Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Streets of Parati

I tried to suppress my laughter as I saw the tourist struggling to drag his carry-on luggage over the large, bumpy, uneven cobblestones. He had just arrived in Parati, a quaint colonial town about a three-hour drive south of Rio de Janeiro, and hadn't yet found the pousada where he and his friend were staying.

I wasn't trying to be insensitive or mean, but was laughing because his predicament reminded me of a similar, hilarious experience my sister and I had in Colonia, Uruguay when we thought we'd save a few bucks by walking instead of taking a taxi, which turned out to be a comedy-of-errors as we realized that wheeled luggage and cobblestone streets don't go well together.

Because the streets of the historic center of Parati (pronounced par-uh-chee) are closed to vehicles, this man didn't have the option of taking a taxi, and so he mumbled "I should have packed a backpack instead of using my British Airways Executive Club carry-on luggage" as he saw my grin.

We stopped to chat and I agreed, as gently as possible, that his executive club membership wouldn't do him much good here, among streets originally built by slaves back in 1667. The streets were built when Parati was an important point on the gold trail leading from Minas Gerais's inland mines to the port at Rio de Janeiro. Because a shorter route was eventually found, Parati was abandoned and forgotten. Later, it was an important stop on the coffee trail, but then was abandoned and forgotten again, which is how it came to be preserved in all of its 17th-century charm.

Since I'd been in Parati a few days, and since I felt badly for smiling at the man's struggles, I gave him a little orientation to the town, sharing with him some of the things I'd learned on my recent city tour.

I pointed out the purple door at the end of the street, explaining that it's one of several non-functional doors around the 33-block town which are used only once a year. Only on Easter Sunday, when a large procession re-enacting the Savior carrying his cross makes its way through the town, are these purple doors opened to reveal the symbolic objects they contain representing each stop along the way of the cross.

I pointed out one of the doors with a built-in lattice, explaining that the lattice idea was a result of the Moorish influence in Portugal, and was intended to enable the single women to see outside the house while they stayed inside, protecting them from the prying eyes of people outside the house who could not see in through the lattice.

The buildings have many doors but fewer windows, I explained, because it was a commercial town with business entrances on the street:

And because the beauty was tucked away in courtyards in the middle of the blocks, like this one, so they didn't need many windows facing the street.

I pointed out that the buildings on the street corner near us had stone footings on three of the four corners, while the fourth was left unadorned. That was the case on every street corner in the town, I explained, because the town had been built by masons, to whom the triangle was a sacred symbol, and so they intentionally created a triangle of stones at each corner.

The masons also put many of their symbols on the buildings throughout the town, like these symbols on a house also covered with pineapples, which are themselves symbols of wealth and abundance and goodness.

By the time we finished talking, my new friend seemed to feel a little better, and his friend arrived to lead him the rest of the way to their pousada.

So, I continued on my way, enjoying Parati's charms, like the horses hanging out around town:

And the folks riding bikes:

And the cute street lamps:

And the unique, prolific flowers:

And the quaint bridge:

And the stray dogs who are thrilled to be your best friend and accompany you through the town:

And I smiled to myself as I carefully made my way along the large, bumpy, uneven cobblestones, considering them an addition to Parati's charm.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

What a beautiful city! I am glad you got to see it...I am sure your friend will remember it all the more fondly because of his experience with his luggage!