5th dispatch from the Southern Hemisphere
I'm still in Rio, and I had a fantastic day, even though things constantly keep getting a little bit messed up.
More details about Purim, first.
Purim started out pretty bad. I had tried to get in touch with the Hillel, but I couldn't get through (later I realized it was because I was dialing the Rio prefix from inside Rio, which you don't need to do--I've gotten so used to how things are in the US that it never occurred to me to leave off the Rio prefix when calling from within Rio!), and I was so tired after only sleeping 2 hours last night, that I took a nap. I thought I would just walk over there, planning to arrive by 6:30 pm, which was when I figured megilla reading would be. I decided to walk, because I found the street on the map and it didn't look far. It was far, and it started POURING when I was already a few blocks away from the hotel. Luckily, I had learned a little bit about Brazilian rain, so I had an umbrella on me. Anyway, I basically walked and walked and walked and I was wearing my leather sandals (black) because I stupidly didn't want to wear my heavy-duty Tevas on a chag, and it was so slippery, and I had to walk right through inches of water, and the cars driving by were splashing me, and it was totally terrible. (Don't worry, it was safe--a ritzy residential neighborhood, the most expensive place in Latin America to live. The Hillel director told me it was perfectly safe to walk alone in the area until around 9 or 10 pm. And I definitely didn't look like a wealthy tourist--what tourist in her right mind would be walking in the pouring rain?) I didn't get to Hillel until around 7 pm, after having left the hotel at 5:20-ish. When I got there, I was soaked and had mud and stuff all up my calves. Yucky, really yucky.
In any case, when I got there, I was told that megilla reading was at Bar Ilan, a K-12 Jewish day school in Rio that also contains two or three shuls (one is called "Bnei Akiva") and a meat cafeteria and parve bakery. It's not near the Hillel, so the people at Hillel got me a taxi, and I got there fine. The taxi driver was very nice--he even got out of the taxi and went to the door to make sure it was the right place before I paid him and got out. (Jewish things are totally unmarked in Brazil, like in Spain and other countries with problems of anti-Semitism.) I missed chapters 1-5.5 of the megilla, and even 5.5 to the end was pretty bad, since there was SO much talking, the mechitza was basically a mirror (from both sides, you saw your reflection--I think it was supposed to be a one-way mirror, but it totally didn't work), and the ba'al koreh was not very loud. Basically, that part of my Purim was not so nice. The only fun thing is that someone had brought drums into the shul, and when Haman's name was read, he banged out a very nice rhythm. Brazilians are VERY GOOD at making a lot of noise! (I mean, besides the talking, they also made cool noises around Haman's name, with various instruments and their voices.)
After that, it got very, very nice! I went over to an Israeli-looking woman (turned out she was from somewhere in the shtachim and was on shlichut to Rio from Bnei Akiva). I asked her all my questions in Hebrew--will there be another reading later, will there be a seudah tomorrow, etc., and we spoke for awhile. She complimented me on my Hebrew, as people often do. :) She told me to come to the Purim party, and it was SO much fun! She told me who the rabbi was, and I spoke to him also. He told me to come to the seudah on Purim day at noon.
In my continuing study of head-coverings of religious women in Brazil, at this congregation, everyone seemed to be either wearing a sheitel or not wearing anything on their head. I saw a very few hatted women, and I think that they might have all been Israeli. There was also quite a variety in sleeve length and general covered-ness. Although it tended towards the extremes, somewhat (elbows covered, skirts to ankles, vs. stringy tank tops and short skirts). I was, once again, somewhat out of place in my short sleeves and skirt-just-covering-knees. They were a lot less fancy/fashionable than in the Beit Chinuch shul in Sao Paolo, which was just fine with me. It seems that Rio:Boston as Sao Paulo:New York in many regards, such as wealth and fashion-consciousness of the Jewish community.
