Just a thought....
Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

Friday, 31 March 2006

Just go straight

*original blog written March, 4th 2006*

We are trying to play 'sightseeing and shopping catch up'. We have to cram in as many places as possible before Anne leaves for South Africa. Today was the turn of Serra Negra. I have been talking about it for some time and we never seem to get that far. On the way to Serra Negra are a host of interesting little towns. The stops add up and we inevitably end up turning around before hitting Serra Negra.

We started out by missing our turnoff on the freeway. At this point, I must tell you that certain people had put the map at the back of the car, instead of the cubby hole, so I had no way, except vague memory, of navigating. Then certain other people have this habit of just driving on and not waiting for me to make sure we're on the right road ;) For the uninitiated, I am the official navigator and scapegoat. Our travels are nothing, if not interesting. Let's just say, we take the scenic route as a matter of course.

Back to the story....
We eventually arrived at a tollgate, where we asked for directions. We had two options, one was to take the 'retorno' and go back the way we came for some kilometers or go straight and take offramp number 136 to Serra Negra. Great! We decided on the offramp up ahead. We drove a little further and found offramp number 136, which, once we'd turned onto it, said it was road number 133. Ugh! We decided to 'donner maar voort' (roughly translated... keep going blindly). What followed was one of the more 'interesting' and 'rustic' and longer scenic routes we'd been on to date. Anne's car's shocks were tested to their limit, I'm sure. We ended up at Hollambra, Brazil's little Holland with its windmills and Dutch cookies, where we stopped for coffee for our backs to recover from the jolting. At least we finally knew where we were.

On to Serra Negra. Of course, we had to stop in Pedreira to do some shopping. It has lovely wrought iron work, crystals and stoneware. We then passed through Amparo, a pretty, but confusing town for people like us. We asked directions a few times. We kept hearing 'just go straight'. I can't begin to tell you how many times we went around turning circles into different directions and still hearing 'just go straight'. The final straw was at the lake, where a nice old man told us to 'just go straight', which we duly did, only to find ourselves at a T-junction! Straight? A hobo clutching a stack of money was sitting at that junction. We almost got desperate enough to ask him. Perhaps he was put there to lure unsuspecting lost souls into paying for the solution to 'just go straight' at a t-junction. We ended up following our noses and on the right road... thank goodness!

Serra Negra warrants mention. Its a really pretty town, where bougainvillea is trained to grow over the road. When its in flower, its a beautiful sight. The town has its own cable chair, where you sit and get take up over the town for the view. We didn't have time for this. Then there's the 'Maria fumaça' or 'Smokey Mary'. Its a little tourist train that runs through the town. We parked the car and went shopping. It was hot... I mean... really very hot. Even the locals were complaining. Apparently, Serra Negra was never known to be that hot, but then, the whole of the state of São Paulo seems to be in the middle of an extreme heat wave.

There are many leather work shops in Serra Negra, as well as knitware shops. Not the knitware we're used to. I'm talking about an entire suit made by knitting machine. In fact, any item of clothing for any sex or age group. Those are the two types of shop we were most interested in, though, naturally, there were loads of touristy shops.

We had a late lunch at one of the cafe's alongside the town square. The poprietress was thrilled to have her son handle our order in English. He was around 10 - 12. For a cafe, the lunch was good. We then hunted around for a bank and while doing so, a small orchestra of 4, three violinists and one cellist, set up in the square. We sat and watched them for a time. It was peaceful under the dappled shade of the trees and the music was beautiful.

The trip home was uneventful. We were tired, but well rested from a relaxing, but interesting excursion into the countryside of the state of São Paulo.

Thursday, 30 March 2006

é Carnaval!

*Blog written on February, 27th 2006*

Carnaval (deliberately spelt the local way) is something that Brazilians wait for and plan for the whole year. Costumes vary in price, from relatively expensive to exhorbitant. Many of the participants save the entire year to pay for their costumes.

This year, I was invited to participate... sort of third hand ;) Our consulate went as a group and Tatiana was invited to join them by her godmother, as it was taking place on her birthday. What a birthday gift. The godmother in question got sick the day before, but her costume was already bought, so I was asked to step in and, of course, it was handy having the camera going.

We went by taxi to the Vai Vai meeting hall in Bela Vista. For someone not used to the sensory explosion of color, smell, noise, and movement, it came as a shock. I think I must have stood gawping like the inexperienced foreigner I was for just long enough to get jostled out of the way. Fortunately, help arrived in the form of Audy, who showed us where to go, what to do and how the heck to get the costumes on. Trust me, it was an exercise in flexibility!

The sights were amazing. It was 2am, but sleep was furthest from our minds. Color everywhere! Sequins and glitter being the order of the day. Everyone was totally consumed with looking 'just right'. Cries of 'mind the feathers' were heard (of course, in Portuguese) constantly. In the parade, points are deducted from the school (what the teams are called) if any damage to the costumes is noted. At this point, there was already a fair amount of tippling going on among some of the participants.

The time then came to board the buses. I think each school must have had about 40 buses (it certainly looked that many!), with each group within the school being divided up among the buses. We eventually found our bus and the next challenge began. How on earth does one store all that sequin and feather on a bus seat without damaging any part of it and still be able to make yourself at least remotely comfortable??

The ride in the bus was boisterous and fun. The theme song was practiced over and over with great gusto. Each school has a theme they work on. Ours was the early history of Brazil, with the colonists and slaves. The song tells the story reflected in the costumes. Our part of the whole story reflected the slaves from Africa, thus the choice to put the Consular participants in that group. The group which followed were the 'cane cutters'.

We eventually arrived at the Sambadromo, the specially designed carnival 'stadium'... if you can imagine a stadium in a strip instead of a circle. At this point, we had to wait in the buses for what seemed like an eternity because one of the other teams had caused a delay. The group became more subdued and the 3 to 4am timezone was shown in the drooping heads murmurs, which replaced the shouting and singing.

It was a rather tired group that was eventually let out of the bus. We had to make sure our costumes were on and in place in preparation for parading. Here, we faced another delay, which took us through to daybreak. Sadly, the costumes, which are designed for night time under the spotlights, did not show up as well as we would have liked during the parade. In the early morning light, we shuffled into the Sambadromo itself. A transformation took place and all signs of tiredness disappeared. We danced and sang our way through under the huge spotlights and cameras, between the dancing, waving and shouting spectators, who were urging us along all the way. I wish I could have photographed or filmed the sights in the sambadromo. The floats were spectacular. The singing and dancing was as vibrant as one would expect from a carnival procession. We were hot! We were tired... we had fun. We paraded for 20 minutes, timing being crucial. Needless to say, I didn't know more than two lines of the song, but mouthed along with all the gusto I could. Who cared if I was singing anyway. There were more than enough other voices to make up for my lack :)

Carnival, Brazil's melting pot, where the rich and famous are best of friends with those from the favela's.... where who you are and what you are doesn't matter anymore, as long as you do your school proud. In 20 minutes of pure adrenaline, a year's hard work is displayed. The costumes, which dedicated seamstresses slave over for a year, are tested to their fullest. It was a very tired group that stumbled to the bus for the ride back to the hall at 7am. Costumes were piled one on top of the other this time and getting a seat to rest your aching feet became priority.

It is over now, until next year. Already Vai Vai has the beginnings of Carnaval 2007 displayed on their site. The photos of our little bit of the carnival can be seen on my site. I hope they convey at least some of the excitement of the night. Vai Vai came in second and was to parade again the following weekend, but we were travelling, so didn't take part. Congratulations Vai Vai!