Until fairly recently, deserted beaches, virgin forests, and undiscovered historical small towns used to be a dime a dozen in Brazil. However, last year foreign travel to Brazil hit a record high. Meanwhile Brazilians themselves (those able to resist overnight shopping spree packages to Miami) are traveling throughout their country more than ever before. Add to this the rapid spread of urbanization and the frantic pace of infrastructure development, and it’s become more of a Challenge to Get Off the Beaten Track in Brazil. And yet, it can be done.
Here is a winning list of Top 5 Getaways from around the country; no matter which one you escape to, it’s a cinch you won’t be running into any folks from back home:
It’s amazing to think that at equidistance between South America’s two largest metropolises – Rio and São Paulo – one could stumble onto a seemingly forgotten colonial town nestled in the lush Serra da Bocaina mountain range. A major hub during São Paulo’s coffee boom, Bananal’s elegant squares and solares (mansions) are still intact as are the surrounding plantations built by the region’s coffee barons (some of which have been converted into guesthouses). Nature lovers can hike through the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina , whose 250,000 acres of virgin Atlantic forest are brimming with wild orchids, hydrangeas, and waterfalls. If you’re feeling very intrepid, venture along the Trilha do Ouro, a former gold trail that winds over the hills to the coast; lasting 3 days, the trek includes lodgings and home cooked fare prepared in simple local homes.
2. Goiás Velho
It’s not as if the first capital of the Central-West state of Goiás doesn’t receive any tourists. During holidays, it gets its fair share from the current capital of Goiânia. What’s astounding, however, is that the rest of Brazil – and the world – haven’t caught on to the fact that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is quite simply one of the most charming and best preserved colonial towns in Brazil. Founded in 1726, Goiás began life as a rugged gold mining town before becoming a gracious state capital (a title it held until 1937). Today, it boasts all best elements of small town life in Brazil – from its languorous atmosphere and friendly locals to some of the most succulent home-cooking you’ll ever encounter – along with the natural attractions of the surrounding Serra Dourada, a mountain range carpeted in Cerrado vegetation.
Although the state of Bahia has one of the longest – and most beautiful – coastlines in Brazil, it’s also one of the most rapidly developing. Although it’s not that far from the hipster haven of Trancoso, Corumbau remains one of the most unspoiled beaches in Bahia as well as one of the most alluring. Its jade green waters are sheltered by coral reefs – a snorkeler’s dream – and its endless powder sand beaches are shaded by palms and almond trees. Getting here is a bit of a trip; there’s no bus service and driving takes forever (the easiest access is by boat). Then again, the tricky logistics provide you with a great excuse not to leave.
Milagre is Portuguese for “miracle”; in São Miguel’s case, the miracle stems from the fact that the major highway that runs north from Alagoas’ capital of Maceió to Pernambuco’s capital of Recifetakes an inland detour in northern Alagoas. For this reason, the beaches surrounding this colonial fishing village are not only some of the most beautiful in Brazil, but also the most secluded. Surrounded by thick palm forests (água de coco is cheaper and more abundant than water in these parts), the beaches along the so-called Rota Ecológica (Ecological Route) are stunners, and their reef protected waters are flooded with a carnival of colorful fish. While São Miguel remains untrampled by tourism, a handful of charming and sophisticated pousadas (many run by gringos) makes this an ideal destination for a getaway with style.
The hottest eco-spot along the Amazon’s Rio Solimões is without a doubt the Mamirauá Reserve. Comprising the largest protected area of várzea (seasonally flooded Amazonian forest) in Brazil, Mamirauá combines conservation and research with the creation of sustainable employment for locals who work as guides and forest patrollers. It’s also one of the best places in the Amazon to see wildlife including pink dolphins, sloths, and the rare scarlet-faced uakari monkey. The reserve is a 90-minute boat ride from Tefé, the last outpost of civilization on the river. Although simple accommodation is available in Tefé, the ideal solution is to stay in the reserve itself at the Pousada Uacari, a floating jungle lodge.
I first saw The Outfit one Sunday night about thirty years ago on the local ABC affiliate, which ran old movies after the late news. I was a film major at the University of Maryland at the time. Back then there were fewer sources of film information (no internet, no IMDB), so if you had prior knowledge of a movie it was from movie-freak conversations or it came out of a book. A couple of years earlier, same program, same station, I had seen Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly for the first time, and was blown away. Watching The Outfit, I had a similar response: I was watching an undiscovered gem. And then the movie disappeared. No further TV screenings that I was aware of (I missed the middle-of-the-night AMC sightings), no ancillary releases outside of a cheap, short-lived VHS tape. Until now. The Outfit has recently come out on DVD from the Warner Brothers Archives Collection. It’s not currently available as a rental, so you’ll have to shell out for a copy. If your tastes run to 70’s crime films, it’s well worth the money.
The Outfit is based on a Donald Westlake novel, written as Richard Stark. If you’re reading this, you know all about the Parker novels written by Stark. Needless to say, I am a big fan. Westlake had a very smart agent who sold his books to the movies many times, with the condition that the character of Parker not be named Parker in the films. With this rule in place, no one studio or producer could own the series, and multiple films could be made from the source material. So in the films Parker is alternately named Walker (Lee Marvin in John Boorman’s masterpiece, Point Blank, based on The Hunter), McClain (Jim Brown in The Split), Porter (Mel Gibson in the phony, awful Payback), and, in Slayground, Stone, played by Peter Coyote. (I am omitting two French films, one of which was Godard’s Made in U.S.A., which starred Anna Karina; for more information, check out the website “The Violent World of Parker”).
1. What are the top three reasons to move to New Zealand?
The top reason has to be lifestyle. New Zealanders have a great work/life balance and value the time they spend with their families, or out enjoying themselves. It’s a great place to put some perspective back into your life.
Size is my second reason. Size does matter! In New Zealand, any spot in the country is potentially a weekend getaway because nothing is too far away. And wherever you live, you’re within easy reach of beaches, hiking trails, golf courses and mountains.
My third reason is that full-time employees here get at least four weeks of paid vacation a year. That gives you plenty of time to explore your new country—or even get away to nearby Australia or the islands of the South Pacific for a tropical holiday.
2. Why are New Zealanders called Kiwis?
The short answer is because “New Zealander” is too long, and Kiwis like to shorten things. The kiwi is New Zealand’s national animal. It’s a flightless, nocturnal bird that only evolved here in New Zealand. Somehow these little guys are so endearing that the whole nation adopted their name. Just remember, a kiwi is a bird, a Kiwi is a New Zealander, and a kiwifruit is a fruit. You can’t buy a kiwi at the supermarket!
3. What are some popular Kiwi phrases an expat should use to fit in?
G’day – This is the standard greeting, along with the Maori phrase Kia Ora. Either will get you a smile and a nod at the very least.
She’ll be right – This is the Kiwi way of saying that things will work out in the end, and everything will be alright.
Sweet as – This can be used as an affirmation (“I’ll see you later.” “Sweet as, mate.”) or as a statement of value (“How’s your new TV?” “Sweet as!”). This phrase is mainly used by young people.
4. Can you offer some tips on finding a job?
When you’re looking for work it’s important to be confident but humble. Kiwis don’t like show-offs, so be careful how you come across in interviews. You may also need to add extra explanations to your resume because New Zealand employers may not be familiar with the companies you’ve worked with in the past. If you’re asked for references, provide both phone and email contacts for anyone not in New Zealand because your potential employer may not know which time zone your references are in, and so they may avoid calling. Alternatively, you can provide information about the best times to call your references (in New Zealand time).