Anyway, about the party: The music was good, lots of people were dancing (most of the women dancing looked like they were actually girls, ages 13 to 18 or maybe 20 or so), and it was very festive and fun. There were lots of families and lots of young people, and some middle-aged people, and a handful of older folks. The dancing was really terrific. There was a high mechitza between the men and women (well, high by my standards) who were dancing, and the young girls I was dancing with really let loose in totally fun ways. Brazilians really know how to party. Lots of people were drinking beer, including one boy who looked like he was about 11 years old--he was showing off that he has somehow gotten beer when he wasn't supposed to. Lots of kids were dressed up, and some adults had on funny headbands or wigs or whatever. Anyway, it was great.
Then I went to hear a full kriyah at around 10 pm. The first half was fine, but during the second half, the girls behind me were chatting loudly. I had already kind of heard it before, so it was okay. After that, I sought out another Hebrew-speaking woman to help me call a taxi to take me back to the hotel, since I couldn't do that on my own. I found one pretty quickly, but she didn't have the number for a taxi, and I didn't have a cell phone, and I guess there's no pay phone there. (I later found out that there was--I guess she just didn't have a number--also, she later said that she didn't feel she could put me in a taxi alone, back to the hotel--no good reason why, she was just playing "Jewish mother"--she called me the next day at my hotel and chatted with me for a LONG time, telling me that her three children were all out of the house, and she missed having them around, and I should call if I needed anything...etc. It was very nice of her). She started to ask around, and then she decided to just drive me back to the hotel. But she couldn't figure out how to do that, or something, and all these people were talking about taxi numbers, and driving directions, and stuff quickly in Portuguese all around me. They were also discussing whether I was Israeli or American, and why I was in Brazil, and if I was married or not. (This has been a big question in every Jewish community I've encountered so far in Brazil, once it comes out that I am not, in fact, the 18 or 20 years old that I appear to be, but am, rather, 25. Am I married? Do I want to get married? etc.) I understand a fair amount of Portuguese, between my smattering of Spanish and a few words of real Portuguese that I've picked up. Then another woman, married to an Israeli, insisted on giving me her name and number and said I could call her and she would show me around, but she doesn't live in the area, exactly, so I wouldn't see her on Shabbat. Anyway, then this teenager had a number for a taxi, and so I was just going to do that (I was totally willing to take a taxi after my earlier disastrous excursion in the rain!), but there was some problem, and in the end, another teenage girl offered to take me back to the hotel. Really, she volunteered her parents to drive me back to the hotel.
They were very nice. It turned out that the teenage girl is getting married in a week or two in Sao Paulo. She looked *really* young, and her father said he was 47, but her mother looked like she was 40, tops. I later found out that she was 19, and was marrying a 20 year old. (When I met him later, he looked like he was barely shaving. The whole thing seemed weird to me. They met on a shidduch date.) She was one of the really good dancers at the party. They asked about my plans for Shabbat, and ended up inviting me to their house for Shabbat lunch, which was her Shabbat kallah.
Purim day was much calmer. It was still raining, but I walked to the shul, since I was going to be walking there on Shabbat morning (without a map), and wanted to make sure I could do it with a map first. It was not difficult at all, and took about 30 or 35 minutes. I arrived halfway through shacharit, and the morning megilla reading was much quieter, and then I spoke to the rabbi a bit, and gave him my card, and took care of matanot l'evyonim, machatsit hashekel, and mishloach manot (I went to the only kosher restaurant in town, bought some cookies and jelly beans, and gave them to a guy I had just met). The seudah was very, very nice. Twice as many people showed up as they expected, but it went smoothly. It consisted of rice, black beans and meat, and this powder-derived-from-a-root-vegetable thing that the Shprechers had served me. I still don't get the power thing, but I ate a bunch of it mixed in with the rice, beans, and meat, since there wasn't so much food for everyone.
In the afternoon, I went to a shoe store, where I bought the most comfortable semi-dressy dress shoes I have ever tried on in my entire life. They cost, um, $18.50. Yup. That's Brazil for you. Then I walked back to Ipanema, took a nap, and got ready for Shabbat.
