4 August 2007, Homeward bound

Written 4 August 2007

Slept in today. I had a leisurely breakfast with some of the others who've stayed on after the conference, and, yes, that pale green stuff among the breakfast fruit juices was labeled today, in Portuguese and English, and is, as I suspected, "avocado cream." Might have been good, if I weren't so allergic to avocados.

Water bottlesDavid breakfasted even later, while I packed for the trip home. I had room to pack the LSU mug, the umbrella, and some other hard-edged stuff, to leave more room (and softer surroundings) in David's suitcase for the Dewey Cat and its padding. We poured the rest of our bottled water into our small travelling bottles and counted up the empties—13 liter-and-a-half bottles since our arrival a week ago.

We checked out about 10 a.m., left our luggage at reception and took a taxi the short distance to the local megamall. Across the street from the megamall is "Hiper" the local "hypermarket" (which also has a small branch in the mall"), and signs pointed beyond to a Carrefour, the upscale French Walmart-equivalent. Good town for shopping. We spent the rest of the morning being tourists in the mall (which boasts over 400 stores), shopping (without great assiduity and entirely without success) for a replacement for David's missing Panama hat, which disappeared somewhere in the Tallahassee-Tewksbury-Houston triangle. We did spend some time in a bookstore, where David bought two books in English and I bought a sort of Sunset-style Brazilian sampler cookbook, in Portuguese. David's feet gave out after a couple of hours, but he was willing to wait on a convenient bench (wooden park-style benches were comfortable and frequent), reading one of his new books, while I checked out some of the larger stores. I was particularly interested in a frozen food store (some meat but mostly seafood, including whole prawns about 8 inches long). C&A (a French K-Mart level clothing store, of no interest, it turned out), and the mini-Hiper (which was a K-Mart in all but name; it featured, as one might expect around here, a very large selection of blenders and juicers, a wide range of beach sandals, and a whole collection of churrasco swords—wide ones, skinny ones, long, short, and three-pronged ones). Father's day is coming (at least in Brazil), and one store was pushing three-piece caipirinha kits (a glass, a little cutting board, and a pestle), with the recipe on the box (I immediately read it into my little recorder.)

Maybe we just don't visit big enough malls in the U.S., but I was impressed. The cleaners circulating with brooms and dustpans were on roller skates. In addition to the free-standing kiosks, with with three ATM's, scattered around the place, a bank lobby on the second floor had a row of about eight of them, all in use. Another kiosk had a dozen workstations connected to the Internet, available for rent (about half of them in use). Four food courts and half a dozen sit-down restaurants—some in their own rooms and some side-walk-café style, in the mall corridors. In addition to regular full-service McDonald's in some of the food courts (10.5 reals for a big mac with cheese), we countered both McDonald's and Burger-King brand kiosks selling just soft-serve ice cream. The food courts included a surprising number of extremely compact buffets, of all nationalities—buffets are extremely popular here, both the usual sort, where the food sits still and you browse through it, and the style in churrasco restaurants, where you sit still and select from the food that parades past. They were typically U-shaped: you would enter at one end, picking up a plate, tray, utensils, etc., walk two or three steps in, past several foods, turn left, walk another three steps past more food, then turn left again to pick up dessert, pay, and exit. About 10 ft square in all. One kiosk was selling take-out chocolate fondue—skewers of fruit and/or marshmallow and cups of warm chocolate for dipping.

FeijoadaRice, oranges, and kaleFinally, we repaired to the first floor and settled into the first restaurant we had encountered on entering the mall, Tio Arsenio's. I was pleased at how much of the menu I could read, but in the end, we both chose one of the daily specials—feijoada—and it was terrific! The waiters brought and poured our mineral water, then David's half bottle of Chilean cabernet sauvignon. Then one brought a large oblong serving dish piled with rice at one end and sautéed shredded kale at the other. At the boundary and around the edges were slices of pineapple and peeled orange and a deep-fried whole banana. He served each of us some of everything from that dish, then set the rest on the table. Meanwhile, another waiter brought a platter bearing two large wooden bowls full of the actual feijoada, which he ladeled half of onto our plates. In addition to the black beans, it was loaded with chunks of corned beef, smoked and unsmoked pork chine, fat slices of two kinds of sausage, and, for each of us, a thin slice of something meltingly tender (roast pork maybe). Finally they set a bowl of farofa (crunchy manioc flour) in the one empty space in the center of the table. Wow.

