Oi gente! Too many events have occurred during my first week here to put into one blog post (I have gone out more in one week here in Sampa than I do in a whole month in DC) and I don’t want to bore anybody to death by making a laundry list. So I’ll try to fill you in on the events and sites that really stood out for me from that first week. Let me forewarn you that in this blog and most of my blogs in general, I will talk A LOT about food so please forgive me if I make you hungry.
As you might recall from my first blog post, I arrived one day before the scheduled start of my program –CIEE Liberal Arts in Sao Paulo- as a precaution against any setbacks (i.e. flight delays). The next day, July 2nd, I took the shuttle from the airport to meet up with the Resident Coordinator and the other students who would be participating in the program. I had no problem finding the group and after two hours (we were waiting for everybody in the group to arrive) we departed on a bus CIEE had rented towards the Bee W. Hostel, a hostel off Avenida Paulista where we stayed for the next two days –the duration of the on-site orientation.
We had about an hour to rest and were treated to lunch (by CIEE of course) at a restaurant next door called Segredos de Minas, which serves typical Brazilian from the state of Minas Gerais. As some of you might know, Brazil is a country blessed with an infinite variety of fruits and vegetables that are unknown in other parts of the world, so there is a wide variety of delicious fruit juices to sample. It was here at Segredos de Minas that for the first time I tried cajá juice, and let me tell you, I am absolutely in love with it! This juice is made from a fruit called cajá which tastes like the fruit lovechild of a passion fruit and a mango – it is quite glorious and I recommend you guys try it if you’re ever in Brazil.
After stuffing our faces with delicious Brazilian food we walked off some of the calories on Avenida Paulista, which is the Brazilian equivalent of New York’s Fifth Avenue. To say it is huge is a gross understatement: one million people pass by it every single day. The architecture of the buildings on Paulista is pretty varied: you can find anything from tall, glass high-rises to modern Brazilian architecture (best embodied by the MASP museum). However, by far my favorite building on Paulista is the Casa das Rosas (House of Roses) – it is the only remaining mansion on Avenida Paulista from Brazil’s coffee era (1800-1903). Originally, Avenida Paulista was built to house the mansions of the wealthy Paulistano (people from the city of São Paulo) coffee barons. However, over the years, these beautiful mansions were torn down to make space for high rises and the only mansion still standing is the Casa das Rosas, which is now a museum and cultural center.
We finished the day off by dining at a local pizzeria called Bendita Hora. Unlike the average American pizzeria, Bendita Hora serves both salty AND sweet pizzas. Yes you heard me…SWEET PIZZAS. We tried two different pizzas: pumpkin pizza and chicken pizza and finished off with the delicious Aphrodite pizza (what an appropriate name!) which consisted of melted chocolate, condensed milk, and strawberries. Oh and of course a cup of Brazilian coffee (it is pretty strong and resembles a three-shot espresso) with two cubes of gelatina de pinga (little gummy cubes made with cachaça).
Fast-forward three days later to Monday, July 6th: the first day of my intensive summer Portuguese language class. Class was interesting, but long –it is three hours of Portuguese for four days a week- so I am just going to skip over that and get to the good stuff: the after-class cultural activities! Monday after class we went to the Parque da Água Branca (Whitewater Park), a multi-purpose park near my house complete with a playground for kids, an aquarium, a gazebo where you can rent books to read, and even animals like peacocks and monkeys and chickens (yes chickens) running free. Miraculously the animals don’t wander off and leave the park. Here I came across an animal called a sagui, which is a little monkey the size of a squirrel.
Our walk through the park was short as our destination was the Memorial da América Latina (Latin American Memorial), a multi-building complex constructed by Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, to honor the culture, history, and peoples of the various countries that make up Latin America. In the main square (Praça Cívica), there is a large concrete sculpture representing an open hand in vertical position, with the map of Latin America painted in red. It symbolizes Latin America’s past of oppression and its battles for freedom, with the red map as a reminder of the blood from the sacrifices that were made.
Since it was getting late and afterwards we were planning to see the rehearsals of a samba school, we decided to grab something to eat at a restaurant nearby. Our guide, Viliane took us to a restaurant called Sabores do Nordeste (Flavors of the Northeast) which specializes in food from northeastern Brazil. You guys can already guess where this is headed haha. Anyways, here I was finally able to try acarajé, a dish from the state of Bahia of West African origin which is made from black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil. It is then split in half and stuffed with a paste containing shrimp, ground cashews, and coconut milk. However, that was just the appetizer; since the portions were so big, my friend Nashwa and I ordered carne de sol com baião de dois -rice with black eyed peas, fried meat, cheese, and pieces of yuca- and soursop juice, which is yet another of the many fruits that can be found in this wonderful country.
Finally it was time to head out to Vila Madalena to see the neighborhood’s samba school, Pérola Negra, rehearse for Carnaval. The rehearsal was not at all what I expected: I had imagined that the rehearsals would comprise of us, the audience, sitting on some bleachers watching the dancers and the musicians practice on a stage in yoga pants and sneakers. That is what most people imagine when you hear the word ‘rehersal’, right? Well, it was far from that. First of all, the warehouse where the rehearsals were being held resembled a club more than anything else. As you entered the building, there were bouncers checking people and confiscating any bottles. By the way, you also have to pay a “cover” fee like you do at clubs.
Inside there was a stage where there was a band and later a DJ playing funk carioca -a musical rhythm originating in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Strangely enough, amidst this chaos, there were whole families -grandparents, parents, children, etc.- all partaking in this event. Some were dressed normally but others had Perola Negra t-shirts and jerseys, like one would of one’s favorite sports team. After about two hours of this, the rehearsal finally started. Most of the dancers and the musicians were already in costume as if Carnaval was tomorrow. The minority that wasn’t in costume were dressed like they were going clubbing; they had full make up on, sky high heels, and clubbing clothes on. You get the picture.
That’s all for now gente (everyone). Até a próxima! (Until next time!)