An English woman tells about her juicy time in Rio

For this Englishwoman all the variety of juices in Rio
was more than she could take. All the strange names and unknown flavors
made her flip. It was love at first sip. And she wrote this passionate
poem to Rio, Brazil and its culture and juicy temptations.

Miranda Mowbray

I’ve just come back from Rio de Janeiro. It was the first time I’d ever
been there. There are lots of bars selling fruit juice in Rio; the one
across the street from where I stayed sold 19 different juices. I decided
to try each one of these in turn as I explored the city. Here is the result,
a postcard for you, in the form of a basket of fruit.

 

ABACAXI (Pineapple)

 

I drank a pineapple juice straight away at the bar. It tasted nothing
like pineapple juice in England; it was almost white, very light and sweet,
with strands of pulp and a white froth like sea foam. In the church along
the street they were singing a hymn to Iemanjá, the mother of the
seas. Tanned bathing-trunked young men carrying surfboards crossed the
road. I followed them to the white beach where the foam was creamy. Waves
broke over my feet like champagne.

Rio is built round a natural bay. In the southern half of Rio no one
lives more than a few blocks from the beach. The beach is used as a living
room, people go there to sit, talk, read, relax, play football. Imagine
living in your bikini. Cariocas (the name for the inhabitants of Rio) are
a happy-go-lucky, informal people, living for the moment. Life’s a beach.

 

ACEROLA

 

There’s no translation in English for acerola. It’s a fruit I’d
never heard of. Some things in Rio have no English equivalent.

I drank acerola out of a plastic cup with a silver top in a dusty
street near the commercial centre, having got lost many times in side-streets
and wrong turnings.

Each time I asked the way, if the person I asked didn’t know, they would
walk with me until they found someone who knew and spoke English. Not only
that, they all talked to me as though they were having a particularly nice
day and it was a pleasure to meet me. As though we were at a rather good
party and I was asking where the drinks were, and would they like one too?

I’m used to the equation that the larger the city, the less welcoming
it is to strangers, and the more people keep themselves to themselves.
I’m from London, I know New York. Finding a huge city so open and friendly
gave me a sensation for which there’s no name in English, it’s sweet, intense
and orange, let’s call it acerola.

Rio de Janeiro, gosto de você

Gosto de quem gosta

Desse céu, desse mar, dessa gente feliz.

ComposerAry Barroso

Rio de Janeiro, I like you

I like those who like

This sky, this sea, this happy people.

 

AÇAÍ

 

I drank açaí at a small bar near a newsstand. The
drink was the consistency of mud, a muddy maroon in colour. There were
seeds floating in it. When I drank it I tasted cinnamon in my nose.

On the newsstand:

Bomb found in Maracanã stadium minutes before match

Gun battle between police and criminals in Rio tunnel

Houses destroyed in mud-slide in Rocinha

A taxi-driver had pointed Rocinha out to me, in a curious mixture of
pride and disgust, as “the biggest slum in the world”.

On the edge of the road by the beach there was a heap of muddy straw
and rags. As I went past, it moved. Jerkily. Something was underneath.
Dark limbs with reddish spots like açaí seeds. Another
twitch. It was a homeless man, I couldn’t see his face. I felt frightened,
without understanding why.

There’s no translation in English for acaí, either.

Eu não tenho onde morar

E por isso moro na areia

Singer-composer Dorival Caymmi

I have nowhere to live

And so I live on the beach

 

AMEIXA (plum)

 

The Carnaval parade in Rio takes place in the Sambódromo (Sambadrome),
a stadium designed for it by Oscar Niemeyer. A bus I took in Rio passed
beside it, late at night. The sky was purple-black. The concrete of the
Sambódromo was illuminated and for an instant I glimpsed inside
a procession, something dancing like a Chinese dragon, a woman wearing
a bell-shaped plum skirt large as a tree, a fairground wheel, and then
blackness again as the bus passed by.

