"Brazil 2001" story # 15

Belem, Para           May 25, 2001

I've finally found where I want to live. In a sumaumeira. That's an Amazonian tree. It's huge and very comely. It has a sandy, thick trunk with round, man-sized, feathered leaves. Bare branches spiral out at about sixty feet up. The feathered leaves don't begin again until the very top, where they're smaller but there are hundreds of them. When you look up at mid-day, it resembls a shiny green kaleidoscope.
     It's not so bad. The neighbors bring me their extra bananas. If anyone wants to write me, my address is: Shady Acres Housing, Branch 6, Twig B, Leaf 206, Belém, Pará, Brazil.
     Ha, ha. I'm just yarning ya'! I'm not really living in a tree. It's just my dream.
     But, I saw this nice tree and others at na Amazonian zoo in town, called Museu Emilio Goeldes. There were many cool animals of the Brazilian North on display.
     In addition, the Brazilian North also has some strange new foods.
     In addition, many leisure activities were invented here. This includes the game, "Food or Animal?" which I just invented, and we're going to play now. Don't get excited; it's not fun.
     When I give the Portuguese name of something I've seen here, you guess what it is. See? It's not at all fun. In addition, I'll rate the foods (based on a 1-10 scale, with 10 signifying that I'd shove the food in my ears if I could). The animals' ratings will be based on how willing I'd be to mate if I was one of them (a 1 signifies na equal willingness as Roseanne Barr's husband would have).
     Ready? Here we go ...
     SORVETE DE CEREJA - Food. It's ice cream made from the cereja fruit, which is purple and grape-tasting with plum-like chunks. (10)
     PIRARUCU - Animal. It's a thick, four-foot fish with dark blue scales that turn red in back. Its name comes from two Brazilian Indian words which I'll try to remember and translate into Portuguese, then English for you (which means I'll make a wild guess). The name, I'm gonna say, means: "fish." Or something. (9)
     TACACÁ - Food. Vendors sell this on every sidewalk in Belém, including in stalls at the fish-smelling, riverside market called Ver-do-Peso. Along with food, you can find anything you want for cheap from these vendors: Duracell batteries for 37 cents/piece, walkmans for $8, or cameras (my new one cost $11). Tacacá, a brothy soup that includes a clear blob of goo, can cost a quarter. It's not worth much more; it feels like someone slipped a jellyfish in your soup. (2.5)
     VATAPÁ - Food. It's a yellow, gravy-like mush eaten with rice. Like tacacá, it's made with shrimp. Poor, unfortunate, defenseless, happy, skipping shrimp. I normally don't eat seafood, because I feel sorry to eat things I snorkel with. But, before I knew vatabá was a shrimp massacre, I liked it. (7)
     CAUAUÁ - Animal. It's a tall, white bird with puke-colored droops beneath its eyes. It gets bonus points for having five straight vowels in its name. (4)
     PORAQUE - This is a tricky one. Sounds like "pork" ... but, no, it's an animal! This animal is a sleek, greenish-gray, freshwater electric eel. Better not try to eat it! (7.5)
     ARIRANHA - Animal. The Amazon apparently is home to the biggest, laziest otters around. This animal reminded me of my college roommate. It flopped around on a log on its back. Even though, I'm going to give the ariranha a high rating, it shouldn't reflect whatsoever on how mate-able I found my roommate to be. (9.5)
     SORVETE DE BACURI - Food. I don't remember what this fruit-flavor tasted like. For god's sake, it's hard enough remembering these dang names. But, it was ice cream, so it gets at least: (9)
     ARARA - "Arara!" said the parrot. If you said "animal," you hit it in right on the beak. These big parrots came in two pretty types: one blue with a yellow belly; one with a red head, yellow neck, green back, blue butt, and red tail. The bird and I played another game of the Brazilian North called "Arara." We took turns saying, "Arara." Those birds cracked me up. Sometimes, they said it super-quick, sometimes as if they were gargling water, sometimes as if it was a question, and sometimes slow like it was their dying breath. (6)
     CAUAUÁ - Animal (again). I just like to say that name. Cah-oo-ah-oo-AH. Heck, I'll give it an extra half-point. (4.5)
     MANIÇOBA - I'm not sure which this was. I ate it - that I know. It came with rice, and it looked like mud. Supposedly, it takes a week to prepare and is a stew that includes pork, bacon, and calves' hooves. However, it tasted to me like half-ingested cud taken from a cow's stomach. (2)
