Welcome to the fourth installment of the Rainbow! This is a series of articles in which excerpts of my memoir “The End of the Rainbow” are included. The memoir talks about the three years I spent in the inland of Brazil and today, we’re talking about my arrival there with my wife and her eldest daughter Eloise. In the following excerpt, you shall witness my very first impressions of the moment I put my foot on Brazilian ground. The colors, the odors, the flavors, but also the people I met. People so different from us Europeans. In a mixture of anxiety and expectation, I give to you my little and downright chronicle of those first hours in a land I had never seen neither in my dreams.
Note: The following excerpt was written soon after the moments therein narrated have happened, so it has a feel of immediacy. I made very little editing work, so you can read it the way I wrote it back then. Get on the Beam and GO.
Jan. 31, 2013
I had never seen so much green in my life. When the plane descended cutting the clouds and Goiás was visible, I saw the “fazendas” flow down there. They were many and wide; divided into uneven and patchy shapes. The plane flew on and there were just valleys below us; countryside all over, green expanding into green. And all around, as far as eye can see, more green. There were paths cutting the green like veins; dirt roads of a blood red tint, like patterns of dye, as it was painted on a green background. Here and there, instead of small villages as I was accustomed to see, there were lonely houses, so isolated that God only knew how they could communicate with the outer world. And the trees, scattered all over on that live canvas as spongy grains of a darker shade of green.
– Farmers use them to hide from the sun during work breaks. – Perse said.
When we got out of the plane, it was hot. Very hot. Out baggage was the last to be released and when we found ourselves pushing the three fully-charged carts out of the delivery room, guess who was there with us? The drunken goiana (see “Beam Two” for more details). We waved her goodbye and I wouldn’t be so amazed to find her have some coffee sprawled on my mother-in-law’s sofa.
A short boy with the airport uniform helped us out to charge the suitcases on the carts; he was a “carregador”, a loader. He had followed us after Perse promised to give him a tip. After he charged the suitcases, my cart toppled again, this time on Eloise’s cart and hers toppled too. Seven suitcases on the ground. Perse changed her mind and didn’t give the guy a buck. The shorty carregador disappeared.
In the meantime, nobody who was supposed to pick us up was on sight. With all the bad luck we had experienced until then, ill-fated as we had been and with the wrong-sided dices in the roulette of the universe, the cherry on the cake was to be left and forgotten at the Goiânia airport.
While we were struggling to put the baggage back on the cart using what was left of our energies (which was not much), I saw a big, six-and-something feet tall girl on heels and long gown. She was staggering while walking, as if she wasn’t accustomed to that kind of sandals. I had seen her in many photos during my first two years with Persefone. She was looking the other way so I tapped on her shoulder and pointed at Isis, the big girl.
– Look. – I said.
And Perse looked. The waiting was over. At last.
She ran toward Isis and the two sisters hugged each other.
Soon after, walking slower, came Geovana, Perse’s mother. Eloise went and hugged her like she’d never let her go. Geovana was a small person and looked very humble. She was about seventy and was crying with joy. She embraced me as the Prodigal Son, thanking God for all the prayers she had said with her nephews and nieces in order for our flight to be safe.
Isis was happy to meet me in person, we only had talked once or twice on the phone. Outside the airport, her husband Franco was ready with his black pick-up, where he loaded all our twelve suitcases, binding and securing them with elastic rope. Franco was over seventy years old, but he was stout and agile, looking thirty years younger. While Perse helped him out, Isis and I took silly pictures in the parking lot and a few minutes later we realized we were standing on the area marked “invalids only”.
The air was different there. While breathing, it was as if I took in the very breath of Earth. It was an air I had never breathed before; this was the world on the other side.
Isis took off her sandals to drive her car, while Geovana got on Franco’s pick-up. Along the road, I saw Goiânia; its buildings, white and squared. Outside the metropolis, the green took control again and some of the houses and shacks we saw on the way had painted writings on them; in Italy they would call this vandalizing. Here, it was similar but quite different: advertising. Some run-down sheds were sprayed on one side and I read: FOR SALE. A handpainted phone number followed.
Bus stops, dirty and dusty shelters that seemed forgotten from decades, were miles away one from the other and if you lost your bus, you’d be the lost one.
We stopped twice on the road: first at the Pedra Branca restaurant for a coffee (nothing to do with our espresso). Perse showed me the wonders of goiano food, typical of her home state, she told me she always stopped there each time she went back to Brazil: grilled red meat, rice, cooked vegetables and the traditional pamonha and pastel *, plus various fried things.
Then we stopped to have sugar cane juice and it was obtained through this wonderful device, a wooden pressing machine operated by a bull. Yes, a bull. They call it the engenho, which means “mill”. And it works like a regular mill, even if its aspect differs in some details. It is located in a little oasis, under a roof made of the foliage of huge, tall and large trees. A couple works there. He collects sugar canes, peels them and piles them, then she puts them in the mill’s press and the bull does the rest.