I turned to my father on the next seat and asked, “did you see
that too or did I imagine it?” “I saw a parade, something like
a huge circle, something purple”, he said.

Come, my mulatta

Take me back!

You’re the joker in my pack

Plum in my pudding

Pepper in my pie

My packet of peanuts

The moon in my sky.

Anonymous Carnaval samba, translated by Elizabeth Bishop

 

BANANA

 

Rio has bananas. Banana palms, lush and unkempt. An English friend before
I went told me that Rio is bananas.

The bananas I ate in Rio were smaller than the Caribbean ones sold in
England, and had a delicate flavour. I ate banana bread in Avenida Presidente
Vargas. High up in the tree above me were draped fairy lights. A banana-coloured
plastic ribbon was tied round the trunk in a bow. Further on a Carnaval
costume had been left casually on top of a wall. It had pointed shoulders
and pink and silver tinsel braid as an epaulette.

Carnaval musicians and traffic policewomen are almost the only people
in Rio to wear jackets. I passed several traffic policewomen. They wore
green and gold suits with a braid over the shoulder. They were all beautiful
mulatas, 17 or 18 years old.

Bananas are my business

Carmen Miranda

 

COCO (coconut)

 

At night the beach kiosks look from afar as though they have plastic
footballs on the side slung up in nets. Come closer and you see they’re
coconuts. The kiosk man cuts a cross-shaped hole in the top with a machete,
with apparent danger to his fingers, so that I can suck the milk out with
a straw. The waves break on the beach as regular as a lace edging. Coconut
milk is refreshing and not too sweet, similar to li chee juice.

The young man at the next table has two gold earrings in his left ear.
His girlfriend is plaiting his hair. Apart from the rasta plaits he looks
rather like Romário, who escaped from the Rio slums by playing football
with supernatural skill.

On the floodlit beach little boys play, with a goal mouth drawn in the
sand. A kick sends the football high into the sky, and as it descends it
seems to rest for a moment between the horns of the moon, white as hope
or coconut milk.

 

GOIABA (guava)

 

Botafogo vs. Fluminense, two local teams. Botafogo: Black and white
stripes. Fluminense: three colours, the prominent one a dusty red, like
guava juice. Maracanã stadium, capacity 200,000. Maracanã
stadium, blessed by God, illuminated by General Electric. Paulo Roberto,
the hypnotically graceful Fluminense number 2, charms the ball, dodging
four zebras simultaneously to bring it to the goal mouth, but I am watching
the crowd, who are dancing with kites, flags, balloons, fireworks, horns,
drums, who yell and sing Botafogo fogo fogo! Olê Olá! It’s
a dance, it’s a party, it’s religion.

In Rio, as in Liverpool, football isn’t a matter of life and death,
it’s more serious than that: but in Liverpool it’s because football is
desperately, grimly important, whereas in Rio it’s because life and death
are not to be taken seriously, they’re only syncopations of the samba.

Samba drums are the battery of Rio. They beat everywhere, continuously,
generating energy for the city. At Maracanã they beat fortissimo.
The reserves limbering up do a samba step. Fluuuuuuuuminense! Fogo,
fogo! Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!

The match ends 1-1. Rio is the winner. The guava-coloured flags fold
again and the fans surge out, still drumming.

In Macunaíma by Mário de Andrade, three brothers
annoy each other by magically creating two bugs and a leather ball and
throwing them at each other:

It was thus that Maanape introduced the coffee bug, Jigue the cotton
boll weevil and Macunaíma the football; three of the main pests
in the country today.

 

LARANJA (orange)

 

At the Hotel Caesar Park, whose feijoada is famous, they told
me that the secret of a good feijoada is the orange. Here’s the
recipe:

Feijoada Caesar Park (serves 20)

4lb 4oz black beans
2lb 2oz dried beef

1lb 1oz salt-cured pork
1lb 1oz bacon
1 lb 1 oz smoked sausage
6 pieces of dried sausage
1 piece smoked beef tongue
2 of each: pig’s ear, tail and trotter

Method: Place beans and salted meats in separate bowls and cover
with water. Leave for 24 hours changing water every 6 hours. Put all ingredients
into a cooking pan and cover with water. Add half an orange, 3 bay leaves,
1 chopped onion, and pepper.