Before Shabbat, I took a taxi to Hillel, where I was going to be eating Friday night dinner. I arrived there around 5:25 or so, with candle-lighting at 5:40. These two young guys were also coming before Shabbat, and they were going to walk me back to Ipanema after dinner. However, dinner wasn't scheduled to begin until 9 pm, so after they arrived, we decided to walk to Leblon, where there was a Chabad, for Friday night services. They promised that it was only 15 minutes away. I was pretty tired (from Thursday night and walking to and from Bar-Ilan on Friday morning), but was wearing Tevas, not black leather sandals, and it wasn't raining too hard, so decided to go. I didn't think it was really 15 minutes, figuring more like 25 or 30, but also assumed that they knew better than I, being from Rio.
It was about 50 minutes. When I got to Chabad, tired and very, very wet, I sat down and promptly fell asleep for all of Kabalat Shabbat. I woke up for Maariv, a little bit, but didn't feel so good. Just really, really tired I guess. Davening took forever and a day. They didn't start kabalat Shabbat until around 7 (candle-lighting was at 5:40), and there were at least three speeches throughout. It is geared towards not-so-religious people who come from work and then go out afterwards. They made kiddush in shul and then handed out what I thought was challah, but was actually "mezonot rolls." I didn't understand any of the speeches (all in Portuguese), and was totally exhausted.
Then we walked back to Hillel--the boys promised that they had a faster way back--which took exactly the same amount of time. By then, I was thoroughly exhausted and was starting to get blisters on my feet. I wasn't really in the right frame of mind to eat dinner with a bunch of American college students, which is what it was. They were so young. One was excited to hear that I was "from New York" because he was from New York and went to school in Seattle and really missed New Yorkers. He was less excited once he found out that I was not actually FROM New York, but rather, from Boston. He expressed both jealousy that I have traveled quite a bit (England, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, France, Israel) and said he wanted to travel a lot, and also said that he was thinking of transferring to school in New York because Seattle was just too "different" for him. Basically, I was tired and knew that I still had a one hour (at least) walk back to Ipanema from the Hillel. I was ready to leave Hillel almost as soon as I got there, but the boys I was with hung out until around midnight, while I sat on a couch, with my feet up, basically whimpering.
At some point during the copious walking on Friday night, I saw a very sad roadkill incident. What looked like an enormous rat (I am open to suggestions of it being something else--I actually kind of thought it looked like an opossum) ran into a busy street and was hit by a car. It survived the first hit, but then it sat, stunned, in the middle of the road, and I turned away before I saw it get totally squashed. So sad! Even if it was a rat! (I mean, it was the size of a small cat, or maybe a huge squirrel. One of the guys I was walking with said he had seen dogs that were smaller, and he didn't think it was a rat. The other guy, who works as a mashgiach, said he had seen rats that size before, and was sure it was a rat.)
Earlier in the vening, we heard what sounded like somebody being strangled, in the bushes near the lake we were walking around. Well, it sounded halfway between someone being strangled and a duck quacking. A very, very strange sound. One of the guys I was walking with said that it was not a duck, but another kind of aquatic bird. Later, I saw some sort of aquatic bird flying up out of the bushes, but I don't know what it was. I couldn't see it very well, but it didn't look like the aninga (?) or whatever it was that I saw at the Iguazu falls. Maybe it looked like a duck. I haven't seen ducks flying, close up, very often at all.
Shabbat morning was better, except that my feet still hurt, so I wore sneakers, and it was, of course, still raining. Also, from Shabbat morning through Saturday night, I had a massive allergy attack, which I later realized was caused by all the time spent in shul, with dust-filled upholstered chairs and books. I'm better now, but for
awhile there, I was almost totally incapacitated.
Shul was very nice, followed by a kiddush for the Shabbat kallah of Jennifer Guterman, the girl who had offered me a ride on Purim night. The kiddush, as every meal I've been to in Brazil, offered much red meat. I have had more red meat since I've come to Brazil than I think I've had in the previous two years, probably. And it's all very good. Even though they eat a LOT of it here. I mean, people were just taking slices of cold cuts and stuffing them into their mouths. It was a bit much for me.
