Quiet afternoon in Canoa Quebrada
Beaches and beach communities have never appealed to me. Activities are paltry. People arrive in such towns, which are devoid of meaning and cultural significance only to expose themselves motionless to the cancerous sun hours on end until they become red and crispy. Beach towns cater to those who come to forget something or never be found by the society from which they are trying to escape. I remember Budva last year while in Montenegro. It was a horrible combination of revelers from Belgrade, an amusement park, and endless noise. My experience there was so foul that I decided ahead of time to make Canoa Quebrada a brief stopover on my way through Ceará to points elsewhere.
That was five days ago. No place provides greater inspiration to do nothing than this place. Conoa Quebrada could calm and soothe the most pressured NFL coach after a 0-7 start and on his third starting quarterback. It could sap the motivation from even the most determined Alaskan salmon returning to spawn upriver. For every person in Canoa, residents and guests, there have to be three hammocks. Just the sheer number of hammocks is evidence that Canoa is not where Fortune 500 companies should
or at the beach...
meet to discuss aggressive sales strategies. Having prolonged my stay at the Pousada Oásis do Rei three separate times, I am actually considering eliminating other destinations in Ceará and Maranhão to remain longer. If not careful, sloth, a disease for which there is no cure, attacks without warning. Symptoms are:
1. Sitting at the pool bar and staring comatose at the ocean without camera, a drink, anything to write with, or a book.
2. Grabbing a table at a bar and nursing an icy cold fruit juice for two hours.
3. Taking a nap when not even tired because it’s what everyone does after lunch.
4. The absence of timepieces on your person.
5. The inability to be punctual, even when it is in your own interest.
6. Rigorously conducting six quality control checks per day on the hammock outside your room. Each check can last hours.
“Ricrado! Just one thing!” the receptionist bent over the rail to call my attention while I went for a swim.
“What’s that, Rodrigo?”
“Sometimes coconuts fall into the pool. Watch your head, OK?” I turned around three hundred sixty degrees. Palm trees encircle the pool and provide shade. Coconuts sprout
View I wake up to...
from all of them. Gee, I thought to myself: I hate when that happens. Getting hit in the head by a falling coconut? Does the pousada have insurance for this? Ever-present lizards, part of the cleaning crew, prance all about the rooms and courtyards. Yellow spotted toads also assist in keeping pests to a minimum. Though I stepped on a really fat one my first night, they prefer to stay hidden in the vegetation.
Canoa Quebrada is Key West’s silent, reclusive, and rather undiscovered cousin. Surrounded on all sides by grassy sand dunes and the open Atlantic to the east, its main drag is named Broadway by the locals. It is a tidy and properly proportioned pedestrian thoroughfare of restaurants, dune buggy rental agencies, bars, and small grocery stores. When partygoers materialize at night, there is little difference between Duval Street and Broadway. Fifty feet or so below Broadway, Canoa’s fine sand beach stretches undisturbed for miles.
A few years ago, the town’s administration banned unhappiness. Expressing it carries a fine of two-hundred reais or a five-day prison sentence. If caught on the street wearing a necktie, punishment for such a flagrant offense is to continue wearing the necktie with
Interrupts my breakfast...
a wool scarf over it in the mid afternoon sun. No one ever runs in Canoa Quebrada, except after a soccer ball on the beach. There is a fascinating shortage of clocks viewable to the public and wristwatches on hardly anyone. If a look of worry comes over your face, it will be met with a look of confusion from a local; it will be necessary to define what worry actually is since no one has ever encountered such an emotion. Hours will go by until someone crosses your path who is not wearing some type of sandal.
A family from Burgundy has invited me to join them for dinner after realizing that I have been traveling alone for several weeks. It is an act of pity, but I graciously accept. They, like legions of French, have abandoned their country in August to leave behind surviving older relatives (for now) and American tourists in Paris. How anyone can afford to visit Paris these days, however, mystifies me. A couple who had a daughter later in life, they have brought her and her fifteen-year old schoolmate to Brazil. The independent French traveler contradicts the stereotypes Americans have of them. They are
When Brazilians party, be ready because they do not fool around...
very kind, speak some English (even willingly!), and demonstrate an even-handed respect for where they set foot. In spite of their uncanny knack of being wrong 100% of the time when discussing world affairs, the superiority complex for which they are infamously known does not accompany them abroad.