Cook everything over a low heat and gradually withdraw meats as they
get cooked, to prevent them from getting too soft. If you need to add water,
always use boiling water.

In a separate pan, heat 2 tbsp. soybean oil and fry 6 cloves of garlic,
and 2 chopped onions. Pour it into the beans and mix well. Separate a small
portion of beans and crush it with a wooden spoon in order to make the
sauce a little thicker.

Serve with: White rice, fried manioc flour, kale cut into thin
strips and fried in oil and garlic, oranges, and hot peppers.

“No,” said my Brazilian friend André, “The secret
of a good feijoada is that it must have two pig’s ears, one left
and one right. They use every part of the pig except the squeal, said my
father. The band started a number using the cuíca, a high-pitched
Carnaval instrument, rhymes with squeaker. So that’s what they use the
squeal for.

Feijoada is the national dish of Brazil, and has notable physiopsychological
effects: every time I finish eating a feijoada I feel an enormous
benevolence, I feel happy and generous and lackadaisical. Perhaps the reason
Brazilians are so likeable is simply the feijoada? I also feel like
sleeping for two hours and not eating — anything at all — for two days.

Brazil is a country that doesn’t believe that you can have too much
of a good thing. You like rivers? Have the Amazon. Football? Maracanã.
A bite to eat? A feijoada. Drumming? Put three hundred drummers
in a Carnaval group and have them play for days.

This generosity is unsettling to me with my English upbringing. Perhaps
moderation isn’t in itself virtuous. Perhaps excess doesn’t after all corrupt
or satiate. I wouldn’t know, I’m too English to ever let myself find out.
(Miranda gives a big wink and goes to dance the samba till dawn.)

 

LIMÀO (lime)

 

I drink my lime juice in a caipirinha. The ice cubes are transparent,
only their curved edges visible in the glass.

Caipirinha (recipe taken from the Internet)

1 lime

2 ounces of cachaça (brazilian rum)
Sugar to taste
Ice cubes

Wash the lime and roll it on the board to loosen the juices. Cut the
lime into pieces and place them in a glass. Sprinkle with the sugar and
crush the pieces (pulp side up) with a pestle. Add the cachaça
and stir to mix. Add the ice and stir again. It is delicious and potent!

I take the cable car up to the top of the sugar-loaf, the hump-shaped
island in the bay of Rio. From the top of the sugar-loaf the city is displayed
in curves of air. Hills, descents, heights, lakes, lanes, beaches, delicate
flyovers; islands looking like clouds and clouds like islands; a sculpture
of intersecting curvilinear surfaces containing empty space. I trace waves
on the shoreline with my fingertips. The hill-shapes are shoulders, knees,
cheekbones. Muscular ridges. The bridge of a nose. The turn of a neck.
The contour of a thigh. The hollow curve of a crushed lime, its juice sharp
and sweet on my tongue.

 

MAÇÀ (apple)

 

Maçã means apple; maçã do rosto
— literally, apple of the face — means cheekbone. The delicate chap
in the corner of the bar where I am drinking apple juice has exceptional
apple-slice cheekbones. I think that he must have some Indian blood. No
two faces in this bar are the same hue; everyone except me is a Black-White-Indian
mixture.

We are in the centre of the city, on a busy street. Just across the
way is a little display of a copy of the decree signed by Princesa Isabel
abolishing slavery in Brazil. It’s an illuminated manuscript, decorated
with joyful squiggles in coloured ink, apple yellow, apple green, apple
red.

É tempo de Barra de ouro

Barra de Rio, sim sinhô,

É tempo de Barra de sala

União de três raças por amor.

Carnaval song from Barra, suburb of Rio

It’s the time for Barra of gold

Barra of Rio, yes Sir

It’s the time for Barra of the hall

Union of three races in love.

