The southern hemisphere may not make toilets flush counter-clockwise, but it does make seasons all topsy-turvy. So for the past three* months, I’ve been dealing with winter.
I didn’t think winter would be that bad here. Before I came I saw that the average daily low was only 46°F while the average high was 63°F. I come from New Jersey, where those figures are 16°F and 36°F, so I thought I could handle it. But the thing no one told me is that the buildings here don’t have indoor heating.
It’s one thing when it’s 50° outside, and you walk from your warm house to your warm car to your warm office. But it’s another thing when its 50° outside, and it’s also 50° inside, and your two options for warmth are a hot shower or a pile of blankets. To be honest, I got lucky; our apartment gets a lot of sun and was always relatively warm. But still, there was more than one time when I would sit on the couch and be able to see my breath.
(I don’t want to exaggerate—there were offices at UCS that had heaters, and some restaurants/stores were warm enough. But the fact remains that the majority of architecture here isn’t different from the architecture in the rest of the Brazil, which isn’t set up to handle these sort of temperatures.)
Regardless, there were some ways we kept warm: with holidays!
*I recognize that winter officially runs from like the third week of June to the third week of September, but the cold weather in Caxias seems to run from late May to late August, so that’s the definition I’m working with.
May 26 is the Feast of Our Lady of Caravaggio, which marks a Marian apparition in Italy that was super important to the immigrants who settled here. Known simply as Caravaggio, it’s literally just a holiday in Caxias and the surrounding towns. Caravaggio is celebrated by making a pilgrimage to the Santuário Nossa Senhora do Caravaggio, a church just outside the next city over. Typically, this pilgrimage is done on foot. So I joined my host mom and program coordinator in walking the 12+ miles from our apartment to the church.
Caravaggio is a whole ordeal. There are signs on the roads leading out of Caxias instructing drivers to watch for pilgrims in the street, and an entire lane was coned off for us once we got on the highway. We’d started later in the morning, but there were still many other people walking in the same direction. We also ran into some people going the other way, who’d gotten an early start and were now returning to Caxias.
The pilgrimage got a lot more interesting once we turned off the highway. We passed some checkpoints where volunteers were handing out free refreshments, but otherwise we were walking through some quiet country roads. We passed pastures and vineyards and rolling valleys dotted with little cottages and changing leaves. I know this isn’t what springs to mind when you think of Brazil, but I still think it’s super beautiful.
The closer we got to the Santuário, the busier and more defined the path became. The last five kilometers even featured signs counting down the distance to our destination. We all got there in the end, but it was a little anticlimactic—crowds prevented us from getting anywhere near close enough to the church to tell what was going on inside, and because it had taken us so long to arrive, we needed to get back to Caxias so my program manager could meet someone. In the end, we got some salchipão (sausage bread), I chatted with a student I ran into, and we took a shuttle bus back to Caxias.
Pioneiro reported that 145,000 people passed through the Santuário during the weekend, over two-thirds of them on Saturday. Some people took it super seriously—I spotted someone walking barefoot, and Elaine said sometimes people will do (at least part of) the pilgrimage on their hands on needs. For my part, I was wearing hiking boots that somehow blackened the nail on my big toe—so I’m guessing I’ll also be doing my penance before too long.
Occasionally I’m stumble across something in Brazil that I can’t imagine ever happening in the US. Festa Junina is one of those things.
Festa Junina literally means “June party,” and it refers to a group of popular saints whose feast days all fall in June. There are Festa Junina parties all throughout June, and for some reason I have yet to discern, they’re celebrations of rural life—which sometimes means purposefully pretending to be stereotypical rednecks.
I experienced three different Festa Juninas. The first was at UCS, where a student organization handed out little baggies of peanuts and popcorn (traditional Festa Junina fare) as well as cups of quentão, basically mulled wine. They also had a table where you could write little love notes (another typical Festa Junina thing), but honestly I was more interested in the food.
My second Festa Junina was at Caxias’s cultural center, and according to my host mom, not traditional at all. Save for some people wandering around in plaid, it didn’t seem that different from any other fair.
My third Festa Junina was hosted by Fulbright one night during the Mid-Year Enhancement Seminar, and it was disconcerting. Staff costumes included unibrows and blacked-out teeth, and there was some sort of cross-dressing Festa Junina duo that was going around pointing their (fake but not evidently so) rifle at people. I think the costume was some sort of shotgun wedding joke, but it just made me sort of uncomfortable. I don’t think you’d see this sort of insensitivity outside of a frat party in the US.
Of course, the easiest way to stay warm is to just get out of Caxias in the first place—and UCS’s winter break, or feriados, were the perfect time for us to do that.
I intentionally chose Caxias in part because of its temperature, but I have to say, I’m maybe ready for a little bit of warmth.