We *finally* got into the countryside today, which I have been dying to do. Growing up I used to think the excitement and endless list of entertainment opportunities available in a city was more my style and pace, but I was wrong. When you come from a small town, you know how to entertain yourself with very little, and I like it that way.
We took the Serra Verde Express on “the most beautiful train ride in Brazil.” It was genuinely fantastic. At eight a.m. we boarded a half-full rail car with plenty of leg room and lots of friendly (mostly Brazilian) tourists. Because Curitiba is a pretty big city, it took awhile to escape the endless buildings, but once we finally broke away, I finally got to taste that sense of peace I`d been waiting for for so long. We spent about 1/2 an hour in farm country before we started our ascent into the mountains where the jungle clung to the hillsides. The train track is literally carved out of the slopes, often tunneling through thick vegetation and granite slabs. Other times the mountain dropped away to reveal gorgeous views as we chugged along over viaducts and bridges spanning crevasses hundreds of feet deep. The banana trees, with their human-sized leaves, were heavy with fruit, and carpets of bright pink and purple flowers covered all the open areas near the tracks. Amazing!
One of the mountain ranges around Morretes
Really on the brink!
We crested the highest point in our journey and slowly wound our way towards the coast, stopping just short in a gorgeous little colonial town called Morretes. It`s one of those tiny towns with cobblestone streets, a river winding through it, really pretty flower gardens, tremendous views of the mountains, and maybe a total of 10 streets wide by ten streets long. Very manageable, and terribly difficult to get lost. We asked a woman at the train station where was the best value to try the local special, Barreado. It`s basically a meat stew cooked for 24 hours in a clay pot… the secret to the incredible flavor, of course, is the slow cooking. It used to be made only for celebratory times because the ingredients were pricey, and it`s use in Carnival (pre-Lent) celebrations was especially noted for allowing the food-preparers to get all their work done the day before in order to take part in the festivities.
The Barreado was so incredibly delicious. I have a secret weakness for pot-roast, which was a main ingredient. Served over rice and manioc flour with sliced bananas… really, this stuff was to die for. And the juice! This is the super thing about Brasil! There are fruit juice stands everywhere… fresh! And it´s maybe 25 cents more than soda. I wish we has such a healthy variety in the U.S.! The restaurant we ate at was recommended to us as being the “best value” (read = cheapest), so we weren`t expecting much, but I think we really lucked out. As far as ambience and a view, I think we got the best place in town. The main part of the restaurant was on stilts over the riverbank, so we got to watch these small, three-inch, silver fish flash the afternoon away while we sipped our juices (pineapple and strawberry!).
After we indulged in the local specialty, we took a little self-tour of this gorgeous town. Once we`d seen everything there was to see and inquired about hiking trails (only allowed in the National Park 8km from town, we found out), we bought tickets for the next bus back to Curitiba. With 45 minutes to kill, we set off on a walk, passing literally dozens of banana trees! It was so strange to be in a jungle thick with deciduous trees that, had they been growing farther apart, could have well been in the U.S., and then *whamo!*… banana tree! The leaves on these things are HUGE. We`re talking, I could make a modest dress out of a banana tree leaf and still have plently to spare. They`re bigger than Pat! And another thing… yes, I know this makes me a redneck hick or something of the like, but did you know bananas grow “up?” Check out the picture! I consider the top part of the banana to be the end where you crack the “stem” off and peel it open. This, my friends, is not the end closest to the sky when the banana is growing! Because of my mis-pre-conception, bananas now seem to me to defy gravity. Crazy!
We cat-napped in between enjoying the scenery on the way back to Curitiba, and arrived early enough that we thought we might give the Niemeyer museum another go. We got the receptionist in an administration office to call for us, and set off on the two mile journey. Lucky for us, the little misunderstanding we had ended up being harmless. You see, when I asked how late they were open, the woman told me “oito.” So, thinking we had four hours, we ambled up town. When we turned up at the museum an hour later, the guy said they closed in an hour and a half. I asked, “at eight?”. No… eight-TEEN. Since we`re not used to military time, we didn`t hear the DEZ-oito. Nonetheless, we got to see all the exibits and had time to run up inside the giant eye (currently a dis-used exhibition space) for which the museum is so well-known.
The view of our restaurant from the main street in the village.
I think by far the coolest exhibit was called FLUXUS. It started in Germany in the 60`s as (from what I could gather from the Portugese placards) a sort of avant-garde form of art/examiniation of the art world. It`s definitely the kind of art that some think is bizarre trash and others find fascinating and though-provoking. I, of course, belong in the latter group. One of my favorites were these old-school (late-70´s) televisions (the old knob style back before remote controls) laid out on the floor facing the ceiling on a cloth. There were probably 12-15 television, forming a cross, and all connected to the same “broken record” style film. I couldn`t really tell what was flashing across the screen… just a ton of random pictures (reminded me of 80`s MTV), but sort of Andy Warhol style as far as the colors went. It think it draws a really interesting, subliminal parallel with religion and television. These days, for some, catching the O.C. on Wednesday nights is just as important as going to church on Sunday.
My other favorite wasn`t even a piece, itself, it was a part of an art piece. Because my portuguese is rather… lacking, I couldn`t quite understand the focal point behind these bulliten-board displays, but each of seven artists put together several bits. One artist`s contained a letter written to a colleauge about how inappropriate it is to describe any one artist or project as the newest and most up and coming. Because balance in the universe is necessary, because you cannot have new without old, she/he defines the “eternal network” of which we are all a part. Read:
there is always someone asleep and someone awake
someone dreaming asleep someone dreaming awake
someone eating someone hungry
someone fighting someone loving
somone making money someone broke
someone travelling someone staying put
someone helping somone hindering
someone enjoying someone suffering someone indifferent
someone starting someone stopping
THE NETWORK IS ENTERNAL (everlasting)
After we saw all the exhibits, we descended to the basement level where you have to go down a StarTrek-ish tunnel to get to the stairs/elevators that lead up into the eye building. I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie.
The tunnel that provides underground access to the “eye” building in the Niemeyer Museum.
After finding our way back from the museum, we wandered around the centro seeing all the pretty plazas with antique lighting until we happened upon an internet cafe where the mean proprietor was quite impatient with us, tried to overcharge us by several dollars (math is a universal language, buddy!), and then got angry when we persisted in explaining to him that 7:40 to 10:20 doesn`t equal 3 hours and 45 minutes! For the most part people here are wonderful, but this guy was a jerk
On a brighter note, tomorrow will bring a journey to a new town (finally away from the big cities!)!