Two dwarfs Lost and Found in the Mines of Minas Gerais
Vila Rica do Ouro Preto. Village rich in Black Gold. In English the phrase refers to oil. But there is no oil here. Actually, there isn't even anymore gold. No silver. No more gems. No miners. What is there then? Well besides the seven dwarfs, there is a Salty Cod, swimming to the splash of his own dancing echo against the red mud and dripping granite. He's still in there, bouncing up the cobbled city streets, pretending that time doesn't move, that like the preserved colonial city of an antique past, time stands still. Never Ending of the moment when most happy. sun rising in the west, and moon rising in the est. But fish can't bounce up streets, you say. But this one can. he grew wings. On y va.
Minas Gerais; Portuguese for general mines, is the fourth largest and second most populous state in Brasil. Still rich in mineral and grantie production, Minas is known for three things: mines, cheese, and farm house wood fire meals. Residents, known as mineiros (miners) are considered inhabitants of "deep Brasil," less urban, more Portuguese, no beaches, less African cultural influence, so more--country. I say this and then drive through the capital city, Belo Horizonte (beautiful horizon), that though nearly only a quarter of the size of SP, gives one that Orlando feeling. Minas is home to many historical sites, cities including Diamantina, Tiradentes, Serro, and Ouro Preto. The last being a UNESCO world herritage site, and also where we happened to go. In 1697 after gold and gemstones were discovered in the region, Portuguese colonials hanging out in Rio de Janeiro started the construction of the estrada real, "royal road" to begin mining production. The presence of the colonials and slaves led to the creation of the largest urban city in South America at the time. What remained following the gold rush was a time-capsuled portrait of colonial Brasil. Walking the cobbled streets of Ouro Preto, one is instantly transported to the curving alleys of Oporto and Lisbon. The city is Brasil's living history, a portrait of how history has coursed Brasil into the country that exists today. It is an old world European city, just as say colonial Jamestown is--though an actual city.
There would be no Brasil as we know it today without it's Portuguese colonial past, so for better or for worse, they are bound together in one past. So no matter what ones feelings may be regarding the age of exploration and colonization, we are all who we are by a rickety string of events that we owe if not respect, then at least attention to. A colonial past held in a city sprinkled with fairy dust, Ouro Preto allows one to feel that time can still if you try hard enough.
What was i doing there. Archeological work. Yeah that'll be the day. If you must know, last Wednesday happened to be my birthday. 23 and i'm not dead yet! Each year that happens i feel the need to celebrate such an achievement. As do many people that i hold present in my life. Usually i receive presents. Wrapped boxes of clothing or trinkets. But this year i received a bit more: a trip. Some of you are aware of my historical past--that being my BA in history for which my research was in Portuguese colonization. what a coincidence. When H suggested that he take me on a trip to Ouro Preto for my birthday, i grew glossy eyed. Portuguese colonial architecture is my thing. Really? Is this too good to be true? How can life really come into itself so full circle. A twilight zone, a perfect that is too perfect. What luck has chanced that i get to be so perfectly happy. I beleive that perhaps it has to do with knowing exactly what you want. maybe.
So how long will it take? hmm, replied H, maybe eight hours. Oh joy, we seem to love immensely very long car rides. The last we went due south, now we go north! Hmmm. Driving through Minas Gerais is like driving through mid-west farmland, but with hills. Many hills. We drove in the direction toward Belo Horizonte, to keep to the paved highway rather than dusty dirt roads. those still exist? After passing the capitol city, we headed south east toward Ouro Preto. Now, being the most popular tourist destination in Brasil for US travelers, there are many resources for visitors once arrived. Such as maps. As we entered the city, we passed one such station that offered resources of this nature. we should stop and get a map, i said. Nah, H replied, let's just drive around and find someplace to eat and a hotel first. hmmmm. i like maps, but fine. two hours later we have somehow driven (forward and in reverse) down every winding road in the city (and dirt ones on the outskirt) including dead ends. Hmmm, H began, let's go back and get a map. what! isn't that what i said in the beginning! No, you said should. It's different. What! You brat just admit. Eventually we solved the problem by picking up a local kid on the streets to back-seat us to a reasonably priced lodging. In tourists towns, hotel advertisers are common on the streets. They receive royalties for bringing in clients. Ours led us to a few overpriced and overbooked Pousadas, the equivalent, i would say, to a small bed and breakfast type lodging, until we found a small cozy offering that was reasonably priced. A little ski cottage, though in warm weather. Afterward we proceeded to a restaurant where, after a day starved from eating nothing but a little leftover corn cake, we consumed a feijoada, a couple caipirinas, and some Minas truffles. Hey--it was my birthday present after all.
