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Grass, Wal-Mart, and other Brazilian things?

January 7, 2007

I spent the weekend in Gramado with Senhor and Senhora Santos at their sitio (country home).  If you’re wondering why I have “grass” in my title, it’s because Gramado means grass in Portuguese–well, actually, it means lawn (grama means grass).  This quaint Switzerland of Brazil was so named because of the beautiful lawns and parks created and enjoyed by its first German and Italian settlers.  Gramado is a gorgeous town with an even more gorgeous countryside that extends for miles along unpaved roads that weave through the area’s historic and contemporary settlements. 

The Santos’ sitio is truly a fairy-tale place.  Nestled 100 feet up from the road on the side of a hill planted with palms, eucalyptus, pine, hydrangeas and countless other flowering shrubs and trees, their country home looks out over a verdant landscape of valleys and hills that extend as far as the eye can see.  The house itself is what makes the sitio seem to be a fairy tale:  it’s 7 small rooms curve around a central staircase as if curving around a tree, with 1-2 rooms on each floor.  Every floor except for the upper most has a balcony from which to take in the breathtaking views.  All of the windows are secured at night with sliding wooden shutters that I open in the morning to the valley below as if I were Rapunsel opening my tower window to let out my hair to a prince waiting four stories down.

There is almost no better way to spend a summer afternoon than to sit on a veranda overlooking deep green mountains and listening to birds chirp and to leaves rustling in the wind.  The Santos’ and I ate all of our meals on the third-story veranda, and twice while we were eating, a flock of green parrots swooped across the yard in front of us.  At night, I could see thousands of stars, including those that form Orion, which always reminds me of home and of my mom since we try to glance at that particular constellation at night when I’m abroad.

A disappointing tidbit of information that I learned while we were in Gramado is that Wal-Mart recently purchased the majority of a formerly Brazilian supermarket chain called, ironically, Nacional, or National.  The Participatory Budget councillor I had lunch with on Friday had mentioned to me that this particular chain, in which the Santos’ and I did our grocery shopping for the weekend, had recently been bought by an American company, but he couldn’t remember the name.  When I asked Senhor Santos if he knew, he said, “Acho que foi Wal-Mart,” pronouncing the final “Mart” in the typical Brazilian way, “martchee.”  He wasn’t very happy about the purchase (not necessarily knowing anything about Wal-Mart, but knowing that Brazil is steadily selling its soul to international corporations), and we later had a conversation about Brazil’s schizophrenic development policies. 

Well, my arm is hurting so I’m going to call it quits for the night.  I have a lot more to share about the past few days, so perhaps I’ll hop back on again tomorrow morning before I end up with another whole day of thoughts to share!


P.S.  Zilá was tickled by the gift of Pennsylvania maple syrup that I gave to her.  It was a delight to see her on Friday morning when I woke up.  We gave each other a big hug and she commented on how I was just the same as when she last saw me:  thin, healthy, and without sandals.  Most Brazilians are accustomed to wearing shoes or sandals in their homes and I’m not, thus the latter comment!

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