The tall mulata dancing to the jukebox in the juice bar has the
nose and hair of her white ancestors, the eyes and bottom of her black
ancestors, skin of dark gold, and a feline insolence all of her own. She,
is, gorgeous. I can see that the chap in the corner thinks so too.

 

MAMÀO (papaya)

 

Let me tell you about the Brazilian breakfast. You start with slices
of papaya. Papayas are sweet as the sweetest orange, juicy as the juiciest
pear, and tasty as the tastiest apple. They look like melons with orange
flesh and dark blue seeds. The pulp has medicinal properties; they are
used in some heart operations. It does my heart good to eat them.

After the papaya you have a roll with soft cheese. Fried pumpkins or
fried bananas. Then cake, yes cake, light and flavoured with coconut, made
from manioc flour. Juice of orange, passion fruit, or cashew to drink,
and coffee of course. Street-sellers sell and eat this breakfast at market
stalls. This is in a continent where breakfast usually means a pastry and
a coffee.

Lying under my feet are flamboyants; they are crimson flowers, big as
my hand, with orange-yellow stamens and four curly petals. They come from
the tree above my head. The woman washing my breakfast plate sings “my
heart is full as never before”.

Cidade maravilhosa,

cheia de encantos mil

Cidade maravilhosa,

coração do meu Brasil

Rio Carnaval song

Wonderful city

filled with enchantment

Wonderful city,

heart of my Brazil

 

MANGA (mango)

 

Outside the botanical gardens a man is lying on his back on the pavement
with his legs propped up on a tree trunk and one brown foot waving nonchalantly
in the air.

The mango trees inside the gardens are gnarled and wise-looking, festooned
with creepers and orchids. In this climate a gardener’s main task must
be to stop things from growing. I trigonoestimate a Jackfruit tree: fourteen
times my height. Giant bamboos creak above me. I have a slight headache.
The air is shimmering-surreal with the heat and I wonder whether in fact
the garden is English-sized but I have shrunk. Huge mango-coloured butterflies
alight on a tree whose flowers are da-glo orange pompoms for Carnaval outfits.
I pass a shrubbery whose plants I recognise from England, except that they
are all taller than I am. It must be true.

One of the fountains in the garden is a yellow-brown statue of woman
carrying a cornucopia of fruit. She is waving one foot in the air, carefree.
My headache intensifies. I close my eyes and see spots in the khaki, gold
and fuchsia-pink colours of a Brazilian cactus.

Mamãe eu quero, mamãe eu quero,

Mamãe eu quero pra bailar

Um mangueiro, um mangueiro

Um mangueiro pra dançar

Song of the Mangueira (mango tree) Carnaval group

Mama I want, mama I want,

Mama I want to dance

With a mango tree, a mango tree

To dance with a mango tree

 

MARACUJÁ (passion
fruit)

 

Lá no avarandado

Na luz do meio-dia

Um segredo nos teus olhos

Tanta coisa me dizia

O cabelo solto ao vento

O teu jeito de olhar

E no teu corpo moreno

A flor de maracujá.

João Donato e Lysias Ênio (sung by Gal
Costa)

There on the veranda

In the mid-day light

A secret in your eyes

Was saying so much to me

Hair loosened to the wind

Your way of looking at me

And in your dark body

The flower of the passion fruit.

 

MELÀO (melon)

 

Brazil is green and gold. Green of the vegetation, gold of the sun,
green and gold of a melon. I noticed the predominance of these colours
in the clothes, fruit, and buildings of Rio, before realizing that — together
with the blue of the sky — they’re also the colours of the Brazilian flag.
Green for the leaves of the sugar cane, the rubber tree and coffee bush;
gold for topazes and cacao pods, gold for gold.

