Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Family Visit and Farewell to Brasil

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Christmas is one week away.  We leave Brasil today after a rewarding three-month stay to return to the United States.  At the supermarket, White Christmas is streaming through the store and everything is decorated in green and red tinsel.  Piles of boxes of holiday Pannetone fill the ends of the aisles and boxes of Brasilian champagne are displayed prominently near the check out counters.  It is 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the beginning of summer.  We will return to 40 degrees and the beginning of winter.

We had a wonderful visit during the last week of November – the American Thanksgiving with our son and daughter-in-law.  While our son lived in Brasil as a toddler and has visited throughout his life, it was our daughter-in-law’s first visit to Brasil.  Their time was short.  We agreed that the focus of their time would be visiting places in Piracicaba that our son remembered from his youth and going to the beach.  Somehow we managed to crowd in a weekend at the goat farm, Cabra Feliz; two visits to our amazing gym in Piracicaba (exercising is a family passion!); a visit to Rio Piracicaba and our favorite restaurant along Rua do Porto.  We shared the traditional Sunday lunch of grilled tambaqui, salad and ice-cold caipirinhas.  Our daughter-in-law ate her first palmitos (palm hearts) and mandiocas fritas!  She loved them.  Then we spent six days at the beach near Ubatuba enjoying the sun, the surf, the sand and the shrimp.

The day of Thanksgiving found us on the beach.  Our dinner was not turkey and cranberry sauce – it was fresh grilled Atlantic fish and risotto; mango salad and great big barbequed shrimp.  On Thanksgiving morning my son went surfing with a friend while my daughter-in-law and I bonded over old family stories. 

There is really something special about a daughter-in-law – and I suspect – although I have not yet experienced it – a son-in-law.  When our son married, one of my sisters, whose son had married two years before, told me to cherish the gift of a daughter-in-law.  She told me that at the moment of your child’s marriage, you instantly have a new family member.  It is someone who will be the life-long partner of your child, and perhaps the mother (in this case) of future grandchildren. 

This person isn’t a passing acquaintance.  This is family with all the important love and support and acceptance that family implies.  But it is not a child you raised from infancy.  Someone you knew from the beginning of his or her life.  A daughter- or son-in-law is a fully formed adult with whom you have the amazing chance to develop a new relationship.  My sister was right.  My daughter-in-law is a gift.  I was thrilled when our son married this young woman and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be in Brasil with her and share our life here.

We went to a small town on the São Paulo coast called Ubatuba.  Ubatuba caters to beach goers and surfers.  We stayed at a condominium that belongs to our dear friends Bea and Reynaldo – of Cabra Feliz fame.  Happily Bea joined us for part of the week.  When you sit on the terrace looking at the view – you can see the surf line breaking along the beach and beyond the beach, layers of coastal rainforest mountains – the Mata Atlantica – fading into the distance. 

The Brasilian coastline in the state of São Paulo and all the way north to Rio is a continuous series of tranquil sandy coves and secluded bays that back into the Mata Atlantica.  The sand is very fine and lovely to sit on.  Sometimes it is almost white and other times almost red – the color of the surrounding iron rich soils.  If the sun is too hot there are beach umbrellas and shady trees to protect you. The steep mountains of the Mata Atlantica fall sharply from the high plains of São Paulo to the coast.  The access roads are crazy steep switchbacks that make you wonder how any road engineer could have designed them, let alone built them.  But the switch back roads are there.  On holidays they are filled bumper to bumper with sun seekers.  Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Brasil and the beaches were delightfully empty.

My son is a surfer.  He took it up seriously in his twenties and tells me that he is reasonably good.  But he isn’t as good as the surfers on the beaches of Ubatuba.  These surfers are there every day and appear to catch waves effortlessly.  My son tells me the trick is to being a great surfer is to just quit your job and surf all day!  Fortunately he hasn’t gone there.  But there is definitely a surfing contingent in Ubatuba that has. 

We saw some amazing surfers, riding on the tongue of the breaking waves as easily as I ride a bicycle.  Perhaps if you just keep practising, here or there you will catch a perfect ride on a perfect wave.  Like all marine beaches, these Atlantic beaches have endless waves.  The waves cross the ocean and break one after the other as they near the shallow coastal plain.  I suspect one of the attractions of surfing comes from that infinite nature of waves…if you miss one there is always another one coming.

There were so many things we did together – a good introduction to "a vida Brasileira" or at least Brasilian life on vacation… I remember sitting on the deck of the condo in Ubatuba – looking at the incredible view and just talking; doing our best to walk both sides of the river along Rua do Porto after two caipirinhas; sweating it out at spinning class at the gym; eating home made linguisa and succulent pork belly at Cabra Feliz; visiting the goat and pig barns and ogling at the tiny new baby piglets; 

listening to the guitarist play old bossa nova songs while we ate lunch in Paraty; jumping in the waves and swimming at our favorite beaches – Toninhas and Feliz; churning out laps with my daughter-in-law in the cool pool at the condo; watching the sun go down and loving the sparkling sea; cooking together at the condo; walking up the steep stairs from sea level(whew); shopping for a new bikini; seeing the big sky as we drove home from the beach across the Serra; hanging out; visiting old friends; enjoying the time together!!!

Their visit was a microcosm of family life…full of warmth and activity but also deep talks about our memories, what we think or perhaps wish we didn’t think about the state of the world and what is and isn’t important to us.  As we move headlong into the Christmas season, it is the right time to love and share with family and friends.

One thing that is important to me is our relationship with Brasil.  We leave tomorrow after three months.  We plan to return again in about three months.  Our goal is to split our time as seamlessly as possible between our two countries.  It is hard to remember when Brasil first became important to me.  It was likely in the very beginning in 1982 when I arrived on the Amazon River at 4 in the morning.  At 6 am I left with Jeff and a group of other American and Brasilian scientists on a 20-meter riverboat.  We traveled upstream that day to a small town called Manacapuru.  It was August and the town only had electricity from a small diesel generator.  But there was an important futebol (soccer) game being played and Brasil was playing.  Along with much of the town’s population and the whole boat crew, Jeff and I crowded into a small bar.  I was so tired that if the crowd had not been close enough to hold me up I would have fallen on the floor!  There was one small TV over the bar and we all watched and cheered as Brasil won! 

Another memory that I hold close comes from a few years later – 1986.  I was four or five months pregnant with our second child and we had come to Brasil for a three-month assignment.  Our son was two.  In the beginning we stayed with our friends, Bea and Reynaldo.  On the second or third day I was feeling a bit displaced.  My son was playing with other kids in the garden.  Bea told me that there was afternoon tea in the kitchen.  I went into the kitchen and there, set on the counter on a handmade tablecloth was a tea pot; a small pitcher of milk, cups and saucers and tea biscuits.  It looked so inviting and so like home.  I was born in England and had (and still have) afternoon tea almost every day of my life.  I felt instantly at home and loved the Brasilian heart that welcomed me so warmly.

Jeff and my relationship with Brasil is long and deep.  We are sad to leave but happy to return to our home in Seattle and a traditional family Christmas.  We look forward to coming back to Brasil in 2014.  Last night, after a final visit to our gym, we toasted farewell with Bea at Maravilhoso – our favorite chopp (draft beer) bar.  Later today we will drive to São Paulo and fly all night to the United States.  I feel very lucky to know Brasil and very happy to have shared a part of it with our son and daughter-in-law.

A perfect beginning to the Christmas season.  Feliz Natal!  Boas Festas!

No comments:

Post a Comment