We’re having a wedding for Bertram Lyons and Lisa Rausch:
Stay in touch.
Our apartment is shaded by a mango tree.
The mangos have been ripening for the last couple of weeks. We were eating them green with salt and hot peppers before that (believe us, it’s good!). We like to think this is our going-away present from Lucas.
Lots of people here don’t even like mangos, so around town you can find trees with all their fruit falling and rotting on the ground. Their loss! We have enough ripe mangos to make a mango smoothie every day.
What are the chances we can find an apartment in DC with all-you-can-eat mangos included in the rent?
I spent long hours as a kid (and still today) playing Gin with my family—my dad, mom, aunts and uncles, cousins, my grandmother. When I first learned the game, I couldn’t tell the difference between the name of the game and the alcohol. And then some people called it Rummy. Well, that just added to the liquor/card confusion for me. But now, regardless of whether I’m drinking or passing time at the card table, I can tell the difference between my gins and my rummies.
This week, I learned a new card game: cacheta (pronounced: kahshetta), also known as pife (pronounced: peefy). I’m still a rookie, so I’m going to get some things wrong here. This first thing I noticed is that the game is very similar to Gin, except it’s played with two full decks, and usually more than two players. Each player gets 9 cards, instead of 10, and runs/sets have to be exactly three cards (except if you go out with 10 cards, then one can be a group of four cards). I did alright in the game. I lost. But, you know, I had fun. The dealer also turns a card up before the game begins. This card signifies the joker (curinga). If a 10 of clubs appears, the Jack of clubs is the joker. If a three of spades appears, the four of spades is the joker, and so on. Since there are two decks, there are always two jokers in the deck. Players take turns drawing a card from the deck or taking the discard from the previous player (and only the previous discard is available). Just like Gin, first one to go out wins. You can go out with 9 cards, by discarding, or you can go out with 10 cards by using the previous discard as your tenth card (in which case you can have a group of four cards in your hand — 4 fours or 5,6,7,8 or whatever). You get double points (10 points for a 9 card win, 20 points for a 10 card win) going out with 10. Scoring is a little difficult, but basically you play with 7 dimes. After every round, the winner gets a dime (or two if they have a 10-card win). Once all the dimes are gone, the top scorer wins. If there’s a tie, those players play to win the dimes of the other players. The losers sit out and watch. It’s a fast and fun game. Surely twists exist and scoring could be different. What I want to know is, what does pife and cacheta taste like? And where do you get bottles of these liquors?
It is funny that the national alcohol of Brazil, cachaça, is close enough to the word, cacheta. Right? Cachaça, cacheta. Gin, gin. Rummy, rum. What’s the deal? Nothing goes better with cards than alcohol? Or vice versa?
Speaking of cachaça, the most widely known drink from Brazil is the caipirinha. Being that I’m a want-to-be-bartender, I spent a good deal of energy here in Brazil learning to make the caipirinha, understanding the history of the drink, and experimenting different versions — including the many types of caipifrutas. It’s not hard to do, really. Any Brazilian will tell you. Get you some sugar, a lime, a knife, a cup, cachaça, some ice, done. Pour about a spoonful of sugar in the cup. Cut the lime into eighths. Squeeze the lime wedges into the cup over the sugar. Put about four of the squeezed wedges in the cup. With the back of your knife, muddle the sugar, lime wedges, and lime juice until the sugar is dissolved and the lime wedges are nice and beat. Pour in some cachaça (to your liking — at least two shots-worth). Muddle again. Muddle well. Add some ice (to your liking). Mix well. Enjoy. At least that’s my favorite version. You can also substitute any type of fruit for the lime, or even mix different fruits — hence the “caipifruta”.
So, what’s the point of all this, you ask. Well, I was thinking of the similarities between cacheta and gin. And then we received a package in the mail from a friend with the makings for sazeracs (one of my favorite drinks to make). Except an essential ingredient was missing–anise liquor (Pernod, Herbsainte, etc.). So I got to thinking and decided what our friend actually sent was a package for making a Sweet Old Fashioned (my grandmother’s favorite drink — and one of mine, too!). What’s a Sweet Old Fashioned? Well, you get you some fruit (usually an orange, some cherries), sugar (in the form of simple syrup — sugar and water, boiled and stirred), bitters (Paychaud’s, Angostura, your choice), a nice bourbon or rye whiskey (again, your choice), some ice, a cup, and a knife. If you’ll allow it, I’ll try here to make a comparison. See the preparation instructions in the above paragraph. Replace “lime” and “lime wedges” with “orange” and “orange wedges”. Add cherries. Continue. Replace “cachaça” with “bourbon” or “rye whiskey”. Add bitters. Continue. What do you get? Sweet Old Fashioned! Who knew Brazil and New Orleans had so much in common?
