Itanhem is a small town with cobblestone streets, and everyone knows everyone. One might forget what century it is, until a bass mobile drives by, killing the tranquility. Bahia, the state, is pretty far north, so it’s very hot in December—like Florida in July. Most people wear swimwear everywhere, so when in Rome… I feel very white, even though I had been pre-tanning in NYC salons.
The next day we head to Nilza’s farm. I’ve been hearing stories about Nilza (Emille’s grandmother) for years. I’ve been hearing that she’s 75 years old, is a firecracker, is always telling jokes with her husband, Arnaldo, laughing, riding horses, milking cows and co-managing their working farm in her bare feet. We rode to the farm standing up in the back of Ricardo’s truck, in swim trunks of course, holding onto the roll bars, yelling the whole way down the dirt roads. I’m amazed how blue the sky is, how green the grass is, and how the white, fluffy, cotton-candy-looking clouds appear as if you could just reach up and grab them.
The rumors were true! Nilza and Arnaldo are a riot. I really wish that I spoke more Portuguese. This must be the first handlebar mustache that Nilza has ever seen, because she thinks it’s hilarious. They have a pool! It’s amazing. Their working farm looks a bit like a resort. They “killed the fatted calf” for us and it’s non-stop churrasco (pronounced “choo-hos-ko”), swimming and horseback riding. When you’re in the pool, it’s like you have your own personal bartender, as a family friend is always refilling your beer cup. The cups are made of glass and are about the size of a coffee mug. The beers are all 40-ounces, and they freely share the contents with everyone. They have a separate top-loading beer fridge, that when opened, looks like army munitions. Someone will come over and feel the outside of your cup for coldness, and if they think it’s too warm, they’ll toss it into the bushes, and pour a fresh glass for you. “Mais gelado” means “very cold” and it is a requirement for beer. Brahama, Itaipava, Skol and Antarctica are the Brazilian favorites.
All I need are swim trunks and sandals.
It’s so hot that it’s like everyone agreed to wear as little clothing as possible, even at the dinner table. The first night at Elpidia and Jurandy’s house, (Emille’s grandparents on her father’s side), I was at a full dinner table with about 15 people, and I was the only one wearing a shirt, which I was sweating through. They told me that I should lose the shirt, and as I looked around, I thought, “Ok, grandpa and the men aren’t wearing shirts, and the ladies are wearing bathing suits, so when in Rome…” and they were right! I could now feel the breeze on the second floor through the open windows, and it’s as if the room became 10-degrees cooler. I’m thinking that I over packed, and that they’ve probably never seen someone so white before.
Everyone is so nice and welcoming. Webert (pronounced “webbish”), Emille’s cousin, is my age and lived in Miami for 6-years, so he’s becoming my tour guide. His nickname is “Cabeçao” (“big head”) and he’s the most popular guy in Itanhém, so that’s a plus. Emille is frequently catching up with relatives, so over the next few weeks Webert takes me to all of the bars and cafes in town; many of them have outside seating, so I’m really starting to tan. The pizza here is incredible—they will literally put anything edible and available on it. Google it.
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