My boyfriend and I recently spent almost two weeks traveling along the coast of Brazil, making stops in São Paulo, Paraty and Rio de Janeiro before visiting friends in Ubatuba. Along the way, we enjoyed a small cross section of the scenery, culture, and food of the South American country, including a dinner at
Caminho do Ouro, an intimate mãe-and-pai restaurant that served some of the most delicious seafood and risotto I have ever encountered. To our surprise, the only other diner at the restaurant spoke fluent English thanks to his time studying art in Denver in the late 1970s. That diner and former Denverite was Aécio Sarti, a well-known painter who, along with the devoted dog waiting against the glass front door of the restaurant, calls Paraty home. Sarti shared stories about his art, his time in America, and the reason so many of the friendly stray dogs on Paraty’s streets enjoy good health and full bellies. Turns out many of the historic town’s residents feed the strays, and some even nab them for periodic visits to the town’s vets, who treat them at a discount. Sarti’s canine bodyguard had been among those ranks, but proved “too sticky” to shake according to the artist who, of course, named him “Glue.”
In my time there, I was often confronted by the two faces of Brazil, which seemed to be firmly in the first world in some respects and mired in the third in others. It’s a beautiful and resource-rich country struggling to update its infrastructure in time to take the international stage during the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics and a fast-growing economic engine where the public schools run in two shifts to combat crowding. And, while it has garnered praise from the World Bank “for progress in reducing social and economic inequality,” considering a third of the population of its two largest cities still live in favelas, it clearly has a long way to go on the path toward parity (as do most nations, including my own). But if Brazilians’ appreciation of good food, innovative art, and stray dogs are any indicator, it’s making some significant strides in that direction. Personally, I can’t wait to visit again to see just how far it’s come.