Arrived in São Paulo

The journey out to Brasil was long and uncomfortable. Despite being in premium economy I felt cramped and couldn’t get comfortable. I was sitting in a middle row seat, next to someone who had moved to get an aisle seat, then only got out of it once in 12 hours without me asking him to move. Watched Beowulf CGI, which was pretty dire, but the Grendel and his mother were very well done and worth watching just for them. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to read Seamus Heaney’s excellent poem again without thinking of the film version.

Arrived in São Paulo at 5.30 and had a cup of tea while I waited for Jonathan and Neil to arrive on the TAM flight an hour after me. They were very chirpy when they arrived, having flown business class and making good use of that. We were all met by Carolina from the British Embassy, who took us out for a coffee with Damian and Christina, also from the British Embassy, and we discussed science funding in he UK and Brasil.

Made a visit to the University of São Paulo and met a few members of the Department and made a tour of the labs. All very impressive. From there, back to the Brish Embassy São Paulo British Embassy for lunch on the top floor at Drakes: good buffet. The British Embassy is in a lovely modern building.

Christina went with us out to Águas de Lindóia, where we would be spending the rest of our time at the Brasilian Chemical Society Annual Meeting. The traffic was bad leaving São Paulo and the journey took about 2 hours 30 mins, to Aguas. We entered the spa resort via a Swiss-style gateway, which was a bit disconcerting even though Damian had warned us that it would like being in a Swiss Village (with palm trees).

Hotel Monte Real Resort

I was a bit disappointed with my (albeit massive) room in the Hotel Monte Real Resort: spartan, empty minibar, boasting a mere three bars of soap. No pampering this week then. The shower was great though and had I by then forgotten how spartan the accommodation was until I grabbed a towel and found a limp, grey thing in my hand had seen a few too many washes.

Met up with the three others for dinner at 7, and then was introduced to Prof Mangrich the outgoing president of the SBQ. Dinner was very good, with lots of lovely vegetables from a buffet (buffets for every meal in Brasil) After dinner we went to the opening ceremony and met Norberto, the secretary of the SBQ. He gave a formal welcome speech in English and told us that we might as well leave after that as the rest would in Portuguese and no-one would be offended: so we slipped way silently after that and had a150px-Caipirinha2.jpg caipirinha in the bar before bed. This cocktail deserves a separate paragraph—

Well a caipirinha is pretty perfect and lovely. It’s a bit like a mojito without the mint and with a lot more lime. It’s made from cachaça, lime and sugar- very simple and very potent. One of these slipped down nicely and set me us for a good nights sleep (and having been awake since 3 am helped too!)

Tenebrae

Michael and I met Steven at St Catharine’s College for a sung Tenebrae service. A very detailed description of this from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Essentially, Tenebrae is Latin for shadows and is a religious service held over Holy Week where 15 candles are snuffed out one by one after scripture readings of the passion of Christ. The candles are displayed on a stand known as a hearse. TenebraeWe managed to stay for the first hour of what was a three hour service and that covered the first three of the 15 readings, about Gethsemane and Peter denying Christ (Matthew 26 divided into 3 parts). The main attraction for us was that the service was in Latin plainsong (Gregorian chant is a type of plainsong) and the five men singing this were very good and filled the chapel amazingly well. The singing was beautiful and some of the antiphon were lovely, with the ‘conversation’ being chanted back and forth across the two groups of choir on either side of the chapel, like a dreamy conversation. When the three readings came they made a large impact after all the introspection and singing. The chapel was lit only by candles, which was very atmospheric and the congregation was about 12 to start with. It was growing slowly in the promise of the last hour, which was closed to people dropping in. In the last hour the last candles would be extinguished and the light would go out. Then be re-lit and everyone leave the church. This was also the musical climax of the evening with Misere mei, Deus (Psalm 51) by Gregorio Allegri and Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Steven, Michael and I would all have loved to hear these, but the prospect of three hours was hard to bear (even with the essential cushions that Michael brought for the hard wooden stalls!)

We went for a drink into the very different atmosphere of the Catz student bar! Short miniskirts and lots of legs in thigh-high boots were much in evidence: Guinness cheered us up after the somber Tenebrae, along with some scampi fries (not had these for ages). In the mood to lift our spirits even higher we went around to the Maypole for cocktails and had a couple of potent cocktails each: the Modern Mai Thai was my favourite. Steven’s blue Graduate was the most disturbing, but tasted nice.