By Ernest Barteldes
As I told you on the first part of this travel series, for us Fortaleza is mostly about relaxing and spending time with friends and family, so I am not going to bore you with endless details about get-togethers and reminiscing with former co-workers from IBEU, the binational language institution I worked at for almost a decade.
After all, the visit was not just about that but also about music and culture – even if the latter was a bit of an unexpected surprise that we ran into while shopping in downtown Fortaleza, where we always head to during our visits to get artisanal products.
When we arrived in Fortaleza we proceeded to make plans for the next few days. We got in touch with a former bandmate and found out that 14-Bis – a band from the state of Minas Gerais that collaborated many times with Milton Nascimento – was playing that weekend. We immediately made plans to purchase tickets and meet up.
The concert was at Centro Dragao do Mar de Arte e Cultura, a multimedia venue that features a major concert stage, two movie theaters, a planetarium, a library, an art gallery and numerous restaurants where other performances also take place throughout the year. It is a place that we always visit and enjoy going back to – its construction in 1999 transformed an old, run-down commercial area (it was once also a red-light district) into something truly beautiful.
14-Bis was in great shape – they concentrated on their 80s and 90s hits when co-founder Flavio Venturini was still in the band, and had great response from the audience and a favorable review from yours truly.
The next morning we set our sights on the beach, and spent some time at our favorite Praia do Futuro beachfront restaurant, Chico do Caranguejo,On the way back, we witnessed a city bus run over a small dog. The poor thing was clearly suffering as its guts spilled on the ground – a sickening sight. We chased after the bus until I was close enough to take a picture of the vehicle with my phone. I tweeted the shot to various papers and radio stations in town, but there was no response – I guess folks there are not as sensitive to these things as they are in the US.
In the evening we headed to Aterro Praia do Iracema to catch a concert we’d been planning to attend even before we got to Fortaleza – singer Ivete Sangalo joined forces with rapper Criolo for a series of free concerts in tribute to Tim Maia, the late singer-songwriter whose work has enjoyed quite a rediscovery since his untimely death almost two decades ago.
The concerts – which are part of a national tour – were sponsored by Nivea, the multinational skin care corporation. Sangalo and Criolo played many of Maia’s best-known tunes and also a few obscure ones, including “Depois,” which was recently covered by Marisa Monte. Sangalo is quite comfortable with Maia’s material, since she includes several of his tunes on her regular live appearances. Criolo also did a very good job and also talked about his Fortaleza roots (his mom was reportedly in attendance). I was planning to write a proper review of that show, but it was just impossible to take notes in the middle of a crowd of thousands.
Another highlight of the trip was when a classmate from my college years drove us to Centro das Tapioqueiras, an artisanal center in the district of Messejana that serves traditional dishes – mostly tapioca (no relation to the drink of the same name) – they serve it stuffed with meat, chicken or shrimp – think of a stuffed pancake made with regional ingredients. There Renata fell in love with a kitten that fell into her graces, and if it weren’t for the bureaucracy we might have brought her back as a companion for our own cat, Sparky,
Fortaleza’s Central Market, like Mercado Modelo in Salvador, is the place to go for artisan goods ranging from clothing to souvenirs. It has three floors with several boxes, and it’s a great place to find a good bargain – if you know how to haggle. Around the market are several other shops that sell inexpensive clothing, kitchen tools and the like – we always make a stop there when in town,.
As we strolled through downtown Fortaleza we stopped at the central post office to get a few stamps (Renata is big about sending postcards) and stumbled into a touching photo exhibit called “In My Country, My Sexuality is A Crime,” which depicts many gay men from countries like Ghana, Jamaica, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia who suffer with anti-gay laws and also prejudice. I wrote more extensively on my Music Whatever blog, but I must say that it was a testament of how far we’ve come but also how things have stayed the same in less enlightened nations.
It was great to be in Fortaleza again after a four-year absence. It was a great chance to just relax, hear some great music, see many who we have missed and welcome new additions to the family that were not around during our last visit.