5. Are there specific industries that are hiring?
Health care professionals are always in demand, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, optometrists and so on. Farm managers are also in short supply as New Zealand is still a largely agricultural nation. Dairy, wool and livestock farming are the most common, but vineyards and other crop farming are also widespread. And due to the significant damage to many buildings in Christchurch during the February 2010 earthquake, there will soon be a need for professionals to help rebuild the city center. This will include architects, engineers and construction managers of all types. Plumbers and electricians are likely to be needed as well.
6. Which cities should a would-be transplant visit?
Most expats need to go where they have the best chance of landing a job, so the main cities are the most important to visit. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are the largest centers, and offer the most jobs. If you prefer living in smaller cities (under 150,000 people) that still have a good range of employment options, try Dunedin, Hamilton, Tauranga and New Plymouth.
7. What’s the best way to meet locals?
Great question! Meeting locals can make the difference between successfully settling in or getting homesick and giving up. Locals can also be a big help with your job search!
Join a team or club for whatever activities you enjoy. There are lots of community sports teams around the country, and maybe you’d like to learn some of New Zealand’s favorite sports like rugby, cricket or netball. Tramping (hiking) clubs are popular all over the country and will introduce you to adventurous Kiwis. If you’re on a coastline, sailing clubs are also very popular. If you’re not the active type, try signing up for a class. You can meet Kiwis who share your interest in cooking, photography, languages, and more. Another great way to meet people is to volunteer. I was a volunteer tour guide, and met a great bunch of Kiwis that way. There are many charities looking for a helping hand, so get in there and make a good impression.
8. Which city would you recommend for someone who wants to enjoy both city life and quick access to the outdoors?
All of them! No really, there isn’t any city in New Zealand where you’re far away from beautiful outdoor areas, both wilderness and coastal. For those who really need the urban buzz, Auckland is usually the first choice as it’s much bigger than any other New Zealand city. If you are a skier or snowboarder, you’ll do best in Christchurch or Dunedin so you can easily head off to the Southern Alps. Surfers are keen on Auckland, Hamilton, Dunedin and New Plymouth for access to the country’s best breaks. Hikers and mountain bikers will be happy just about anywhere, but Rotorua is well known for excellent mountain biking trails.
9. What do you consider essential items to pack before moving?
First, let me tell you what not to pack—anything that plugs into the wall. New Zealand is on a different electrical system from North America, so your favorite hair straightener, coffee maker or TV will not work here. Sell it or give it away before you move.
There are a few things I recommend stocking up on before you make your move. For the ladies, you should have a good supply of your preferred cosmetics. The major brands are available in New Zealand but can be much more expensive.
If you’re a brand-conscious shopper, don’t purge your wardrobe too much before you pack. There are some brands of clothing not sold (yet) in New Zealand including: Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic. You may not be able to replace everything with the same brands. The same can be said for shoes, particularly if you wear an unusual size or are very brand picky.
And as someone who loves baking, and brought a lot of American cookbooks with me—corn syrup is really hard to find in New Zealand. Instead they bake with golden syrup, which can be substituted in most recipes but doesn’t have quite the same flavor. Real maple syrup is available but very expensive.
We all know Joe Lansdale can do it all. He’s written thrillers, westerns, young adult, and horror novels, as well as fusions containing elements of each. His latest, EDGE OF DARK WATER, is more or less one of these composites that gives a perfect arena to Lansdale’s strengths as a classic storyteller.
When teenaged May Lynn’s body is pulled from the Sabine River tied to an old sewing machine, her friends Sue Ellen, Jinx, and Terry take it upon themselves to give her a proper fond farewell. They decide to burn her remains and carry the ashes to Hollywood, a place where pretty May Lynn always believed she would someday become a movie star. The adventurous trio, along with Sue Ellen’s alcoholic mother, steal a raft and escape from town with some stolen loot, barely ahead of Sue Ellen’s abusive step-father and several other cretinous, criminal characters. As their trip unfolds they run across an odd array of broken and lamentable folks, including a preacher with a horrible guilty secret and an ancient crone with no reason to live except passing on her bitterness. They also learn that Skunk, a legendary beast of a man raised in the river bottoms who’ll commit any atrocity he’s hired to do, may be on their heels.
Despite the novel being set during the Depression, the story has a certain timeless nature. We get the feeling that this tale could almost have taken place at any period between the 1880s and the 1980s. East Texas remains as dark and romanticized as Hannibal, Missouri, full of wonder and possibility, thick with traps and villains.
This is a sharp, incisive, fun tale showing Lansdale’s fortitude at roping the reader into an impressive, alluring narrative. The flaws of our protagonists are what make them so sympathetic and relatable, their journey such an earnest and archetypal one. Even though this is only January, I’m certain EDGE OF DARK WATER will wind up on top ten of ‘12 lists come a year from now.
By the way, look for my interview with Joe in the first online issue of the new ezine The Big Click edited by Nick Mamatas, premiering in March.
The Centro refers to Rio’s historic downtown commercial district. Narrow cobblestoned alleys, grand baroque churches, turn-of-the-20th-century Parisian-inspired avenues and architecture, and the ubiquitous high-rises and urban chaos of a 21st-century megalopolis make up a bewildering if often fascinating patchwork. Although some areas are sorely neglected, many museums and cultural centers have opened or have been revamped as part of an effort to revitalize the area. Meanwhile, stylish bistros have joined some of the city’s most traditional bars and cafés. As an antidote to the upscale beach culture of Zona Sul, pockets of the Centro are quite interesting, particularly if you want to get a sense of Rio’s rich past.
Despite the traffic, navigating the area is quite easy on foot. Centro is also well served by buses from both the Zona Sul and Zona Norte (take anything marked “Centro,” “Praça XV,” or “Praça Mauá”) and by Metrô (the most convenient stations are Cinelândia, Carioca, Uruguaiana, Presidente Vargas, and Praça Onze).
Sights in Centro
Although during the day and into the early evening Centro is usually jam-packed, at night and on weekends the area is as quiet as a ghost town and quite unsafe to stroll around. If you’re thinking of taking in an exhibition or performance during these times, it’s best to take a taxi.
Historically, Praça XV comprised the symbolic heart of Centro, and since most buses pass by this large plaza, it’s a practical point from which to begin exploring the area. Its full name, Praça XV de Novembro, refers to November 15, 1899, the day when Brazil’s first president, Manuel Deodoro de Fonseca, stood and declared Brazil to be a republic. Many significant historical events have taken place here—among them the crowning of Brazil’s two emperors, Pedro I and Pedro II, and the abolition of slavery in 1888.
Praça XV’s original name was Largo do Paço because it served as a large public patio to the stately Paço (Palácio) Imperial (Praça XV de Novembro 48, tel. 21/2215-2622, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Tues.–Sun., free). Built in 1743, the palace was a residence for Portugal’s colonial governors. It then housed the Portuguese court itself when Dom João VI fled Napoleon’s forces in 1808. When the royal palace moved to the Palácio da Quinta da Boa Vista (today the Museu Nacional), the Paço Imperial continued to host receptions and events. Today, it houses interesting temporary exhibits of contemporary art. Overlooking the internal courtyard is a lovely café and restaurant, the Bistrô do Paço, as well as a book and CD store and a small cinema that shows independent and repertory films.