My office of 11 people (on a busy day) is cleaned from top to bottom every morning by a very sweet woman named Dona Leila. By “cleaned” I do not just mean that the trash is taken out; I mean, it is really scrubbed. Or more accurately, rinsed. For example, yesterday, I nearly had to get out my umbrella to shield my computer, such was the splashing of water on the windows in my office. I asked myself, is this really necessary? To be fair it had been nearly a week since the windows were soaked and scrubbed…the floors get mopped and squeegeed dry every blessed day.
Truth be told, I was aware when I arrived here, from my prior interactions with Brazilians (other trips, experiences in the US), that my relationship with dirt was not the same as most of theirs. First there are the maids, or “empregadas” (literally, employees). In Brazil, it’s no secret that plenty of people in the approximately top 50% have them – and I don’t mean “housekeepers” who only come once in a while and clean your bathroom because you are too busy, I mean maids. Like the kind that cooks your lunch for you, irons your underwear, and might well live in the back of your house.
For what it’s worth, maid-keeping could be a custom in decline here – I understand that in Lucas it’s getting very hard to find an affordable maid (though, between you and me, maids wages here are still very low).
Secondly, I suspect that Brazilians in general (with or without maids) have a 6th sense for dirt and can sense its presence before it becomes detectable to Americans. Most of the Brazilian houses I have been in have been spotless, even though the hosts apologize for the dirt I can’t even see. This could just be some kind of social norm, or a way to be self-deprecating, but I wonder, does living in a home with a maid make one acutely sensitive to dirt because you’ve never seen it?
At any rate, Brazilians are tenacious at removing dirt from their homes and clothes and are full of tricks for doing so. My clothes are never so clean as when a Brazilian mom (or maid) gets a hold of them. (And I am never so embarrassed about how dirty I had been…) These tricks could be part of the secret to their booming economy, or else it’s the investment in public welfare and the booming commodity market, I’m not really sure, but what I do know is that through immersion in the local culture I am also developing the ability to notice dust just beginning to accumulate on a surface and act rapidly to remove it. Previously, I would probably only notice the dust if I moved something on the surface and was able to see its outline. (The secret is…it can always use a cleaning. Clean it before you can see the dirt.)
As a consequence, I have learned a whole vocabulary for cleaning in Portuguese that might even surpass my vocabulary for cleaning in English. Did you even know you can squeegee your floor?
Our home in Lucas is a concrete box with white walls and white tile floors, and it is situated in the middle of a town surrounded by corn and soy fields and red-dirt roads. When we moved in, at the end of the last wet season, one of our neighbors warned me about the dust that would build up in our house during the dry season…even with the windows and the doors closed. When she described the dust (a very fine, red dust), she used the same tone of voice people typically reserve for describing heinous crimes or nouveaux-faux folk bands from Brooklyn. I scoffed at her disdain.
Fast-forward 3 months. My feet are reddish-black on the bottom at all times, even after showers…or especially after showers since the water helps the dirt stick. We sweep every day…in a fruitless attempt to remove the dust along with the layer of dead bugs that accumulates every evening. I have gone from smugly making fun of my neighbors for spending their time mopping their houses once a week to smugly wondering why they don’t clean more often as I scrub my concrete porch with a bucket of sudsy water and a plastic broom (again). After 5 months of this, I deliriously hoped for the arrival of the rains as much for the fact that the humidity would tamp down the dust as for the periodic cool spells they would bring to break up the 100 degree heat. In the meantime, I learned to dump buckets of water on the floor and push the dirty water out the door with the squeegee like I was born doing it.
My transition is nearly complete, but in one area, I refuse to budge – our windows are still caked in dust.
The rains have returned.
After six months of dryness, we again have water.
Falling from the sky, wetting the orange soils, these rains are cleansing. This earth and its movements, its forces, churn ceaselessly, driving change and bringing relief from the previous season.
Six months of heat and dryness does work on the body in hard, tangible ways. Welcomed, new rains bring moisture to the skin and the lungs, healing. This extreme newness, however, will stay. An equal balance to the dryness, the wet will remain an equal duration. It, in turn, will work upon my body, my mind, until my-one-time-savior will become my-heaviest-oppressor, and in such I will beg my previous oppressor–the dry heat–to return, to save me.
The earth is a wise teacher.
As we look for solutions to our grievances, societal or personal, we should remember balance over extremes, lest we bring new saviors-to-become-oppressors into our midsts.
