This year’s celebration started a few days after Christmas when we headed to Marcos's mountain house in Itatiaia. I’ve tried many times to describe this magical place, where Daniel and his friends have been going for the past 20 years, but words and photos don’t do it justice. You have to spend a night in the rustic main house or smaller surrounding cabins, all of which have an earthy scent reminiscent of sleep away camp, to really get a feel for it.
And in the morning, or at night if you’re adventurous, you’d have to walk carefully down a steep, moss-covered stairway to see the dramatic open space where a lush forest surrounds a pounding river and the huge, natural swimming pool it forms while racing by.
And then finally, you’d have to take a dip in the cold, fresh water, but true pros will tell you it’s best enjoyed after a few minutes in the wood-burning sauna. Then you’d understand the beauty of this place.
I loved my first visit to Itatiaia with Daniel, Marcos and Alba two years ago, but this time around, with 21 adults, 5 kids and 3 dogs (including a particularly feisty one named Bruno who a very religious housekeeper referred to as the devil personified), we were like one big crazy family.
The sun didn’t shine the entire time we were there, so it was easy to linger at a long, tiled table over lavish lunches and dinners every day.
And for dessert, we always sipped cafezinhos while nibbling on goiabada (a sweet guava paste) and queijo minas (a cheese that's similar to fresh mozzarella), one of my all-time favorite Brazilian desserts.
There were more than a few rounds of cards throughout the weekend, although I think everyone will agree that Bullshit (introduced to the group by Emily and Richard) was the real crowd-pleaser. As for the rain, it did keep some people out of the river, and caused almost everyone, including one of the dogs, to crowd into the sauna together.
And then came New Year’s Eve, the last night we all spent together at the house. At 11pm, various people were taking naps, others were hanging up bunches of balloons, Daniel and Richard were taunting eachother with silly games that made it easy for me to imagine them as 8-year olds together, and in the kitchen, Gisela was cooking lentils. For a second, I thought it was going to be a fairly mellow New Year’s.
But as midnight crept closer, people started disappearing into rooms and re-emerging in all-white outfits which are worn to ensure a peaceful and lucky new year. It took me a little while to shed my own cozy clothes which felt so necessary in the unseasonably cold weather, but finally at 11:55, I ran back to my room and changed into a white, strapless dress, the only piece of clothing that hadn't gotten wet yet during the weekend.
Music blasted, champagne was poured and everyone took turns visiting a table where the lentils (which signify wealth), sat next to a big bowl of grapes and a flickering candle. According to tradition, you must eat seven grapes (with pits), making a wish on each one. And to ensure that your wishes will come true, you must hold onto the pits for the entire year. Considering all the champagne we drank that night, I'm surprised that those seven little suckers are still rolling around in the pocket of my purse. But you better believe they’ll be there till 2008.
I figured that the lentils and grapes were supposed to hold us over till the next day, but then at 2am, another huge feast began, this one a complete and total surprise to me. While we’d all been dancing and celebrating, our resident chef Alba, was back in the kitchen, this time making bacalhau, a traditional salted cod dish that’s often served on holidays, pork loin, and salpicão, a Brazilian salad with shredded chicken, carrots, mayonnaise and crispy fried potatoes.And then there we were again, all the adults, some of the kids, and all the dogs – well-fed and half-soaked from the rain. And so very feliz.