Perse and Isis ordered two cups of “garapa”, how the sugar cane juice is called here. The woman picks some, goes to the bull and talks to his ear for two/three secs and the animal starts to walk around the wooden mill, slowly but steadily; the bull is harnessed to the mill so it works only with the marching of the bull.
Perse tells me there are only a few of these engenhos left in Brazil. The mill is sheltered by a “cabana”, a round roof made of dried sugar cane’s leaves. While the bull walks, the woman goes toward the middle of the engenho, where the heart of the machine stays: three wooden cylinders, installed vertically in a row, one sticking to the other, roll in different directions at the same time by the bull’s movement. The woman inserts the first sugar cane between the first two cylinders and places a big plastic cup on a wooden surface at the base of them. The cane is thrust further in the tight space between the cylinders, breaks in a sharp and humid noise and right away, drops of juice start to fall from between the cylinders, along a little curved wooden channel in order to fall directly into the cup, which starts to fill. She repeated the operation for three times with the other cylinders.
When the first cup was full, she cut a lemon in two and squeezed some drops inside and handed it to me.
It was tremendously sweet with a tip of sourness given by the lemon. It was a heavenly drink, something preternatural and pure. Tired, thirsty and exhausted as I was, I finished it in three sips. The name “garapa” had spawned the Italian term “grappa”, which is an alcoholic drink obtained from sugar cane and usually consumed after meals. This I didn’t know; I would discover that my home country and Brazil had in common way more than I could imagine.
– Alex, ponhe o copo, ponhe o copo! – said Isis abruptly, startling me.
That meant: Alex, put the cup, put the cup! While shouting this, she pointed at a spot under the bull’s hinder legs. A straight and strong urine jet was hitting the ground, immediately forming a little pool.
The owners were selling other handmade products, just like the “mocotó” jam. Mocotó is nothing other than the marrow inside the bull’s hooves. I alienated while thinking about this. The jam appeared as a short but large cylinder, it was soft and looked like it was some sort of chili pepper candy, its color being a light pinkish red. It had a marshmallow consistency but the flavor had nothing to do with it. It is indeed taken from the hooves’ marrow of bulls and, as it was reading my mind, while I was eating it, the big, white and strong but still animal that operated the engenho looked at me sideways, as if saying:
– So what? –
It had just stopped raining and the ground had taken a brighter and more intense shade of red. The little pools of water around had even a fluorescent orange tint, they looked as if they were filled with paint. I bent on the ground and touched the brownish-red earth. It was hard. I rubbed my fingers on it and smelled them, breathing deep. I didn’t smell nothing at first but my fingers stayed red for a long while.
I found the city of Piracanjuba more broken than Perse had told me about and she had to agree with me. A beautiful place falling to pieces. In return, Jurema and Júlio, Perse’s younger kids, were growing faster than ever.
– You’ll meet people so simple and unaffected such that it’ll scare you. – Perse said to me.
I didn’t get scared, but happy to observe that honesty and good heart are more typical here than I could imagine; Juliana, another sister of Perse’s, cooked for us with her daughter Adriana, who wanted to make a good impression with “the new uncle”. César, Adriana’s brother, helped us out to dismount the baggage from the pick-up without saying a word but with a kind smile on his face. Everybody welcomed me in such a warm and smiling mood and I could hardly picture it would be like this.
I had to pull my wife’s ears for having told me about the not so good side of her family all along and omitting the very good one.
Perse’s parents (her mother Geovana and her stepfather Pedro) and Juliana shared the same “quintal” **, their houses being divided just by a little shed in the middle and an entry with a wooden gate on one side, through which anybody could access both houses.
Here you can drink coffee, as they say, only once a day: from dawn ’til sunset. And you receive visits at any hour of the day from whomever is willing to see you and you receive them with joy. And you can do the same with others; nobody’s bothering anybody.
– I gained one more son in the family. – Geovana told me with tears of joy.
* pamonha and pastel: two yummy things I will talking about extensively in the next beams. You will salivate!
** quintal: courtyard.
If I could, I would relive all these moments all over again. I will never forget the first sensations I felt when the essence of Brazil poured over me and had me entangled in its magic. And every time I go back there, that essence takes me again, enters me and opens me up to a renewed version of myself.
I will always go back to Brazil. I picture myself moving there for good, someday. I am going to die there, this I know. And about this, I’ll tell you later on.
Gentle reader, what is the most beautiful, divine and unforgettable sensation that a place gave you?
This excerpt is taken from the memoir “The End of the Rainbow”. If you liked the excerpt, please leave your comment as a vote to see the full-length book published.
Thank you and have a great day!