Wednesday, June 24, 2009

São João and the Impending 4-0

I'm sitting here, brain-dead, counting down the minutes until my fortieth birthday, which officially starts (in this time zone) in 48 minutes.

It's also the tail end of the big mid-winter holiday here in Northeastern Brazil, the Festa de São João. I wrote about this holiday last year, and this year was much the same... I'm not sure if my lack of enthusiasm is due to my impending middle age, or my general boredom with big holidays in general, or the fact that São João has been spoiling my birthday ever since I got here- it's like having your birthday on December 26th.

Get over it Mark. Yes, you're right of course. I have a brother who's birthday is December 28th and he's never complained about it as far as I know. I am a bit cranky as I wanted to be in the States for my 40th, and that didn't happen. Evani wanted to throw me a big party and I forbade her from doing so. My mom had a huge party on her fortieth birthday, which meant that all us kids had a party of our own, and one of us (most of us being 15 at the time) ended up passed out in the living room under a table.

So I'm NOT having a big party, in fact my only plans are to a. make pancakes for breakfast tomorrow and try to convince my Brazilian family to eat them, and b. go out for dinner in the evening which probably means a mean shrimp muceca at our favorite restaurant.

Continuing in the grumpy vein, let me tell you how we spent our São João. One of the big traditions at São João is to get out of the city and into the interior, as it is essentially a celebration of the rural history of Brazil. Well, for once we did that part right, driving about an hour out of the city to a small town called Amelia Rodriguez where some friends of Evani's have some land.

I love getting out of the city and I hardly ever do so, and I love being in the country, so why was I less than enthusiastic about this trip? Well, partly because I knew it was going to involve all the elements of parties that I don't like, not least of which is very loud music that I can't stand. Forro, the traditional music of the holiday, is quite nice, at least the traditional kind. But I wasn't expecting to hear much forro. Plus there was the mud and the firecrackers and the knowledge that I would spend most of the time sitting mute in a chair.

Well, that was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I did get to indulge my favorite part of São João, which is building a bonfire, and once again got to marvel at the Bahian fire-building technique:

1. make a big pile of wood
2. put plastic bottles, bags, etc. on top
3. add gasoline and/or other accelerants
4. light

I think this might actually work if they put the plastic items under the wood instead of on top of it. The guy in charge of making the fire was actually having some success, maybe because of the rubber tire he tossed on top of the plastic bottles. I made my little teepee style fire at the base of the stack, lit it with a single coal, and it soon overtook the hovering petrochemical mess, and I was finally having fun. I was also inhaling a lot of smoke, which I didn't think much about.

My wife, meanwhile, was suffering from a blimped toe. She had gotten her nails done a few days earlier, and this usually involves some savage digging in the cuticles with a small pair of scissors or clippers or something. Something broke this week, and her toe swelled up to twice its normal size. She couldn't walk on it, so dancing was out of the question. That was cool, I didn't really feel up for heading into to the town square for more noise. But wait! Somebody has brought more noise to us, by dropped a chunk of change on some fireworks! Or rather, half a plastic bag of home made bombas, consisting of a kitchen match wrapped in gunpowder and paper in varying sizes. The thick clouds of smoke from these made my eyes start to burn, and I had to go lay down for a while to get away from it.

To make a long story short, I woke up the next morning and my left eye had transformed into a ball of fire. A very itchy ball of fire. I was not pleased. Everyone chided me for having spent so much time messing with the fire, but I'm convinced it was an allergic reaction to something else.

I remember the first time I was here in Brazil and I caught dengue fever. I spent much of my time out in a favela, without access to anything, trying to treat my symptoms. I knew I needed lots of water, and I was terrified of drinking the tap water, so I asked for bottled water. There is none, I was told, and there's no way to get any. I felt quite helpless, and finally broke down and drank the tap water. That's a little bit how I felt when I woke up this morning- my eye was on fire, I had no access to anything to treat it with, and nobody could help me with something from their medicine cabinet, because there were no medicine cabinets. There were hardly even bathrooms.

One thing I've learned in my travels, part of the un-sheltering and eye-opening I received by getting out of the little world I grew up in, is that you can learn a lot about what you don't really need by spending time with people who have very little. Take hot water for instance. You might think you need hot water, but you really don't. At least not most of the time. There are millions, if not billions, of people on this planet who do just fine without it. That's not to say that I don't love hot water and consider it one of the finest things civilization has to offer, but it is a luxury.

The flip side of this, however, is you also realize how nice it is to be able to afford things that might come in handy when you least expect it, like saline solution or medicated eye drops, both of which we had at home. Which is exactly where I wanted to be.

And is now where I am. Forgive me, for I ramble. Evani's toe is much better, and so is my eye. And by the way, it's my birthday now.


Mei said...

Happy B-Day, Mark! 40 or whatever, it's just another year. Wishing you a nice pancake feast. . . I'm assuming they'll come without maple syrup? :(

Stephanie said...

Feliz Aniversario!!

Sorry about your eye....I cant believe how many different ailments I have had since arriving body is rejecting! But there are so many different "remedies" that I have had offered...And being ill is when I definitely am missing the comforts of home...and hot water is DEFINIETLY something we don't have much of. I'd never taken a cold shower til i came here...I miss hot water..but like you said, its not NECESSARY!

Anyway try and have the happiest birthday possible!! I made cake last night and I think I will go have a piece in your honor!

markuza said...

Mei- thanks! I'm writing the follow up now. And yeah, I have some maple syrup squirreled away- luckily almost nobody will eat it!

Stephanie- thanks!! It's a tough adjustment making that move on a lot of levels- I had stomach problems almost every day for about nine months when I first lived here. And yeah, cold water is pretty alarming isn't it!! Hope that cake was good.

andre said...

Just found your blog and am enjoying it very much. I hope you're birthday was lovely. My birthday is Nov.2, Day of the Dead. I lived in Mexico for many years and I've always loved having big parties everywhere on my birthday. I may miss that in Brasil, but there is so much that will make up for that! This was my first Sao Joao and I loved it. We celebrated in Itabuna, block parties, fogueras in the streets, food and liquers at every house, genipapo, mel de cacau and maracuja. Mmmm. Visited the fireworks stands too. Crazy. Anyway, happy Sao Pedro!

markuza said...

Thanks Andre! I forgot about Sao Pedro- probably because I am getting ready for a trip to the States. Glad you are enjoying the blog!

Mae said...

happy belated...thanks for sharing about your wife's pedicure incident....this is why I refuse to get my toes done here in Bahia and have let my feet look crazy until I am able to do an at home pedicure...