     PIRANHA - Animal, though you can also eat it. It's one ugly sucker, but you have to respect something that can kill you. (7)
     JACARÉ - Animal. This is the Amazon's crocodilian, a caiman that reaches eight feet. The zoo's archaeological section claimed that a giant jacaré used to live in the forest's rivers. The section even displayed an old skull that was four feet long and a foot and a half tall, and that was just it's jaws! I REALLY would respect something like that. (9)
     AÇAI - Food. This is a time-consuming soup-like desert made from the deep purple açai fruit. You slurp it from a spoon with tiny, tiny specks of corn. It's cold, but it has little taste. (4)
     SORVETE DE AÇAI - Wow! This ice cream was incredible. I'd shove it up my nostrils if I had to. The ice cream was as thick as paint and packed with the taste of a bushel of blackberries. (10)
     ONÇA PINTADA - Animal. This is a painted leopard, grayish with hollow brown spots. It's considered the prize of the rainforest. (8)
     ONÇA-PREGA - The black panther. Its shiny black coat was as alluring as Suyane. I considered bestiality. (10)
     BUFFALO - Here's an easy one. This is the only animal of the bunch I saw in the wild. It doesn't live in the rainforest; it roams the swampy plains of the Ilha do Marajó, a huge island at the mouth of the Amazon river. I voyaged to the island for a few days from Belém.
     The buffalos (specifically, water buffalos) were brought to the island from India. I saw them first on a ranch on the island, where a herd was grazing on a mud-surrounded plain in front of a bare, white-treed forest. The massive, black buffalos sunk to their knees with each step they took. Their straight horns perked up at the ends, and their bodies had been covered in hardened mud. Flecks of hair hung over their eyes, making them look cute. Amidst the buffalos, a flock of white birds rested. The scene looked like a green Africa. (8)
     BIFE-STEK - Food. Even though I observed a meat-processing, buffalo-killing plant, I didn't feel sorry for their deaths after I tasted them. For $2, my hotel's owner brought me three slim, tender steaks, with an egg, bits of fried potato, beans, and a pot of rice. This meal, eaten all mixed up, gets one of the highest ratings a member of its food group can receive. (Reminder, the four food groups are: the pizza group, shakes and ice creams, cereal, and the less-important öther"). (8)
     COBRA - Animal. I only saw one at the Museu Emilio Goeldes, but the Ilha do Marajó was reportedly full of them. Big ones, even: large boa constrictors.
     Man, did I want to see one in the wild. I wandered about the island every day. I passed through river beaches where the other side was unseeable. Every day, I took off my shirt and sandals and went climbing through the mud and maze-like roots of the island's forests. But, no matter how many six-foot tall roots I climbed over and under and in-between (the trees sit well above the ground here, due to the fact that the water level fluctuates eighteen feet between seasons) and no matter how muddy and disgusting I got, I never found my boa.
     I only got myself lost. One time, I had not idea where I'd entered the forest. The only exit I could climb to was a brown river. I had to swim for about five minutes in it to another beach, thinking all the way about the area's piranhas and giant jacarés. (7.5)
     CARIMBÓ - Leisure activity. This is neither food nor animal. Ha, ha, I slipped that one right by you.
     I accepted a date invitation yesterday. When I met up with the girl (three years younger than me), she was quite excited. She spoke a mile a minute, making it the quickest Portuguese I've had to understand.
     It worked out, though, and we danced the local carimbó. The music is fast and drum-involved. We danced, apart, by placing our right food in front, tapping it twice, placing it behind, tapping it twice, and so on. It was pretty fun, and once you get the hang of it you can lead with your left-foot steps and twist around, rocking your body to the beat. (8)
     And so, that concludes our game for the day. I'm your host, Modern Oddyseus, saying, "Join us next time, for a not-so-fun game of ..."

Food or animal?
What's it gonna be!?
Sapo, Uxí, Peixe-boi, ararajube,
Is it food?
Is it animal?
I don't know!
But, I'm gonna play!
La-dee-da, la-dee-da-dee,
Cah-oo-ah-oo-AH, Sorvete de açai!
La-dee-da, la-dee-da-da,
La-dee, la-dee-da ...

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