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.

Monday, February 27, 2012



I know there's nobody there anymore. The hello is rhetorical. This writing is strictly for the nobody i started writing to somewhere around five years ago. It feels good to write to nobody. Salty has been dead for close to nine months. But really Salty has been dead for a year. No food. No photos. None of that jazz that got us off the floor of that baby-puke stained family room all those years ago. Why did i let it die. I don't know exactly. People have been asking me that. I have been asking myself that. Sometimes the subject is avoided; that big fat pregnant elephant in the room. Murder is not an appropriate dinner time conversation. She lost her touch. She lost her drive. Ah, she got too busy. I don't really know. Actually i do. and it's more than one answer. It was never supposed to be forever. I was only 20 years old.

Today, there are more blogs- particularly food blogs- out there than words in the english language (that number hovers somewhere around two million) and i suppose i got tired. I got tired of it all. It felt like a basketball team potluck. I had thoughts of a race for some nonexistent pay. And then there was that Twitter. There's something about that Twitter my friend... Even without the words, there was this smoky smell of a competition. of a community. Who the hell came up with that idea anyway-online community. to judge each other. Communities are for moms sitting around a church or school room floor teaching each other how to breastfeed. Communities are soccer parents figuring out who will fetch and deliver their prodigy children to their practices on any given day. Communities are for alcoholics and drug addicts learning how to live again. i made my point, and that point isn't that i'm antisocial. the point is i fell out of love with the idea of the word blog and was overcome by the fear of considering myself a stay at home (insert female associated word) who blogs to pass the time and train my camera to take as many of the exact same shots with bled-out backgrounds as everyone else who, from my point of view, popped up over night. The thing that i failed to convince myself of was that i could just ignore it all. That was murder stage one.

And now i will describe murder stage two. My disdain with the idea of being a food blogger was merely the prepping; the gagging, the blind folding, a few slaps in the face. But not murder. I was the lone gunman. And i didn't even have the guts to shoot out of mercy. I bled him slowly. and with no proper burial. I accredit my unbalanced thoughts (i won't use the word depression because unhappiness is not involved here, more of an uneasiness) to the fact that i was still a foreigner living in a foreign country. The only problem was that as two years loomed on the horizon i gave myself this brilliant idea that i no longer fit the description of out of place foreigner. After a few years, are you really still a tourist experiencing a delicacy of strange yet charming cultural differences? Do you have that excuse anymore? I thought no. Two years is enough. apparently this is now my home. No longer a tourist. and i started to see the place differently. My eye color changed from objective to subjective. Somewhere among this rubble i killed Salty. Either I thought i didn't need him anymore or maybe he didn't need me anymore. But more to the point, with my sandy colored new shade of subjective pupils, i knew i had nothing to write about my daily life in Brazil that wouldn't cause uproar, criticism and hatred. If i write what i want to write, i will be salted and dried in the cold Norwegian sun along with my dear friend. I didn't want to write about my childhood memories of cookies, or how lovely apples are on the trees in the dying light of the harvest season. I wanted to write about real things. But after a few death threats by anonymous readers for complaining about missing raspberries and street harvested blackberries (side note: if you were to ask any foreigner whether visitor or resident what they love about brazil, they will undoubtedly tell you about how friendly and open the people are) i realized that what i wanted to write about wasn't exactly what my audience wanted to read. and on top of it im a crybaby. yes. a crybaby. So, that age-old saying of if you have nothing nice to say--- to top it all, i told myself i was ready to end it. to grow up and focus on bigger things. i thought it was time. But to be honest, it wasn't.

I've been feeling out of sorts with myself for a while. Nobody really tells you how hard it is to live in a country not your own. And nobody really tells you how hard it is to live in Brazil- with an opinion. So now to wrap up this murder confession, i will expose for you the straw that broke the camel's back. Yes, one straw that made my yearning to crawl back into Salty's arms too unbearable- a discussion with an intelligent old man. I live in a small town. Small for Brazilian standards, average for American standards. In this small town it is common to run into people you know and people you wish you didn't know. As you might guess by now, the story has something to do with running into an acquaintance. at a bar. a high school teacher, no not my own (can you imagine my North Kitsap High School teachers mulling around Indaiatuba?) this was H's highschool grammar teacher, a man, who, i could tell, was very respected by H. After being invited to take a seat the trouble began. To make the story short (though, in retrospect the conversation was quite amusing) i will sum it it by saying that i would not have been one of his favorite pupils had i been lucky enough to be under his tutelage (i am positive that was the first time i have ever used that word.) In other words, the man hated the air i breathed. why. one was most likely the fact that i had an opinion. the second, that i learned only later in the conversation was that i was female. and finally, that i wouldn't accept a roast of my native language. When i meet new people, the first question is always, do you like brazil? and my answer is always, mais ou menos- more or less. is that so? yes. i will describe the things i like. and the things you don't like? those always seem to get me in trouble.