A lot has happened in the past month here in Lucas. We’ve tried not to make this a travel blog where we recount every little thing we’ve done while abroad. We’ve tried to focus on small observations about our experiences in Lucas, our experiences in Mato Grosso, our experiences in Brasil. So sometimes life gets the best of us and we disappear from Enjangada for a bit, incapable of sparing time for blogging. Not that I imagine there is an anxious crowd of readers out there waiting for the nextest, greatest, bestest installment from Enjangada. It’s just that, well, we’re both perfectionists, we’re both independently driven to produce. And so here we are, installing away.
No big themes this time. Just some greatest hits from the month.
1) Devassa comes to Lucas do Rio Verde. Kind of a notable event, for us at least. I like Brazilian beer. It’s true. At least out here in Mato Grosso, the selection is not all that dynamic. You have: Skol, Brahma, Antartica, Crystal, Kaiser, Itaipava. That’s basically the big six. Sometimes you can get Antartica Original (but only in a 40 ounce bottle). Not much difference between any of these beers. Nice, light pilsners. Always bem gelada (icy cold). You can count on the iciness of the beer here. There are some other beer options in Brazil, but rarely are they available here in Lucas. A couple of weeks ago, a new competitor arrived on the scene: Devassa, somewhat the same as the others, but just enough of a different flavor, just enough of a different style. Welcome to Lucas do Rio Verde, Devassa. May your days be long.
2) Speaking of arrivals, the federal government of Brazil comes to Lucas do Rio Verde. Yep, the first federal presence (aside from the Correios — the post office) is here in Lucas just down the street from our apartment: the Poder Judiciario, Justica do Trabalho, Forum de Lucas do Rio Verde. Federal court for labor disputes. I’ll leave it to the professionals to talk about what this does or doesn’t mean for Lucas. I can say there was a special presentation from the Lucas Marching Band (I believe this band, at least the uniforms, was thrown together in a fairly ad hoc manner for this celebration). Anyway, there you have it. Welcome to Lucas do Rio Verde, Governo Federal do Brasil.
3) Not having learned their lessons the first, second, third, or fourth time, the local americanos returned to the Thursday night pizza rodizio at Pizza King with empty stomachs. Not the best idea. But the pizza rodizio is definitely a great idea. It’s like an all you can eat buffet at Pizza Hut, but even better, you just sit at your table and the waiters bring pizzas, pastas, and random fried things around to your table for you to choose from. This goes on without stop, until you submit in defeat, incapable of eating more. We submitted in defeat after successfully conquering our fair share of slices with steak (picanha), onions, calabresa (sausage), eggs, peas, stroganoff, cheese, cheese, did I say cheese?, arugula, and other random edibles.
Two quick observations about waiters in Lucas (maybe in all of Brazil, who knows?). First, they are endlessly patient with their customers. And this is a job that doesn’t work for tips (as they do in the US). Waiters here offer excellent service, from small corner food stands, to pizza restaurants, to churrascarias. Second observation: short-hand must not have made it to Lucas do Rio Verde yet. It’s not uncommon to have your waiter write your entire order out on a small slip of paper in full language with absolutely no abbreviations.
4) Let’s be honest, weekends are kind of difficult for us here in Lucas. For a couple of reasons. Many people here have family in the area. When the weekend rolls around, people get together with their families. They have cookouts, and lounge around and drink and talk most of the weekend. They disappear to the family farms outside of town. They go fishing in other locales. Many people also work on the weekends here, at least on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. So the weekend isn’t really a weekend for them. Not having family of our own around here, we are often left to our own devices come Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. Sometimes people make a point to spend time with us on the weekends, but not terribly often. All in all, it seems that things slow down when the weekend rolls around. Oh, also, not to make the people around here look like homebodies, the nightlife that does exist is truly a nightlife: concerts, dances, parties, all usually begin around midnight or 1am, and they last until three, four, or five in the morning. That’s hard to handle for us weak americanos. So, for many reasons, weekends are complicated. Plus, it’s HOT. And, the options around town for entertainment seekers (movies, museums, parks, coffee shops, etc.) are slim to none. BUT, we have good news to report. Just this weekend, I think we finally started to crack the code. We took an old Lucas standby and a “that’s news to us” location and combined them into activities that make us feel like the weekend has arrived.
First, and something we’ve wanted to talk about on this blog in the past, we got a friend of ours to meet us at the posto (the gas station) for Friday night happy hour. It’s very common to go to the gas stations around here to drink beer. That’s the deal. With an absolute lack of actual bars in town, postos (gas stations) serve as little barzinhos for locals who want some place to sit, have a drink, and shoot the shit. There’s probably about six or seven postos in town to serve this purpose. IDAZA, one of the gas companies here, has a posto in the center of town that has a very fancy barzinho at it, replete with very expensive imported Budweiser (40 ounce bottles imported from Argentina run about $15 each), Brazilian-made Stella Artois, and a wide assortment of artisanal cachacas (sugar-cane alcohol), along with the big six beer brands.
