30 July 2007, Let the meetings begin!

Written 30 July 2007

Today, the meetings actually began. After another buffet breakfast (featuring, instead of the polenta, a sort of cinnamon tapioca pudding), we walked over to the Recife Palace Hotel for the first session of talks. I brought along a copy of my cookbook (Hit the Kitchen Running When You Have No Time to Plan) to contribute to the raffle benefiting the Svedmark fund (the fund that sponsors travel to the meiofauna meetings by students who otherwise couldn't afford to come), and bought seven raffle tickets. I also took the opportunity to look over the various items to be raffled off. Like everyone else, I covet the beautiful ceramic cat contributed by Bill Hummon, senior society member in attendance, but many other worthwhile items are on offer, including several colorful t-shirts from various institutions and a number of small souvenirs. The item most frequently contributed in the past was a six-pack of one's local beer, but alas the new rules that restrict carrying liquids onto airplanes have eliminated that possibility. The locals could still contribute beer, of course, but no one from outside the country who won it could take it home!

Lunch dessertsThe organizers were able to arrange with the hotel for a discount on its buffet lunch, so David and I took advantage. The spread was rather similar to the one in our hotel—to be expected because the two are part of the same chain. This is a slightlier pricier establishment, though, so a few additional items were available, including boiled eggs in a tasty sauce, fish in a "seafood sauce" that turned out to be a perfectly good seafood stew in its own right, and an excellent salad of cooked eggplant with raisins and capers.

After lunch, David and I strolled out onto the third-floor terrace by the swimming pool and leaned into the stiff on-shore breeze to watch activity on the beach. The wind has been blowing more or less steadily for the last couple of days, literally howls around our balcony all night, and is apparently normal this time of the year. I'm impressed with the ability of the locals to anchor their beach umbrellas, whose edges whip steadily in the wind but which never seem to blow away or even tip over.

We're told that the locals spend every possible minute on the beach. The work day doesn't end until 6 or 6:30 p.m., and dark falls (quite suddenly this close to the equator) soon after, so the residents of the Boa Viagem area are famous for being early risers, out on the beach before 7 a.m. Tanning is still a popular activity, though no one seems to sunbathe; they just spend a lot of time out in the sun wearing an absolute minimum of clothing. After a few minutes' observation from our balcony this morning before breakfast, David pronounced the standard of four-on-four beach volleyball to be quite high.

Coconut standCoconut phone boothAll along the beach are little tiki bars that feature, along with other snacks and drinks, whole green coconuts in the husk. The bar keepers whack slices off the sides and ends of the coconuts with a machete so that they can be stacked n the bar. When you order one, they stand it upright, deftly chop down on it three times with the machete, lift out the resulting triangular plug, and stick in a straw, through which you sip the liquid and jelly inside. A telephone booth outside our hotel is in the shape of a giant green coconut with a big straw sticking out the top! (I'm shown here standing next to it, hiding the post that holds it up and grinning a little too hard because David took so long to line up the shot.) I haven't had a chance to try one yet.

I have had a chance to try several "exotic" fruit juices, which are offered at breakfast and at the coffee breaks during the meeting. Today, I've tried "acerola" (Malpighia punicifolia, a congener of crepe myrtle!) juice (strawberry red, not very sweet, with almost a vegetable overtone), "mangaba" (Hancornia speciosa, Apocynaceae; greenish-white, tasting like slightly alcoholic apple cider), and "graviola" (Annona muricata, also called "soursop" or "guanabana"; the best, like thick pear juice with a slight passion-fruit flavor). At the coffee breaks, together with the fruit juices and the usual coffee and tea, we get a selection of finger sandwiches (the salami and cream cheese combo is excellent), slices of cake, diced tropical fruit salad, and sweet and savory cookies (I really like the cheese shortbread).

Written 31 July 2007

CaipirinhaAfter the last paper was given, we adjourned to the bar for rounds of caipirinhas until time for the executive-committee meeting. The executives then went off to their meeting, some others went off to a local pub to listen to music, and we went upstairs to try the meeting hotel's Italian restaurant.

Lamb with pastaWe arrived at 7 p.m. and were the only people in the room. By the time we left at 9 p.m., two other individual customers had arrived—apparently Monday is not a big restaurant night around here; few restaurants are open, and few people visit those that are. David ordered lamb with noodles and got a large plate of grilled chunks of lamb in a red-wine sauce, topped by a twirl of excellent noodles, probably house-made. I ordered gratin of dried salt cod—a good way, I thought, to try local specialities even though we were in an Italian restarant. The gratin took the form of a cod, potatoes, onions, and peppers in a cream sauce, spread in a shallow ceramic dish, covered with thin slices of tomato, sprinkled with cheese, and browned in the oven until blazing hot. Excellent. For dessert, we split a serving of grilled bananas in syrup with vanilla ice cream.

Throughout dinner, we enjoyed the view from the third-floor restaurant of the ever-changing beach scene across the street. A steady stream of joggers passed by, and any number of people arrived, presumably after work, parked, did their stretching routines, and set off on their jog. The nearest coconut stand sold a few coconuts and, when the stack on the bar was down to about six, one of the proprietors set about squaring off a new supply—apparently for the morning trade, as they closed up shortly thereafter. When he'd finished, he dragged a huge bin of husk shards to the nearest dumpster, hoisted it onto a bench, then up onto his shoulder to dump it.

After dinner, we walked up and down the beachfront walk for a few minutes. Families pulled to the curb so that the children could run up and down the darkened beach for a while; matrons strolled in pairs and trios; couples smooched, leaning on the stone wall at the top edge of the beach. Large signs warned swimmers, in Portuguese and English, that the local danger of shark attack is "higher than average"; word is, you're pretty much okay if you stay between the the reef line and the beach. We turned out to have timed it well; just as we arrived back at our hotel and took this shot of its coconut-shaped telephone booth, the rain started.

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