The composer Villa-Lobos had a big round balding head. I drank melon
juice just before visiting his house, which has been turned into a mini-museum
displaying his photos, his walking sticks, his huge cigars, his tiny gilded
coffee cups. Each object is like Villa-Lobos music, cheerful, comfortable,
warmhearted. On the wall are musical scores, including a song for a Carnaval
group beginning “Brazil, green and yellow”, and a quotation from
him about his music:

“Se ela é em grande quantidade, é fruto de uma terra
extensa, generosa e quente.”

“If it is in great quantity, it is because it is the fruit of a
vast, generous, and warm country.”

In the courtyard the sun filters gold through green leaves. The birds
are whistling Villa-Lobos tunes.

 

MELANCIA (watermelon)

 

At Estudantina they are dancing the samba, the forró,
the frevo, the seresta, the samba-de-roda, the sambão.
The band is hot, the band is kickin’. A dumpy middle-aged woman with an
enormous bottom like a giant watermelon, in a black leather miniskirt,
oh dear, gets up from her table and advances cat-like towards a scrawny
gangly man. The moment they start dancing together he turns into Fred Astaire
and she is Venus Herself, launching waves of sexy happiness throughout
the dance-hall with each magnificent wriggle, and she knows it and she’s
delighted and so am I.

I don’t know these dances, I sit watching other ordinary-looking people
turn into their secret extraordinary selves.

While there is dance there will always be hope.

Motto above Estudantina’s door

You can’t dance? Who cares! Come and dance anyway. With me. Yes, now,
why not? — And suddenly I see there’s no reason why not, I take his hand,
and somehow I’m doing the right steps, and the joy of the samba is thrilling
through me, and we spin around embraced and we’re dancing floating dancing
bump! The couple I bumped into laughs and dances on. As I learn the dance
it feels like opening a watermelon, hard and inedible outside, luscious
pink and light inside and sweet, so sweet.

“To dance properly you have to hear the music outside you, but
also the music inside you”, says André, who is teaching me
the seresta.

Coco verde e melancia

Para sempre amor

Vinícius de Moraes

Green coconut and watermelon

For ever love

 

MORANGO (strawberry)

 

What are clothes for? Warmth? — In Rio? Don’t make me laugh. Eigthy
degrees F at 9 PM in midwinter. Marking social status? — Well, someone
I know was robbed of his too-fashionable sneakers at knife-point on a Rio
bus, however in a city where the business uniform is jeans and a T-shirt
there’s only so much status-marking possible. Modesty? — In Rio?! The
tall and tanned and young and lovely girl from Ipanema reacts to my European
bathing suit as I would react to English nineteenth-century bathing drawers;
with sympathy for a buttoned-up society, and with giggles. Fun, creativity,
making your dreams live, attracting lovers, binding together a group of
friends, giving happiness to the onlooker and the stranger? — that’s more
like it.

With those design criteria the result is the clothes in the Carnaval
Museum, my next stop after a strawberry juice. These clothes have no fabric
at all. The token concession to modesty is a sequinned piece of dental
floss. For the rest they are feathers, pompoms, baubles, gewgaws, gold-and-silver-paper
beads, flowers, strawberries, leaves, squiggles, swirls, fake-jewels, fake-fur,
rainbows, frogging, piping, bangles, tinsel, ribbons, braid, lace, stars,
spikes, tassels, curls, and more sequins.

I come out of the Carnaval Museum thinking, what is life for? Surviving
and keeping warm? Increasing your social status? Hiding yourself away?
Surely not.

Você sorriu para mim

Depois sumiu na multidão

Será que foi miragem de carnaval

Ou o amor me mandou seu sinal?

Caetano Veloso

You smiled for me

Then you were lost in the crowd

Was it a Carnaval mirage

Or did love send me its signal?

In the sky above the museum floats Christ the Redeemer, embracing Rio.
The statue is on a hill high enough to be seen from all of the city. He
is wearing the simplest robe possible.

