July 27, 2008

Country Fool

This is a Brazilian bonfire, called a fogueira. It’s a part of the traditional winter parties here that go by various names but are all related with some saint’s days in the month of June.

Sometimes it’s called the country festival because that’s the theme connecting them all no matter what the name. People (mostly kids, and rarely adults as you will see) dress up in clothes that look very Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher – boys in cut-off jeans, checked shirts, straw hats and a painted mustache, girls in country dresses with their hair in braids (called Maria Chiquita’s) and freckles painted on their cheeks. There is square dancing (quadrilha) to country music (forró), bonfires and traditional country food such as canjiquinha (a corn stew) and paçoca (exactly like a reese peanut buttercup, sans chocolate).

Sometimes it’s called the Winter Carnival, especially in the north of the country where, as usual, any excuse will do to make a big party, they go all out and have big parades and street parties that go on for days.

Usually it’s called Festa Junina, or June festival, because the month has several saints days (Santo Antonio, but especially São João) for which the parties were originally celebrated. Although now it is celebrated anytime between June and August.

(On a side note: Living in Brazil I’ve learned to be flexible about pining down names or dates or specificity to a lot of things. One person’s raspberry is another’s mulberry is another’s wild strawberry. It took us months to figure out the translations of vegetables in the supermarket only to be completely confused again when local farmers near our land call them something else, and then to find out when we started our organic delivery they had yet other names. We still don’t know if acelga is 1) chard, 2) escarole or 3) chicory! Oktoberfest is celebrated in September (at least in my city) and there seem to be more Festa Junina parties in July than June. So I’ve found its best be fluid and not get too hung up on things. But I digress… )

So some friends we’ve made since moving here invited us to a Festa Junina last week. They are a very nice couple, ½ American, ½ Brazilian, like us. He’s a retired pharmaceutical executive and she’s an artist – a thoroughly kooky and fun painter. They have an adult son who lives in the US who was here visiting and it was his birthday. So our wild artist buddy called and in the conversation with C she insisted that it would be traditional and that we should dress up. I pestered C several times about this. “Are you sure she said people would be dressing up? People really do this?” To which he answered yes, yes and yes. (He however withheld the fact that during the conversation she let slip she was a couple of glasses flush with wine – this he revealed as we were nearly arriving at the party.)

So I dug through my closet and found a great vintage Betsy Johnson red and white check dress – country chic—and a pair of cowboy boots. I braided my hair and tied it up with ribbons, painted pink on my cheeks and dotted them with freckles. C didn’t go too far out. He put on a checked flannel shirt a pair of jeans and I painted a mustache on him with eyeliner. And off we went to the party.

And OF COURSE, it was one of those awful scenes from a movie where the girl shows up and is THE ONLY ONE IN COSTUME. (There are several movies with scenes like that aren’t there? It always seems to be a bunny costume too. At least I wasn’t in a bunny costume…)

I was fuming. Our kooky host started out in a sort-of modified, artsy country girl costume, but by the end of the night she had somehow transformed herself French, complete with a red beret and scarf…

Another thing I have learned about Brazilians is that they don’t like to appear foolish. They will party like there is no tomorrow, but are always in control of the situation and their appearance. Especially Brazilian women, the majority of which appear to spend a full third of their waking hours caring for their appearance between exercise, makeup, clothing, shoes, hair, facials, anti-cellulite massage, lymphatic drainage, botox, plastic surgery, waxing, lazering, schluffing and buffing every part of their perpetually tanned long and lean limbs -- and they are beautiful, if not (in my opinion) a bit, overdone. But maybe I’m just jealous.

Anyway, I got a few raised eyebrows by some of the younger set – with their painted on jeans, and sleekly blown out hair. I managed to scrub the freckles off my cheeks, but there was nothing to be done about the goofy Pippi Longstocking braids. I did try to work into the conversations a couple of times that the dress was designer. “You know, Betsy Johnson. She did all the clothes for Sex and the City.” (They’re crazy for Sex and the City here.) But I just got blank looks and the occasional “Umm hmmm. Sure…”

So I made a beeline for the big pot of quentão – the hot mulled cachaça, that famous liquor of caipirinhas – and filled up a big ol’ country mug of it.

I wouldn’t let C take any pictures other than the bonfire. I was too embarrassed. So as payback, I’ll share one of him as a kid at a Festa Junina. He always was the ladies’ man.

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