Cities and associations: Ceará, Brasil

2022-08-30 @Travel

Somewhere I heard of Belém referred to as the Brazilian Marselle; Manaus, the Paris of the Amazons. And though unfamiliar with French soil but through the lens of a poorly translated French romance or two, I can accept the comparisons, or at least the former. Letting imagination stray a bit. Stray like a demented vermin.

Azevedo’s novel refers to São Luis as Atenas Maranhense (Athens of Maranhão). Not sure of the 19th-century São Luis, but it’s a tough sell: perhaps the nighttime São Luis, come the São João celebrations, enter the clergy, the processions, the smoke, the fireworks, the chants.

And still the old town me quicker reminds of some abandoned tenement district of Rome. But what do I know save for Shakespeare’s Italian comedies, Dante and dismally translated Boccaccio … Oh, and Piranessi’s vertiginous engravings.

In the state of Ceará, I’ve only crossed two cities deep in the interior close to the border with Pernambuco: Crato and Juazeiro do Norte, both situated side-by-side, connected by a city bus line.

The former, by a similar exercise of ill faculty of imagination, reminds me best of a Southeast Asian, or rather a mid-size Thai village. Why? Due to the sheer phenomenon of the exotic elevations encountered.

Exotic, because for one, not just the high-slope residences but the entire mountain range surrounding the region looks plain phenomenal. Two, in contrast to the often encountered dichotomies: the financially sound occupying the nether regions, the favelas further up: here the dichotomy seems less transparent.

The sky cloudless, the mid-afternoon sun fully engaged; a rank polluted narrow river crosscutting and separating the center district from the suddenly imposing ascension up the slopes, the incredibly tall, looming, inviting step staircase, the Baroque canopy of the Seminary building just sufficiently discernible to allure the trek: I can conceive of few tectonic phenomena more Siamese, that element alone (and the favourable accommodation) inspiring me to remain in town an entire week, however scarce the traditionally so called things to do. And still, the state park (of Fundão) in very close proximity to the center, the hikes, the waterfalls, the select artsy establishments spread throughout town (though the primary museum long inoperable) … charmed.

Less disposed towards Juazeiro do Norte, I remained an arbitrarily brief duration of two days. Much of the town tourism concerns Padre Cicero, the ecclesiastic figure integral to the town history. A number of churches, capellas, cathedrals also left an impression, in particular 1) Santuario São Francisco das Chagas and 2) Santuario do Sagrado Coração de Jesus.

The town highlight embodies the gigantic statue of Padre Cicero looming in the distant heights beyond the town center. One can harness a teleferical vessel from the center for the purpose. But since I don’t inherently care for the vista in itself, not one bit, (per the case of the world-famous Cristo figure in Rio de Janeiro), my appreciation stems as a sort of trophy for having undertaken the hike on foot - engaged the physical effort, which I did in the said case, one-hour each way along the picturesque residential slopes. Then awaits a conglomerate of tourists and cell-phone photography, an appropriate queue not to linger beyond several minutes and seek fuga in any conceivable direction.

That done, the travel fibers stretched thin but still somewhat functional, I cross into Serra Talhada, Pernambuco. TBC.

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