On my very first trip to Brazil, in June of 1992, I picked up a Brazilian newspaper in the plane, even though to the best of my knowledge I couldn't read a word of Portuguese. But it turned out that with my background in French and the Esperanto-y-ness of Portuguese, I could read a good many words. But mainly I was just glancing at the ads, which were easy to figure out given the visual aids. And it was there I learned that Mark and I were arriving in Brazil on June 12th, the Dia dos Namorados, Brazil's St. Valentine's Day. Most countries around the world celebrate St. Valentine's Day on February 14th. There's a partial exception in some double-dosing Asian countries, where the women give gifts to the men on February 14th but the men don't return the favor until March 14th. As for Brazil, Brazil adopted June 12th for two reasons. First, February 14th is way too close to Carnaval, a time during which people have other things on their minds. Second, June 12th is one day before Santo Antônio's Day, and Santo Antônio is the casamenteiro saint, the matchmaker. Traditionally, many single women pray to Santo Antônio and perform a variety of rituals, or simpatias do amor, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend.
So there we were, arriving in Rio amidst all the same St. Valentine's Day hype we get in the States. The airport stores were piled high with boxes of chocolates, bouquets of flowers were set out for sale everywhere, there were jewelry promotions, perfume promotions, and plastered on the walls were ads for all the "special packages" being offered in hotels around Brazil. Though I would have liked to have stayed in Rio for a few days, Mark was in Brazil to write a series of articles for the tourism promotion people from the State of Bahia. We were not our own masters. From Rio we immediately caught a connecting flight to Salvador, and from there the fine people of Bahiatursa swept us away to a resort hotel they wanted us to know in Praia do Forte about an hour up the coast to the north. Mark didn't particularly mind being whisked away right off the plane to an isolated resort hotel. He'd been in Brazil a good many times previously. But for me it was a strange first entry into the country. I'd caught a teasing glimpse of Guanabara Bay as we landed at Rio International Airport, but next thing I knew I was plopped down in a place I'd never heard of in the middle of nowhere. A resort hotel on the weekend of the Dia dos Namorados, mind you, full to the brim with young couples in the flush of new love and out for a romantic weekend.
Romantic, did I say? Back then, my idea of Valentine's Day, whatever name it happened to be masquerading under and whatever the date, ran kind of along the lines of a white tablecloth, a candlelight dinner and then maybe a hand-in-hand stroll along the Brooklyn Heights esplanade with the lights of Manhattan twinkling off in the distance. The Dia dos Namorados weekend at the Praia do Forte Resort Hotel turned out to be more like a trip back in time to summer camp. Brazilians, at least some of them, have a very eco-outdoorsy, pathfinder side, and, reluctant good sports that we were, we valiantly joined the young folks on the first of their two days of vigorous nature walks. We admired views and listened to the guide's blahblahblah. (Mark listened, I nursed my various insect bites.) We trudged through (probably snake-infested) forest. We waded through streams over slippery rocks. Returning to the hotel in the van, I complained to Mark about what all this forced activity was doing to my back. Well, surprise surprise, these "kids" we were out with all understood my English, many of them owned up to being medical students, they had all kinds of advice for me. Back at the hotel two of the girls insisted on giving me a rubdown, and how do you refuse Brazilians when they're so Brazilian-ly outgoing and accommodating and nice?
Nowadays, Mark and I have gone back to observing the Dia dos Namorados in a more conventional way. This is Búzios, after all. We have restaurants with white tablecloths here. Lots of them. For after-dinner strolling purposes we have our glorious Orla Bardot, bobbing fishing boats on moonlit water and — in the distance — the lights of Barra de São João, the town across the bay. No way the Dia dos Namorados ever passes, though, but that I remember my first peculiar one in Brazil with all those energetic medical students. By now, they must all be in mid-career.