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.

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.