Arco do Telles
Directly across Praça XV from the Paço Imperial, you’ll notice an impressive arch that leads down the Beco de Telles, a cobblestoned alley lined with elegant 19th-century buildings. Wandering down this street and the equally narrow and atmospheric Travessa do Comércio, Rua Visconde de Itaboraí, and Rua Ouvidor allows you to get a sense of what Rio was like in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, these twisting streets are home to a vibrant collection of restaurants and bars where workers from the neighborhood congregate for a quick lunch or an after-work beer or caipirinha.
Igreja Nossa Senhora de Carmo da Antiga Sé
Across Rua 1 de Março from Praça XV is the Igreja Nossa Senhora de Carmo da Antiga Sé (Rua Sete de Setembro 14, tel. 21/2242-7766, 7 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free). Constructed in 1761, it served as Rio’s principal cathedral until 1980. Many of the city’s major religious commemorations—including Emperor Pedro I’s coronation and the baptisms and marriages of Emperor Pedro II—were celebrated here. Although the exterior retains little of its original facade, the interior is a rococo feast with altars richly decorated in silver and a splendid panel of Nossa Senhora do Carmo. Serious history buffs (and those with a penchant for kitsch) might want to check out the soundand- light show, in which a holographic priest recounts the church’s history (1:30 p.m. Tues.–Fri., noon and 1 p.m. Sat., 12:30 and 1 p.m. Sun., R$8). A small museum displays vestiges of the original 16th-century chapel along with a crypt containing selective remains of Brazil’s “discoverer,” Pedro Álvares Cabral (10 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat.–Sun., R$5).
Cultural Centers and the Igreja Nossa Senhora da Candelária
As you walk along Rua Visconde de Itaboraí, you’ll encounter several particularly impressive buildings. These former administrative palaces underwent inspired renovations in recent times and now operate as dynamic cultural centers. Most of the (usually very engaging) art exhibitions are free, as are many of the musical events. Built in 1922, the Espaço Cultural dos Correios (Rua Visconde de Itaboraí 20, tel. 21/2253-1580, noon–7 p.m. Tues.–Sun.) was formerly the headquarters of Rio’s postal service, and there is still a small post office should you have the urge to send a postcard. A great café overlooks the adjacent Praça dos Correios, where live musical performances frequently take place.
Dating from 1816, the Casa França-Brasil (Rua Visconde de Itaboraí 78, tel. 21/2332-5120, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Tues.–Sun.) was Rio’s first neoclassical construction and originally served as the city’s main customs building. Aside from temporary art exhibits, there is a small bookstore and a charming French bistro.
The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB (Rua 1 de Março 66, tel. 21/3808-2020, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Tues.–Sun.) is a splendid neoclassical building. Since the 1920s it has served as the headquarters for Banco do Brasil (which explains the convenient presence of ATMs in the foyer). Banco do Brasil is a major patron of the arts, and the CCBB’s magnificent interior welcomes most major national and international art exhibits as well as musical and theatrical performances that travel to and throughout Brazil. With a bookstore, café, and decidedly regal tea salon, it is also a favorite meeting point for Cariocas to browse, nibble, sip, and simply hang out.
Igreja Nossa Senhora da Candelária
Across Rua 1 de Março from the CCBB you can’t miss the monumental Igreja Nossa Senhora da Candelária (Praça Pio X, tel. 21/2233-2324, 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–noon Sat., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sun., free), located on the site of Rio’s first church. Begun in 1775, the present church took over 100 years to complete, which accounts for its eclectic mixture of baroque and Renaissance elements. The interior is filled with a splendid and multihued array of marble, along with decorative elements such as doors made from finely wrought bronze. Ceiling panels recount the legend of the original church’s construction by a shipwrecked captain whose life was miraculously saved.
Igreja do Mosteiro de São Bento Located north of Praça Mauá, the Igreja do Mosteiro de São Bento (Rua Dom Geraldo 68, tel. 21/2206-8100, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, guided visit R$5) is Rio’s most magnificent example of baroque architecture. Crowning the Morro de São Bento, this 17th-century monastery is devoted to Nossa Senhora de Montserrat. The austere facade masks a startlingly lavish interior featuring delicately carved naves and columns, altars embellished with flocks of expressive angels, and cherubs covered in gold dust. Instead of being blindingly ostentatious, the excessive gold has a warm and burnished hue, the result of soft lighting used to preserve the precious artwork (which include some exceptionally fine sculpted saints and painted panels). On Sunday morning you can take part in the 10 a.m. mass in which the Benedictine monks chant Gregorian hymns accompanied by the church organ. Make sure you arrive early if you want a seat. The oasis-like cloisters can only be viewed on special occasions such as Palm Sunday and Corpus Christi. At other times, the monks have the leafy courtyard all to themselves. Access to the monastery is via an elevator located at Rua Dom Geraldo 40.
Walking south from Largo de Carioca along Rua Uruguaiana, your path will intersect with Avenida Rio Branco, one of Centro’s major thoroughfares. Early 20th-century photos reveal it to be a grand European-style avenue flanked with imposing neoclassical buildings and shaded by a canopy of trees. It was here that the city’s artists, intellectuals, and fashionable elite came to promenade. Originally called Avenida Central, it cut a swath of modernity through the labyrinth of crumbling mansions, flophouses, and brothels that had dominated the district since colonial times.
Although most of this traffic-laden avenue has been disfigured by ugly modern high-rises, the stretch that opens up onto the monumental Praça Floriano has retained many of its magnificent buildings, among them the Theatro Municipal, the Biblioteca Nacional, and the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes. It gives an impression of how grand Rio must have been in the early 20th century.
The area encompassing Praça Floriano is known as Cinelândia: In the 1930s, ambitious plans existed to turn this elegant plaza into a Carioca version of Broadway—only instead of theaters, movie palaces were built, including Rio’s first cinemas. Only one of these glamorous art deco palaces is still intact—the Cine Odeon Petrobras—while the rest were snatched up by churches, such as the Igreja Universal de Deus (Universal Kingdom of God). The many cafés scattered around Praça Floriano still draw an eclectic mixture of Cariocas who drop by during happy hour.
If, when you first set eyes on the Theatro Municipal (Praça Floriano, tel. 21/2332-9134), you immediately think of Paris, it’s probably because this grand theater was modeled after Paris’s Opéra Garnier. Since 1909, Brazil’s premier theater has played host to some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and opera, dance, and theater companies. The recently restored interior is a feast of marble, bronze, and gold with ample glitter provided by gilded mirrors and crystal chandeliers. Onyx banisters line the grand marble staircase, and there are some wonderful mosaic frescoes and stained-glass windows. If you’re without the time or inclination to take in a performance, take a guided tour (R$10), offered hourly 1–5 p.m. weekdays.
The largest library in Latin America, and the eighth largest in the world, Rio’s Biblioteca Nacional (Av. Rio Branco 219, tel. 21/2220-9484, 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.) boasts some 13 million tomes—the first of which were brought to Brazil by Dom João VI in 1808. Completed in 1910, the building is an eclectic fusion of neoclassical and art nouveau styles. You don’t have to be a serious bibliophile to opt for a guided tour (R$2) of the grandiose interior; 40-minute tours begin at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. (in English), and 3 p.m. Monday–Friday.
