The word of the day has been "late." I left work right on time, at 2 p.m., to meet David, close up the house, finish my packing, and take a taxi to the aiport. The taxi was due at 3 p.m., and at 3:05, I called the dispatcher, asking where my 3 p.m. taxi was. Answer? "I'm so sorry, I forgot to send him. I'll have somebody there in 10 minutes." Aargh! Eleven minutes later, we had our car in the driveway, with out luggage in it, when the taxi pulled up, then took forever to back down the driveway and load the bags into his van while David put our car back in the garage. Seems the dispatcher didn't bother to tell him we were in a hurry because he was already late!
So we got to the airport less than an hour before our scheduled flight time, but it's a small airport, so we made it through security just in time to board, only to find that the flight was delayed. And delayed again. We made it to Atlanta in time, but our ample two-and-a-half-hour layover (during which we had planned to eat and shop for books) had dwindled to a barely adequate 40 minutes. We just had time to grab sandwiches and snatch a couple of paperbacks before boarding with the last of the passengers.
We were also a little annoyed that Delta had changed our seat assignments. On both flights, we were in the very back row, served beverages and meals dead last, and on the first flight, so tight against the back wall that the seats wouldn't recline! On the second flight (the first had been too small a plane), we were also in the center section rather than on one side or the other. It's David's theory that Delta is "punishing" him for booking through the agency recommended by the Meiofauna Congress rather than directly through Delta as he usually does. Or maybe we were just displaced to make room for the large group of homeward-bound, mouse-ear-bedecked Brazilian teeny-boppers.
Otherwise the flight wasn't bad, though it was a shame to fly for the first time over the Pantanal, the Amazon Basin, and the Campo Grande, all (a) in the dark, (b) above solid clouds, and (c) unable to see out a single window anyway. It was quite bumpy all the way, but David slept like a baby as usual, and I even got a couple of hours of sleep myself. During the airline dinner (choice of chicken or chicken, as they were out of pasta by the time they got to the back row), I caught a little of the movie (without bothering with the sound) and was amused by the wide range of color adjustment on the various video monitors. In one scene, a character's jacket looked blue on one screen, brown on another, and purple on a third! And the adjustments on the two nearest monitors continued to drift in different directions, until by the time the movie was over and a cooking show had come on, one screen showed Bobby Flay mopping a rack of ribs with a bright green pesto-like mixture and the other a maraschino-cherry red one. A third screen showed a more realistic brownish bbq sauce.
Written 29 July 2007
We reached São Paulo in good time, got through the passport control and customs process slowly but without serious difficulty, and reached our gate in good time for our flight to Recife, which was, of course, delayed hour. But of course, at that point we had no more connections to make, so who cared? Waiting with us in the gate area was a tall, tanned guy with the most amazing Elvis Presley hair-do! He'd actually have done pretty well in one of those look-alike contests. Once the flight boarded, we were quite impressed. We flew TAM airlines, "Pride of the Brazilian Sky," as is painted on the side of each plane. The neatly packaged in-flight snack was very good: a little packet of crisp toasts, a foil-wrapped square of spreadable white cheese (Neufchatel?), guava jam, and a cocolate cookie with coconut cream filling.
It was drizzling and cool in São Paulo, and we were above clouds for most of the flight, but through the gaps I was able to see hilly farmland, small villages, and scattered houses. A wide, meandering river was flanked by the clear outlines of old oxbows. By the time we got to Recife, it was raining in earnest, but as a perk of David's service as a session chairman, we got "complimentary transfer service"—that is, we were met at the airport by a travel agent who helped us change money and then sent us off in a company van for the 10-minute ride to our hotel, the Internacional Palace Hotel, which is right on Boa Viagem beach, just a couple of blocks from the Recife Palace Hotel, where the meetings will take place. We were also greeted, as was each of our fellow passengers in turn, by an extremely excited mob of about 30 teenagers wearing conical party hats, equipped with horns and noisemakers, and bearing a big yellow banner that we never did manage to read (it was edgewise to us, and not held straight enough to reveal all the words). They were awaiting, eagerly and vociferously, someone named "Monica," and they wanted the world to know it. They could apparently see her, waiting to claim her luggage, whenever the opaque sliding exit doors were open, and they screamed and chanted her name every time, jumping up and down and waving. When the doors closed, they would quiet down a little, but every time they opened, it might be Monica, so they screamed and waved just in case. We got to watch them for several minutes while waiting for the other meiofauna people on our flight, but we never did figure out who Monica was.
By the time we reached the hotel, the rain had cleared and the sun was out. We checked in and, as we reached our room on the 12th floor, David pointed out that the somewhat battered six-foot potted cactus just outside our door bore a single huge bud. I took a closer look and said, "Whoa! That's a night-blooming Cereus! Maybe tonight's the night!"
From our room, we have views of the beach and (straight down) the hotel's swimming pool. From the hallway outside, next to the Cereus, we can see inland, but the view is dominated by the neon-bedecked "Chinatown" restaurant.
But first things first—it was lunch time, so we joined our friends and colleagues Olaf Giere and Keith Walters at the hotel's restaurant. Turns out we had missed the regular buffet lunch service, so we could get only sandwiches. David and I each had a "roast beef sandwich," which turned out to be two slices of toasted wonderbread, each topped by a small grilled steak, one of which was topped in turn by a fried egg. Lettuce, tomato, and fries on the side; saucer of little single-serve packs of ketchup, mustard, mayo, salt, and toothpicks. Pretty good, but pretty big for lunch! Shown below is the view of the pool we get on our way to the restaurant each day (note the waterfall down the back wall).
After a foray into the neighborhood for a supply of bottled water (the hotel has only small bottles, and we've been warned not to drink the local tap water), on these lovely sidewalks composed of colored stones, we settled in for a nap—we're only one time zone from home, but sleeping on an overnight flight is never very satisfactory.
Dinner was in the hotel with a group of other meiofauna people. We'd had such a large, late lunch that we skipped the buffet and ordered off the menu, a process fraught with confusion. None of use spoke Portuguese, but we had French, Spanish, and Italian covered so we managed to communicate, but we had to make clear to the server that she should give each of us a copy of the menu, then go away for a whole—her procedure was to bring one copy of the menu, hand it to the first person, wait while that person read the whole thing and ordered, then hand it to the next, etc. We're told that Recife has only recently become a tourist destination, so they're still working out the service kinks.
David had "steak Dijon," small slices of grilled steak with mustard sauce, sided with fried potato chunks and white rice; he said he couldn't taste any mustard. I ordered a gratin of noodles with crab, but they were out, so I had "spaghetti with seafood" instead—just what it sounded like: spaghetti topped with shrimp, squid, octopus chunks, and fish cubes, all in a light tomato sauce. Not bad.
Returning to our our room after dinner, we were delighted to find that, yes, the eight-inch cactus bud had burst into a huge creamy-white bloom, which had closed again this morning. Both our hotel and the meeting hotel are decorated with many such potted Cereus specimens, but we haven't seen another bud anywhere.
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