“Olha que coisa mas linda…”
I have so much to say when it comes to sharing my travel experiences, so I feel a little lost. I didn’t want to tell you about my adventures in chronological order (it’s a little boring), so I’ve decided to write about a place I feel like writing about at this particular moment.
I stopped by for a cup of cappuccino at Scoozi in Kenmore square and was pleasantly surprised to hear Tom Jobim singing about a girl from Ipanema who touched his heart with her beauty. Garota de Ipanema is one of my favorite songs, and thanks to it I became a huge fan of Brazilian Bossa Nova. Mysteriously enough, a couple at the next table spoke Portuguese from Brazil that is so distinctive from its parent language by its softness. Thus, I’m devoting this post to Brazil, the country of sun and smiles.
I met my closest friend Luciana and my other Brazilian friends when I was a student at EF International in Boston, preparing myself to take the GRE for grad school. Man did we have a lot of fun! We spent so much time together and became such good friends that it seemed impossible to say goodbye at the end of the program. Fortunately, I had a month long vacation before starting a really boring job, so my mind was set to do something reckless.
I arrived in Sao Paolo at six in the morning. It was March, which meant fall in Brazil. The weather was perfectly mild and warm (as someone who grew up in continental Russia, I pretty much hate the heat). Our plan was to spend a couple of nights in Sao Paolo and then go to the countryside, to a little town called Sao Carlos where Lu was going to throw the party of the year—her 21st birthday. And even though in Brazil the official drinking age is 18, people still celebrate 21 as a significant date. After that we decided to hit Rio and return to Sao Paolo.
It was interesting to watch my friends debating the benefits of Sao Paolo vs. Rio de Janeiro. I think every big country has a similar eternal argument (Moscow vs. Saint Petersburg, New York vs. Boston, Barcelona vs. Madrid) with people defending the virtues of one and blaming the vices of the other. All I can say is that both cities impressed in their own ways. Sao Paolo is a bustling metropolis with hundreds of trendy bars, exquisite restaurants, enormous shopping malls, and all the typical attributes of a big city. It was worth walking on Avenida Paulista, the longest street of Sao Paolo, situated in the heart of the financial district and feeling the city’s pulse. On our way back we stopped at the Museum of Art, which unfortunately wasn’t that fascinating. Maybe because I spent my childhood contemplating the art of Hermitage and Louvre, and other classic European depositories of culture, or maybe because its walls were painted red, which gave me a terrible headache.
The food in Brazil is amazing, and Sao Paolo being the gastronomy capital of the country offers hundreds of famous Brazilian churrascarias, where ever-smiling servants cut the steaming juicy beef right from the spit and serve it at the table. They continue carrying around the spits with various meats until you beg them to stop. My personal favorites are flavorful picanha, prime cut of top sirloin, and exquisite chicken hearts. The most famous dish in Brazil—feijoada—came from the working class, as it was prepared with relatively cheap ingredients. This stew of beans and pork or beef served with rice and topped with farofa, toasted manioc flour and vegetable mixture, is the reason why I keep coming back to this little café in Allston, MA.
A funny thing happened during one of our meat fests. Lu and I were enjoying our steaks when a waiter approached our table with a mysterious smile. He pointed at the man sitting across the hall and told me he sent compliments of my beauty. Well, I do enjoy compliments, but I didn’t get why Lu and the rest of the guests were staring at me in a weird way. Apparently, it was a front man of Cidade Negra (Black City), a popular reggae band in Brazil. Well, I was ultimately flattered to be complimented by a celebrity, even though I didn’t know who he was!
We also visited the Botanical Garden and Ibirapuera Park, where I couldn’t stop watching an impossibly flexible woman performing capoeira, the Brazilian art of combining elements of martial arts and dance. We drove through rich neighborhoods with enormous white mansions, hit a couple of night clubs, and did some shopping at the local flea markets and other fun stuff.
Our next stop was Sao Carlos, Lu’s native town. As I mentioned she had her 21st birthday celebration at her uncle’s rancho with more than one hundred guests, a country band and a lot of fruit punch. After that we headed to Rio, a place I’d been dreaming of visiting all my life. Sea, sun, long beaches with white sand, and the Copacabana Palace were not just on a postcard anymore. The two things I wanted to visit the most were the statue of Christ on Corcovado and the bohemian café Veloso where according to local legend, Antonio Jobim wrote his famous song Garota de Ipanema that introduced Bossa Nova to the world.
Corcovado exceeded all my expectations. Both the statue and the view were just breathtaking. When I looked up at the Christ all I felt was absolute calm and happiness. I saw this image countless times in Brazilian soap operas, which were extremely popular in Russia, but never even thought of the possibility to stand there and contemplate it myself.
Café Veloso is situated in the fashionable and wealthy neighborhood Ipanema and has been always famous with its bohemian public. According to the story, Tom Jobim was sitting at this bar, when a beautiful 15-year-old Héloisa Pinheiro was carrying groceries to her sick mother. The musician was so impressed by her beauty that he immediately jotted down the musical notes on his napkin. I understand it’s just a legend, and the real story can be more prosaic, but when I was sitting in Veloso’s patio, I could perfectly imagine the bohemian public of the 60s smoking cigars, drinking tiny espressos and enjoying la dolce vita. This legend could have happened then.
I know I’m definitely coming back to Brazil. First, I can’t wait to see my beloved friends again, and second, there are so many places I still need to explore. Fortaleza, the pearl of the Brazilian North East, Manaus, the capital of incredible Amazonas, Florianopolis, the city of the most beautiful people and beaches (according to Brazilians), Curitiba, the greenest city in Brazil, and many other places I can’t wait to visit. But for now I’ll keep going there in my imagination by listening to Bossa Nova on my Pandora.