The list is not long, but it is powerful. matters of justice, matters of public safety, equality--and my favorite, solutions to these problems. you don't think about these things during your first year in another country, but as time goes by, they are more visible than the sun. and yes, i have an opinion. while this gentleman was not the first to argue with me (don't get me wrong, i love a good argument) he was the first to tell me that they didn't matter. that these problems were not for me. these were problems of his country and i needed to learn to adapt to them. at this point i pulled out a quote --as i often do when i need someone more gifted than i to help me out-- a quote by one of the most respected men in the world. and when i finished, he threw it to the ground. rubbish. i watched as he spit on the words of the world's greatest ever defender of human rights and i knew. i knew i should write whatever i wanted. Just because i don't praise something does not mean i don't love it. who wants to read a story filled with fruit baskets and coconut water. not me. but getting frustrated doesn't help. words help. photos help. food helps.

You will be happy to know that as the crybaby that i am, i did not shed one tear. Not even after being told that my Portuguese was at a "pathetic" stage for the two years that i have been here.
And so, me with my pathetic Portuguese, i have decided to return to Salty. a new Salty.

And that is the murder story. You might never forgive me, Salty might never forgive me. You might never return. Once a murderer, always a murderer. But for now, i realize i need us. Not because i can't handle a few messy conversations, but because i need more messy conversations to keep my head on straight.

A few parting notes - why the potatoes? no reason. they were in the fridge. dark. natural. boring.
And the final parting note - the scene with the teach at the bar ended quite humorously, and i think you will all agree. When we moved the conversation to food i mentioned how i love bacalhao, cod fish, and how it has an amazing history. my opposition's approach- idiot girl, cod is not a type of fish, it is a method of preservation! your teaching license, good sir, should be revoked.


Jim said...

*LIKE* *LIKE* wonderful!

Hang in there grrl - and come visit!

Maira Martins said...

Well, hello!!! I am still here :) I'm a RSS feed reader, so I just got your update. Finally!

I am a brazilian (from Recife) living in Stockholm, Sweden. I know how you feel. Brazil is frustrating. In my case, coming from the most violent city in the country, it is frustrating to see that I cannot enjoy going to the beach, going to the pubs, just hanging out with my friends, because I am always scared of being murdered. In the litteral meaning. I have lost persons to the violence. If you take out the violence from the list, you are still left with an awful public health system, an awful public education system, a very unfair society that privileges money over hard work, this hidden racism that still humiliates the majority of the population, an open sexism (or should we say misogyny?), unpaved roads or with broken sidewalks, a very bad collective transportation, lack of interest from everybody to solve problems, as you mentioned. At the end, I think Brazil has only one big and ugly problem: generalized corruption.

If I was you, I wouldn't take in account the opinion of whoever it is. For most brazilians, the world is as big as the city where they live. The world begins and ends there. The horizons are... ok, there are no horizons. Someone who has travelled and lived in other cities and in other countries will be a better friend for you.

You are entitled to talk about anything you want. You live in Brazil. You live in there with all it's colors, all it's beauty and all it's ugliness. Please, criticize. Most brazilians have a hard life. And in an attempt not to feel this pain all the time, most of us have decided to go blind, to become extremely passive people who do not stand for their rights, who do not even know their rights (this is how it is for the last 500 years). And any attempt to break this "bubble" is seen as a threat. If you are a foreigner (gringa), you are snobbish. If you are brazilian, you are arrogant. In front of others, life is full of colors and happiness. But each one knows how hard it is to go home and face reality.

So, please, let your mind talk free. People need to hear that life can be different.

Don't worry about your level of Portuguese. It is not an easy language, there are too many phonemes and we have synonyms for everything. It is a very poetic language, actually. Brazil has too many flaws but it also has too many amazing things (other than beaches and carnival - I really love both). One of those amazing things is Portuguese language. You can now read all those fantastic writers in their native language. Machado de Assis, Fernando Pessoa, Nelson Rodrigues, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Clarice Lispector, Cecília Meireles and many more. Our cinema also goes beyond Tropa de Elite. And our music... Aaaah, the rest of the planet will have to forgive me - and I do have a very eclectic taste, ranging from classical music to blues - but there is no music like brazilian music!!! It is where our power resides, in music!