Second, and this is something that I’m going to be complaining about for a long time, we were finally informed that just outside of town there is a prainha (small public beach) on the Rio Verde (Green River) that runs through town. Really. After seven months in the sweltering heat, someone (a good friend, who also just learned about this beach) reveals the hidden secret that we knew (somewhere in the back of our minds) everyone was keeping from us! We woke up early today (Saturday), took a thermos of coffee, two metal cups, and we rode out to find this beach. After a few wrong turns, some conversations with others about the exact location of this mysterious paradise, there we were, standing in the sand, basking in the cool, clear flow of the Rio Verde, sitting on the sand drinking our coffee, watching the minnows and the parrots, reminding ourselves just how lucky we are to be here in Lucas, here in Mato Grosso, here in Brazil.
This week, my partner-in-crime here has been under the weather. Actually, both of us have gotten more than our fair share of head colds since we moved here. I suppose it’s to be expected – a whole new world of germs and other buggy things, pollen, a life that stresses our bodies in different ways than our life in US. But these frequent but mild illnesses are constant reminders of how illness and the way it is managed, like so many things we think are purely physical, are actually quite variable from culture to culture.
To begin with, people are, on average, much more open about their (and your) ailments here. You get the sniffles and go out in public, and everyone has a theory as to how you ended up in the situation you are in – with a runny nose – and it generally doesn’t include germ theory. It’s the heat (huh? heat causes colds?), it’s the ‘little cold’ that just came through town (it dropped down to a chilly 80 degrees F here last weekend), it’s the dryness, it’s the humidity…you’d think doctors and meteorologists are the same people around here. Personally, I think the absence of soap in bathrooms is a huge, unexplored factor, though I will say that having relative humidity lower than the Sahara Desert does not help one ‘productively’ blow one’s nose, if you get my drift.
Likewise, people are keen to talk about their elective surgeries and pregnancies here in a way that never stops surprising me. Brazil has more plastic surgeons per capita than any where else in the world, and many Brazilians are outwardly proud of their surgeries. There are even magazines with names like “Body and Plastic” catering to the quest for stopping at nothing for the perfect body. Elective surgeries that seem very drastic to me are done nearly casually here – most popular here in Mato Grosso, as far as I can tell, is the ‘stomach reduction’ surgery – you know, the one where part of your stomach and intestine are removed so that you can’t eat or absorb as much. This is not a minor surgery, yet people who are not morbidly obese eagerly undergo these surgeries; they shop the cheapest doctors and stories of people dying in the OR are not uncommon. And of course, after you lose all that weight, next is the breast enhancement, the liposuction/tummy tuck, etc. etc. Only here, it’s not something to be discrete about, it’s water cooler talk. The openness about health extends to pregnancies as well – while expectant parents in America tend to wait until several months in to tell co-workers, casual acquaintances, etc. about their pregnancy, here, it’s not uncommon to find out someone you barely know is 3 weeks pregnant. The pregnancy tests are evidently very good here.
The good news is, that once you get sick enough that you need some medicine, there are approximately 2 pharmacies on every block. Really. One of the greatest mysteries to me about life in Brazil is how all of the pharmacies stay in business. Pharmacies here in Lucas are not Walgreens or CVS – they don’t sell greeting cards, Snuggies, or milk. We are talking medicine, maybe some nail polish, and perhaps a humidifier – these are old school pharmacies, like the ones my mom got medicine for me at when I was a kid. So do people here really take enough medicine to keep these guys in business? One thing working in their favor is the fact that you can get so much more medicine from a pharmacist here (without going to a doctor first) than you can in the US. The problem with this is, if you have some sort of embarrassing ailment like diarrhea or bunions or something, there is no way to discretely go buy the medicine and wordlessly pay for it while hiding your face at the check-out. You have to talk about it, in sort-of public, in front of anyone else in the store. As I’m sure you can guess by now, those little privacy guards they have at the counter at American pharmacies are not common here.
Health care is free here, for whoever wants it, though, as much as it pains my liberal-self to admit this, it seems that any Brazilian who can afford to buy private health insurance does so. The wait for services can be very long, especially in big cities. Lucas is a small city, though, and our local health post regularly sends a very chipper representative to check on us, so when it came time for us to get some teeth cleaning done, we decided to give the ol’ health post a try. It started out rocky when a small child nearly vomited on us in the waiting room and it took about 20 minutes of smelling vomit in the stifling heat for someone to come clean it up (but when they finally came, boy, did they ever clean it!). But in the end, our wait was only about an hour, our dentist was able (and had lived in the US for two years but only learned Spanish), and we took off into the hot/cold/dry/humid air with (free!) clean teeth.