When I finished these first servings, I paused a moment to savor, then reached for the serving dish to get more rice (as I'd seen the guy at the next table do), but the waiter immediately rushed over to do it for me and ceremoniously served me a whole second round of everything. And the dish was so good that when I started on the seconds, it was "wow" all over again—I'd forgotten (in the course of perhaps two minutes) just how good it was! When David was ready for seconds, the waiter let him do it himself; maybe they'd gotten busier, or maybe it's a gender thing.

We took a taxi back to the hotel, and I got the luggage out of hock so that I could work on the computer. About 3 p.m., a Martur minibus pulled up outside, and other members of the conference began gathering in the lobby—the ones scheduled to leave for the airport at 3:30 p.m. About 3:15 p.m., David looked up and said, "Didn't you get all our luggage out?" I looked up, and it was gone! Aargh. I dashed out the door and into the Martur bus; sure enough, some of the other folks had piled their luggage next to ours, and the helpful Martur driver had loaded all of it aboard! I convinced him we weren't scheduled for his 3:30 p.m. run and extricated our bags. Boy would that have been inconvenient!

So now we're waiting for our Martur shuttle, which should be here any time . . .

Written 5 August 2007

. . . but wasn't. At 4:35 p.m., when our ride was 5 minutes late, David had the desk call Martur, and of course they'd forgotten all about us (and we'd paid extra for this service). They said they'd have someone there in 10 minutes, but taxis were waiting eagerly at the door, so we told them to forget it and just took a cab.

As it turns out, we need not have worried about being late. When David booked our flights, we were scheduled to leave Recife at 5 p.m. on TAM airlines (Pride of the Brazilian Sky) and to arrive in Rio three hours before our 10:55 p.m. Delta flight to Atlanta. But for a week or two before our trip, TAM kept rescheduling the flight a few minutes this way or that. By yesterday, it had been pushed all the way to 6:00 p.m., cutting our connection to just two hours. By the time we reached the airport, it was had changed to 6:15 p.m. We whiled away the time by watching the seated-massage girls, who had set up their folding massage chairs in a cluster near our gate and were doing a brisk business with guys in suits carrying briefcases.

By the time they finally let us board it was listed as 6:29. We didn't actually take off until later than that, and we reached Rio at 10:00 p.m. Things still would have been okay, except that TAM doesn't have luggage reciprocity with Delta, so we had to go through baggage claim in Rio, then recheck our bags with Delta. Our bags actually came pretty quickly, and we spent only a few minutes trying to figure out the signs directing us to Delta. Delta was in the other terminal, and two of the three moving sidewalks connecting the terminals weren't working. So we speedwalked a good long way, with all our luggage, finally arriving at the Delta check-in desk at 10:27 p.m. (simultaneously with another American couple just in from São Paulo). There we were turned away because check-in ends 30 minutes before departure time, and we'd missed it by 2 minutes. (Of all the flights in all the countries of South America, we had to be booked on the one that flew on time.)

Arguing with the gate agent did no good; she was adamant. And she wouldn't rebook us either; we would have to call Delta in the morning. In the meantime, we'd have to hike all the way back to TAM, in the other terminal, with all our luggage, to get lodging and meal vouchers, because the delay was their fault. So we hiked all the way back (uphill this time, but at least in that direction two of the moving sidewalks worked), and a small platoon of young, enthusiastic, and extremely courteous English-speaking TAM agents labored mightily for 40 minutes, by phone, fax, and internet, to rebook us all on Delta's next flight (24 hours later; Delta only flies once a day, and everyone else was booked up) and to get us vouchers for two meals and a room in the airport hotel (and not just overnight—the room is ours until our flight takes off, so we get to keep it all day and check out only in time to catch our late-night flight).

One of the agents even guided us personally to the hotel (all the way back to the other terminal again, then up three floors, then along about half a mile of corridors, through a shopping mall, to the Luxor Airport Rio). The hotel people are extremely nice and even gave me 20 min of complimentary high-speed internet so that I could e-mail our offices that we'd be late getting back to Tallahassee. Like the hotel in Recife, this one has fine, capacious shower facilities with unimpeachable water-containment arrangements. The only odd thing about this one is that it took me a minute to figure out where the water would come out! Finally, I spotted it, a nine-inch perforated disk set in the ceiling, facing straight down. Odd, but not bad at all.

The hotel's restaurant (where our vouchers were good) was closed, but it was midnight anyway, so we turned down their offer of cold sandwiches and went out to the concourse for a snack. David got a meat empanada (pastry turnover), and I got a four-cheese folheado (puff-pastry turnover), and we stocked up on water.

So here we are, still homeward bound . . . .

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