Monday, June 6, 2011

Dowsing Brazil

My biggest complaint is that for traveling all this way to race IM Brazil, I'm not seeing a whole heck of a lot of Brazil.

I'm not talking geographic area (although that would be nice too) but culture.  I can't help but feel that my only hint that I'm on the coast of Brazil, rather than Florida or Italy or France, is that everyone speaks Portuguese, instead of English, Italian, or French.  As a former travel guide writer for Let's Go who previously has been dumped rather unceremoniously into some pretty culturally diverse locales, this lack of cultural immersion, exploration, and understanding is downright unacceptable.

Last night I gathered my few remaining lucid muscle fibers and hobbled out to dowse Brazil.  As luck would have it - with the help of a few locals, lots of hand gestures, and the Interwebs - I managed finally to reconcile some of the many facets of Floripa and Jurere, if not Brazil entire.

Ok.  Background.  These photos represent my visual exploration and understanding of Floripa, Jurere, and I guess, Brazil, as far as the Beverly Hills of the Beverly Hills can represent the entire country, before last night's adventures. 

The Metropolitan Blanket known as Sao Paulo from above

The favela (slums) of Floripa; they are right next to the highway and we passed them many times during the bike

The mosaic tiled running path along the Jurere beach

The view west-to-east along the Jurere Beach and across Jurere

A single fishing boat on Jurere Beach

Open-air - but empty of people - shopping plaza

The view east-to-west along Jurere Beach

The view down a main road in Jurere

Two fruit stands...such culture...

Mediterranean architecture beach/vacation homes

I know that May is firmly the fall/low season for Jurere, but even trying to find an open restaurant on a Monday night proved challenging.  Everywhere there are stores selling expensive housewares, furniture, interior decorations, chocolates, clothes, but the locales are riding old bikes and taking the bus.  The vacation homes are closed up, being renovated, or for sale.  There is none of the color and vibrancy and energy that non-Brazilians are told define Brazilian culture.  Again, aside from the Portuguese, Jurere could be a beach and community in all the beaches, in all the world.

Then the Interwebs, as they are sometimes wont to do, spoke to me some truth.  And this truth was so incredibly diametrically opposed to the pictures above and what I had experienced, I gaped at the screen, just shaking my head. 

It took me several videos to reconcile these two versions of the same place.

We had our pre-race dinner and post-race awards banquet at the club - P12 - pictured here.  WHA?!?!?  I am told entrance for a single day can cost R1,000 ($600US), and the HUGE, like a yard tall, bottles of champagne cost R12,000 ($8,000US).  Again, WHA?!??  Tickets for non-racers to the banquet were R10 ($6US).

And finally, my own hobbling wanderings located some authentic Brazil.  Or at least I think more authentic than yard-tall bottles of champagne.

Road-side Pinhao and Quentao stand

When I approached the stand after dinner - for who could guess just how much of these things I would actually eat - I knew only that pinhāo and quentāo were Brazilian snacks not considered delicacies, like a hot-dog bought at a stand on the streets of New York.  I had seen pinhāo in the grocery store so at least I could answer "animal, vegetable, or mineral?"

At the grocery story

I walked up, indicated I wanted some of whatever it all was, they demonstrated how to eat it, and I settled in for my snack.  No one spoke English, but everyone was fluent in hand gestures and laughing at the stupid American so a good and tasty time was had by all.

L-to-R: peanuts (bag), pinhao (bowl; with the top-most one split open; you eat the white part), and quentao (cup)

Pinhāo (pronounced "pin" (as in safety pin, but a bit more nasally) + "yao" (as in the first name of "Yao Ming")...yeah, I suck at pronunciation guides) is the single seed inside the decayed pine cone of an over-harvested-and-now-slightly-in-danger-of-going-extinct Brazilian evergreen.  Cooked in just-barely-boiling water for 8 minutes with a touch of salt, the seed is then split open with a knife and the now soft-almond-texture inside is eaten ungarnished.  The taste is plain, ever so slightly salty, and kind of nutty, but unlike a nut, the pinhao is almost all carbohydrate.

Quentāo (pronounced "Ken" (the man's name) + "oww"(as in "oww, I stubbed my toe") with a slight "t" sound in between) is heated, but not boiled, wine that tastes like a combination of mulled or spiced wine; slightly-alcoholic apple cider; and sangria.  The main (only?) ingredient is (essentially) cheap, red, sweet-ish wine which, when heated, loses enough of its cheap-ness and bite to become drinkable and enjoyable and almost dessert-like wine.

See how much hand gestures (with some help from the Interwebs) can teach you?

On two big propane burners sit big vats holding water and the pinhao, with the quentao pitchers sitting to heat among the pinhao, in the pinhao-cooking water

The Pinhao Purveyor

Just like when I was working for Let's Go, I hesitated to snap away with my camera and just tried to be a part of this road-side thing.  The nutritional combination of peanuts (protein and fat), pinhāos (carbs), and quentāo (alcohol) suggests the perfect inexpensive, but semi-balanced meal for lower working-class Brazilians.  And my co-snackers support that: one seemingly down on his luck guy wearing too few clothes for the chilly evening, and two telephone repairmen, still in their jumpsuits.  However, I also learned that pinhāo is a main treat for the June Festivals they hold in Brazil and June is just around the corner, so maybe these three guys were just getting a head start on the festivities.  While I ate, several locals walked or rode bikes up to the stand and bought cooked pinhāos to take-away, and as I walked away, a family out for a stroll walked up to have a snack.

I feel like I finally found something of Brazil, if only two foods and four guys at one road-side stand in the low-season of the country's Beverly Hills.  If Brazilians have to rely on possibly homeless guys eating hot dogs on Rodeo Drive in December for their cultural lessons, America is in SERIOUS TROUBLE.

Whenever I have these previously untried food moments, I always think "who in there right mind first saw a decayed pine cone and said let's heat it up, cut it open, and see what the inside tastes like?"  Then I remember that I compete in an event where not that many years ago, 13 people stood on a beach, preparing to take on a day that everyone standing behind them thought would surely kill one, if not all, of them.  They rode 112 miles in cut-off jean shorts.  I can eat the cooked inside of a decayed pine cone.

And I can like it. A lot.


Gustavo Pereira said...

Miss Beebe, are you in Floripa yet?
Here's a tip about typical florianopolitan food: Tainha!
Tainha is a fish, that just appears in this season of the year. Most part of the incomming of the fishermen out here comes with de commerce of these fish.
The fact is that it's soooo delicious!
And about P12 parties. Most part of them has avarege prices to enter, like 50 to 80 reais (30-60 dolars) to men, and 10 to 30 (4-18 dolars) to women. But in some special cases (like new year's eve) the prices may rise to 1000 reais, but with all inclusive (food, drinks, firewors etc.).

Kelzie said...

Gustavo - Sadly, I have come and gone from Floripa, arriving several days before the race and leaving several days after. I really did enjoy my time there, and with your suggestions, can have an even better time the next time I visit Brazil. Thanks! -Kelzie

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