Thursday, December 17, 2009

Good Morning and Welcome to the United States of America

I keep turning around reflexively when I hear people speak English, expecting to know them. Except that I'm in the Atlanta airport right now, so English isn't exactly uncommon. A young woman with a foreign accent just came up to me to ask how to connect to the internet, and I explained it to her -- I'm so much more helpful in English! I'm sitting right next to a coffee shop with bagels and muffins and big cups of coffee, waiting for my flight to Portland in about five hours. Since it hasn't sunk in yet that I've actually left Brazil (I still haven't felt the cold Atlanta air, much less the cold Maine air), I'm excited to be back in the United States.

While I had pumped myself up over the past few weeks about my return home by reminding myself of what would be awaiting me back in Maine (my family, friends, the cold, Christmas, food), the past few days were spent thinking about what I would be leaving behind in Brazil. There was a lot of eating and not a lot of sleeping (I would estimate about 15 hours total over the past four nights). By 6:30 pm yesterday, when I got the call from my doorman that the taxi was waiting outside, I was quite sure I didn't want to leave.

My last full day in Brazil was Tuesday, and I took a hike to a lookout point for one last view of the city I had called home for the past 23 and a half weeks. I ended up covered in mud and sweat, with a bruised tailbone and mosquito bites dotting my ankles and shins, but it was definitely worth it. Rio has many problems, some significant, but nobody can deny that it was kind of an ingenious place to put a city. It will be a change going back to boring old Providence; even Maine pales in comparison to these mountains lining the beaches.

Next on the list of last-day activities was watching the sunset at the Arpoador, which, as I mentioned in my last post, is one of my favorite places in Rio. Although we were doubtful it would be a good one, as the sky was cloudy, the sun managed to poke out near the horizon, and the clouds only made the colors more vibrant.

Our plan was to spend one last night out on the town and return in time for the sunrise and a morning swim. The night would also serve as a last chance to eat and drink some of my favorite foods and drinks. As I sipped my last Brazilian caipirinha at Rio Scenarium I already was planning for my next one back in the United States. I have a feeling the cold lime, sugar, and cachaça won't taste quite as good in the snow, but I've brought back some mortars and pestles so I'm determined to use them.

Back in Copacabana, we stopped by the hot dog van for a last cachorro quente completo -- complete with peas, corn, raisins, potato sticks, a quail egg, and of course ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. My last água de coco came at a stand on the beach, where we also shared some final fried manioc (and discussed how weird it is to use the English word "manioc" instead of mandioca or aipim, two of several Portuguese words for the same tuber). 

By this time some of the weaker members of our group were starting to yawn. We returned to Sarah's apartment to crash on her couches (unfortunately the hammock had been taken down) for about an hour and a half, and then I put on my best camp counselor/mom voice and woke my reluctant friends back up just before dawn. We were a little more lively once we got a good look at the sky over the beach and saw that it had started to change color. 

The sunrise was as beautiful as the sunset had been the evening before, and it marked the first time I had watched the two consecutively. The waves were huge and the beach still empty, and we took advantage of the abnormally warm water to throw ourselves into the surf.

There's so much more to say about Brazil, and I'm planning on continuing to blog so that I can say it. I'm sure I'll have a lot more free time now that I'm home Also, I'm convinced the 80-degree temperature drop and my general exhaustion is going to seriously hinder my efforts in avoiding catching swine flu from my mom, so I might be house-bound for a while if I succumb to it. Keep reading, I'll keep writing, and I will see many of you very soon!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ó Mar Salgado

I think we probably can all agree that I've come a long way since this picture was taken:

But the reason I dug up that picture is not to prove what a bathing beauty I used to be (although we all can be glad that I did not grow up in Brazil, where my fat little baby-self would have been stuffed in a miniscule bikini with no demure ruffles to hide my chubby hips).

The real reason is because I've been thinking about the ocean a lot lately, and my relationship with it goes back a long way. The first place I lived was an apartment in Portland not much farther from the water than my apartment in Rio is. For many years of my life, it was inconceivable to me that anyone could bear living more than half an hour from the ocean. This was one of the reasons I was excited to come to Rio, where the beach is a way of life.

I've gone to the beach quite a bit here, and my swimsuit tan can prove it. However, there have many more days when it's been too rainy or quite simply too hot for me to go to the beach. The super-hot days when I do manage to go, I simply lie on my kanga, sweat soaking through it, and when it gets to be too much I go wade into the ocean -- along with the tens of thousands of other people at the beach that day.

I do like the beach here. I really do. I like that it's so accessible and open to everyone, that it's perfectly to acceptable to go to the beach in all your spare time, that you can get whatever you want to eat and drink without even having to do so much as stand up.

I don't think I realized, however, to what extent I missed the kind of ocean I had grown up with until I traveled with the Brown-in-Brazil group to Ilha Grande last weekend. As its name suggests, Ilha Grande is a big island off the coast a couple of hours south of Rio. And, of course, we needed to take a boat to get there. The morning we left was brisk and cloudy, with bursts of rain every now and then. It didn't look like a great day for the beach, but it was a great day for a boat ride.

