I think what I will remember most about Christmas and New Year 2010 is the amount of food I ate. Truly good food, but just far too much!!! The eating began the moment I landed in Brasilia on Christmas Eve and met up with Ga and Angelo (the sister and brother-in law of my best friend who married Gui in July 2010). They took me to a great Brazilian restaurant with typical dishes from the northeast of the country. There I got to see just how crazy Brazilians are for manioc or yam. You can eat it fried, boiled, mashed, sweet, savoury, in the form of flour called Farofa and mixed with beans or meat etc etc…The buffet was huge and despite the fact that just a few hours later we were going to be having Christmas Dinner, I couldn´t help but pile a plate high with everything I wanted to try. Leaving space of course for the yummy Brazilian desserts…
The wonders of technology never cease to amaze me and our wonderful Christmas dinner that night was made even more special by the fact that at the head of the table we had Melissa, Gui, Christopher (her brother) and Alan (her dad) on the laptop via iChat. They were having lunch 6 hours behind us in California while we were having turkey and all the trimmings (Brazilian style). We literally could carry on a conversation with them as if they were in the same room! Truly amazing for me considering internet connections etc back in South Africa are still often too poor for such things. Hopefully one day I can have virtual dinner parties with friends and family around the world…
Christmas Day was super relaxed and once again started off with an amazing fish lunch at a really exclusive restaurant. In the afternoon Ga, Angelo, Vanildo and Rosario showed me around Brasilia a bit. Now for those of you that don´t know (which is probably all of you), Brasilia is a city that was only built 50 years ago when the President of Brazil at the time decided that since the majority of Brazil´s population is concentrated along it´s coastline he was going to move the capital from Rio to a new city 1500km inland. And so in only 5 years he had Brazilia designed and built. The entire city was designed by one person (Oscar Niemeyer) and the centre is in the shape of an airplane with all the government buildings, monuments and ministries centred in the body of the plane with people living in the wings. The city was originally designed for 400 000 people, however the population is now 2 million, so things have expanded beyond the ´plane´, but the layout of the original city has been maintained. The city has a great feeling to it, with wide streets, lots of green spaces and lots of space in general. One reason for this is a law that apart from in the city centre, no building can be taller than six floors which means that despite all the apartment buildings there is still an air of openness.
Whilst I have absolutely no knowledge of architecture or urban design etc, it was really interesting to see all the buildings designed by Niemeyer, many of which look like UFOs. The significance and meaning behind all his buildings and monuments was really interesting. My favourite building was the cathedral which is certainly like no other cathedral I have ever been in. It is light and airy with gigantic angels hanging from the ceiling. Also due to its round design Ga could stand on one side of the cathedral and whisper something and I could hear her perfectly on the other side.
After exploring Brasilia Ga, Angelo and I headed to Curitiba in the south of Brazil where I met all of Angelo´s family. A rather big family with loads of aunts and cousins, but all super friendly and they welcomed me into their homes like an old friend which was truly wonderful. What I found incredibly interesting in Brazil is that every region and city feels like a totally different country. Rio with its´ beach culture and really laid back attitude, Brazilia with its´ focus on politics and governance and the uniqueness of its´ design and layout and then Curitiba in the south which has a distinctly European feel with most people having Italian, German,
Polish or other European ancestry. Angelo actually told me an interesting story that Brazilian passports are highly valuable on the black market because no matter what your name and how you look you could potentially be Brazilian due to the mixture of races and cultures from all over the world. Curitiba is a beautiful city due to the fact that it has 36 green spaces or parks, some being highly manicured and maintained like the Botanical Gardens whilst others are remnants of natural forests. Many of the parks are themed such as the Polish Park which shows how the Polish immigrants used to live or the Bosque Alamao (German Forest) which has a lovely trail through the forest and boards telling the story of Hansel and Gretal.
Then from Curitiba we had a quick one night stop in Ponto Grossa for the wedding of a cousin of Angelo´s. It was really interesting for me to see a Brazilian wedding and although this one was apparently not as huge or traditional as most, it was still fun. The ceremony has a lot of pomp and ceremony including numerous padrinhos (couples who act as witnesses to the wedding and are almost similar to bridesmaids and groomsmen but without the responsibilities) walking down the aisle first and then the bride being announced by trumpeters! Then contrary to more western weddings, the reception is super informal and is all about the partying and dancing with no speeches or toasts etc and dinner is a buffet which you can help yourself to whenever you want, in between all the dancing of course.
After the wedding, it was on to the Island of Santa Catarina and Florianopolis for four days at the beach! Florianopolis is apparently the second best place to celebrate new years in Brazil behind Rio and so the usually quite sleepy island quadruples in size at this time of the year. This was very evident in the long traffic jams we encountered on the small, windy island roads – the worst being nearly two hours to travel 36 kilometers from the airport to our beach in the north. But despite the crowds, the beaches still felt manageable and I had my first swim in the ocean in South America (Chile´s Pacific coastline is far too cold for me…). Brazil really
knows how to do beach culture in style and you choices for refreshments were amazing – everything is available, from fresh coconut juice sipped from the coconuts themselves to capairinhas and mojitos and grilled cheese, corn on the cob or a range of other Brazilian snacks. You definitely with never go hungry or thirsty at the beach here.
New Years 2011 was a truly international affair with people from three different continents since some of Ga´s friends joined us from Italy and Ecuador. This meant that we had four different languages all being spoken at the same time – Portuguese, Spanish, English and Italian. Italian and Spanish are really similar, but sadly my spanish is not nearly good enough to help with the Italian. But all in all, I managed to understand most things. Cristian and Fran decided to treat us all to a culinary Italian feast on new years! It is certainly no exaggeration just how much Italians love to cook. Roasted peppers, grilled potatoes, grilled prawns, yummy Brazilian beef, bruschetta and the simplest, but tastiest salad made the final dinner of 2010 a very memorable one.
Then it was off to the beach which is where Brazilians love to celebrate the start of a new year. As is the tradition, we were all dressed in white which is said to bring good luck for the new year. After the countdown we then had to jump over 7 waves and make a wish for every wave. Grapes are eaten at midnight, again 7 with the same wishes as the waves. People throw white flowers into the ocean to the Goddess of the water (from the Brazilian Umbanda religion) who is said to bring good fortune. These lovely traditions made me realise that we don´t have any traditions in South Africa. I think from now on I will at least try and continue the tradition of wearing white which I really liked. The celebrations were topped off with a swim in the ocean which was probably one of the best swims I have had in years. A great celebration for a new year, spent with lovely people from all over the world. Despite being far from friends and family, it was a memorable and special start to 2011. I hope the year continues in the same way…