Breathing the Air of Recife

Day 13, Grand World Voyage 2020

Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020; Racife, Brazil

What a pleasant surprise to see that our first selection in the World Cruise book club is The Air You Breath, by Frances De Pontes Peebles. I met Frances a little more than a year ago at her book launch party in Chicago. Little did I know when my writer friend Susan invited me that I would be here in Brazil and reading this book.

The book is about two Brazilian girls, one a daughter of privilege and the other a lowly kitchen girl. Their friendship starts on a sugar plantation not far from Recife, where they journey to hear their first concert. Music takes them far from that plantation.

The Recife we visited today is vastly different than the city they saw in the 1930s. The country’s fifth largest city is known as the Venice of Brazil due to its canals. Its annual Carnival celebration is considered more authentic than Rio’s. And it has one of the top 10 shark-infested beaches in the world.

We stayed away from the beaches. In fact, we didn’t explore very far. Ship excursions could take us to see churches, museums, synagogues and the nearby colonial city of Olinda. Our port lecturer warned us to be aware of pickpockets and other crime in the city. In fact, when one site was only a few blocks from another, he advised taking a taxi. I know there is crime in almost every large city and the smart tourist stays alert. The warning seemed over the top to me, but a dinner companion said she was jostled more than once in unsuccessful attempts to get her purse.

We opted for the complementary shuttle bus to a market in the city. In fact, the trip required two buses – one through the extensive port area and another to circle through the narrow city streets to the Casa da Cultura.

This former prison has transitioned into a crafts market. The entrances to each three-story wing and all the windows still have their prison bars. Only now the doors are open, and each cell houses a small shop. Merchants sell clothing, fabrics, jewelry, toys and other handicrafts, most of which are made in the area. The steep narrow stairways lead to additional shops on each level.

We wandered through the shops, admiring an artist painting a t-shirt and engaging with vendors urging us to come see their wares in each cell. Elaine found a colorful scarf featuring many of the well-known landmarks in the city. I bought a necklace fashioned from what I think is heavy ribbon. It is flat and very light – two requirements for anything I purchase on this trip.

(I don’t shop for much, since I only have a guest room at my sister’s house and thus no places to hang art or decorate. Besides, I just spent the last year or two getting rid of almost everything I own. Even that was a lot of work. I’m not going to start collecting again.)

I stopped to sketch one wing and a view from outside. The earlier security warnings stayed in my head as I held my purse close while grasping my sketchpad. I didn’t linger. I typically lose myself in my sketching, and I knew that I would be vulnerable. Frankly, it wasn’t the fun sketching usually is. So I got basic outlines and will finish later on the ship.

Now that we are south of the equator and officially in summer, it remains hot and humid. A dozen passengers were cooling off in the small Lido pool. In some areas the ship’s air conditioner seems to struggle to keep up, while others are like iceboxes.

On port days there aren’t a lot of scheduled activities on board. I headed to the Crow’s Nest mid afternoon to start on this blog. When a friend sat down to chat, I didn’t make much writing progress, but I was happy to spend some time visiting.

My goal is to post a blog about each port day no later than the following day. This schedule keeps me from falling behind. I occasionally write about a sea day or about a cruise-related topic requested in the comments. The only problem with the schedule is that I usually haven’t finished my sketches by the time I post about a port. So I may start just adding them to the end of the next blog. I had hoped to add a portfolio section to the website, but still haven’t figured out how to do that. Here’s one from the church at Belém and an “in-progress” watercolor of the Recife lighthouse from our watercolor class:

Elaine and I ended the evening as we have the last few: enjoying the music of Diane Slagle in the Piano Bar. We enjoy her engagement with the audience as we come and go from dinner and the evening show. Last night’s requests ranged from Broadway show tunes to Melanie to Joan Baez. There is something for everyone. I looked her up on Facebook and was surprised to see our other sister, Eloise, is already a friend of Diane’s.

Now we stop heading east – for the next 115 days our course will take us either south, west or north. We brought a large map and magnets to chart our progress on the wall of our cabin. Two sea days now before our first overnight stop — Rio de Janiero.