Museu Nacional de Belas Artes
Adjacent to the Biblioteca is yet another imposing neoclassical temple—this one devoted to art. The Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (Av. Rio Branco 199, tel. 21/2240-0068, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Fri., noon–5 p.m. Sat.–Sun., R$5, free Sun.) housed Rio’s national school of fine arts before being converted into a somewhat somber museum. It has a modest collection of European works, but you should really focus your attention on the national collection, which provides an excellent overview of 19th- and 20th-century Brazilian painting. Displayed chronologically, highlights include early–mid-20th-century painters who, departing from European influences, experimented with new and distinctly Brazilian styles and subject matter. Among those represented are Anita Malfatti, Cândido Portinari, Lasar Segall, and Alfredo Volpi. An interesting gallery displays Brazilian folk art. The museum hosts traveling exhibitions as well.
Museu Histórico Nacional
A 10–15-minute walk east of Praça Floriano will bring you to the Museu Histórico Nacional (Praça Marechal Âncora, tel. 21/2550- 9224, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 2–6 p.m. Sat.–Sun., R$6, free Sun.). This sprawling museum occupies three historic buildings: the 17th-century Forte de Santiago, an 18th-century arsenal, and an ammunitions depot. As such, there is ample space to showcase the 250,000 artifacts on display, ranging from carriages to canyons. Amid this vast collection are some truly precious objects, like the pen that Princesa Isabel used to sign the Abolition of Slavery in 1888. There are also marvelous glass vials and medicine bottles from the imperial pharmacy, Emperor Dom Pedro II’s throne (and a chess set owned by his father, Pedro I), and the largest coin collection in Latin America. The collection does a fine job of illustrating Brazil’s rich history, dating from the arrival of the first Europeans in 1500 to the declaration of the republic in 1889. If you’re looking for an introduction to Brazil’s past, a visit to this museum is highly recommended.
Pará’s river capital is an intoxicating mélange of faded elegance, dilapidation, and revitalization. One of Brazil’s most interesting capitals (and the only “historic” city in the Amazon), Belém was settled by the Portuguese, who were worried about colonial rivals having access to the possible riches that lay up the Amazon. After constructing a formidable-looking fort that defended their claim to the territory by guarding the Amazon’s estuary, the Portuguese set about exploiting the forest’s treasures—timber and spices—while exploiting the local Indians as labor. In the area surrounding Belém, forest was cleared to make way for sugar and rice plantations similar to those in neighboring northeastern states. [pullquote align=”right”] Due to the mixture of European, Indian, and African influences, [Belém] also boasts one of Brazil’s most distinctive regional cultures, elements of which are present in everything from the flavorful delicacies of Paraense cuisine to popular festas such as Círio de Nazaré.[/pullquote]Thought to be hardier than local Indians (who easily fell victim to European diseases), African slaves were imported to work the plantations. Despite the creation of a small elite, Pará’s colonial economy never took off like that of neighboring Maranhão. In fact, by the late 1700s, the population had stagnated to the extent that the Portuguese crown was actually offering incentives for Portuguese settlers to marry and procreate with Indian women (the result of this miscegenation is Pará’s significant caboclo population).
Belém only came into its own in the late 19th century when the onset of the rubber boom brought fabulous wealth to the city. Nothing was too good for the filthy rich rubber barons, who poured their profits into making their city a best-of-Europe hybrid with grand Parisian-style avenues and squares, splendid Italian-influenced theaters and basilicas, and state-of-the-art English streetlamps and electric trolleys. The city went into fast decline when the Amazon’s rubber industry went belly-up, but most of the ornate edifices from this grand era survived. Despite the decay that set in during the mid–late 20th century, Belém remains the Amazon’s most important port. And, in recent years, the city’s downtown experienced a successful revitalization, with the restoration of architectural treasures and the inspired revamping of its historic center and riverfront. As a result, Belém is a compelling city to explore. Due to the mixture of European, Indian, and African influences, it also boasts one of Brazil’s most distinctive regional cultures, elements of which are present in everything from the flavorful delicacies of Paraense cuisine to popular festas such as Círio de Nazaré.
Much of Belém’s nightlife is centered on the Estação das Docas as well as the area near Avenida Souza Franco, confusingly known as “Docas.” On the weekends the bars along Avenida Almirante Wandenkolk, in Umarizal, get pretty lively.
For years, Belém’s bohemians have been congregating at Rubão (Travessa Gurupá 312, Cidade Velha, tel. 91/9122-4232, 7 p.m.–close daily), a classic boteco with cheap icy beer, simple tasty snacks (the crab is excellent), and a warm unpretentious atmosphere presided over by owner and local institution, Rubão. The tables out in the street are great for people-watching.
Beer connoisseurs who have grown weary of Brahma and Antarctica will appreciate Amazon Beer (Estação das Docas, Boulevard Castilho França, Campina, tel. 91/3212-5401, 5 p.m.–1:30 a.m. Mon.–Thurs., 4 p.m.–3 a.m. Fri., 11 a.m.–3 a.m. Sat., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Sun.), which brews its own beer without the use of additives. Among the six varieties are “forest,” a traditional pilsner, “black,” an aromatic dark malt beer, and the exotic “bacuri,” flavored with subtle hints of this delicious local fruit. An ideal accompaniment is a portion of bolinhos de pato (crunchy balls stuffed with shredded duck, jambu, and tucupi). The bar fills up during happy hour as well as on Saturday afternoon, when feijoada (R$36 pp) is accompanied by live samba.
Located in a fabulous art deco building, the Roxy Bar (Av. Senador Lemos 231, Umarizal, tel. 91/3224-4514, 7:30 p.m.–1 a.m. Tues.–Thurs., 7:30 p.m.–close Fri.–Sat.) is a favorite haunt for those in search of a quieter, more intimate scene that continues into the wee hours. The walls are decorated with images of classic Hollywood stars. A newer fixture, Maricotinha (Rua Domingos Marreiros 279, Umarizal, tel. 91/3225-0125, 6 p.m.–close Tues.–Sat., cover R$4–10) occupies three f loors of a 1920s house. Hangout spaces range from a garden adorned with potted ferns to a lounge whose ceiling features hanging umbrellas and another where walls are papered in photos of the owner’s female relatives, many of them named Maria. Marias are present on the menu as well; chase a portion of “maria da graça”—cashew encrusted shrimp with passion fruit sauce—with a “maria sapeca,” a cocktail combining ginger, champagne, and strawberry juice.
One of the most seductive and popular bars in town, Boteco das Onze (Praça Frei Caetano Brandão, Cidade Velha, tel. 91/3224-8559, 6 p.m.–close Mon., noon–close Tues.–Sun., cover R$6–8) occupies the historic Casa das Onze Janelas. Outside, a wide terrace gazes out over the Baía de Guajará. The terrace is popular during happy hour when Belenenses gather to drink chope or killer tangirsoscas (vodka and fresh tangerine juice), and nibble on petiscos such as casquinha de caranguejo com jambu (a fresh crab salad seasoned with jambu). For a full-fledged meal, head inside, where stone walls, wooden beams, and candles create a romantic atmosphere enhanced by jazz, pop, and MPB standards.
Performing Arts in Belém
It’s always worth taking a look to see what’s on at the beautiful Theatro da Paz (Praça da República, tel. 91/4009-8750). If you’re in the mood for a film, check out the schedule at the Cinema Olympia (Av. Presidente Vargas 918, tel. 91/3230-5380). Built in 1912, Belém’s (and Brazil’s) oldest movie theater still in operation received a recent and timely overhaul, and it now screens independent and art films.
Belém Festivals and Events
One of the biggest and most spectacular religious and popular festivals in Brazil is Círio de Nazaré. It’s held the second Sunday of October, and millions of Paraenses throng the streets of Belém to join in the procession carrying the statue of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré from the Catedral da Sé to the Basílica de Nazaré.