A whole day of being tourists. Hooray! but what to do first. I know, replied little miss European jet setter, we walk the winding streets with no direction. So we did. Well in a city with twenty baroque churches, it is not very hard to stumble upon one. Actually all we had to do was turn a corner and boom smack in the face. One of Aleijadinho's. The architect and sculptor, Alejadinho, literally meaning "little cripple" is one of Brasil's most famous artistic historical figures responsible for the design and sculpting of nearly all the churches in Ouro Preto, as well as commissioned works in other parts of the country. We went into a couple...the ones without a monetary entrance fee. houses of god she be free and open to the public, i silently (or not so silently) cursed. Ah well, enough of churches. There are far too many to attempt them all. On to the mines.
Down the road was located a little mine, the mina do chicorei, an old gold mine whose whereabouts fell out of knowledge until accidentally discovered in the 1940's by a woman who bought the location to open a restaurant. Little did she know she bought a historical gold mine. Once discovered, she opened the mine for historical observance and tourism. Oh yeah and she still runs her restaurant out of the same place. We got through the tight squeeze of a tunnel led by our "guide" who offered us hard hats. I must say it was fun crawling through the red clay puddles of muck, ducking under low rocks in the dimly illuminated cave. haha! But what a nightmare it must have been to be a chained down slave digging day in day out. Experiencing historical concepts of the kind such as this, is perhaps a way of tribute to those of the past who suffered, as we survive their memory. Hard hats off to you.
The following day we checked out and headed to the neighboring town of Mariana to visit the most famous tourist trap in the region: the mina da passagem, the largest historical gold mine open to the public in the--world! A rickety seat belt-less mine car ride that would have the word lawsuit written all over it in the US ride down into the must cavern is followed by a guided explanation of the mine's historical pertinence, as well as a look at the underground pools that are very popular with cave divers the world over. Watch out though, the ride will put you back twenty four reis per person.
After the mines we drove through Mariana, a city seemingly better planed than Ouro Preto. More fancy pants if you ask me. We had lunch on traditional Minas cuisine: pots of food cooked over a a wooden fire (actually still sitting over a wooden fire) that you scoop onto your own plate. Excellent! beans and rice...and variations...and meat. Yeah i'll miss that.
Finally it was time to go, to start the eight hour drive back. The thing about being in a time capsuled town, is that you begin to beleive that you yourself are without time. But time doesn't stop. And it doesn't in this town either. For though it looks old, it continues to move. As do we all. As we drove back, the reality of my departure back to the untied states the following day began to sink in. And i felt my heart begin to tear, as it longed maybe, to stay time capsuled along with the stone pillars and cobbled alleys of the fairy book town.
The things i will miss the most of Brasil are these: boiled mandioca, pao de queijo, guarana, my other family, and above all others, having my editor close. They say you can't appreciate the things you have and love without being away and losing them first. Whoever first said that needs to be shot. I have loved every moment of my time in Brasil, even the less enjoyable ones. Never have i eaten so well. never have i felt more at home. never have i felt so happy. Time capsul--who wants the world to stand still. We move forward, the city gets plumbing. And we get ready for the next move. Nothing stands still. It only gets better.
This is not the end of Brasil, as much as my never ending tears wish me to think it so. It is neither an end nor a goodbye. On the contrary; it is only the beginning. I am ready for the roller coaster. When you put your fate in the hands of the cod fish, and trust that he knows where he is leading you, then the adventure has begun, and you must beleive that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The cod can never offer a guarantee, but he can offer hope. And who could wish for anything more.
So in the words of Tony, life definitely does not suck. how could it.
an a bientot--but i see it more as an on y va