cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Santa Catarina State

Now Pay Close Attention: Itajaí , Camboriú, Porto Bello, Bombinhas, and FlorianópolisWow, who could have ever imagined that this country that is larger than the United States actually has localities aside from Rio, São Paulo, and the Amazon. Go Figure!

Guess what. Last Thursday happened to be a holiday--Corpus Christi (i love Catholic countries) and so we peaced-out for the long weekend. Where did we go for this rainy winter holiday? Why south of course, where it is yet even colder. When a herd shuttles north, the clever thing to do is swim against the current. A private beach in Brasil? Not possible you say? We only like to do the impossible here at the Salty Cod. You are thinking--mallory, a holiday while on a holiday? Aren't you already in Brasil? Well yes, but believe it or not people here Yes. It appears that people have jobs, raise children, maintain homes, go to school...weird. Anyways. A long holiday to break the routine, that is after all the definition of the word. A few weeks ago when deciding where we to go, H suggested, why don't we go to Rio and visit R? Rio? I lighted, Rio?! Hooray! Coincidentally, R happens to have just moved to New York. Hmmm, we both thought. Rio without a guide--no thanks, tourist track is not for us. Next idea was mine: how about Porto Alegre to visit D? It's a possibility, H replied...though we would have to fly...15 hours in the car is pushing it. Otherwise air tickets we're looking at R$1000. 15 hours? or R$1000? Forget it. I know, brains continued, let's go to Florianópolis, it's an island in the south. I have friends from high school nearby we could stay with. It will be cold and off season though. Let us recap: uncrowded beaches, a place to stay, and local guides? Did i just strike a dumb-luck mine or have i magically fallen into a state of life where everything just happens to be perfect? Well that settles it. A trip to the coast of Santa Catarina state to visit some old friends. on y va.

There are twenty-six states in Brasil...third grade must be ever so much more pleasant with only twenty six rather than fifty bloody capitals to memorize...Twenty Six. São Paulo is a state containing a capitol city of the same name. Rio de Janeiro likewise. Florianópolis is the capital city of Santa Catarina, which is bordered by Paraná state to the north, Rio Grande do Sul to the South, and is flanked west to East by Argentina and the Atlantic Ocean. What is so special about this state? Famous for the beaches of course. During the summer the coastal cities are covered like moss on a trunk with mostly foreigners looking for soft sand--ergo Argentinians. But in the "chilly" middle of June--the cities and their praias are sleepy. In other words, a synonym for perfect.

The southern most states in Brasil undoubtedly boast a higher standard of living than the northern states. Why beat around the bush. The south is predominately white, drawing heavily on its immigrant past of European migration; mostly German, Ukrainian, Italian, and some saucy Portuguese. Like most cities in America that claim to be "Little Bavaria" or "Little Norway," the heritage is more now desired rather than ingrained. But architecture plays the greatest display of Santa Caterina's "Euro" heritage.

Eight hours drive from Indaituba SP, but driving through the country side made the long hours fly. As did nearly running out of gas in never-ending state park (note: it is against the law to operate gas stations in state parks. good to know...we payed a thief R$30 for a dribble. raaaape.) Somehow we managed to get to the house of G and R, without a map or directions. How the hell do you know where you are going? i asked H. Meh, he replied, i googled earthed it the other actually i don't know where i'm going, i just think i do. Well. Some people have built in GPS. It takes me an hour to find my grandmothers house...S i live to make you chuckle. wtf. We arrived without a single turn around. damn you.

G and R live in the port city Itajaí, for you Seattle readers, think: Tacoma. Cargo ship yards hug the coastal high ways behind the neat cobble stone alleys of house rows. It is difficult to imagine the entire scene under five feet of standing water only only six months prior. In November 2008, Itajaí (along with many other cities) suffered a devastating flood which drove some eighty-thousand people from their homes. The cities, miraculously, have recovered in the short time elapsed, though the waters did take a near one hundred victims along with them as they receded back to the Atlantic giant. Thankfully G, R, and their daughter AC not only survived but recovered. So if you three are reading this, muito obrigada por sua hospitalidade, vocês três são amigos maravilhosos e mal podemos esperar para ver o bebê! beijinhos!

After we arrived i was exhausted beyond imagination. we didn't sleep much the night before. and cars put me to sleep...then segway into non stop Portuguese which trying to understand is an incredibly tiring mental process...eyes closing...hey Mal, H says, they invited us to go to a church meeting at a friends house tonight, i think it polite we go. Church meeting? in a house? oh bother. Three hours. Three hours of a group of perhaps twenty seated in a circle taking turns reading passages of the bible out loud. Passages from the bible in English send me to the sandman. So passages in Portuguese--dear god somebody shoot me please. nodding...nodding...snap the neck back, damn did they see? i survived only through eyeball Morse code with H, and the presence of at least 7 small children to distract me. Sitting in my plastic lawn chair, i turned to H and whispered, i thought only i could get myself into absolutely ridiculous situations like this, but apparently we're a pair! As painful as it was, the welcoming attitude toward us was so kind that i had to admit that i was happy to be there; i love these moments above all others where you turn your eyes from face to face, wondering how on earth you came to be here, in this spot, at this moment, with these people. A small town in the middle of nowhere, late in the evening, in the crowded sitting room of smiling strangers, my best friend by my side, and a curly haired baby tapping my knee. Life is, i did have corn ice cream earlier in the day at the corn castle, life is--wonderful.

