Monday, July 27, 2009

Feijoada birthday feast

We went to a wonderful birthday party on Sunday for the adult daughter of one of Zozó’s neighbors. The guest of honor’s mother prepared a huge feijoada feast for about 40 people.

For those who have yet to attend a feijoada lunch let me fill you in.

Feijoada is generally considered the national dish of Brazil. It is a slow-cooked black bean stew made with various pork and beef products: port trimmings (ears, nose, tail), very thick cut bacon, smoked pork ribs, a couple types of sausage, sun dried beef and whatever special meat product grandma always included.

Typical accompaniments include rice (arroz), thinly sliced and sautéed collard greens (couve), lightly toasted yucca flour, usually with something like bacon pieces included (farofa), peeled and sliced oranges (laranjas), and if they are going all out a big platter of fried pork rinds (torresmo). For a perfect topper the cook will take a few cups of the bean sauce and mix in some very spicy hot pepper oil.

This is one of those meals everyone loves and you always make for a crowd. The birthday party was just this sort of occasion. The pots and bowls and platters on the table were huge. The pot with the feijoada in it was large enough to bathe a two year old child in.

The food was fabulous. It’s always fun to spy on people as they drag the ladle through the feijoada looking for the cuts of meat they like the best. Some people like the firm dried beef, others like the squishy fat and firm pork combination of some of the trimmings, and folks like me go for the easy to identify and safe chunks of sausage. Delicious. (The ladle lottery can sometimes pull up some really nasty chunks of fatty who-knows-what.)

To top it all off the mother of the birthday gal is a professional pastry chef. Some time after the lunch was cleared she brought out two trays of docinhos (yummy little sweets in tiny paper cups) a huge Pyrex brimming with a banana, vanilla and chocolate pudding and a gigantic four layer picture-perfect strawberry and cream cake.

We rolled out of there a couple hours later, after we regained the ability to stand up.

What's the rush?

Still waiting on my official federal ID card. I was approved for the card on December 19th of 2008. At that point they gave me a little slip of paper for my wallet that documented that the Brazilian bureaucracy was working on getting a laminated photo ID to me at their earliest convenience. See previous post.

By my watch that was more than 7 months ago. Still no ID card. No problem, really. I never get stopped by the Federal Police (knock wood) and my Carteira de Trabalho (work book) has been serving the function of proving I am a legal permanent resident (for things like getting a bank account).

There is a website I can go to and put in my process number and it will tell me when the card is ready for pickup at the local office of the Federal Police. Unfortunately my Microsoft or Google internet protection software won’t let me sign on to the website because apparently the feds here are not replying to a request to authenticate the website.

So the other day Luiz and I went by the Federal Police office. Doing so requires wearing long pants and a shirt with sleeves. No big deal, but I never wear anything but shorts.

Once at the counter we were told that the card was still in process and I should return in DECEMBER! This time the guy gave me a bigger piece of paper for my wallet that acts like the ID itself, almost. So I guess I’ll pay them another visit in December, when I REALLY won’t want to wear long pants!

Two years ago Luiz and I stopped into the DMV in Florida to change our US residency from California to Florida. Fifteen minutes later we had our spiffy new Florida photo IDs in hand. Things are a bit different here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Flor de Luiz in pink

Recently Luiz made a bride very happy. She had asked Luiz to design for her her dream bouquet - one made of pink stargazer lilies.

Pink was the color theme of the wedding. All the men in the wedding party wore black suits with pink neckties. The dessert table was lit from below by pink lights. Centerpiece arrangements featured several types of pink flowers. And the bride’s bouquet was an explosion of pink lilies.

She loved it. She never set the thing down all night. When it came time to toss the bouquet to her eager single female friends she first gave a long speech about her fabulous dream-come-true bouquet that she didn’t want to give away. Luiz assured her the lilies would only die in a day or so and there was no way to dry or otherwise preserve them. So she reluctantly agreed to throw it to her friends, but only after putting off that ritual until nearly the end of the night.

Another happy customer of Flor de Luiz.

Friday, July 24, 2009

You know you are in Brazil when

You know you are in Brazil when the bus driver takes it upon himself to back up on the highway to go look for your hat that just flew out the window.

We were on the two lane Costa Verde highway making our way from Angra dos Reis to Paraty. Beth, Cece and I had just finished 5 days on Ilha Grande and were skipping down to Paraty for a quick couple of days before heading back to Niteroi. It was a two hour ride.

About halfway along the route a very old, hunched-over and slow-moving man in an ancient, formal army officer uniform (complete with a snappy brimmed hat) entered the bus. A woman who appeared to be his daughter asked the driver to please look after him and drop him off just before our final destination.