Considered the patron saint of all Paraenses and protectress of Belém, the cult of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré dates back to 1700, when a caboclo named Plácido found a statue of the Virgin lying in a creek located in the present-day bairro of Nazaré. Plácido took the statue home with him. But when he woke up the next morning, he was astonished to discover that it had returned to its original spot. After taking the statue home once again, it reappeared at the creek. The amazed caboclo built a small chapel (later replaced by the Basílica de Nazaré) to house the Virgin. Word of the miracle got around and pilgrims and supplicants from all over Pará came seeking Nossa Senhora’s blessing and divine intervention.
By the end of the 1700s, her popularity had become so great that a public festa, the Círio de Nazaré, was organized so that the entire city could pay homage to the Virgin. The first procession took place in 1793. The image of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, splendidly arrayed and covered in flowers, was carried in a chariot through the muddy streets by bulls. By the 20th century, Belém’s streets had become paved and bulls were no longer necessary. Instead, the thick rope attached to the carriage—measuring 350 meters (1,150 feet)—was now pulled by penitents who, to this day, jostle ferociously for the chance to grip their hands around the rough sisal and literally bleed—by the procession’s end, there is blood in the streets—for the honor of transporting the Virgin.
Although the Sunday procession constitutes the most important event, the festa actually kicks off on Friday afternoon with Nossa Senhora de Nazaré’s departure from the Basílica to a church in the nearby town of Ananindeua. As the Virgin glides by in an open car, Belenenses hovering in decorated windows and spilling into the streets toss rose petals and confetti. The following dawn, the Virgin once again takes to the road, this time in an open truck, surrounded by a cavalcade of cars and motorcycles, en route to the town of Icoaraci. Here, the image is loaded onto a spectacularly decorated boat. Since Nossa Senhora de Nazaré is also the patron saint of river navigators, the Virgin’s crossing of the Rio Guamá to Belém is accompanied by a fleet of hundreds of festively adorned wooden boats. This river spectacle is best viewed from the ramparts of the Forte do Presépio. The Virgin’s arrival in Belém is greeted with a fireworks display. Much merrymaking then ensues throughout the Cidade Velha, lasting all night until the climactic procession that takes place on Sunday morning. The Virgin’s return to the Basílica is usually completed by midday. Afterward, people get together with family and friends and feast on favorite dishes, such as pato no tucupi and maniçoba. If you want to be in town for Círio, make sure to book a hotel far in advance.
Shopping in Belém
Belém is a great source for Amazonian artifacts ranging from beautiful indigenous art to more practical items such as energy-boosting guaraná powder and woven hammocks (essential for any boat trip or backyard porch). You’ll find a wide sampling of the best the Amazon has to offer at the Mercado Ver-o-Peso (Blvd. Castilhos França, 6 a.m.–2 p.m. daily). The best hours for both browsing and buying are 6–9 a.m., when wares are at their most abundant and the sun isn’t too strong.
In Cidade Velha, Rua Gaspar Viana is home to lots of interesting little stores where you can find hammocks for that boat trip up the Amazon. For local crafts, books, and CDs, stop by the Armazém do Tempo (Passagem Carneiro da Rocha, Cidade Velha, tel. 91/3242- 5052, 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Tues.–Sun.), located in the Parque Mangal das Garças. For beautiful jewelry crafted from precious and semiprecious Amazonian rocks by local artisans, head to the Museu das Gemas located inside the Centro Cultural São José Liberto (Praça Amazonas, tel. 91/3230-4452, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Tues.–Sat., 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Sun.).
For more contemporary items, try the city’s most fashionable mall, Shopping Pátio Belém (Travessa Padre Eutíquio 1078, Batista Campos, tel. 91/4008-5800, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 3–9 p.m. Sun.). Aside from national boutiques, you’ll also find fast-food joints, cinemas, and cybercafés.
Recommended for anyone with a sweet tooth are the chocolates filled with Amazonian fruits such bacuri, cupuaçu, and açai sold at Bombom do Pará (Av. Presidente Vargas 702, Campina, tel. 91/3212-4212, 8 a.m.–7:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) along with jams and jellies.
Surprisingly, in view of the recent sprucing-up of the city for tourists, Belém doesn’t have many decent hotels. Many of the more centrally located options are pretty down-and-out, and even standard mid- and upper-range options are disappointing. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions.
Apart from its ideal location on Praça da República, Hotel Grão Pará (Av. Presidente Vargas 718, tel. 91/3321-2121, R$90 d) is a spotless and recently renovated mid-1960s-era hotel that offers excellent value. The sizable air-conditioned guest rooms are rather bland but well-maintained, and the staff is helpful.
Another terrific deal is Le Massilia (Rua Henrique Gurjão 236, Reduto, tel. 91/3222-2834, R$120–150 d). One of Belém’s only intimate hotels, the standard but comfortable air-conditioned guest rooms are housed in low-slung brick villas with cool tile floors and polished wooden fixtures. Aside from a refreshing pool and courtyard, there is a very decent French restaurant (the hotel’s owner is French) serving excellent steak au poivre and escargots. The hotel also organizes city tours and fishing and boating excursions. On the same street is a new modern hotel, the Machado’s Plaza Hotel (Rua Henrique Gurjão 2000, Reduto, tel. 91/4008-9817, R$220 d). The spotless, attractively furnished guest rooms lack views but have welcome splashes of color, nice lighting, and Wi-Fi access. There is also a small pool and a fitness room.
With easy access to Centro and surrounded by lots of restaurants, Belém’s most upscale hotel, the Crowne Plaza Belém (Av. Nazaré 375, Nazaré, tel. 91/3202-2000, R$480–590 d) is a gleaming if somewhat stark new behemoth whose massive guest rooms boast comfy beds, large-screen plasma TVs, and large bathrooms. Geared more toward execs than leisure travelers, the hotel is efficient and friendly, although the decor lacks personality. Amenities include a small pool, a sauna, a fitness center, and Internet access.
This January marks 13 years that I’ve been living in Brazil. During that time, I’ve discovered a lot of native fruits that I’d never laid eyes upon, let alone sunk my teeth into. I’ve also rediscovered some fruits. One of my biggest (literally) and most recent rediscoveries was the jaca (jackfruit).
The largest edible fruit known to humankind – (jacas have been known to grow up to 3 feet in length and weigh over 80 pounds) – a jaca is also one of the weirdest looking fruits you might come across. The amorphous green sacs, covered with an outbreak of punky spikes, are simultaneously prehistoric, surreal, and a little grotesque (a friend of mine, Barbosa, aptly described a few dozen jacas dangling from a massive jaqueira (jaca tree) as a cluster of vegetal “tumors”).
[pullquote] Admittedly, the sheer aesthetic freakiness of the jaca didn’t predispose me toward it even though I’ve had plenty of opportunities to familiarize myself with the fruit.[/pullquote]
Admittedly, the sheer aesthetic freakiness of the jaca didn’t predispose me toward it even though I’ve had plenty of opportunities to familiarize myself with the fruit. During Brazil’s jaca season (which is now), the streets of my adopted hometown of Salvador are filled with wheelbarrows, makeshift kiosks, and fruit stands hawking carefully assembled pyramids of jackfruit. (Jacas are so monstrous in size – and ripen with such speed – that only a big family can devour a whole one; as such, vendors have machetes handy and will slice and dice sections according to customers’ whims).
