An overseas land. A small city located more than twelve hours from Sao Paulo by bus: Planalto, in Parana, the border with Argentina in South Brazil. It refers to a long-distance which would take less than two hours if travelling by aeroplane. One of the destination options would be the airport of Foz do Iguaçu, where we would arrive earlier than expected, using a ferry to cross over the Iguaçu River. However, local politicians decided to submerge the ferry to protect the local fauna and flora. For that reason, taking a bus was our best option, which would drop us off in Cascavel city, two hours away from Planalto, where the urban and the rural become closer.
Red soil, colour, and texture: contrasting with the blue sky and surrounded by green. The sun was constantly present, although it was winter. For Europeans, it seems to be summer!! Other than the surprise of its climate, a foreigner comes across blue-eyed people with red and blonde hair, making one think they are in another part of Europe.
Planalto is a young town, built by gaúchos from the Rio Grande do Sul and by European descendants of Polish, Germans and Italians: people who have gifted us their traditions and surnames. Even if someone doesn’t understand German, for example, its influence is present on many street signs at shops and offices. Planalto has a peculiar dialect – one which I nicknamed “colonês”.
Other than this fusion, Castellano’s influence and our mother tongue – a Portuguese heritage – are part of this realm of varieties. Some native people – especially those who live in rural areas – make grammar diversions from the official Portuguese grammar, transforming it into a particular style and one of the cultural richness belonging to Brazil. Grandma Vanda, for instance, of Polish descendency, has spoken Polish since she was a child, but it is not the same Polish which can be heard in Poland nowadays, since the lady mixed it to the Portuguese language. Beyond that, the Polish language doesn’t have definite articles; she says “o menina” (the girl) and “a menino” (the boy), which are incorrect. The rich linguistic variations in Brazil influenced by immigrants become evident.
Planalto has Paraguay, and Argentina as its neighbours, also receiving cultural-linguistic influences from these nations. Just as Castellano, guarani is an official language in Paraguay, and it’s also spoken in Bolivia and other regions of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil. Some people from Planalto cross the border to study and learn Guarani, the language spoken by native people of the Tupi-Guarani ethnicity.
The discovery of colours, flowers, trees, fruits, and flavours was part of our journey. Throughout lands, each of which with 20 per cent of the native nature preserved under Brazilian laws, we see chestnut trees, and Araucaria pines, and a watchful and ancient mango tree, especially planted by Mr Silvestre, Vanda’s husband. The mango tree would serve him with fruit and shadow for his rest from farming work, saving him time of going home to eat.
During the daily walks, I stumbled into stones that were hidden treasures. They were ordinary to the natives, but they were a discovery for me. The crystals enchanted me, and I wanted to bring them home — like treasures of a foreign territory.
These crystals were the particular reason I remembered Caminha’s Letter, our first piece of literature in Brazilian history. In this letter, the Portuguese clerk Pero Vaz de Caminha registered in detail his impressions of the encounter with the land and the indigenous, on 1st of May of 1500, in Porto Seguro, Bahia.
Portuguese and indigenous people were strangers, observing and interpreting each other, as their language was different, as was their habits. I was also a stranger learning a new dialect, creating a dictionary of words and sayings different from where I was coming from, although it is from the same country. I was like a navigator, discovering a ‘new world,’ collecting treasures.
In Caminha’s letter, one of the indigenous looked at the captain’s golden necklace and pointed out to the soil as if he was suggesting that there were more of those over there. Then, the natives of Planalto indicated to me the way: “Come, I will show you the source of those crystals.”
Caminha Letter ends by pointing out to Portugal that there was neither gold nor steel yet found, but the valuable treasure of that new island was its people.
People fascinate and complement each other as the way they are and as they are open to being transformed. The inhabitants from Planalto fascinated me in many ways: their ancestry mixture, dialect, and accent, their knowledge of plants, trees, and seasons.
It fascinated me, too, the distance of this land to the sea. So many people never saw the ocean, and some saw the sea for the first time when already older. However, their connection with nature is sacred. The farmers can feel the rain, as seeds feel the sun. They observe the weather as a navigator observes the wind.
The settlers work the whole year to make sure they and people have food to eat. During winter, they cultivate wheat and soya or corn during summer. Usually, the corn growing ends its cycle when winter comes, so they keep track of time and weather to ensure the corn grows at the right time, which can escape from farmers’ hands sometimes. For example, there were two touches of frost this winter that, unfortunately, damaged the whole cornfield. People from cities notice the weather’s influence when shopping and the quality of the corn, or when there is a lack of it.
There is a certain beauty in this corn’s fail: it becomes cow’s food, named silage, and also, the golden tone.
Food seems to be a universal conversation, and in this town, people are constantly talking about the privilege of eating fresh vegetables and fruits from their own garden. Most of them produce their cheese, wine, liquor, butter, and bread — using fruits and milk of their production.
Their houses with impeccable gardens and discrete fences welcome neighbours to spend the afternoon chatting and drinking “chimarrão” (also called “mate”) — a drink of indigenous’ origin. Also, neighbours will pass by selling homemade marmalade, eggs, or salami, or even bringing a plant seedling that has grown in their lands as a gift. Speaking of lands, there are many yet to be inhabited by people or houses but full of papaya or other fruit trees
Rich soil where everything grows: a native richness improved by a foreigner’s hands and techniques. Someone who left a surname and tradition in exchange. Brazilian culture is also about this combination of seeds, colours, languages, lovers, and who knows, to a treasure brought by any other navigator who dared to cross long ways to overseas lands.
I hope I have left something in return for the treasures that crossed the ocean from Planalto to Ireland with me.