Recife, retrospective travel notes

2022-10-31 @Travel

Let’s resume my week and a half in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco and the easternmost protruding major city of the NE region of Brazil.

Before we venture into the city proper, let’s briefly appreciate the strikingly photogenic bus terminal: not the interior, but the heavy, apocalyptically semblant verdure surrounding, or better yet, enshrouding the otherwise utilitarian establishment and deserving an honourable mention.

Beyond the coach bus transport, the terminal opens to the city metro (which, albeit painfully slow, even connects with the airport) as well as the local urban bus system. Either way you can inexpensively arrive to the city proper within half an hour.

I lodged at and explored almost exclusively the northern city regions (ie Boa Vista, Santo Antônio, Recife Antigo); nothing of Boa Viagem, the posh beach area.

Recife served as an integral and highly contested port in the early development of the nation, initiating in the region known today as Recife Antigo - an island two bridge crossings separated from the Boa Vista part of the mainland.

Though abounding in the oldest (and decrepidest) of city architecture, it also packs heavy tourist infrastructure: the Ground Zero point - Praça de Marco Zero, cultural centers, museums (including the military), some puppet theatre in a questionable state of operability and a boat thoroughfare to a yet another island: the statue island.

Within Recife Antigo we likewise find the first synagogue of not only Brazil but the entire Americas - Sinagoga Kahal Zur Israel, whose magnificence I regretfully only appreciated from the outside, never present during operating hours.

Beyond Caixa Cultural featuring a few curious modern expositions (including one titled Barroca Sertaneja - Country Baroque?), I effectively limited my explorations to strictly the outside zones.

Another old and photogenic part of the city is the island/isthmus of Santo Antônio, one bridge crossing from the mainland. During my aimless perambulations of mainly external emphasis, I explored Casa da Cultura, an ancient prison renovated to a commercial and artistic end. Charmed.

Of greater interest I found the Museu da Cidade or Forte das Cinco Pontos - integral circa the few decades of the 17th-century Dutch settlement prior to the later capitalization to the Portuguese.

Among the art expositions we find a series of Dutch engravings in their full glory (contrary to the customary 8' tablet display), both the portraits and the panoramas, some by Frans Post, the first European landscape artist to capture the country.

While on the subject, Museu do Estado de Pernambuco (of modern art) is a sensation: the large scale surreal paintings of Cicero Dias, the xilogravuras of Zemon Barreto, José Borges, Gilvan Samico and such ranks: my energy nearly depleted from the overstimulation. The smaller Museu Murillo La Greca, in contrast, houses a small exposition which of me demanded but twenty minutes of focus.

A potentially worthwhile stop is the botanical garden: perhaps a bit modest in contrast to many others of the kind, although closed for maintenance a handful of exhibits. The pickled fetuses deserve another honourable mention. Fairly distant from the center, pack some patience if arriving by city bus.

As far as the center, beyond the usual staples of commerce, street markets, outdoor eateries, barber and shoe repair shops: Parque 13 de Maio I much frequented for the outdoor exercise equipment and a glimpse at the (partially incarcerated) animals of the mini zoo.

Plenty of interesting architecture likewise abounds to the likes of the colorful ancient masonry by the river edge dividing the mainland from the islands: the old theatre building in particular.

Of strictly personal interest is the Clarice Lispector (the Ukrainian born Brazilian author) statue stoically erected dead center of the Praça Maciel Pinheiro, invaded and soiled by a betallion of doves: a triste sight.

Last but not least, a half-hour bus ride takes us to the adjacent small folkloric town Olinda, the contours of which I rather superficially perambulated one rainy afternoon. A more invested writer could probably dedicate an entire essay to this exponent alone. But in hindsight, it left a weaker impression next to other folkloric towns of the spirit.

There you have it. Recife: not strictly among the favourites of major Brazilian capitals, but a fair contender and representative of the Northeastern tenderness.

Questions, comments? Connect.