Visuals aside, however, another characteristic that failed to endear me to this fruit is its smell; a pungent, almost overly floral reek, which when exaggerated by heat and overripeness, activates my gag reflex. In fact, one of the main reasons I was initially loathe to sample the sweet, starchy, sections of pale yellow fruit was its odor.
Although many Brazilians love jaca as is, like many other fruits, it often finds its way into sorvetes (ice cream) and doces (i.e. preserved jaca). In fact, the first time I was persuaded to try doce de jaca, I was surprised to discover that I found the firm, unscented fruit, marinated in clove-spiked sugar syrup, quite to my liking.
However, it wasn’t until my recent trip to the Chapada Diamantina that I actually fell in love with jacas. I really couldn’t help but do so because – like chestnut trees in Paris and maple trees in Toronto – jaqueiras were everywhere in the village of Capão. Not only did their vast canopy of branches cast shade, but their fruits were a basic ingredient in much of the local cuisine – with a twist.
Instead of served in its sweet, ripened state, much of the jaca delicacies that I encountered were savory ones, made with jaca verde (unripe, or “green.” jaca). They were also inevitably made using jaca dura (hard jaca), the crème-de-la-crème of jackfruit as opposed to jaca mole (soft jaca) or jaca manteiga (butter jaca), two species variations that are considered to be somewhat “inferior” by the locals.
Indeed, I’ll never forget visiting a tiny village called Conceição dos Gatos where we sat around talking to Maninho, owner of the town’s only bar, and his wife, who pointed out that the enormous remains of a giant jaqueira next to us that had been struck by lightning: “Thank God it bore jaca mole instead of jaca dura, or it would have been a real tragedy,” commented Maninho.
Maninho’s wife told me about how she prepared jaca dura that she then sold to customers in Capão by taking the fruit into the river and cutting it open to rinse out the milky sap before dicing it finely so it could be used in a variety of dishes – including as a substitute for ground beef.
Well, to date, nobody has invented the jacaburger. But while I was in Capão I did indulge in pizza topped with jaca, deep fried, crunchy pastéis (turnovers) filled with jaca, coxinhas (“drumsticks”; actually a savory pastry, shaped like a drumstick), in which the usual filling of shredded chicken was substituted with diced jaca, and pão de jaca (jaca bread).
They were all, without exception, so delicious that I experienced a certain degree of guilt when I considered that I had spent the last 12 years harboring such a lowly opinion of this strange fruit.
The second largest city in Pará, Santarém is a drowsy yet interesting river port town. By boat it is around 50 hours upstream from Belém, and it’s a worthwhile place to stop if you’re riding up or down the Amazon between Belém and Manaus. Aside from offering a firsthand glimpse into Amazonian culture, the surrounding region boasts natural treasures of great beauty that can easily transform any “stopover” into a week’s stay. The most popular destination is the white-sand beaches of nearby Alter do Chão, which are famously (and not unjustly) hyped by the state tourist office as the “Amazonian Caribbean.” Although Santarém receives less rain than either Belém or Manaus, the surrounding countryside, much of it quite unspoiled, is a scenic mixture of wetlands and rain forest. Take one of various trips up and down the Rio Tapajós, a tributary of the Amazon, or to the Floresta Nacional do Tapajós (FLONA), a national park, to get a taste of virgin rain forest.
[pullquote align=”right”]Santarém is located at the confluence of the Rio Tapajós and the Rio Amazonas, and the “meeting” of the blue-green waters of the Tapajós with the milky brown-colored Rio Amazonas is a sight that rivals the more celebrated merging of the Rio Negro with the Rio Solimões in Manaus.[/pullquote]Santarém is located at the confluence of the Rio Tapajós and the Rio Amazonas, and the “meeting” of the blue-green waters of the Tapajós with the milky brown-colored Rio Amazonas is a sight that rivals the more celebrated merging of the Rio Negro with the Rio Solimões in Manaus. During the dry season (June–Dec.), the Tapajós recedes by several meters, exposing a seductive string of sandy beaches backed by lush green vegetation.
As a source of life and livelihoods, the Rio Tapajós has a long history that dates back to the earliest civilizations in the Americas. Archaeological evidence reveals the presence of prehistoric Indian groups who fished along the riverbanks and planted corn in the fertile hills around Santarém. In the cliffs surrounding the town of Monte Alegre, they left paintings in caves and on rocks that date back 12,000 years. Other excavations have unearthed shards of pottery that have proved far older than most other vestiges of indigenous people in the Americas.
Indian culture was still thriving when the first Europeans arrived at the beginning of the 16th century. Santarém itself was founded in the 1660s as a Jesuit missionary outpost. Tapajós Indians that weren’t converted to Christianity were subsequently enslaved, slaughtered, driven into the jungle, or wiped out by infectious diseases. Apart from trade involving spices such as pepper, cloves, and vanilla, the little town remained an isolated jungle outpost until well into the 19th century, when it exploded into a prosperous trading center as a result of the Amazonian rubber boom. Ironically, it was in Santarém that the seeds were sown for Amazon rubber’s dramatic demise. The culprit was an Englishman by the name of Henry Wickham, who moved here in 1874 and soon after began smuggling precious rubber seeds back to London’s Kew Gardens. From England, saplings were sent to plantations in the British colonies of Ceylon and Malaysia. By the end of the century, the Asian plantations were producing rubber in greater quantities, and far more cheaply, than those in the middle of the Brazilian jungle. As a result, the once-thriving Amazonian rubber boom went bust.
Today, rubber still contributes to the local economy, along with timber, minerals, jute, fish, and Brazil nuts. However, in recent years, the greatest impact on Santarém and the surrounding region has been the introduction of soybean cultivation and processing. While the lucrative crop has brought new wealth to the area, it has also led to the rampant clearing of swaths of forest stretching all the way south to Mato Grosso. In the early 1970s, the construction of the highway leading from Cuiabá to Santarém was expected to bring great development to the area. At the time, such ambitions proved premature—by the 1980s the jungle had once again reclaimed the asphalt, portion of which are impassable, especially when it rains. However, spurred on by the soybean boom, the federal government is committed to reopening this crucial route, which could spell major changes for Santarém in years to come.
Getting To Santarém and Getting Around
Santarém lies roughly halfway between Belém and Manaus. You can get here by plane (speedy and expensive) or boat (slower—and only cheaper if you sleep in a hammock) from both cities. The precariousness of the roads means that getting here by bus or by car is out of the question.
Although you can get around town easily on foot, if you find the heat is making you lazy, you can easily hail a taxi or moto-taxi.
Both national and cheaper regional carriers offer service to Santarém from Belém and Manaus. The small Aeroporto Maria José (Rodovia Fernando Guilhon, Praça Eduardo Gomes, tel. 93/3522-4328) is 14 kilometers (9 miles) from the center by bus (daytime only, R$1.50) or taxi (R$50).
Boats going up and down the Amazon from Belém and Manaus arrive and depart from the busy Docas do Pará (Av. Cuiabá, tel. 93/3067-5500) port, 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) west of the center of town. Most companies only offer 1–2 departures a week. Your best bet is to go to the docks and check out which boat is leaving and when. A trip to Belém usually takes two days (48 hours), while Manaus is usually 2.5–3 days. Expect to pay around R$150 (hammock space) and R$480–550 (cabins and suites for 2). Belém-bound boats stop at Monte Alegre (6 hours, R$40 for hammock space) while those bound for Manaus stop at Parintins (27 hours, R$60 for hammock space). Try to purchase tickets a day or two in advance. Sometimes you can even negotiate the price. To visit smaller towns in the region such as Monte Alegre, head to the smaller port at Praça Tiradentes. By day, minibuses marked “Orla Fluvial” circulate at 30-minute intervals between the Docas do Pará and the center of town, passing by the Praça Tiradentes port.
