Can you take a guess where this picture is taken? You guessed a soccer field, you'd be incorrect. Where I am in this photo, this place is considered a football stadium, but more importantly, this is Estadio Urbano Caldiera. A quick google search will lead you to see that this is quite a historic place, but I'll touch more on that later. For now, I want to do my best to explain just how lucky I am to be able to get to take the picture that you're looking at today.
Let me first introduce you to my fiancé. Yes, that cute munchkin in the picture there with me didn't know it at the time, but she is my fiancé now, so I get to say what I please :) When we were about 3 months into our relationship, Gia was set to take a trip back to Brazil, where she was from. Her family came to the United States on a business venture, and to them, like many others born outside of the country, they saw the opportunity as a chance to live in the land of dreams. Even more of an opportunity, at least to Gia's parents, was the chance to have their children get an education in the States, and possibly gain employment for settling their families there. Maybe it was a long shot, but I think it was exactly what they needed as a family.
By the time those three months went by in our relationship, it had already been a year and a half since the last time she was able to see her friends and family back in Brazil. For a teenage girl, that's one hell of a task. She booked the trip before we were even a thing, so I couldn't be upset about any part of it, but of course it was going to be tough on us. The wonderful girl that she is made it so much easier on my side. Though she was gone for over two weeks, we kept in touch through social media apps, texting, and lots of facetime. Through that lens, I was able to gain a small insight into the wonderous far away place that was Brazilian Culture.
I got to see friends, family, and places that I had only heard about in stories and on the internet. To me, it seemed as though I was only a thirteen hour plane ride away from my other half. That piece of my future wife that I never lived through. I wanted to go so badly, worse than that feeling as a kid when that new toy comes out and you wanna beat your friends to the shop to get one. I was only nineteen at the time, and just began working full time for my pops with the family business. I had a little bit of cash, but to think about a trip like that off the cuff, that was a ways out of my comfort zone for the time.
So when she came back, stories were shared, and the dinners at her family home for the next few weeks were full of memories and old stories. It brought me back to my old Assante family gatherings, on Christmas or another big celebration, and the whole experience made me miss the reminiscing of my Grandpa, or the combination of my uncles once they've thrown back a glass or four. I just couldn't wait for any opportunity I could get to see what it's like to have that perspective.
I didn't have to wait long before an opportunity would show itself. Now, as an American, I am not extremely confident that me, or anyone in my family, would go out on a limb the way that Gia's parents did for me. Her father had to go back to Brazil in order to renew some documentation, so he was in a situation where he had to go for a decent amount of time, and this was all to be paid for by his company that he was employed with at the time. Generously, they offered to allow me to accompany them on the trip, and all I would have to do was cover the airfare.
Without having to do any of the thinking involved in renting cars, finding lodging, speaking the native language, and other minute things that we don't think about as Americans, I was easily able to make the decision to go down with them. Let me just be the first to tell you, if you haven't been told before, that Brazil is a very scary place. Even before we left for our adventure, my Fiancé's family prepped me with most of what I needed to know. Those original preparations seemed obvious. They were concepts like don't carry too much cash, don't walk with you're head in your phone, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. What I wasn't prepared for was the conversations that would happen once we arrived in Brazil. We came into the main airport of Sao Paolo, which is the most populated City in the country, and is also one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The traffic there was like something from a movie, one set in Manhattan where there's backed up traffic for hours on end every day of the week. Only this was real, and it was bizarre.
Motorcycles and mopeds zipped by and through the maze of traffic. They're like gnats flying into your eyeballs, and while you're trying to swat them away, they just keep coming. They come by and rip the bikes loudly through the highways and the streets, and Gia's family was constantly reminding me that these were the most likely suspects of committing a crime. And it meant nothing to them that there was thousands, if not millions of witnesses. Broad daylight scared them to a level of about zero, and they would go by any means necessary to get their prize. That's why there was door-lock buttons in the center console, and some cars even had them placed in the back seat. You were also not supposed to keep your head down too much while driving through traffic, because those thugs are always on the lookout for an unsuspecting family in the middle of traffic.