 

SUPER FORTE (extra strong),

a mixture of orange,
carrot and beet root

 

Copacabana is a holiday resort for bodies. In Copacabana a body can
get a perfect tan, tone its muscles, have sex, dance to good music, ingest
many pleasure-inducing chemicals, surf, buy and sell other bodies, eat
ice cream, and play foot-volley (beach volleyball except that you hit the
ball with head and feet instead of hands, extremely difficult for non-advanced
bodies).

At every hour of the day and night in Copacabana you can hear the cry
of the gym instructors: stretch, two three four, one, two
three four, and again, two three four.

The Super Forte juice is stronger than I am, I can’t finish it.
I don’t belong in Copacabana, I have no muscles to speak of and my tanning
sequence is whiter-than-white, freckled-white, freckled-pink, lobster-red.

Two muscle-men are doing twisting sit-ups in unison on the beach, toning
their abdominals. They’re very serious about it. Perhaps there’s a new
Synchronized Abdominals event in the Olympics and they’re the Brazilian
team. When I leave the beach two hours later they’re still at it.

 

TANGERINA (tangerine)

 

Tangerine, you are all they claim

With your eyes of darkness

and your hair of flame

In the velvety tropical evening I see a great fire on the hills in the
poor part of Rio. The flames are red and tangerine. A column of smoke blackens
the sky. I can smell ashes.

I walk down the street from the juice bar past the Banco do Brasil.
On the pavement outside the bank there lies sleeping a barefoot young man.
He has hair dyed flame-colour and he is holding a flyer advertising a dance
night.

 

TUTTI FRUTTI (all fruit)

 

I find a fruit-juice bar specializing in fruits from the North of Brazil.
Cajá, it advertises. Cupuaçu. Jenipapo,
guaraná, jambo, jaboticaba, pitanga,

umbu. I realise that I haven’t even begun to taste the fruit of
this country. My next postcard, perhaps. I drink a Tutti Frutti. It tastes
of every fruit I can remember or imagine.

I’m the girl in the Tutti Frutti hat

Carmen Miranda

Singer Carmen Miranda personified Brazil for Hollywood; she danced the
samba whilst wearing a turban piled with fruit, basketsful of fruit, barrelsful
of fruit. A Carmen Miranda number is a straightforward celebration of the
joy of being alive underneath a very silly hat. There’s a Carmen Miranda
museum in Rio, with her tutti frutti frocks, records, and hats. When I
visited it I couldn’t stop giggling. I thought that there was no-one like
Carmen Miranda. But no, Brazil is crammed with people with her gift for
turning everyday life into a party, and frivolity into a spiritual affirmation.
The rest of the world has something to learn.

The Carmen Miranda block dances through Rio throughout the Carnaval
period each year. It consists of hundreds of men all dressed as Carmen
Miranda.

Outside the Fruits of the North bar I balance an imaginary fruit-basket
on my head and sing my favourite Carmen Miranda number, one of her silliest:

I I I I I, I like you verrrry much

I I I I I, I think you’rre grrrrand

When when when when when

oh when I feeeel your touch

My heart starts to beat to beat the band

I I I I see see see see

I I I I see see see see

that you’rrrre for me!

And I blow a kiss to this juicy city, this sweet delicious brightly-coloured
city filled with flesh and pips and pith, capital of the fruitiest country
in the world.


 

SOURCES:

 

Macunaíma by Mário de Andrade, 1928, translation
publ. Quartet books

Personalidade, Gal Costa II — PolyGram Records

Elizabeth Bishop, the Complete Poems, publ. The Noonday Press,
NY.

Estudantina, Praça Tiradentes, 11 PM-4 AM Friday

Hotel Cesar Park, Ipanema, Rio

Caipirinha recipe from http://maria-brazil.healthtouch.com/ Vicínius
de Moraes, Livro de Letras
, publ. Companhia das Letras, 1991

Tieta do Agreste, film soundtrack by Caetano Veloso

That Night in Rio, film starring Carmen Miranda

Assorted flyers, museum exhibits, TV programmes, songs, folk sayings.

Miranda Mowbray can be reached at miranda@cibi.it

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