Other Area Information
Santarém itself has few actual attractions. The town’s main museum is the Centro Cultural João Fona (Praça Barão de Santarém, tel. 93/3523-2434, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.–Fri., free). Housed in a handsome canary yellow 19th-century mansion, the small but interesting collection provides an insightful look at Santarém’s history and culture. Apart from some beautiful pieces of Tapajoara pottery dating back 5,000 years, there are recent examples of indigenous art as well as paintings that portray the town and river during colonial times. Otherwise, the most compelling thing you can do in Santarém is simply to wander around soaking up the atmosphere of an Amazonian port town. The constant bustle of boats coming and going and passengers boarding and disembarking is quite a fascinating spectacle.
For a pleasant stroll along the river, start at the Praça Matriz, site of the town’s oldest church, the 18th-century Igreja Matriz da Nossa Senhora da Conceição. From here, head west along the main waterfront drag, Avenida Tapajós, toward the gigantic eyesore that houses U.S.-based Cargill’s soybean processing plant. Along the way, stop to check out the action and produce at the Mercado Municipal, where you’ll see a dazzling array of fish as well as a local delicacy, the very tiny local shrimp called aviu. For an excellent view of the meeting of the Rio Tapajós and the Rio Amazonas, which run together side by side for several kilometers, climb the hill that rises up from the waterfront to the Mirante do Tapajós.
Sports and Recreation
Flaking out on beaches, boating down the river past traditional caboclo communities, exploring thick forests—there are plenty of ways to enjoy Santarém’s natural attributes. For information about the surrounding area, check in with an American expat named Steven Alexander, who has lived in Santarém with his wife since 1979. A passionate defender of the Amazon’s rich biosphere and an equally fervent critic of politicians and businesses bent on destroying it, Alexander offers guided visits to his own private nature reserve, Bosque Santa Lúcia (firstname.lastname@example.org, R$75 for 2, advance reservations required), a patch of rain forest 15 kilometers (9 miles) from town where you can hike amid 400 species of native trees (including Brazil nut and guaraná), birds, and monkeys. He can also put you in touch with guides to take you to farther-flung attractions. Santarém Tur (Rua Adriano Pimentel 44, tel. 93/3522-4847) and GreenTur (Av. Cuiabá 649 B, tel. 93/3253-2423) both offer trips by boat to natural attractions in the area.
Two popular trips close to town are to the Meeting of the Waters (3 hours) and to the Lago do Maicá (6 hours), where you can go piranha fishing. Expect to pay around R$150 pp with a group of four for a six-hour trip. Another good source and terrific guide is local resident and self-taught naturalist Gil Serique (Rua Adriano Pimentel 80, tel. 93/8803-7430), who not only speaks English but knows the Tapajós and its tributaries like the back of his hands. He offers customized tours to various destinations, including FLONA.
Food in Santarém
O Mascote (Praça do Pescador 10, tel. 93/3523-2844, 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.–midnight daily, R$15–25) combines a scenic waterfront location with reasonably priced and expertly prepared local dishes. At lunch, you can stuff yourself on an all-you-can-eat buffet, while dinner features specialties such as tucunaré in shrimp sauce and caldeirada de peixe, a stew featuring the daily catch. At night, O Mascote is a popular gathering spot, particularly on weekends, when live music is performed. Surprisingly, one of Santarém’s best-loved restaurants doesn’t serve fish at all. The specialty at Mutunuy 2 (Travessa Muriano Meira, 1680‑B, tel. 93/3522-7909, R$10–15) is buttery, charcoal-roasted chicken served with rice, manioc flour, and potato salad. It’s simple but lip-smackingly delicious.
Information and Services
Santarém’s tourist office, Santur (Rua Floriano Peixoto 777, tel. 93/3523-2434, 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon.–Fri.), has information about the town and surrounding area. You can also visit www.santarem.pa.gov.br, which has good information in Portuguese. Also check with Santarém Tur (Rua Adriano Pimentel 44, tel. 93/3522-4847) and GreenTur (Av. Cuiabá 649 B, tel. 93/3253-2423), both of which also sell plane tickets to Belém and Manaus. For money matters, on Avenida Rui Barbosa you’ll find a Banco do Brasil as well as an HSBC and a Bradesco, all with ATMs that accept international cards.
Need a cheat sheet on Joe O’Loughlin before you dive into the just-released Mulholland Books paperback edition of SHATTER or the upcoming BLEED FOR ME? Curious how a series writers keeps all the those character traits in order? Check out the below dossier on the principle characters from Robotham’s acclaimed psychological thrillers.
Name: Professor Joseph O’Loughin (commonly known as Joe)
Profession: Clinical Psychologist
Born: November 29, 1960, at Penrhyn Bay, Wales.
Weight: 175 lbs
Joe’s own descriptions of himself:
(BLEED FOR ME) I am not handsome in the conventional sense. I am tall and pale with watery brown eyes and when I look at myself naked I am reminded of a winter animal that sheds its fur in the hotter months and looks out of place until the cold returns. That’s one of the reasons that I don’t wear shorts or T-shirts or flip flops which Australians call thongs. I wonder what they call G-strings?
(SUSPECT) Not even my mother would call me handsome. I have curly brown hair, a pear-shaped nose and skin that freckles at the first hint of sunlight.
(SHATTER) Sadly, I inherited my father’s tangle of hair. If it grows half an inch too long it becomes completely unruly and I look like I’ve been electrocuted.
Joe was sent to boarding school from the age of eight, attending the exclusive Charterhouse School in Surrey, England.
A single memory comes back to me, with all the light and shade of reality. I am standing on the front steps of Charterhouse as my father hugs me and feels the sob in my chest. ‘Not in front of your mother,’ he whispers.
He turns to walk away and says to my mother, ‘Not in front of the boy,’ as she dabs at her eyes.
At Charterhouse he excelled academically but not on the sporting field.
Saturday mornings and soggy sports fields seem to go together like acne and adolescence. That’s how I remember the winters of my childhood – standing ankle-deep in mud, freezing my bollocks off, playing for the school’s Second XV.
God’s-personal-physician-in-waiting (my father) had a bellow that rose above the howling wind. ‘Don’t just stand there like a cold bottle of piss,’ he’d shout. ‘Call yourself a winger! I’ve seen continents drift faster than you.’
Joe did three years of medicine before changing courses to study psychology and behavioural science at London University. In 1985 he obtained his Masters degree in Clinical Psychology.
I stayed on at university determined to sleep with every promiscuous, terminally uncommitted first-year on campus, but unlike other would-be Lotharios I tried too hard. I even failed miserably at being fashionably unkempt and seditious. No matter how many times I slept on someone’s floor, using my jacket as a pillow, it refused to crumple or stain. And instead of appearing grungy and intellectually blasé, I looked like someone on his way to his first job interview.
Trainee psychologist, West London Health Authority, London
1. In your opinion, what’s the most significant cultural difference expats should be aware of when moving to France?
Something we Americans take for granted is our ability to form fast friendships. We meet someone at a party or at work whose company we enjoy, and immediately begin emailing, texting, or calling to make plans to meet up again. The French have a different approach, and you’ll likely get a sense of that right away. Cultivating friendships—especially with foreigners with whom one has a brief history—is a slow, cautious process, and it’s not uncommon for years to pass before you receive an invitation to dinner at a French colleague’s home. When you do form that bond, there’s an unspoken code you’ll be expected to follow, which includes keeping scheduled appointments and following through when you say you’ll call, write, or visit. You can expect the same level of committed friendship in return.
