Food cravings are common at sea. Stuck on a boat with a limited selection, most of which is canned, it is only a matter of time before you start longing for something fresh to eat that is easy to get on land. It can be the silliest item — McDonald’s French fries, blueberries, manchego cheese — once the craving latches on, it can become overpowering. Lying on that hard deck in the sweltering afternoon heat, what I started to pine for, what I just couldn’t stop thinking about, what I really, really needed, was of course the last thing I could possibly get out there — ice cream.
And it wasn’t any old ice cream I craved. No! This had to be the good stuff. Before taking the bus to Prainha, I spent a few days in Fortaleza to explore the capital city. One afternoon, while walking along the Avenida Beira Mar in an older part of town called Mucuripe, I noticed a shop across the street: “Gelataria Barbaresco—Sorvete Artesanal” (artisanal ice cream). The day was hot day, I was hungry, this was gelato — why not! I waited for an opening in the speeding traffic and ran like hell.
A Brazilian city street is no place to be dragging your ass. Brazilian men are not aggressive by nature (except on a football pitch), but put one behind the wheel of an automobile and he instantly becomes Ayrton Senna, driving a Formula 1 in the Grand Prix at Interlagos. His car could be a total wreck, a beater, running on three cylinders, and the poor man might simply be making a trip to the local florist — it doesn’t matter — he is always in a race. And if you just happen to be crossing the street at the same time, there between him and his imaginary checkered flag (and a big, wet kiss on the lips from the current Miss Bumbum of Brazil – Aiii!), then God help you my son — run for your bloody life!
Having made it safely across the pavement (thank heaven), I entered the small shop. Right away I could see the ice cream was good. The colors of the flavors were muted, which meant no added coloring, which probably also meant no artificial flavoring, and the ice cream had a dense, silky texture that glistened under the bright lights of the display cabinet. My eyes ran up and down the orderly rows of stainless steel containers, all neat and clean. The fact that there weren’t a million and one flavors to choose from was another good sign: quality not quantity. It was clear that the owners took pride in their gelato.
The pretty Nordestina behind the counter wore a clean white smock. A cute paper hat heeled jauntily on her head like a small ship cutting a path through the dark waves of her thick brown hair. She smiled brightly and asked if I wanted to try anything. Without hesitating I ordered my two favorite flavors: chocolate and vanilla, “in a cup please—not a cone.”
Still smiling after her scooping workout, Renata (it was on her name tag) handed me the heaping cup, a spoon, and two paper napkins. The cup was heavy in my hands, which was another good sign — no air pumped in. I had already paid at the booth, so I thanked Renata and sat at a small table by the window to concentrate more fully on my lingual analysis.
I could spend pages here, chapters, on the subtleties of these two flavors (but this is supposed to be a story about jangadas, or fishing — or something). Deep dark chocolate, Madagascan vanilla (with seeds) — Heaven! As soon as I finished the cup I ordered another, this time choosing two fruit flavors — mango and acerola (a local fruit like a small plum): Bright sunshine bursting in my mouth, pagode, frevo, blocos de Carnaval, meu filho! I could have easily eaten a third cup but was already feeling embarrassed by my conspicuous North American consumption.
This was the ice cream I craved on the hot deck of that jangada. And as the afternoon progressed, it only got worse. Like an addict I needed a fix, and it didn’t matter that the dope I was jonesing for was the last thing I could possibly score. We had ice on board — yes — and for a brief moment I saw myself draped over the icebox, lid ripped off, sucking on a shard of fishy tasting gray ice for a cheap high. While the image of this made me chuckle, it was one of those pitiful, moaning little chuckles you give when realizing the futility of the situation. Aheee. . . Aheee. . .
And futile it was — utterly. But that didn’t stop the sweet parade of flavors from dancing through my head, as if on a Gordian loop: chocolate. . . vanill-aaah. . . mango-oooh. . . acerol-aaah. . . chocolate. . . I could see them all clearly, could taste each one so brightly on my tongue. But when I went to swallow, all I got was a mouthful of stale saliva. Eventually the saliva dried up and I was left with only visions. So this is what it’s like to be old.
I got very thirsty then, but trapped in a heat-induced lethargy, I was powerless to do anything about it. Come on! Man up! Finally I snapped to my senses and got up to get a drink of water.
The sun was lower but still ferocious. To avoid it, I sat in the shade by the icebox after the drink, on the narrow strip of deck between the frame and the rail. The space was just wide enough for my butt and thighs, allowing me to lean back against the wood and hang my legs over the side. The cool seawater played wonderfully against my calves and feet, starkly contrasting the oppressive heat above. Leaning forward I palmed up some water and tossed it back onto my face and chest — So refreshing! I repeated this several times, drenching my entire front. Feeling somewhat renewed, I slumped back against the wood frame and gazed across the water.
There was nothing of any interest to look at. The wind had been dead for hours and the sea was almost flat. Hard to believe it was the same rollicking ocean we had sailed on in the morning. Gone were the glassy walls of water and the deep green valleys. What passed under our keel now was a long ropy swell that gently lifted and lowered the jangada. And the anchor line? What anchor line! I could have closed my eyes and believed I was sitting at the edge of a pool on a hot summer day. But if it was a pool, it was uninhabited, with no sound at all except for the occasional slap of water against our hull.
The heat and lazy swell had their effect on time, stretching it out like salt water taffy. Part of this was the time of day. The afternoon has always been a low point for me — a biorhythmic trough if you will. When I think of all the time I’ve wasted between the hours of 13:00 and 17:00 — sitting in a room or cubicle, gazing out a window, staring at a clock on a wall — willing the hands to move ahead — begging for the bell to ring — wanting only to be set free so I could go out and play — Ahhh. . . And there I was sitting on a deck in the open ocean, free as the freest bird could be, but still wanting time to move forward, just a little bit faster — Please. . .
Careful what you wish for.
Without thinking, I lifted my wrist to look at the time: 16:45. “Oh, Christ!” I moaned, realizing the trip wasn’t even half over yet. We had left the beach only thirty-six hours before—36 hours!—and if the trip went as planned, it would be another two days before we made it back—48 hours!—and this could stretch out another day if we got some rain—72 hours! Three more days!
I stayed slumped against the icebox frame for almost an hour, lulled into a semi-stupor by the stifling heat and the rocking hull. My flesh was weak and my thoughts were whiny. It was not my finest hour.
Next chapter: Little Red Spot