20 August 2012

Brrrrrr . . . It's Wintertime in Brazil

Même la Bardot a froid
Those of us who hail from lands with snow, ice and freezing rain — what might be called Real Winter Weather — do a great deal of eye-rolling and head-shaking when June, July and August roll around and a Brazilian tells us how cold it is outside. On July 16th, for example, the big evening news story was about how that day had been the coldest ever on record for the city of Rio, a teeth-chattering 15.5 degrees Centigrade — for those of you who live in the U.S., that's, um, 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Okay, all of you who just fell off your chairs in a fit of laughter — get a grip. It really is kind of . . . somewhat . . . a little chilly here when the thermometer hits the 50s and early 60s F (10 to 15C). Really. Especially in our rustically-built Búzios houses with no heating, no insulation, and nothing that looks remotely like weatherstripping around the windows. When the wind blows off the water straight into our very permeable house, even we two winter-hardened New Yorkers grab some extra blankets.

Now let me address my Brazilian readers, for many of whom a Currier & Ives winterscape has the same charm that a travel brochure image of beach and palm trees has for Frost Belters. What constituted cold weather when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey? Well, for one thing, the temperature had to hover around freezing, 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). It helped, too, if there were snowflakes swirling outside, and some large patches of ice to slip-slide on. Our mothers bundled us up and sent us outside to play. It was nose-reddening, eye-tearing cold, but it was exhilarating. Well, we were kids. When Mark and I moved to Brazil, we took only the most basic items of our winter clothing, figuring we'd use them when visiting colder climes. But our bodies have acclimatized to the weather patterns here, and although we don't wrap up as dramatically as the Brazilians when the thermometer "plunges," we're glad to have brought a couple of sweaters.

Red wine & a fireplace, Campos do Jordão
During the July winter school breaks, the preferred vacation spots for Brazilians are anywhere you can go to shiver, drink hot chocolate and sit in front of a roaring fire. You can do some first-class shivering up in the mountains of southeastern Brazil, in places as close to us as Novo Friburgo and Teresópolis, or virtually anywhere down in southern Brazil. A couple of years ago Mark and I decided to chill out, literally, with the Brazilians, and we headed for Campos do Jordão, a winter resort town in the mountains of neighboring São Paulo State. I don't now remember the exact temperatures, but I do know we left our coats at the hotel and made do with sweaters and scarves. We were comfortable, and happy. But the Brazilians were agasalhados like crazy, wrapped and layered and muffed and gloved in every piece of woolen clothing and outerwear they had brought for the occasion. They were happy, too. My guess is that red wine had a lot to do with everyone's happiness.

Here in Búzios, where the winter days are often in the mid- to high 20s C (75 to 80 degrees F), the nights are still chilly enough for the restaurants to run their winter "soup & wine" specials, and do a booming business, to boot. It's all very disorienting to me. How odd to have a bit of a shiver on July 4th while my fellow Americans are out there barbecuing and beaching. How strange to be experiencing cold fronts coming up from Uruguay while friends and family are enduring a brutally hot summer. I wonder if I will ever get used to winter in the tropics. It's as upside-down as Christmas in the summer.

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