Due to a course I’m taking this semester dealing with literature and the related arts (the related arts in this case being food), I’ve begun to explore my favorite memories while keeping in mind the important role that food has played in each one. Food writing is not something I had ever attempted before this class, but I’ve found that I love it as much as I love taking a bite of my mom’s perfectly cooked and juicy fried chicken. Food is something that can connect us all, and writing about it is something that can connect me to you. My time in Brazil was filled with happy surprises and some disappointments, both of which left a specific taste in my mouth. The food of Brazil was present at almost every moment of my time there, and the taste of Brazil is something I will hold close until the day arrives when I can return. I hope this story paints a vibrant image of my day with Lorenzo and leaves you well-fed
“Buckle yourself,” Lorenzo told me.
The jeep was older than I was. Thirty-one years old to be exact, Lorenzo bragged. It looked it. I climbed in and realized the seat belt was more like a roller coaster harness than the normal car seatbelt I was used to. I reached up for the harness and pulled the two connected straps from the top of the seat over my head and pushed the buckle into the clasp on the front of the seat between my legs. Here we go, I thought.
Lorenzo, in his broken English, told me what all the dashboard instruments were for. The only one that sticks in my mind today is the leveling meter.
“That say,” he pointed with his left hand and held his right hand out, palm down, and rotated it side to side,
“if we tip or not.”
“Oh,” I said. I started to freak out. “Cool.”
We stopped to fill up the tank before we headed out to the countryside. Lorenzo pumped gas into the jeep, ran inside to pay, then came back out with a 6-pack of beer. Cool, I thought, we’ll have a beer or two out in the sugar cane fields. We pulled out of the gas station, merged onto the highway, and began our excursion. I was so grateful to him for getting me out of the house. I had been in Brazil for two weeks and had yet to do anything other than watch marathons of Law & Order: SVU with Portuguese subtitles (I remain addicted to this show today). My Godmother, with whom I was staying, was busy with work and family, seemed distant and was either unwilling or unable to take me around. On my first day in Brazil she had told me to write down all the places I wanted to visit, but that was the last time we discussed any type of travel. Lorenzo, her Italian husband who spoke Italian and Portuguese but almost no English, decided to take me out for the day to see the local sugar cane fields. I had my camera, ten rolls of film, and I was buckled in and ready to go.
We rode mostly in a language-barrier induced silence, but the silence was not uncomfortable. Lorenzo concentrated on the driving while I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the breathtaking scenery of the country roads outside of Piracicaba, my birthplace and the home of my Godmother and her family. The deep greens of the fields contrasted with the rich browns of the soil and the reds, oranges, yellows, and blues of the houses which made for a plethora of eye candy along the drive. We finally got to the sugar cane fields and did Lorenzo’s version of off-roading. My eyes darted back and forth from the “please-god-don’t-let-us-tip-over meter,” the miles of sugar cane, and the occasional remains of a Macumba ritual, what Lorenzo told me was “Brazilian Black Magic.” The jeep climbed hills that looked small from far away, but which eventually made me realize how much I needed the roller coaster harness. We drove past villages nestled in the fields consisting of two or three brightly colored and small houses with chickens, dogs, donkeys, goats, horses, and pigs relaxing on the land. We waved and the farmers and their families waved back.
After a few hours of driving around, Lorenzo stopped the jeep and pulled out the four inch knife attached to his belt buckle.
“You want some sugar cane?” he asked.
“Yes!” I responded.
He jumped out of his seat, walked over to the cane stalks on my side of the jeep, and began to cut one of the stalks down, starting to saw at about shoulder level. After I struggled with the harness buckle and got out of the jeep, legs a little wobbly from the ride, I watched him saw through the cane that looked roughly two to three inches thick. He turned back to me and we stood over the hood of the jeep as he used his knife to peel off the outside rind from the cane. When all the rich green was gone, what was left was a creamy colored stringy inside. He handed it to me.
“Bite, then suck a little. It’s good,” he told me.
I did as told, and it was good. Its texture was similar to celery in its stringiness, but somehow meaty at the same time. I wasn’t able to bite any pieces off, but with each bite, I was able to suck more sweet juice from the cane. Sugar cane, straight from the fields of Brazil. My first outing in the country since I left when I was 5 years old, and I was standing in a sugar cane field with no one around for miles, next to an Italian man with a four inch knife, both of us eating fresh and sweet sugar cane straight off the stalk.
We finally reached the highway after a few more moments of “oh my god we’re tipping over and I’m going to die.” When the jeep made it back to the paved road, Lorenzo reached behind his seat and pulled out the six pack. He popped open the top of the first can and handed it to me.
“It’s okay to do this while driving?” I asked, wide eyed.
“Yes, is okay here. You can drink little, but still need to wear seat belt,” he laughed.
“Obrigada, Lorenzo,” I laughed back, thanking him in my broken but slowly returning Portuguese.
He popped the top of another beer, we clinked cans, and both took a sip. The beer was lukewarm from sitting in the jeep, but it wasn’t flat and felt cool going down my hot throat. There was something exhilarating about drinking a beer while being driven around in a 31 year old jeep by a wonderful Italian man, harnessed in, and with the taste of fresh, stringy sugar cane still in my mouth. This feeling was Brazil, and it was a good day.
--Lorenzo, March 2006, driving the 31 year old jeep through the sugar cane fields outside of Piracicaba, Brazil. (Photo by Author)