The fun of time travel – part 2

The Desk travels

The desk travels: my temporary desk in Rio Preto

I mentioned to one of my (many) cousins in Rio Preto that I was amazed at how much the town has grown, and pointed out the development of office towers and residential skyscrapers all over town. In true “I’m-getting-old-and-don’t-want-to-face-the-facts” fashion, I reminisced how when we were kids, we joyfully celebrated the fact that the town’s first McDonald’s was opening; we also had to play outside all day (or go to the movies) because there was no cable TV.

Now, there’s a massive Walmart, and smart little boutiques, and even a Hilton hotel opening in a few months. My cousin indulged me and listened patiently to my rant, before making an interesting comment; she called Rio Preto a “gentle giant”. Meaning: yes, the town may have grown over the past decade, but it maintained an endearing small-town mentality.

Within about 20 minutes of arriving in Sao Jose do Rio Preto, you start appreciating the fact that the town is nowhere near as stressful as Sao Paulo. While Rio Preto and Sao Paulo have some things in common (why does everybody here drive like they’re the only ones on the road?), others are a welcome change, for instance:

There is still a strong link with the town’s agricultural traditions. People still have fruit trees in their backyard. People still make home-made jam. People still know how to get a cow to get out of the middle of the road (step one: open your vehicle’s window; step two: proceed to tap your hand loudly on the outside of your car door). And, of course, people still have that easy-to-spot, delicious countryside accent.

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The distances are shorter, and it takes you a fraction of the time to travel them. Unless, of course, you’re stuck behind a tractor. Or there’s a cow in the middle of the road (in which case: see above). Although to be fair, the latter doesn’t happen very often anymore.

People walk places, and seem happy to do so. There are actual sidewalks! And walkways! How did I not notice this as a kid? People go about their business on foot and don’t seem as neurotic about security and crime as we unfortunately have to be in Sao Paulo.

The fun of time travel

It will not surprise me in the least if you tell me you’ve never heard of Sao Jose do Rio Preto (although I was really amazed to discover there is even an English language Wikipedia page dedicated to it).

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Rio Preto is a town deep in the Sao Paulo state countryside, almost exactly half-way between Sao Paulo city and Brasilia. Together with its towns (which were at the time little more than overgrown farms), it was the setting of some of the most memorable summer vacations of my childhood. My grandmother had a lot of family there, and it was where I first discovered my love for movies, and where I first tried fruit straight from the tree. The thing I love most about this place is that, even though it is “the” commercial centre of the region, rumour has it it insists on lying to the census, so that it can still be officially referred to as a “town”. Never mind that it’s apparently tip-toeing dangerously close to one million inhabitants.

After several years away, I took the five-hour drive with my mother to see our family. As we drove closer and closer and could see Rio Preto taking up a considerably larger part of the horizon than I remembered, one thing became abundantly clear:

Toto, this is not a small town anymore.

After the initial shock of disorientation, It came as a surprise that a few things remain the same:

The kindness of people. My mother and I were received by our extended family like two long lost children.

At around mid-day, you’ll be able to fry an egg on the sidewalk. Rio Preto is mostly still farmland. The average temperature year-round is 23C, but in the summer, this can go all the way up to the high 30s. It is dry, sunny, and absolutely glorious.

Patience is still a virtue. By definition, you shall not be in a rush if you’re in Rio Preto. A loose sense of timing reigns; people are often a little late, and you are forever forgiven if you are on time.

Open your eyes.

For a split-second, everything is darkness. I’m not sure where I am, and need to focus to remember simple, but crucial information: who am I? What is my name? What is the last thing I remember? Do I remember enough to open my eyes and not be dreadfully surprised? Continue reading

Kitchen comforts

My first lasagnaFrom time to time, I get the blues for no particular reason, which I guess it’s quite normal this time of year (especially if you, like me, live in the northern hemisphere). I know I’m not alone in this one. And from time to time, neither a new pair of shoes, nor new lipstick, nor a new haircut succeeds in pulling me out of this funk. When nothing else will do (and sometimes even when something else will do just fine), the response to the blues is comfort food – thus named for a reason. Continue reading

Scent and Sensibility

Nonna's bottle of Shalimar, found at the back of her closet

Nonna’s bottle of Shalimar, found at the back of her closet

Just over a year ago, my grandmother (codename Nonna) left us. She was a lovely, funny, happy old lady, who liked pets, receiving postcards from unusual places, looking after people she’d only known five minutes and tending to her orchids. She liked having children around, and always looked out for the ones whom she thought needed protecting. If she liked you, you were always (always!) welcome to drop by for coffee, tea or a meal. She also made what is known as The World’s Best Home-made Lasagna – I guard the recipe with my life, knowing all the while my lasagna will only ever be The Second Best. Continue reading