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.

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.