The beach. It's why we came. Early the next morning (actually we woke up at 11. There are first times for everything) we drove to the nearby city of Camboriú, what I from the first glance forever after referred to as "video game city." It looks fake. Photoshopped into an idealistic picture perfect backdrop; white seaside sky scrapers all hugging the petite chic shopping lined alleys. God damn it i am yet in a twilight zone. We climbed to the top of Bald Man's mountain, to get an aerial view of the city and were treated to a front row air gliding demonstration. G&R left us to tour the beaches and wander the city during the day; and after a gondola ride up and over a hill to what appeared a sheltered beach cove, i realized there was no other word for it all other than paradise.

The next day we hit it hard with visits to three beaches: Porto Bello, Bombinhas, and Joaquina beach in Florianópolis. success. But how can one place be better than another? The answer is they can't. They all have their merits. At Porto Bello i felt in a European quiet coastal hamlet, in Bombinhas a Floridian California Coast-goer as we sat for lunch at a beach side restaurant, and in Floripa it all came crashing down. how am i so lucky to get to see all of this. why do i deserve. what did i do for this? I haven't found the answer yet, but i've always held a card of self pity believing myself eternally down on luck. But i'm the luckiest girl on the planet standing here on this rock with violent surfer waves crashing in rhythm a violent applause. Hey look up there it's Gustavo Kuertans house (i was at the Roland Garros last year for his final appearance in professional tennis) well, well, well. life is a chain of events.

Sunday. My sandy feet are exhausted. Time to stay home. R's brother, who lives down the road, was having a barbecue--correctly termed churrasco. it's what Brasilians "do." oooh, i thought, perfect opportunity to show off and bake something. I had made chocolate orange biscotti at home wednesday night as a gift to G, seemed basic enough as an edible hospitality gift. First: no one at home had ever heard of biscotti before and they were enchanted by them. hmmm...success! The ones that actually made the trip were a double success--consumed all in the first night. No one there had ever heard of basic biscuit before either. how? how is that possible? Either way, the dry coffee shop add-on was making me popular, so i suggested to G we make two different flavors for the barbecue on sunday. that got me a smile. hmmm, how about white chocolate pistachio, and lemon vanilla dipped in bitter sweet. hmmm. sucessssss.

And now: what would perhaps be a horror story to some, i title here what could only be a Salty Cod-possible adventure in frustration turned laughter. bring it. So i was in the kitchen down the road where four women were preparing the non-meat parts of the barbecue. hmmm let me just weasel my non-portuguese speaking nose into your way. american coming though!! yeah i want this counter...give me all your eggs. I know how to say food stuffs, of all portuguese words, food i am the most savvy of. But when i do not know: wave my hand around--that means spoon. this thumb gesture means bowl. and this exotic parrot like squaking means did you see the presidents speach on the news last night? in reality it probably means throw a 90 mile an hour curve ball on the inside of the plate, but nobody's the wiser. When they point and get something right, i clap. when it's wrong, i scrunch my face and stick my tongue. i am a monkey in the jungle. clap and dance monkey dance! It is so much easier to communicate with D...well somehow it worked out. biscotti in the 5 year old sous-chef clinging to my side with glazed almond eyes--children are so much easier for me to speak with. they do not judge. I was at most ease speaking French with Florielle, i need to find a baby Brasilian to teach me. The trouble arose when the biscuits were done, and ready to be dressed.

I found melt able chocolate at the supermarket, and rigged up a double-boiler to get the job done. damn it. too hot too fast, the white chocolate is ruined in the chalky state. Perhaps if i add some liquid--i open the fridge and grab the first thing i see; an open carton of condensed milk. that'll work. i get ready to pour it--then they start squealing. you don't want that, you want regular milk. no, no i don't. this is ok really, you don't have to open the new box of milk, it's not important. Here is the thing: i understand what they are all saying, but they do not understand anything that i say. Alien looks and they continue to chirp. damn it! it's not important! i argue as i grab back the carton--then look to the chocolate chalk. ahh, i muse, oh well, it's toast. i push the pan over to by the sink and get ready to start over. They ask me why i did that. It's ruined, i say in Enlgish to blank faces, erm, esta fini, kaput, nada--i try as i move my arms in swooping X motions...nothing....arrrrggggg ESTÁ MORTO! Ahh, they reply, but no i think you just wanted the regular milk. AHHH! No i don't want the milk! I yell as i pull my hair with both hands. It will not fix it! I start jumping--my favorite form of sign language. Usually calm and collected knowing she is the foreigner who cannot speak the language--but four against one in my setting, is painful. i try to pull every portugese word i know that might get the meaning accross. nothing. vacant stares. Then all at the same time they start yelling oi aiiia where's Henrique, get him we need our translator! Henrique Henrique help! I throw my arms up, AHK!! NO! I don't need him! I yell in Portugue-lish. And then start laughing. Trigger effect. The room bursts to laughs, and i am covered in hugs. White chocolate is always harder to melt than dark, one women starts to tell me. we forgot about the white and moved straight to the dark. My little sous-chef was happy enough to take care of the white chocolate chalk for me. Two spoons please.

