The past week was full of too much fun celebrating St Patrick's Day, working on some major upcoming events, watching some Oscar nominated movies, eating a lot of hummus and cheese (on separate occasions), and drinking daily cups of tea. It's been a really nice mix of relaxing as we are still getting back into a routine since vacation and leisurely enjoying moments at home.
We make brunch at home on weekends and indulge in sodas from Whole Foods, local sprouts bread, and farmer's market vegetables sauteed in a cast iron skillet, eaten on our balcony, shaded from the morning sun. We tended to our plants, whipped up meals in the kitchen, and tidied our little home. In between, we swung by our favorite markets and shops, bringing home cheeses, crackers, ingredients, and treating ourselves to a sushi feast on a weekend night.
There was also an annual plant sale going on at the loveliest botanical garden in the area, Leu Gardens. Vendors set up booths in the grass and attendees walked the pathways toting new plants and licking ice cream. The booths spread throughout the entire garden, from the tropical section to the greenhouse, to the bamboo forest. There were bonsai trees for sale and rose bushes to bring home. We went home with a horseradish tree that we've never seen before, hoping to add a little height to our plants on the balcony.
Lately I've been working on a "book" that is more like a magazine, full of my favorite photos and blog posts from this blog. I see some of my favorite blogs become private or completely go off air after years of beautiful posts, and in the event that my blog becomes nonexistent, I would like to have a hard copy of my life these past few years. I have just ordered it after perfecting the layout for weeks, going as far back as April 2012, eliminating dates, and sectioning the writings by seasons. It's already 100 pages and I'm really excited to be able to flip through it when it arrives, like a glossy journal.
We're back home, settling into our digs with our new items like vinyl records from stores, vinyl records from the farm, my favorite chocolates from Brazil, musical instruments of the area, perfect penguin pitchers of Buenos Aires, and yet, weeks later, my suitcase is still packed.
From South America I brought back something that didn't fit inside of my suitcase, and that couldn't be claimed at customs as a "souvenir". But what else is a different point of view if not a souvenir of a place you've just visited? I brought back an astounding sense of humbleness. I loved the fact that in South America they don't all need the latest phones and the greatest computers, they were happy to connect with the rest of the world in whatever way that they could.
Their way of life is just so much more appreciative of the natural world than our way of life. My grandparents lived most of their lives in Manhattan, working and living their American Dream. When they retired back to Brazil, they didn't find the need to install the fanciest air conditioning system on the farm. Instead, they take advantage of the direction of the house, having the patio shaded from the afternoon sun, having windows placed just right to create the dreamiest draft through the house so it would feel cool inside while outside the sun was blooming the soybean crops. They didn't need to upgrade their kitchen to have the shiniest appliances. Instead, my grandmother wanted a simple bread oven, that would rise doughs and crisp pizzas.
The longer I have been back in the U.S. (3 or 4 weeks now?) the more I lose the humbleness I brought back with me. I'm feeling more and more like I did before I left, and I want more than nothing to have that appreciation for simplicity back. I don't want to get into the sense of self that Millenials have, but it's completely different than South America and quite distasteful the older I get. Here, we love talking about ourselves. There, it was never that. It was talk about life, history, culture, a shared enjoyment. Here it's, let me tell you about me.
We visited our parents town when we came back to gift some souvenirs and to share our travel stories. My dad used his penguin pitcher for wine that evening, my brother slipped his new wooden chimarrao key chain onto his keys, and I shared captions photo by photo with my mom. It was nice to take part in simple rituals of turning pages of an old-school photo album, to share stories over a hot dinner and a long table. Those are the kind of humble actions I want to keep.
My grandmother sent us home with some seeds to grow like a pepper plant, as well as a tree related to the passion fruit. With this beautiful weather, the seeds are in soil on our porch and some inside by the window sill. My mom even shared some plants with us, extras that sprouted in her garden like basil seeds and morning glories.