Once we reached our rented out apartment, however, things started to make their way over to the positive side. The friendliest people worked the security, and we were let in and saw our facilities. It was Brazil, so the Ad for the rental definitely pumped up the quality, but all in all, it was absolutely and functional. On top of that, it was safe, manned security 24 hours a day. To me, I didn't need one other thing in the world. Slowly, over the next week I got acclimated to the way of life in the city, and I was shown around town and was taken to plenty of childhood locals that were in most of my Fiancé's stories from when she was a kid. I got to meet lots of friends, and in time, a little bit of family. But where I started to get my most intrigue was when I began to eat the cuisine.
The food itself was of a quality that I don't think most Americans are accustomed to. I think the best comparison would be if you were to buy just about every bit of your meal from the local farmers market, from the best farmer there and had gotten every ingredient from the seasoning to the vegetation to the meat. Much like the North Jersey/NYC area, the food options were nearly unlimited. I think that had to do with the shear amount of people dwelling in the city, because with 12 million people, I just don't see how you don't have a little bit of everything. We were able to go from Japanese/Sushi style food, to a gourmet Italian dinner, and then Finish it with Brazilian deserts and ice-cream that puts most of ours to shame. There was also these places called bakeries.
So this Bakery thing was something that really made me laugh when I first began dating Gia. Her family would ask me, "Hey Sal, Do you know where we could find a bakery?" and Gia would always just cut them off saying, "They don't have stuff like that here." As an American, it felt strange to hear that, and really believe it, so I carried on laughing away and just trying to find another example every now and then that I thought would wow them. These real bakeries in Brazil, if that's even the proper way of stating what they are, are like a buffet of heaven. With Pastries and meats procured in so many different ways, changing each and every day. Courses were laid out so that you could have breakfast or lunch at any time of day, with helpings of fruits or deserts as well. If you think you have a local bakery that compares to these, I think you should take a trip to Sao Paolo.
Before I talk about what I really want to get to, a side note must be put in. I think Brazilian pizza MAY be better that any NYC or Chicago pie I've ever had. The only way to confirm or deny this information is to try for yourself.
A lot of our time spent in the last two weeks of our trip was spent seeing family and friends of Gia and her parents. Here you can see me snuggling up with her Grandpa from her father's side. This experience of meeting almost the entirety of her paternal side of the family was a blessing that I will never be able to forget. Upon catching my first good glimpse of her grandfather, I saw a face I thought I would never see again, and that was the face of my own.
I had been without grandparents for about five years at that time, and I had never really processed the grief in a good way because of the way things went so abruptly. So when I saw his face, having a very similar nose and face structure, I had a feeling of grief overcome me like no other I had felt in my lifetime. I made my way into the house we were at for the family party, and I just began to weep. Immediately, Gia rushed to be by my side and consoled me while I slowly regathered my composure. I told her what I was going through, and she stayed with me for a time. She also allowed me to rest, and while I did so on my own time, I fell so much more deeply in love.
The love that her whole family was showing to me, just by having me there, was beyond a level I had ever experienced before. Not only did they supply me with incredible food and great faces to laugh with, but each and every one of them made an effort to speak with me, and make me feel accepted as one of their own. Whether they knew a lick of English or not, I was made to feel as though I was the new family member, and they all wanted to hear my story from me. It took a lot of translation and quite a bit of time, but even the protective uncles thought that I was fantastic, and were even asking when we'd be getting married! At this point we were about 6-8 months into our relationship, so it was as funny at the time as it is looking back on it now, because of our respective ages. It may seem cliché, but I think we all knew it was the truth, even back then.
Baby Girl, I love you so much. You are my world and you make me believe in true love just by the way to are with me and how you affect everyone and everything around your. I Can't wait to make you my wife and show the world how proud I am to be by your side! And in doing so, I am so excited to reunite our families once again, much like they were on my first ever trip to Brazil with you and your Family.
To you all, I wish you a very happy Easter. And even if your day of celebration is not today, make it a day to seek the love of your family which we all so much deserve. No matter if your family is a 40 person Italian sub like mine, or it's a cat and a TV on a Sunday night, we all can use the love of those who we hold closest in our hearts and minds.