead, even right across the street from a very expensive apartment building, there will be some housing that looks as though it is falling apart. However, I don’t think this has created the intended effect, as you can easily see that the decrepit houses still have volvos and other expensive cars parked in their driveways – simply disallowing the building of new, expensive housing doesn’t prevent the rich from pushing out the poor.

This is also true of businesses, where right next to expensive looking bars, that would not seem out of place in Manhattan, there will be very run-down bars that won’t generally feel safe. Even the tourist areas are not well separated, and while Recife has a booming tourist culture due to Carnival, I got the impression the rest of the year it does not get many visitors and isn’t as safe. My guess is that it is similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the city changes completely for a few days every year. I also don’t know how it manages anything during Carnival, as the traffic was bad enough without an additional couple hundred thousand tourists. Although, from the pictures I’ve seen, I doubt many people drive during Carnival.

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The Streets of Olinda during Carnival

Oddly, attached to the City of Recife (similar to how Kitchener and Waterloo are attached), is the much smaller city of Olinda, which was absolutely gorgeous. The streets there looked beautiful, and were reminiscent of Dutch streets, with little bars and cafes that looked beautiful, and even the poorer looking houses seemed pretty nice. Olinda’s downtown has actually been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this seemed like a perfectly wonderful place to stay – even not during Carnival. If I was going to Recife for Carnival, I would stay in Olinda, and go to the parties there.

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This house is exactly how I picture dutch houses
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Olinda from a bit further out, you can tell they get a lot of rain in this city.

Downtown Recife does have some absolutely gorgeous churches and locations that are worth exploring during the day, although parking can be an issue. As is common in many places of Brazil, the free parking is controlled by individuals who charge money to watch over your car – they will ask for 10 reals, but it can be negotiated down to 5 fairly easily (although sometimes you have to say no and get back into your car before they reduce their price). While the parking is free, you really need to pay this money or your car might get broken into – I don’t like it, but such is the downtown of Recife. There is some convenience though, as they will help you find a spot (sometimes moving their own car to give you a space), as well they will help you get out of your spot despite the bad traffic – so, its annoying, but not horrible.


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The historic downtown from which the City grew
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This tower marks the oceanside edge of Recife across from the historic downtown, and was created by this one family of locals who have spent generations developing the city into a cultural hub.

The Golden Church in downtown Recife

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In traditional baroque style, the gold encrusted portions tell religious stories, which is contrasted with porcelain or marble sections which tell stories of science and natural events.

We went into another church that was attached to the Golden church, which had a completely different style (it seems common in Brazil that old churches were often connected to one another), and it was filled with some (creepy) statues recreating scenes, but far more interesting was the contrast here in materials. The marble/porcelain stone they had placed in the wall here had actually been imported from Portugal, with exact stonework being removed from the walls to place the marble, and it told the biblical stories instead of being used to show the distinction from science.

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Biblical scenes created in marble
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Here you can see the accurate stonework necessary for them to place this marble exactly right.
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It is hard to tell, but the depiction at the front of St. Francis’ stigmata is three dimensional
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I realize what they were going for, but these just seem like creepy statues to me
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Again, I’m sure they didn’t intend for this to look so creepy
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I really wouldn’t want to be here at night.

Returned from my trip

Hi readers!

I’m back from my trip, but unfortunately my phone is having problems uploading photographs, so I can’t do the lengthy update I was planning this week.

I was able to get some photographs uploaded, so check out the updated Gallery.

As well, check out the updated Crossing the Border page for recent information on visas requirements.

More updates to come shortly!   And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for regular updates here: https://www.instagram.com/acanadianinbrazil/

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

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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