Single-digit temperatures and an impending snowstorm were reason enough to leave central Illinois in January, so we flew off to humid subtropical summer in Porto Alegre, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
Porto Alegre, founded in 1772, welcomed Italians, Germans, Portuguese, Poles, Japanese, Jews, Spaniards, Arabs and African immigrants in the 19th century. The population is 1.4 million in the city and 3.7 million in the metropolitan area.
The reason for this trip was to continue a friendship that was formed in the early 1970s when my husband, John, was a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A fellow graduate student, Paulo Schutz, brought along his bride, Sueli. They were our first introduction to Brazil and its people.
Our paths crossed again when John served on a UW project in Brasilia, Brazil, from 1976 to early 1978 before our Champaign move. We fell in love with Brazil, its people and cuisine.
Sadly, in 1985, our friend Paulo died. However, my friendship with Sueli has strengthened. Meeting me at the airport, Sueli air-kissed me once on each cheek (as is the custom) and said, "We will talk until our tongues fall out!"
The state had been deluged with rain. From the air, I viewed overflowing rivers and flooded fields, so it was decided to stay within the city on this trip, although it rained only once. Heat and humidity prevailed for three days. Then it was blue skies with temperatures in the 90s.
We visited the museum of Ibere Camargo, listed as "one of the greatest Brazilian artists known for his three major phases: the Spools, Cyclist and Idiots series." The modernistic building designed by Alvaro Siza held more interest for me.
A free noontime guitar program with music composed and played by Rodrigo Nassif took place in the 150-year-old Theater Sao Pedro. The downtown Public Market had many foods, meats and fish items along with handmade crafts, restaurants, a bakery and an excellent coffee shop where we drank cafezinho (small cups of sweetened coffee) and sampled desserts.
The outdoor Sunday morning market held rows of small booths where vendors sold their wares. I purchased a handmade cuia (gourd container) to drink chimarrao. This hot erva-mate tea drink is sipped through a silver straw and shared among friends.
A visit to Brazil would not be complete without partaking of a churrasco (barbequed meat). The restaurant is called a churrascaria and may serve 26 varieties of meat, skewered and brought to your table, where it is sliced to your desired amount. But don't eat too much meat because a bountiful salad, regional dishes and dessert buffet are included.
Galpao Crioulo at Parque Mauricio Sirotsky Sobrinho also featured traditional folklore dancing.
Do you enjoy pizza? We ate at Nono Ludovico (Av Lavras, 328, in Petropolis) for $22 per person. A salad bar tempted us before the 44 (that's right!) different kinds of pizza were brought to our table. Fifteen dessert pizzas were also featured. At 11 p.m. we left "stuffed" like a pizza.
Dancing was on our agenda three nights – two nights at the Baile do Waldemar with live bands and one night at a smaller dance floor that featured tango. Dancing begins around 11 p.m. and continues until 3 in the morning.
Because of feared car hijackings, we slowed down for red lights but sped through the intersections, always arriving safely at the house and being welcomed by the shared night guard.
Good times were shared with old and new friends during my stay. Sueli's family includes a daughter, Karina, and a son, Paulo Andre, and his pregnant wife, Giovana. I left Brazil knowing my next visit would be meeting the third generation of this family. Sueli's grandson, Vicente, will greet me as Tia (Aunt) Sandra. I can't wait!
Sandra Santas' first trip out of the U.S. was a honeymoon in Canada. Before Brazil, she, her husband and daughter, Elizabeth, also lived in Nigeria. Her stateside passions include her grandchildren, Alice and James John, and serving as regent of Alliance Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.