We're even attempting to propagate a cutting of a fiddle leaf fig tree that we got. It's our first time using rooting powder, which promotes root growth on cuttings from other plants, so we're hoping to have this tree grow successfully. Spring is the perfect time for it to thrive. Mornings on our porch are shaded and windy these days. Then in the afternoon, our plants soak up the sun. By dinner time, the sun has gone down and the breeze is back, making it just right to enjoy drinks or dinner out there.
In Brazil, my family always drinks chimarrao, about three times a day. It's just like yerba mate, but we call it by the name of the gourd that we drink it from. The loose green tea is settled to one side of the gourd, and a metal straw with the filter at the bottom, sits firmly next to it. We drink it communal style, filling the gourd with hot water each time we finish and passing it on to the next person. My great-grandparents lived into their 90's and I think having a strong, green tea before or after their meals has a lot to do with their longevity.
My grandparents took us to the neighbor's house. He is also a farmer with livestock and squash but he also makes his own cachaca. Cachaca is an alcohol made from sugarcane. While we were there, sometimes before dinner we would enjoy a glass of homemade cachaca, neat. In the U.S. when I buy cachaca (for a favorite Brazilian cocktail, the caipirinha) it's clear. However, the homemade cachaca that we had was caramel colored, like a bourbon, and it was delicious.
While my grandparents chatted in Portuguese with the farmer and his wife, we played with their two children outside. Even though the children couldn't speak English, we still managed to play as children do, with a little bowling ball set in the ground next to the piles of squash, as well as being silly and making the kids laugh.
As we played in the shade with the two boys, giggling and smiling, howler monkeys played in the trees above us. Of course, S and I were amazed, having wild and free monkeys just roaming the trees. In the states, they're always at zoos and even in Costa Rica, they were in the jungle during our hikes. But here, they were just hanging out, above someone's home and it the two boys were so nonchalant about it.
Another day, S and my grandfather were gone a long time. After finishing two novels in the hammock, I left my fictional daze and went to find them. They were roaming the 150 acres, cutting down bananas from the various pockets of banana trees.
The gringo that bought the farm showed S how to mount the horse by basically propelling yourself from the ground to the horse's back using only the horse as leverage. There was a simple mouth piece for the horse, and a worn sheepskin as gear.
Other creatures we saw were the huge lizard and it's baby that live under the edge of the pool, where it's cool and dark and damp. There's the fat toad that doesn't hop, he waddles out from under a chair on the patio, and now even he has a little female toad friend. And in the mornings, I would find the same albino frog in one of the hammocks, keeping cool in the folded fabric and jumping out when we got too close. There was also this beetle that we enjoyed photographing - he's so photogenic! We let him go by some lush trees, and later, found him making his way back to us. If only he could be our new pet and we could bring him home!
Unfortunately, the week we were at the farm was a full moon. It seems like this would be a wonderful thing, but the moon was so bright that all of the stars and the immensity of the darkness was lost. Every person that has been to the farm always says the view of the night sky is incredible. The stars go on for miles and they are brighter than any where in the U.S. because of the emptiness of rolling farms and crops and livestock.
The moon was so bright that with a slow shutter speed and a steady table, I could take a photo with just moonlight. S was really disappointed that he didn't get to see these stars, but I know we'll just have to see them elsewhere in the world.
One day we took a "walk" into the eucalyptus forest. When I say "walk" it was more like a hike. My grandfather and myself had fallen branches to poke the surrounding grass for snakes and creatures. We got so far into the forest, there were areas where the pastures grass was up to our shoulders, and the only thing making a path was my grandfather's foot steps leading the way.
We came out with a few scratches on our legs but at least no snake bites nor ticks. I am not one for critters or bugs on me (I love to admire them, not touch them) so the fact that there were flies around my arms and grasshoppers on my shoes, I think I did pretty well. I made jokes about flesh eating trees and what looked to be the remnants of giant anaconda skins, and the thought of adventure helped keep me from squirming.
We departed from Brazil late at night on a red-eye flight home. As we ascended above Sao Paolo, the warm glow of the street lights below in between the trees, looked like rivers of hot lava. And quickly, even among the rows of Brazilian children headed to the magic of Disney World on our flight, we slept for hours.
