Week of January 16, 2005
Well hello to all. Or should I say, "Tudo Bem"!
We are back: On the road, on line and on our mark to get ready, set and go to the southern most part of the Americas. However, we have taken a slight, rather minor detour before meeting up with Cindy in Santiago, Chile. For those of you that do not know where we are...we are in BRASIL!
How did we come to be in Brasil without Cindy you ask? The answer is an easy two-word response: Hurricane Charley.
In August and September 2004, not one, not two, but four hurricanes singled out the southeast corner of the United States and laid a path of devastation and destruction throughout the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and up the east coast. Gerson and I were presented with the opportunity to work within the insurance industry to help the victims, and work we did. We postponed our return to South America and worked in a 25-day sprint in Florida and another 45-day sprint in Alabama.
We returned home to Huntington Beach in time to enjoy the holidays with family and friends and to prepare for the next leg in our magnificent journey, with a few adjustments. It was the result of those "adjustments" that brought us to Gerson's hometown, Curitiba, Brasil without Cindy. We had all the intention of being in Brasil for Carnaval 2005 (February 3rd - 9th) and as our good fortune would have it, several of our friends coerced us into dragging them along :-).
So, realizing that we could not possibly drive Cindy around the southern tip of the Americas and make it in time to the Carnaval party, we flew directly into Brasil and enjoyed a few weeks with Gerson's family and friends (and with the way they all made me feel, they are now my family and friends).
We flew into Curitiba on Thursday, January 20th and as of the date of my writing this diary I only have one definitive, needs-no-further-explanation, word to describe Brasil: FOOD!
Meu Deus! (My God!) The food here is unbelievable! It is not just the taste it is the variety, the amount, the presentation, the... Let's just say I am not spoiling one succulent mouthful by even thinking like a North American (meaning, I am not even thinking about the calories, carbohydrates, protein, sugars, trans-fats or any of that nonsense). I am just savoring every bite and I am celebrating every new person I meet during these fabulous social meals.
But, before we get to the culinary indulgences, let me tell you about Gerson's family. We were greeted at the airport by Gerson's sister Marjorie and her son, Gerson's 18 year-old nephew, Felipe. Accompanying them were Gerson's cousins, Vinicio and his wife Evelize and their 13 year-old son Carlos, Vanessa and her sister, Viviane. Unfortunately for them, after Gerson's eight-year absence, this was their first look at their beloved relation:
Once Gerson's ruse was discovered, the attempts to cover up the dropping of their jaws was quickly replaced with huge smiles and strong hugs. There were a few jokes about Gerson living the "good life" due to his leaving Brasil a tall, scrawny young man and his coming back a tad bigger and with a pinch more salt and pepper in his hair. Of course, I quickly became the blame for his "expansion" and with the roll of my eyes, I was answered with warm laughter from all.
On our way to Marjorie's, we stopped in to see several more of Gerson's family. Uncles, Aunts, cousins - they all live in a row of three houses (owned by the family for two generations) and a couple around the corner. Coming from a small, and rather fragmented (but loving) family, I was, to say the least, overwhelmed with suddenly coming to the realization that I married an entire tribe! I am elated! Pictures to follow soon...
We ventured on to Marjorie and Carlos' spectacular apartamento for a brief rest before meeting up with Carlos at his well-recognized restaurant, "The Boulevard". And, this is where the food begins...
In the thirteen years that Carlos and his partners have owned this fine restaurant, they have become known for being one of the top, if not the top restaurant in Curitiba, and possibly, Brasil. After partaking in my first meal in Brasil, all my taste buds concur.
Our second day home for Gerson was more centered on showing me around his hometown. We toured to some parks with fantastic views of the city and the surrounding countryside. Gerson could not pass up the opportunity to introduce me to a rather well-known delicacy at a place called "Bar Stuart".
Marjorie took us on a whirlwind tour of Curitiba and the surrounding areas and rare was it that I did not find a fine view of the City. Also, Gerson and I walked through the Rua des Flores (street of the flowers), a pedestrian mall punctuated with a beautiful park with a small, dense forest. One thing that I thought was remarkable in this surprising South American city, is along the pedestrian walkway, the typical inlaid tile differs along a strip in the middle. This change in the surface of the path is for the blind pedestrians to detect when they wander off course. I found it to be a very nice touch in a very pleasant place.
There is much good to be said about Curitiba and if you know anything about the Americas south of the United States, you will understand what it means when they refer to Curitiba as an "urban success story" and especially, "in Curitiba, they even stop at red lights"!
After all this touring, we were deprived of food for well over an hour so we arranged to meet up with friends of Gerson's at a German restaurant. We picked up Gerson's brother, Lincoln and away we went. This restaurant is part of several eateries, both inside and outside, that transform a cobble stoned street into a friendly frantic meeting place. Again, the food was flowing just about as much as the beer. If only I understood a little more Portuguese, boy, could I have stories to tell about Gerson. I will get them eventually...
Over the weekend, we were chauffeured by Lincoln and Gabriel and of course, our main points of interest were to visit family and to eat. We stopped to see a friend of ours, Tere, mom to Bela and Fabio, which you will most certainly see in the near future. From there, we met up with even more of Gerson's friends for a traditional feijoada (faydge-wada) lunch where you are served all kinds of appetizing tidbits and then get to indulge in an all-you-can-eat feijoada buffet (black beans and a variety of pork, along with salads, rices, desserts, etc.). Again, the stories were rippling the table and again, I have more stories to find out about Gerson's rather humorous past.
From there, we went to visit a long-time family friend, Marcio, and his wife Simone. Unfortunately, Simone has been in the hospital for some time for a tumor located on her spine. Also there, was a childhood friend, Marcos, and the three of them entertained the delightfully bright Simone and myself with stories of their prankster past. It seemed that all the stories ended in Gerson, Lincoln and Marcos, running away from some stunt they pulled with poor little Marcio distancing behind yelling "wait for me, wait for me".
Later in the day, we toddled over to Gerson's "family", Marcio's parents that became like Gerson's parents after his mother died when he was twelve. Uncle Ico and Aunt Ica are a wonderful couple and they shared some laughs over Gerson's antics.
Uncle Ico was a successful jockey in his young adulthood and he proudly showed me a picture from 1948 wherein he won a rather important race and sizable purse. The picture was taken on the original Hippodrome site that is now covered with homes and buildings (as shown in the above pictures).
We also happened upon Gerson's great Aunt Raquel that still lives around the corner from where Gerson grew up (and he still owns the house) and from where Marcio and his family still live. She was a rather spry and gracious lady and fortunately, I met with this matriarchs approval. Aunt Raquel was very important in Gerson's life because of her support and guidance after Gerson's mom died suddenly of an aneurysm (Gerson's father had left long before). Her love of Gerson was in no way hidden when she realized whose smile she was looking up to when he appeared in the doorway.
Have you been keeping track of who's who? If you have it memorized, would you let me know? What a super first few days...