For me it was, at least. The old wooden boat took about two hours to lurch its way to the island, and several people ended up getting sick (including on my face, but that's a story for another day...). I enjoyed myself immensely, though. It reminded me in some ways of zipping around Casco Bay in a motor boat and letting myself be thrown in the air as the boat sped over the waves.

The next day was a lot nicer and we spent the day at what is now one of my favorite beaches. After being tossed about by some huge waves and showing my skills at beach soccer, some of us went over to climb on the rocks that formed the edge of the beach.

The rocks were a blast to climb on, and the view was amazing (unfortunately I didn't bring my camera for that part of the adventure). The waves crashing against the rocks reminded me of one of my favorite places in Rio: the Arpoador.

The Arpoador juts out between Copacabana and Ipanema, and at its tip is a huge rock that's always a bit cooler than the rest of the city, as it gets some of the best wind. In the past couple of months I started going up there to read and to sometimes watch the sunset -- it's definitely one of the best places in Rio for doing so.

I'm leaving Brazil in two days, and there are plenty of things I'm going to miss and that can never be recreated in the States. For example, I walked past a group of monkeys while I was coming back from the beach at Ilha Grande. That just doesn't happen in New England. However, there's a reason I like sitting on the rocks at the Arpoador so much.

I can stand on top and to my left is Ipanema Beach, to my right is my home of Copacabana, and in between them I can see the Cristo looking down at all of us. It's so Rio it's ridiculous. But then I can turn around and look out at the open ocean with its white-capped waves on windy days, and feel like I've suddenly found myself in a Winslow Homer painting.

I'm going to miss Brazil; I'm sure of it. But I'm pretty excited to go back home to Maine.

P.S. The title of this post comes from a great poem by Fernando Pessoa called "Mar Português". Oh salty sea, how much of your salt/ Is the tears of Portugal!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

770 mL Day And Other Accomplishments

Today was a day I had looked forward to for a long time. Today was my final Portuguese test, which symbolically, if not actually, marked the end of my Portuguese studies. I finished level five, and there are only five levels -- so I should speak perfect Portuguese, right? Ha. Yeah right. It mostly means that I know every Portuguese tense known to man -- and there are a lot. 

Anyway, the real reason that I was looking forward to today was that it was 770 mL açaí day. (That's pronounced ah-sigh-ee for all you gringos out there.) I know you've all heard about this magical berry from the Amazon, with more antioxidants than blueberries; you've probably even had it in iced tea or some other flavored drink. But until you've come to Rio -- and for some reason it doesn't seem to exist in this form in other states -- you've never had açaí as it was meant to be eaten. That is, frozen, mixed with guaraná syrup, and covered with your choice of toppings.

I actually wasn't a huge fan of açaí upon my first bite five months ago. However, as with many other foods in Brazil that didn't seem very appetizing at first glance -- suco de abacate, farofa, cachorro quente completo (that is, avocado smoothie, manioc flour sprinkled on beans and rice, and hot dogs with ALL the toppings (including corn, mayonnaise, quail eggs, peas, etc.)) -- it quickly won me over. If it's possible to be addicted to açaí, I'm pretty sure I am.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I have (or had, I guess I should say now) an awkward two-hour break between my translation class and my Portuguese class. Since it's from 3-5, no one is ever around except for my friend Stephanie, who is also in those two classes with me. We were always looking for ways to occupy ourselves, sometimes getting açaí while we killed some time. This quickly turned into a habit, and eventually we would leave our translation class and head straight for the açaí stand without even having to discuss it. I worked my way up to 400 mL as the semester wore on (com paçoca no meio e em cima -- sweet peanut butter powder in the middle and on top), but to celebrate the end of both of our classes, we decided that today was the day to go all out and get the biggest açaí offered. That's 770 mL.

I was thinking the other day about how I don't eat much ice cream here. Those of you who know me well know that I'm obsessed with ice cream. In my essay writing class senior year of high school, I wrote my persuasive essay on how amazing ice cream was. So yeah, I like ice cream. And it's consistently 90 degrees Fahrenheit here. Today it was at least 97. Perfect ice cream weather. But here's the thing: açaí has replaced ice cream in my life. I never would have guessed anything was capable of that.

And yeah, 770 mL of açaí is as big as my face:

Apart from the açaí, today was rather stressful; besides the Portuguese test, I also had a translation and a revised translation due, as well as a third of a paper that I had forgotten about until I was reminded at 9:30 this morning. Twelve hours later, I am done with 4/5 of my academic classes, with only a short paper left for my Brazilian Literature class.

My iTunes must know that things are ending soon, since it just started playing "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Seriously, it just did. You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last. But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast. I wish I could keep açaí; unfortunately, I don't think it would travel very well. I wonder what I will take away from this experience that will last. Great memories, photos, and friends, of course. 

I just hope that many months from now I will also still remember how to use the future perfect subjunctive and the simple pluperfect indicative.