After the winery, and before we went to the farm, we stopped in Porto Alegre to spend time with my extended family. I have so many cousins there and we all went out to dinner. It was a long table of about 25 of us if I remember correctly. We sat next to those who could speak English, that way I didn't have to bother my mom and grandmother all night about translating our conversations. We all talked about the differences in Brazil compared to the United States like the cities, the crime, and even the language. It was really fun, and this is the only photo I grabbed from the night with most of my cousins. After dinner, we went to my cousins house, toasted with local champagne and S and I tried our hardest to understand the Portuguese conversations. Being that we don't speak the language, instead we had to rely on context, body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, the look in their eyes, and you get to know someone so much more that way with no prejudice on what they said. To get to know someone by their emotions, a language all humans speak, it's incredible. This bond is not just family, it's good people. This, visiting the "homeland" where family still lives, it's so important. We're only disconnected by miles and country lines and language, but the bond is still there.
After sadly saying goodbye to family the next morning, knowing it would be years before I see them again, we headed to the farm a few hours drive away. We stopped in Santa Cruz on the way, a little city with cute shops, tree lined streets, and some delicious mocha ice cream! After that little treat, we drove the one lane highway to the dirt road that leads us to my grandparents farm.
Where there used to be pastures for the cows to graze, there's now soybeans and rice planted. I previously explained that my grandparents have sold the farm (but get to still live there until they completely relocate to Florida to be with us) to an Italian farmer that my grandfather calls, "The Gringo". The Gringo doesn't have an interest in livestock like my grandfather had, instead he's planted squash and grapes and numerous seeds for harvesting and selling. The farms rows of seeds and harvest are outlined by acres of eucalyptus trees. Those trees take years to grow tall, strong, lightweight, and white as a ghost. Then they are cut and sold for paper and furniture.
Although my grandfather has sold all of his livestock, the Gringo has one horse on the property for his daughter. She's a beautiful horse and it was S's first time riding one. This is us meeting her for the first time, feeding her grass and petting her.
You can see, behind her area is rows of seeds and behind that, rows of eucalyptus trees.
The immensity of the rollings hills and vast expanse just seem to go on forever. In the mornings we would walk to feed the fish, explore the remains of last seasons harvest, and admire the greenery for miles around us.
We arrived just after the first storm after a drought that had lasted since Christmas. My mom was on the farm for a week before we arrived and her account of the weather was much different than our experience. Keep in mind, it was summer time there, below the equator. With the direction of the house on the farm, the surrounding trees, and all of the windows that let in a breeze, my grandparents have never had to install any air conditioning before. However, the drought had gotten so bad that my mom said it was 98 degrees in the house at night. And then, we arrived at just the right time to enjoy bright sun every day and a cold wind that became warmer by every day. The last few days, we spent time in the pool that my grandparents had built since the last time I visited in 2002.
We would walk the grounds for hours, with no real purpose. We'd explore with my grandfather telling me what's changed and telling S what's what. We'd stumble upon fruit trees that my grandfather would cut for us, just out there under the branches, and my grandmother would slip the seeds into my pockets to plant later. We ate fruits that we've never had before.
One fruit that I enjoyed the most is related to the passion fruit, however we don't have them in the US so the name doesn't translate. They were little pink and yellow marbles with a crown like a pomegranate that we had to cut off. But once we popped them into our mouths, the tart flesh would pinch my cheeks but it was full of juicy flavor. Even have to spit out the tiny seeds, it's a delicious little treat. On our last day, my grandfather brought me back a hat-ful of those little gems, and we swung on the hammocks while snacking on them, wishing time to move slower.
The wi-fi on the farm was intermittent, but it was something I was thankful for. It was nice to not worry about having my phone on me, I could focus on using my DSLR camera instead of phone snapshots, and I didn't have to check texts/emails/voicemail. It was a nice and much needed break, a reset.
From the previous harvest, there were handfuls of leftover potatoes in the ground on the perimeter of the budding soybeans. It was kind of amazing how they come out of the ground the same way they look piled up at the grocery stores or farmer's market. And yet, they travel so far to get there.