I always tell my husband that in Brazil everything is "too much". There are no little things in Brazil. Everything is huge. Population, area in square meters, kilometers of coast line, number of trees in the forest, number of cows, number of cities, number of deputies and senators, number of pickpockets and thieves, number of serial killers, number of liters of coconut water consumed per year. Everything is big, exaggerated, inflated. Welcome to Brazil! I hope you enjoy it :)

M.Lane said...

SO nice to know that pompous asses cross all borders. Good grief! My wife would have SOCKED him one.

Anyhow, this fellow is proud of how you handled it.

And, I'm very glad to see a post from you again. I missed your writing.


Skarrlette's Hammer said...

Your blog is the first blog I really started reading about Brazil when I realized I was moving to Brazil and wanted to find out what is going on down there.

Let me tell you honestly your photography is better than most any other bloggers I have seen. Its the simplicity of your photos they way they are set up, the angle the subject matter. Very artistic and beautiful They show the food you mean to show naturally with no frills. I think it should be in magazines.

With that said I also like your refreshing honesty. I would rather hear the truth than about coconut juice and fake sugary coated posts that don't really tell me how you feel about living in Brazil. Anyone can tell you what the best restaurant is to go to, but it seems not anyone can tell you the truth. Things that really make life uncomfortable. People take things to personally. You don't always have to put a silver lining on everything to placate people as long as no one is out to hurt people, a blog is about your perspective how you feel. People need to able to take criticisms it helps them grow.

Thank you for your honesty I hope to hear more from you and more photography.

Rita Gomes. said...

what can i possibly say my friend? you write so well that my english almost cant handle it.

your food is incredible good. your pics are amazing.
brasil is difficult. people can be awfull (even respected old teachers).
hope youre not too sad or bored.
good youre back.

(i havent updated my blog in 3 months and although almost no one visit I miss it.. i'm attached to it... so i know how you feel)

beijos and see you on sunday.

Unknown said...

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Nani said...

I am so mad at this man I could punch him in the face if I saw him right now. I am Brazilian as you know and I can say this: many Brazilians are hypocrites. First of all, Brazilians are the first ones to complain e and criticized Brazil and it's "ways". I hate it that they get mad when someone from a different country says what Brazilians already know. You said the truth!!!! And again, not even him, a grammar professor speaks and writes Portuguese the right way. Believe me, even people who are born in Brazil and even those who teach Portuguese make lots of mistakes. You have no obligation to speak perfect Portuguese, or even to speak it at all. I wish I were there to defend you. You know, the best thing to do is to ignore people like that. They do not add anything to your life. So you don't miss anything by being away from people like that. I think you should just come back to the USA and bring H. with you!! I vote for that :) Oh, by the way you can tell this guy your Portuguese is way better than his English. :)

chefhelen said...

Look, I didn't have time to read the entire article (promise I will in the am), but get off yer butt, git off'n the couch and start writin' again! Takin' pichers ain't a bad option neither!

Now git! Git workin'! It'll make yu'ns feel better n' help us'ns too!

chefhelen said...

Look, I didn't have time to read the entire article (promise I will in the am), but get off yer butt, git off'n the couch and start writin' again! Takin' pichers ain't a bad option neither!

Now git! Git workin'! It'll make yu'ns feel better n' help us'ns too!

chefhelen said...

Look, I didn't have time to read the entire article (promise I will in the am), but get off yer butt, git off'n the couch and start writin' again! Takin' pichers ain't a bad option neither!

Now git! Git workin'! It'll make yu'ns feel better n' help us'ns too!

Iona said...

A recipe got me to your blog, but your writing has drawn me in. It may be random people from who knows where that benefit from your sharing and make up your ephemeral blog "community," and it is not the same as sitting face to face, being a neighbor.... but it has its own sort of beauty, and ability to connect real people in real ways at times, and sometimes it has a place in our lives...

Hope my "thank you" to you as I stay up a little too late on my computer to type this, does some good to your heart, as what you have shared on your blog has done to mine. :)

Toasted cheese and coffee said...

Mal well played... I am thinking he would fit right in to NKHS. Hi Jim!


Anna said...

O mais importante ñ é se vc gosta ou ñ do Brasil, mas sim se vc é feliz aqui. Vc é feliz aqui?

Aliás, adorei seu blog.