I also had my only Purim 2005 hamentaschen at the kiddush. This Purim was notable in my life for two reasons (aside from the fact that I was in Brazil): I received not a single mishloach manot (as I expected--nobody there knew me), and I ate not a single hamentasch. The ones I had at kiddush were filled with something funny. I later found out that they were filled with guava jelly and peanuts. (It's not exactly guava jelly--it's this kind of sweet thing made out of guava that tastes like concentrated Fruit Roll-ups. I did not like it plain. People eat it with cheese here, to cut the sweetness, but it's still too much for me.) The girl who told me this said that they were usually filled just with guava. She said that poppyseeds are basically unheard of here, and that apricots are very expensive (after I explained that hamentaschen in North America were often filled with one of these two things).
Lunch was fun. I spoke with a lot of Jennifer Guterman's friends, all of whom ranged in age from 19 through 22. They were the girls that I had danced with on Purim night, at the Bnei Akiva party. I spoke Hebrew with some and English with others. It was very nice. Lunch was delicious! I had palmetto pie, as I had the previous Shabbat in Sao Paulo. I think it's kind of like potato or luckshin kugel is in the US. Ubiquitous. Also, of course, there was chulent, preceded by gefilte fish and other traditional Ashkenazi fare. I couldn't figure the family quite out, but it turns out that the mother's father is Moroccan, and the father of the family became a ba'al teshuva through Chabad. They had an interesting mix of Moroccan and chassidish customs. Dessert had three parts, but all of it was traditional Brazilian. There was something I had tasted a few times before, but not been able to identify. It turned out to be egg yolks and coconut. It tastes much better than it sounds. Peggy (cousin Chaim's wife) had told me that the Portuguese made a lot of desserts with egg yolks, because they had traditionally used the egg whites to starch their laundry (you know, to stiffen it).
I hobbled back to my hotel room in Ipanema, and took a long nap. My allergies were horrendous. After Shabbat, and a unique havdalah (used a halogen bulb for a candle, and this wonderful soap provided by the hotel for bsamim--I thought of trying to out to the grocery store in search of real candles and bsamim, but I could hardly walk, or see, and couldn't smell anything anyway!), I went to nightclub to see a traditional Brazilian show, featuring samba, merengue, capoeira, and a Carmen Miranda look-alike. It was totally fun and funny, and I met two nice Americans there. The costumes were amazing, as were the acrobatics.
This morning, I went to the "hippy fair" in Ipanema, where artists were selling jewelry and leather goods. The weather has finally cleared up. I was supposed to take a bus tour to Pao do Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) this afternoon, but the hotel screwed up. Instead, I took a taxi to the Corcovado (tall mountain with a Jesus statue on top and a terrific 360 degree view of Rio), where I met three nice people from Argentina, who helped me get a bus from there to the Pao do Acucar. I got there after dark, so the view from the top of that moutain was a different experience. I'm glad I went to both--I think that Corcovado was a better view, so I'm glad I got to see that during the day. At Pao do Acucar, I met a nice Brazilian guy who was traveling with a Japanese friend of his, and the Brazilian guy told me what I was looking at, which was good, because I probably wouldn't have known otherwise!
The last part of the evening was terrific. I got a bus from Pao do Acucar back to Ipanema, and then decided to go to the bank. On the way back from the bank, I saw a bookstore, and if you know me, you know that I cannot resist a bookstore. Even if all the books are in Portuguese and therefore unintelligible to me. So I went in, and there, I discovered a cute cafe in the back, where three guys were playing live music! It was heavenly. There was a cello, a guitar, and a set of drums. It was so nice. The weather was good (25, not raining!), and so I sat down to write some postcards and listen to the music. It was fantastic. I got some hot chocolate, which was not very good at all. I mean, it tasted like the Stop & Shop store-brand mix from a packet. Yuck. But the atmosphere more than made up for it, and it was the perfect end to a hectic day.
Tomorrow, I am taking a jeep trip through the Tijuca forest, then hopefully going to the Botanical Garden, before heading to the beach. (I haven't been yet), where I hope to drink out of a coconut with a straw. Just like in the movies!