One such Frenchman is Patrick Ayme. A Parisian, he is a professional studio photographer specializing in up-and-coming young models. This guy must have the perfect life. When not surrounded by beautiful, though undernourished women all day at work, he goes home to his cheerful Brazilian wife, with whom he lives by the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. When on vacation, the couple retreats to the home they have just built in Canoa Quebrada, in which also reside some of the in-laws who keep an eye on the residence when they are away. I met Patrick one night in Bar Todo Mundo on Broadway. Dinner with his wife and sister-in-law consisted of roasted shrimp in coconut milk in one of the several open air seafood restaurants. The evenings since have concluded back at their house over a bottle of Teachers scotch whiskey. Recovery after the first night reminded me that whiskey and I
Hard at Work?
Does anyone work in this town?
get along like Black Panthers do with Neo-Nazis. On the second day, I met up with him at his home, to find his face pale with a slightly green tinge. “You don’t look so well. Are you OK?”
Patrick buried his face in his hands and grunted some to the effect of, “Last night, after I dropped you off, I went back to Regart” (a local bar) “and had a few more cocktails.” I feel awful right now and cannot get near the sun.”
“Patrick” I chimed in, “the Irish have an expression for that, you know. ‘I was on the way home and the pub got in the way.’ Was it sort of like that?”
“Yes, but worse. I crashed into the pub.”
During our prolonged and at times directionless conversations, once over a dish of manta ray and rice, we have agreed on a few salient points.
1. Brazilians should not be allowed to make or even offer an opinion on wine. Patrick being from France coupled with my time in the wine business, we have concluded that Brazilian wine bears a striking resemblance to industrial turpentine with a grape aftertaste. The viscous opaque filmy juice
They start piling in around midnight...
from Rio Grande do Sul belongs on a list of hazardous waste materials. Since Brazilians actually buy this stiff, it precludes them from talking about anything to do with viniculture.
2. Drop a soccer ball in front of Brazilians, and you’d believe them as graceful as gazelles leaping over fences and swerving on a dime to escape from cheetahs. Put a basketball in front of the very same agile athletes, and all of a sudden they become a heard of water buffalo on a stampede through a porcelain shop. It’s a miracle they don’t injure themselves. We agreed to pay a few of them to stop playing basketball much the same you would pay me a handsome sum to stop dancing.
3. Brazilians have no business preparing pasta without strict supervision. Ever.
4. Americans on a nine-day, nine city tour of Europe should have their passports revoked. After breakfast in Brussels and lunch in Amsterdam, you cannot say you’ve been to either city.
5. Scotch of any quality is an acquired taste, the kind of taste only slightly better than Brazilian wine.
6. The French have slowly had their moral authority to opine on world affairs erode away. OK, Patrick
Prudent to be nice to this guy...
did not agree on that with me, but it is still true.
Ceará’s beaches welcome Fio Dental year round. The “bottom” piece of a bikini, it supposedly covers the part of the body for which Brazilian women are so well known worldwide. And rightfully so. The back side of the garment is but a thin strip literally no wider than a piece of dental floss, a direct translation of its namesake. This wonderful invention leaves zero to the imagination; the fio strip long lost in the chasm of two butt cheeks. It is crucial not to obey the immediate impulse to come to Brazil in order to see for yourself. In addition to the stunning twenty-two year old whose contours are designed perfectly for fio dental, not every woman who dawns the skimpy outfit belongs in one. Utter delight as a young beauty strolls by can quickly turn into an Amityville Horror Show of bulging flesh, enough to make the Reggae bands beachside go silent in shock. More than once have I had to sound the ugly alarm when a lady ten years older than me the size of a school bus bends over to collect her sun tan lotion. The onslaught on my eyes is one of two massive burlap sacks of hyperactive wooly hamsters struggling to gain their freedom. A full chapter in the book of “There Ought to Be a Law”, I would have to start with her. No one wants to see me in spandex for good reason. It’s time the rest of the world got the same vital message.
