In the name of making friends and speaking Portuguese, I spent my weekend out and about—a capiorera class and then a lovely lunch in the home of Daniel, a sprightly physics friend of Papa K, and then an evening São João party. As it turns out, what is generally fun for me in English is much more difficult in Portuguese. A party: many people conversing plus loud music (any music) and I’m the blank signpost in the middle of a bustling intersection. I’m actually understanding great chunks Portuguese at this point, but I’m seem to be always a beat behind any plural-person conversation. When three or four or five people talk, rarely can I interject at a timely moment and contribute something interesting—by the time I’ve figured out how to say something about mango season, suddenly we are talking about getting deported from Britain (really). I’m present, but I’m not talking. This is an odd adjustment for me, and it’s exhausting.
So, I took a break from Portuguese on Sunday and took myself to lovely Olinda, just north of Recife. Lovely Olinda is a colorful and cobblestone town draped on a hill over the sea. It is quiet and quaint and clean, with stone stairs stepping up its steep streets and churches around every corner. I didn’t talk to anyone except the very helpful woman who stopped her car to give me directions (who then got so distraught when I tried to explain I was just wandering that I made up a destination for her to direct me to). My thoughts returned to English, and my mind had a bit of a rest.
It is now officially the holiday of São João. The celebration has been building throughout the month, but today and tomorrow are state holidays, and I am rumo a Caruaru. Caruaru is the town in the interior whose São João festival is, apparently, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest outdoor country festival in the world. Profe Miranda tells me he prefers São João here over Carnival (people get less weird, he says). Indeed, it’s a folksy holiday—two-stepping forró is the music, and square dancing abounds. Though São João has its origin in Catholic festas juninas, brought over by Portuguese colonizers, today, São João is a festival of harvest, commemorating the end of the rainy season and the season’s produce, and it belongs to northeastern Brazil, to towns in the interior. Men dress up in overalls and straw hats, women wear pigtails and red-checkered dresses, little girls paint freckles on their cheek, and everyone eats corn. At the first São João party I went to last week, a table was laden with fifteen distinct dishes, every one of which was yellow. They all have different names, and Mirram wanted to know which ones of them I had tried already. I hope that by the end of the largest country festival in the world I shall know the names of fifteen different corn dishes, and also how, exactly, it is that they are different from each other.