Experiences of a Dutchman living in Belo Horizonte, since December 2004, from month to month.
August 2005: Student parties in the campus, and parties at the sítios.
August 2005 became a very quiet winter month for me. A month without travels, and without moving to another address. But that does not indicate that I had nothing to do. On the contrary: at day I was at the university campus, to work on my thesis. During the weekends, I was often involved in the social activities of Marina and her friends. My first Brazilian winter came to an end. What should one imagine of such a Brazilian winter, in Belo Horizonte? A human being is surprisingly capable adapt himself easily to the environment, and I was no exception. A winter in Belo Horizonte is more or less similar to a Dutch summer month, with some extremes. At day you may expect a temperature of 23 degrees at average, at night it is about ten degrees colder.
As a Dutchman, I should prefer the Brazilian winter, but one has to bear in mind that Brazilian houses are not isolated, while European houses are equipped with a maximum isolation materials in order to keep the warmth inside. Besides, the isolation also quenches noises. The lack of isolation allows the warmth to escape easily, and allow the cold to enter. That means that during a cold night, the indoor temperature is only a bit higher than the outdoor temperature. You really will need two or three blankets. At day you can walk around, wearing your shirt and shorts only, and at night you may need a light coat. When having periods of cold weather, especially when polar streams arrive in Brazil, you will need a winter coat. In Belo Horizonte, at an average altitude of 900 meters, there are rarely storms, but such a coat may keep you warm. In winter, one may keep the umbrella at home; it rarely rains in winter, in the dry period between May and September.
In winter, Brazilians prefer to wear sweaters, thick coats, and even mittens, hats, and scarves appear. The menu also has some small changes. Even though rice and beans appear on your plate every day, and Friday is the famous feijoada day, the so-called caldos are very popular in winter. These savory and sometimes spicy soups are based on beans, cassava, carrots, fish or shrimp, among others. These soups are eaten with fresh chives and crispy bread. This kind of bread is the daily bread for Brazilians, the so-called pão francês: ‘French’ bread. Peanuts also appear in winter, in the form of a cream soup or processed with caramelized sugar to a so-called pé de moleque.
There was some small change in my life in August. On a Friday, early in the morning, I was awakened by noise and shouts in the kitchen and living room. Apparently some people had arrived to visit the apartment, at least more than a handful. There were sounds of tinkling glasses and bottles; the radio was playing at a much louder volume as usual. The rock artists tried their very best to fight against the background noise of laughter, chatter, and giggles. And I was aware of some burning smell too. What was going here, on a Friday morning? Soon I discovered that a cousin of one of my roommates thought that it was about time to organize a student party, and he had invited all his classmates for a real churrasco that would last the entire day. So, at nine ‘o clock in the morning they enthusiastically started drinking beer instead of their breakfast milk and coffee; meat as replacement for a breakfast of bread and butter. The students were gathered together on the large roof terrace, and enjoyed the cold, golden alcoholic drinks. There was also a big group of girls, who had grouped together to chat with each other as if they had not met each other for a long time. The wonderful student life.
This unexpected party was not my only party that day; one of my colleagues had to defend his masters degree exam. Also there were many drinks and snacks. Especially the red and white wines were very popular among these students. It was shocking for me to observe that red wine was served with… ice. I arrived home late that evening, and my roommates were cleaning up the huge mess the students had left for them. That noisy party had a very unpleasant consequence for them: substantially, some neighbors had complained, and therefore the owner of the apartment complex had ordered that my roommates to move immediately. However, I was allowed to stay, together with the professor who was in Roraima. The three roommates left the apartment, and I lived there alone, for over six months.
The professor occasionally came to look through his mail and to receive my share of the rental. He was happy that I stayed in his apartment, because he did not want to lose this apartment for its excellent location, and because of the huge roof terrace. In these months I could work in peace, and therefore I made much progress with completing my thesis. But living alone does have the disadvantage that there were lonely moments, especially during the weekday evenings. Even at that time I could watch TV, I just watched the evening and night movies, often of good quality. Oscar Winners and cult films, but you had to sacrifice a big part of your night rest.
I made more friends through Marina and her friends, at various parties, and I got acquainted with the phenomenon sítio. A sítio is an outdoor residence for a number of the more wealthy residents of Belo Horizonte. For them it is some outlet for their busy and stressful weekdays and busy city life. On Fridays, in the afternoon or early evening, cars are loaded for a trip of about one hundred kilometers, or slightly more, depending on the location of the sítio. This country house is often a simple construction, mostly a cottage in a natural environment. The very rich may afford a more luxury second home within a closed community, a condomínio, just outside a small village or town. Local residents have mixed feelings about them. On one hand, the locals may have an extra source of income; on the other hand, the long maintained balance within their community may be greatly affected.
Generally, such a sítio is located inside a large area, without neighbors close to it. For this reason the residents have a lot of freedom and privacy. They can organize huge banquets, theme parties such as Festa Junina or Halloween. Birthday parties often become big parties with a lot of food and drinks, and they do not need to take care of a few extra decibels. Such a sítio may contain a large number of sleeping accommodations, since these sítios are located at some respectable distance from home. Even this distance is quite ‘peanuts’ for Brazilians, they prefer to sleep in the sítio than to risk problems to drive when drunk. One may stay more time at the sítio, continue with the remnants of the big party, and help cleaning the huge mess. In winter it is not uncommon to have a large bonfire lit; the chairs are gathered close to the fire, to enjoy the warm glow in the chilly night. One may play guitar or accordion, while others may sing together. I have never experienced very embarrassing moments at such parties: no annoying drunkards out of control, sexual harassment are quickly under control. Just having a great time in a relaxed atmosphere. I still have very good memories of such parties.
By Dr. Adriano Antoine Robbesom
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