2. What advice do you have for meeting people and making friends there?
It sounds so simple, but this one is actually very difficult for a lot of expatriates: talk to people—in French! Talk to your grocer, your neighbors, the server at the café, the mail-delivery person, and anyone else you encounter where small talk comes naturally. So many of us are afraid of speaking French poorly or of being misunderstood, but you’d be surprised at how accommodating the locals are when you make an effort. They’ll listen attentively, gently correct you, and nod with comprehension when you get it right. If you don’t make the effort to speak the local language, making friends will pose an even bigger challenge.
On the other hand, meeting other expats is easy: Anglophone associations, both formal and informal, exist in most university cities, and even in many small towns. Tweetups and other social-media related get-togethers are a popular form of socializing. Another way I’ve found to meet people who share your living-abroad experience is to surf the blogosphere, find an expat-in-France blog to follow, then send the blogger a note and ask to meet for a café or un verre. Many people I know have met each other that way!
3. How does the price of living measure up to America?
When you consider that the biggies—healthcare, childcare, education—are either free or very low-cost, the cost of living in France begins to look extremely low compared to the United States. Some things, like fuel for your car and electricity in your home, are definitely pricier, but the bulk of your absolute necessities—food, wine, and public transportation, for example—are all extremely affordable in France. (And French food and wine seems to taste better, too, making it better value for your euro!) One of the most pleasant surprises I discovered when setting up my Paris apartment was the affordability of telecommunications. Several companies here offer bundled internet/unlimited international landline phone/cable television service for less than €30 per month (approximately $40 USD), and one mobile phone company just launched an unlimited monthly service for €20 (approximately $26 USD). I paid about five times as much in San Francisco!
4. The French are known for their ability to balance their work and home life perfectly. How does this manifest in every day life there?
France is a very family-oriented country, and you see that reflected in the social structure. Vacation time, for example, is doled out in generous helpings throughout the year by the state, and is considered a right rather than a privilege. You’d be hard-pressed to meet a French person who doesn’t take each and every day off he or she has earned.
On a day-to-day basis, you see this idea manifested in the long, wine-fueled lunch breaks (just visit any brasserie between 12:30 and 3:30 pm, and you’ll see men and women in business attire eating and drinking with unabashed zeal), at the open-air markets where everyone seems to be shopping for that evening’s meal, and by riding the métro during rush hour; clearly, no one is putting in extra hours at the office! That’s what I call balance!
5. What are some of your favorite things to eat, unique to France?
Fruits and vegetables aren’t unique to France, but eating seasonally is very French. As you move through the year, you’ll discover the joy of shopping for fresh foods and eating them at their peak ripeness. In the fall, you’ll find fresh nuts (have you ever tried a green hazelnut?!), woodsy-smelling mushrooms in all sorts of sizes and colors, and grapes galore. Winter brings root vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips, and tropical fruits like litchees from Madagascar and other former French colonies. Spring is magnificent, color- and flavor-wise: Cherries, bright-green peas, asparagus, and rhubarb all make their debut. And summer is a veritable cornucopia of luscious stone fruits: peaches, plums, apricots. You’ll never want to buy an out-of-season tomato again once you’ve tried a locally grown, vine-ripened one from a French marché.
6. Do there tend to be large expat communities throughout the country, or only in Paris?
Wherever there are universities, you’ll find thriving expatriate communities. France has long had an open-door policy toward foreign students (though current immigration concerns within Europe are tightening that loophole somewhat), so you’ll discover youthful expat communities all the way from Rennes to Aix-en-Provence. The high-tech and pharmaceutical sectors also draw a workforce from around the globe; Airbus, near Toulouse, for example, employs hundreds upon hundreds of foreigners. You’ll find similar communities in Grenoble and Nice, and, of course, Paris. For the last 25 years or so, there’s been a steady influx of British newcomers, and in some small villages in the Dordogne, Cote d’Azur, and Brittany, you hear more English than French being spoken in the public sphere. It can be disorienting!
7. What do you love most about living in France?
There’s so much to love! Generally, it’s the pace. Life tends to move slower here than what we’re used to in the United States. The afternoon café break, the long lunches, the prioritizing of friends-and-family time above work—all those things have a trickle-down effect that you won’t be able to miss here. It sounds hackneyed, but the French really do take pleasure in the little things, and appear to have mastered the art of leisure. I love that people take the time to go to museums and to enjoy art in all its forms, to savor long lunches and protracted dinners, and simply enjoy unhurried conversations. Rush-hour traffic is still nothing to get excited about, but generally, there’s a sense of relaxed calm that permeates life here that I really, really love.
8. What do you recommend packing before moving? Are there any things you miss that just aren’t available there?
One of the joys of discovering a new country is learning to adapt to the local culture—and the local amenities. You’ll learn to live without your Burger King and Krispy Kreme doughnuts—trust me! In their places, you’ll discover all sorts of wonderful French treasures that taste just as delicious as what you’ve been used to, if you give them a chance. On a practical level, contacts lenses and eyeglasses, I’ve found, are more expensive here and thus worth stocking up on, and my husband still can’t seem to find underwear with a flap in the front (!). Otherwise, most things you find in the United States are available here. The only things I ever pine for are authentic corn tortillas, but that void just fosters appreciation for the little things I used to take for granted.
9. What are some of the best reasons for relocating to France?
The quality of life is extremely high here. It comes back down to the quality and safety of the food, the cultural and education opportunities, efficiency of transportation, and the social safety net that ensures most everyone’s basic needs are met. It’s also no secret that France has a great healthcare system. I’ve met several Americans who’ve moved to France specifically for access to affordable healthcare. In theory, if you pay into Sécurité Sociale, you’re entitled to reap its benefits, one of which is extremely low-cost medical services. Even freelancers who earn their income in the U.S. have access. Geographically, France has a lot to offer, too, with mountains, oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and opportunities galore for enjoying those physical features.
10. What would people be surprised to know about life in France?
Most people would be surprised to discover how many resources are available here to help them integrate into French life. Wherever you settle, it’s a good idea to visit the mairie, or local administration office, to discover what resources exist in your area. Ask for a list of local “associations,” which is Frenchspeak for non-profit organization. There are thousands of them (and 14 million volunteers nationwide) spanning every imaginable interest or need, so tapping into what’s available in your neck of the woods can be a money-saver and a great way to meet locals and other newcomers. I’m currently taking advantage of my neighborhood association’s low-cost French immersion courses. For 30 euro a year, I get four hours of instruction per week (and a class with just two other students) plus workbooks and classes tailored to my needs.
11. What are some of your favorite French phrases?
Without a doubt, my number-one favorite and highly overused French phrase is “oh là là,” I love its multi-purpose functionality: it can be used to express surprise (“You had to wait in line how long at the prefecture? Oh là là!”), the gravity of a situation (“Oh là là!—I just stepped in dog poop again”), and emphatic approval (“Oh là là! Your new haircut is divine!).
In addition to all the formal niceties—merci, s’il vous plaît, and je vous en prie (you’re welcome)—I use et voilà (and there you have it!) and je suis désolée de vous déranger (I’m sorry to bother you) rather consistently. I’ve also taken rather well to French profanity, which slipped off the tongue a little too easily sometimes. Anyone moving here will surely pick up a few colorful phrases without any aiding or abetting from me!