The biscotti turned out...and turned a success. The food was fantastic, the guests were surprisingly those who we had seen the first night at the Bible group. Life comes full circle. Biscotti crisis avoided. Salty Cod: 1 Tower of Babel: 0.

The sun was peaking over the cargo ships as we left the next morning to return home. I have never had such a wonderful vacation in all of my oh-so-extensive 23 years of life (stop laughing). The ride home was long, as we chose to make it longer by making a detour to the São Paulo sea shore first. What's ten hours in a car anyways if you've the right person to play twenty questions with...i was up to 70 questions and still couldn't guess "car engine." He however took only three to guess "my bed." maybe a bit ty ty... I will say though, the next time we go south--we're taking a plane damn it!

a bientot


Nani said...

Oh Wow, this is awesome. You know my mother was born in Santa Catarina, Camboriu, but was raised in Sao Paulo. I haven't been to south Brasil in a long time, thanks for the pictures, its more beautiful than what I remembered.

so you drove along the Coast of Sao Paulo??? You probably drove around the town I am from, Guaruja, very next to Santos.

Thanks for sharing with us.


La Cuisine d'Helene said...

This looks like such a beautiful place.

Thanks for the great pics :)

Moira - Tertúlia de Sabores said...

The place is beautiful it makes me wonder to visit Brasil.
What a wonderful trip, and such an hilariant situation, but don't think that this kind of things just happen to you.
I remember a situation, when i went to Germany to study, i arrived to the airport and needed to go to the University where people were expecting me. i needed to do 10 minutes by train, i asked the right questions but didn't understand the anwsers so i caught the wrong train and delayed 5 hours to arrive to my final destination, instead of the 10 minutes. Anyway it was a beautiful trip around bodensee, i arrived later in the night and people expecting me tought that i was lost somewhere ah ah ah

Marta said...

Mallory, you're making me want to go to Brazil now!!! Honestly, and in full fear of sounding ignorant, Brazil is just one of those places that has never called my attention (along with SE Asia, the Caribbean and Hawaii). One of those places that I just don't "see" why people love to go there. But I think you're making me "see" it now! This is lovely! Hahaha I actually like the Babel feeling when I'm a foreign land, but it can make your next meal quite elusive!
I would LOVE to learn to make my pictures large. Could you teach me? I'm the most tech-challenged person you'll meet (or, well, virtual-meet) so dumb it down!

Mil coisas said...

I had thought of writing u a comment when u posted the "bolo de mandioca" experience! It would be about "farofa", this Brazilian staple food made w/ farinha de mandioca & all kinds of "add-ons"( bacon, sausage, okra, carrot, corn, scrambled eggs, beans, u name it...). But...I too had a long weekend & went to S Paulo.
Then today I decided to check ur blog & found out u were here, in S Catarina!
Well let me just say this: do come back, FLY back. And when u do, e-mail me & I will be happy to guide u around this beautiful island of Florianopolis & its Azorean heritage: u will feel back in Portugal. AH, and u will be able to try yet another "mandioca" by-product: pirão.
Enjoy ur stay in Brazil!

Lori - Blondie in Brazil said...

Beautiful photos! I really enjoy Floripa. Aside from Ilha do Mel off the coast of Parana, it is the only beach I have experienced. We've been there twice and my husband just finished running a 150K team relay around the island in April. I am with you on the non-crowded beaches. All our Brazilian friends can't understand going there if it isn't Dec - Feb.

They have to be loving your baking. I always get good response when I make treats no matter how badly I think they've turned out. :) You should be proud of your success. I've been here almost 2 years and still can't adjust to the super-hot burners. There is no simmer in my kitchen, just boil and off.

Glad you are enjoying your time!!

Nani said...

Yes, Guaruja is an Island on the coast of Sao Paulo. I think You can see it from Sao Vicente, where you guys were.

You made curious now, I can't wait for your email!!!!!!


Sierra said...

glad you finally have your own personal GPS hehe :)

Sylvia said...

I'm amazed, I spent two weeks in Florianopolis, or kindly "Floripa",in Lagoinha, a beautiful place. Are you drove along north Sao Paulo Coast?By the Rio Santos road? Is so beautiful full of heavenly small beaches.
Your Brazilian travel re perfect , all informations are right and full of important details.You are a remarkable travel journalist