Saturday, October 4, 2008

Spring can hang you up the most

A chronic insomniac cherishes that elusive sleep as their manna. I am a lifetime member of this tribe. I am often caught in bed alternating between states of wakefulness and random thought.

I came to consciousness last Friday morning lying in bed my legs warmed, no roasting by rising sun’s heat. I had spent the night in Salvador in the tenement apartment of a new acquaintance. We had conceived of a night out, at a food expo, relevant to my research.

It never occurred, TV did. I had begun dozing in between the tele-novelas and the rangy local political debates. Urania, my hostess made us snacks of café com leite, shards of freshly toasted coconut, crackers and slices of a soulless cheese. I convince myself to bed down now, get up early, shop the market and interview older cook’s, grandmothers of Urania’s friends.

Tangled in the sheet, I quietly mused on the coming day and I recalled another Friday morning two weeks earlier. A few of us were sitting under the thatch in the grove of scroggy Pitanga trees just beside the house. We were finishing our breakfast of local fruits, cinnamon coffee and that day’s incarnation of manioc.

The base of my spine tensed and my teeth were poised to chatter from a rare chill wind and drizzly rain. During our meal the sky had become bleak and overcast. Rain stung my skin as I ran back to the kitchen.

I deposited the dirty dishes in the sink and turned to Marcia, (Mah-seeaa), our cook, “It is mid September, why is it raining now?”-“Porque está chuvando agora mesmo? ---“Ilhe gostaria dar você uma lembrança do inverno. A manha vai comecar primavera. Você deve ter pacíenca.”-They would like you to remember winter. Tomorrow is the first day of spring. Have some patience.

I was too warm in this single guest bed. I wanted to move and go. Urania was sprawled across her bed asleep in the next room. I did not have my own set of keys. Stuck in the moment, I tossed and went back to thinking about Marcia’s advice on seasons and patience.

It is currently the season of elections. I see and hear election season everywhere I am in Bahia. The internet and my friends have kept me current on the U.S. situation. Each party has media machines belching their daily litany of slogans and flabby messages.

Appropriately, in Brazil the words are sung by choirs in flatbed trucks, ad hoc pop rock groups and processed versions blaring from vehicles modified with welded loudspeaker systems. Littering off ramps and intersections, volunteers wave flocks of oversized racing flags or guard tethered helium balloons, plastered with party platforms and iconic photos of their candidate. Daily TV and radio debates allow the candidates segmented airtime based on their stature in the legislature. There is just sixty days of this overload, and voting is mandatory. Missing the moment is a serious and punishable offense. It seems better than the nearly two year slog we have been experiencing way up north.
Seasons: Fashion, Back to school, Jewish New Year, the twilight of Gulf Coast hurricanes, Fall Art Galleries, Theatre, etc. If I had remembered Fall, I should have realized that here it would be Spring. This year the tussle between Summer, Indian Summer, and Autumn had eluded me. I assume I was disoriented by the perennially green hills and profusion of palms occasionally tinged brown at their tips. Seeing chance vivid blossoms here and there, more dudes in Speedos without t-shirts after dark may have been the clue.

I still might not “get” the tropics. I lose sight of the subtle shifts in landscape and weather that mark each week or season. I rarely listen to the weather, though always try and read the sky. As a newcomer, unconsciously the exotic cues become mundane with their constancy. I do not see the contrasts clearly. I do revel in an unusual flower, the quality of the light or a particular fruit. But, I am socialized to consider the stark contrast of the seasons. The snowy blankets of winter, mounds of black ice and mud followed by a blaze of crocus, tulip and narcissus are my familiar triggers.

Earlier this week I watched Dete, (Day-tchay), Marcia’s partner picking the Pitanga, (Surinam Cherry) berries. They are a stemmed and ribbed a bit smaller than a cherry, with delicate white flowers. They were just becoming, maduro, or ripe. She explained that the trees should bear fruit until December or January. She carefully chose ripe fruit, filling her large ceramic bowl with the orange, scarlet and crimson Pitangas. She described to me that each variety colors up differently when ripe. Pitangas are bracingly tart with a slightly sweet aftertaste. I think of them as cranberries equatorial twin. She also told me that they make a mean Caipirinha.

As with most of the local fruits here the yield is great enough to make fresh juice, or jam if you have the time. Placing a few in her palm she shows me the miniature dried petals at the end of the fruit. “They must be removed or your juice is bitter. Inside they have a smooth lentil shaped white seed. Carefully she will crush the pulp and strain it without breaking the husk of the seeds. She prefers not to sweeten them, but pick them just ripe. I have learned to crave the juice, while my colleague Hannah disdains it.

The key to this pawky climate may be the micro-seasons which provide a variety and abundance of unique fruits. I imagine being Brazilian and lying here in this same bed sated in a re-memory of favorite fruits, prepared as juice, jams or unctuous Portuguese style conserves or

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