Only because of Patrick’s invitation did I remain an extra day in Canoa Quebrada. Thursday nights are the certain choice for house parties, as the next three would result in guests’ early departure to continue on Broadway until sunup. In typical Brazilian style, the first folks to arrive for the eight o’clock party strolled in the front gate at around nine fifteen. Men dressed from T-shirts to a tropical printed collared top and Panama hat. The women for the most part looked ravishing in summer dresses. Some took the time to have their hair done. Local pousada staff, buggy drivers, and vagabond European resident stragglers clinging on to their dreamlike existence in Canoa all partook in music, food and dance. A Swede in particular has assimilated flawlessly. Functional in Portuguese and with a local girlfriend, only his thick long locks and imposing stature over the others at his table stand him out from the rest. The days of strain and routine in Stockholm are foreign to him as they are to any in Canoa after a few weeks. Assimilating with the rest is effortless. A lack of effort to do anything simplifies the process. One couple arrived from French Guyana on vacation.
The particular dance music of the Northeast is Forró, a sort of upbeat rhythmic sound easy to move to. Brazilians care little for informing neighbors of their social agenda, especially since the volume emanating from the buggy’s speakers could crack window panes.
“Patrick”, I asked, “does anyone ever complain about the music? You can hear it from the center of town.”
“Complaining is just not in their nature.” If they cannot sleep, neighbors will come over and simply join the party.”
Patrick’s family arranged one young lad to manage the barbecue and other to prepare drinks. The rest of the night flowed by in dreamy bliss of conversation, meandering table to table, and watching the locals sensually swing each other to Forró. One woman got carried away in the heightened moment. Full of drink and her inhibitions long since fled, she tried to re-enact the indiscretions of her youth with the muscular buggy drivers and construction workers. None were too entranced by her hip gyrations and large stabs below the waist when being held closely in step with the music. In no time, most of the young men had vanished so as not to be the next unknowing victim of a retiree that would make Bea Arthur look like Tyra Banks.
It is with amazement that I watch a community of friends and family come together to organize a social function. In a country and particularly the Northeast where an “I’ll do it tomorrow” attitude and bureaucratic bedlam reign supreme, the separate elements that make up a party join in a harmonious concert of precision. Ask for a washing machine to be repaired and delivered on time for home installation, and the dirty laundry will pile up in heaps. Yet, buckets of crushed ice were at the barman’s disposal. The beef and chicken were already on the skewers before nine o’clock. The playlist on the buggy’s computerized stereo had been pre-programmed in the afternoon. The beer delivery (of personal importance to yours truly) had already been chilling for hours. Plates, utensils, napkins, tables, and chairs were set around the outer porch. Nothing was missed, nothing forgotten. The Swiss couldn’t construct a watch better than Brazilians plan a party. Instead of telling the politicians to run a government in Brasília, it would be prudent for the electorate to tell them they were sent there to plan for carnival with the public treasury. In three months, Brazil would pass Belgium in living standards.
“No, Patrick, I will not stay. It is time for me to go.” He insisted it be another hour. It was past one in the morning and my resolve annoyed him a good deal.
“What difference will an hour make?” I had a nine a.m. departure for Fortaleza.
“It’s time, Patrick. Now. Otherwise, one more hour will turn into dawn.”
“So?” Since arriving with his wife from Paris, Patrick had completely assimilated into a Brazilian beach bum. I doubt he was aware of it. Upon accompanying me back to my pousada, we bid each other farewell. I told him, yes, I would always go back to Paris. He need not worry.”
He left regretful of what he believes is my premature departure from Canoa. It was meant to be for two days that almost lasted a week. He turned around and called out, “You, Richard, are a great man.”
You, Patrick, have had way too many scotch and sodas.
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