Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Reef

We left Brasilia for Recife early on Sunday morning.  A bit bleary eyed from the previous night’s revelry as we sped out of town to the Brasilia airport.   We departed on Gol Airlines, a Southwest-style carrier of Brazil.  We left the modernist marvel of Brasilia, and arrived to the colorful old colonia of Recife.


One of the oldest European settlements in the Americas, Recife- named for its reef (pronounced “he-cee-fee”), hosted one of the first Jewish communities in the New World.  This was during a brief 30 year period in which the Dutch West Indies company controlled the northern portion of Brasil.  When the Portuguese wrested back control of Brasil, the Dutch West Indies Company (and the Dutch Jews) fled north to found the city of New Amsterdam.

We were met at the airport by the Heidi- the PAO of the US Consulate in Recife, as well as Susan the CAO of the US Embassy in Brasilia, who was in-town for an academic conference and wanted the opportunity to see Keola and company in action.  We checked in and dropped our stuff at a lovely hi-rise beach hotel called the Transamerica, and left for the old city of Recife. 

It was a Sunday, and Recife is working to revive the old historic section of the city center (Recife Antigo)In this vein, the city shuts down one lane of traffic to create a bike path into the old colonial district, and sets up cultural programming to bring people to gather.  Keola and company’s concert was being held in the large square off the reef break and the zero point of the city.   We were surrounded by colorful old pastel colonia with pointy spires towering high.  Lemon, tangerine, rouge, periwinkle. Blocks of faded colonial glory stretched imposing in a faded Portuguese dreamscape.  There was a time.

We set up to do a soundcheck in the humid swelter of the afternoon.  Gone was the dry air of the center of Brazil, and on us was the Caribe humidity of the coast.   As I got the musicians some water, I procured myself a nice coconut, whose juice I sipped and white flesh I scooped out with a piece of the shell.  We finished the sound check and headed into an Arts and Crafts center, which was to host a fashion show that afternoon.  We sat out overlooking the water, eating a Brazilian buffet of stewed fishes, rice, cheeses and hearts of palm salads. 

As we sat out on the covered deck, the skies began to get dark and a storm started swirling through.  As it got closer to the concert time, we realized we had a problem on our hands: outdoor concerts don’t do especially well in the downpour.  And downpour it did, scattering the crowds into the Arts and Crafts Center.  The fashion show was moved into the auditorium-turned-dressing room, and tall, leggy Brazileras preened down the makeshift catwalk.

Heidi and I were faced with a decision of weather forecasting- and trying to keep a watery outdoor on or switching to the indoor venue- and all the hassle of moving the sound equipment.  We tried to gauge from those under the roof if they were waiting for the concert, or simply a rain break.   Lamentably, the weather did not look like it was passing, and the decision was made to move the concert indoors.  And so it was.  It worked out fine in the end, with a more-intimate program rather than an outdoor Hawaiian extravaganza. 

After the concert, we regrouped at a nice restaurant called Boteco Maxime, which had a nice Caribe style.  We ate delicious fish stew with large stewed carrots, yucca, onions and hardboiled eggs, served with rice and a yucca paste.

The following day I woke up early and went wandering along the beach.  We had a tour around Recife and the neighboring city Olinda.  The rains continued not to cooperate, and much of our morning tour through Recife was done from the friendly confines of a van while the streets turned to lakes.  We drove through the wet city, past the old restored synagogue that was unfortunately closed on Monday and over the many art deco bridges that lined Recife.  We stopped at an old prison-turned-arts center to look at some local handicrafts, then we headed to the lovely cobble-stoned Olinda. 

We drove up to the heights of Olinda, and stood outside an old church where
buzzards perched high above to try to dry their large wingspan.  The view across the bay was beautiful, with colonial spires peaking out of the lush canopy in the foreground and the bay and hi-rise buildings in the background.  We wandered around the cobblestone paths, and into old churches.  When the Dutch were fighting for control of the area, they put Olinda to the torch, and many of the old convents and churches bore the burnscars of those battles.  We wandered through immaculate gilded altars, and through blue-white angelica azulejo tilescape.

Later that evening, we headed over to the Escola Municipal de Frevo, to give a hula workshop to the frevo dance students.  Frevo is a type of dance and music associated with Recife and the greater Pernambuco area.  The style involves a variety of highflying kicks, jumps that fall into splits, as well as a small prop umbrella that is passed quickly through the legs.  It was unlike anything I have ever seen.  I have some videos I will post, because it was truly amazing.  I also found out that the style of dance was drawn from a fighting style among the slaves.  They added the umbrella to hide the martial nature of the movements.

The students first demonstrated for us, and we were wowed.  Then Moanalani and crew gave a workshop on hula, and how to “talk story” through music and dance.  The students really enjoyed the workshop, and utterly different style of movement- calm vs. frenetic.  A second workshop was equally successful and enjoyable.  After the program, we sat out with the students, eating sweet rice pudding in the evening swelter with the students.

We had a lovely dinner at a nearby restaurant, and I introduced Keola and company to the joys of elephant juice- Amarula.  Amarula is a type of South African liquor that is akin to Bailey’s Irish Cream.  It is made from the marula fruit, which ferments on the tree.  Elephants can smell the fermented marula fruit, and gorge on the alcoholic treats.  Nothing more dangerous in the bush than a drunken elephant causing mischief.

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