The old guy was cute as could be in his historic uniform. His “luggage” was nothing more than two extremely thread-bare and patched up small duffle bags. He adjusted the window next to him to get a bit of a breeze and promptly slumped over and fell asleep.

About 40 minutes later, as we were approaching the turnoff to Paraty, the little girl sitting right behind the old man screamed out “Mommy, his hat!” I looked over just in time to see the man’s green officer cap disappearing out the open window. The bus driver was quickly apprised of the situation. The old guy woke up from all the commotion.

Next thing I knew the bus driver had pulled over to the side of the road, popped the bus into reverse, and started crawling backward along the shoulder to go find the hat. When he caught sight of the hat in his rearview mirror he stopped and asked a young passenger to hop out and go retrieve it.

Returning the hat to the crown of the old man’s head the bus driver patted him on the shoulder and said, “Be careful Coronel.”

As we made our way into Paraty I just kept thinking with a smile – never in America.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

All Michael all the time

Just like everywhere else on the planet Brazil has experienced a firestorm of Michael Jackson video clips, news stories, retrospectives and tributes on the tube and elsewhere: magazine covers, store CD displays, conversations in bank lines, and especially among my younger English students.

“Teacher, do you like Michael Jackson?” “Teacher, do you like Thriller?” Teacher, what are your favorite Michael Jackson songs?”

There does not seem to be all the crass words here about Michael’s legal problems and rumors about inappropriate behavior with children. The kids are definitely not talking about it.

I asked one Brazilian adult why they thought people were not preoccupied with the seedier side of Michael’s legacy. He suggested that Xuxa, a hugely famous TV personality who caters to child audiences was friends with Michael Jackson and visited his Neverland estate more than once. After the child molestation allegations came out Xuxa apparently went on television and stood up for Michael, insisting he was innocent of everything. Case closed.

Whatever the case may be – Michael’s songs have been coming out of every stereo speaker and car radio since his untimely death. I was in an absolute dump of a luncheonette the other day in a poorer section of town (near one of the schools I teach at) and the video jukebox was blaring “We Are the World” while nearly everyone in the place sang along (in English).

Quite the superstar, for sure. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Beth and Cece's wild and crazy adventure

You might think that visiting Brazil for a month gives you plenty of time to travel around and see the sights. But you would be wrong. Just ask our friend Beth and her daughter Cece. It was a whirlwind adventure with many plans left on the table.

Beth and Cece arrived in mid June with no plans to leave until mid July. Just fun and adventure. Here’s how it played out.

First few days: recover from jet lag and explore the immediate surroundings here in Niterói. The beach, the park, fresh fruit juices, back to the beach.

Late in the first week: off to Cabo Frio, Buzios and Arrail do Cabo. We put them in a cab to the bus station where Beth bought their tickets. They arrived in Cabo Frio after dark. Armed with a business card from the only hotel Luiz and I had a business card from, they took a cab to their hotel. The next several says were beaches, beaches and more beaches – across three towns.

Midway into their second week: we put them on a plane to the Pantanal for five glorious days of wildlife viewing and a taste of local food and culture. This adventure was made easier by local airport pick up and drop off by the eco-lodge they stayed at (two hours trip each way.)

Into their third week: No sooner did they get back from the Pantanal were they back in a bus to Ilha Grande and Paraty, just a few hours south of Rio. I joined them for this adventure. Four nights on Ilha Grande, then two in Paraty. Beaches, snorkeling, hiking and boat tours while visiting Ilha Grande. Then wandering the amazing historic district of Paraty, shopping and a little bit more shopping.

Finally into the fourth week: just enough time to actually spend a couple days exploring Rio, get their hair and nails done, pick up some last minute gifts for friends and buy a few remembrances for themselves.

Phew! A real quick-step marathon. And lots of things they had no time left to enjoy: samba lessons for mom, soccer lessons for Cece, eating at a Comida Minas restaurant, and just hanging out at the pool in Itaipu – to name a few.

Beth seemed to step easily over the cultural divide and settle in. Cece seemed a bit reluctant to try the different foods, adapt to the absence of many conveniences and even reported to be a bit “over” the constant kisses on both cheeks from strangers. I will say I think we hit a home run with Cece when it came to the açai, granola and banana breakfasts. And I think she enjoyed hanging out with monkeys.

All in all it was a great time – and they promise to start saving for their next visit.
[Sorry for the use of some stock photos - images of Beth and Cece are on Beth's camera and I'm betting I won't get them for months...]