Bom Retiro, Falafel, and Unibes

February 2, 2010

We’ve been talking with Edite about going to Bom Retiro for a few weeks now, and after a cafezinho with her in her lovely breakfast room, with the parrot chirping in the background, she, Scott, Karen and I went to the wholesale neighborhood.  Bom Retiro, which translates literally to ‘good retreat’ is right next to the Estacao Luz and Pinacoteca (both of which I’ve written about in other posts), and it used to be the Jewish neighborhood, full of textile and wholesale clothing shops, and has now turned over to Korean immigrants.  Having Edite and Karen as our guides was amazing, as Edite grew up there (we saw her childhood home) and her family has owned various shops there since she was a little girl.  She knew all the streets and all of the history.

Bom Retiro is still a center for making and selling clothes.  Some of the streets have the latest fashions–samples hanging in the front and stacks of items tucked into floor to ceiling cubby holes in the back.  Almost all of the places require that you buy at least twelve pieces.  Karen said that buyers from both the stores in the malls and all over the country come here to buy shirts, dresses, pants, bags, in bulk.  On other streets there are factories where the clothes are made, and there are several shops that sell all the components of clothes–fabric, zippers, lace trim, buttons.  It feels like a cross between the Garment District and the Lower East Side, where the Jewish neighborhood was given over to Asians and now to hipsters.  The Jews here moved to Higienopolis, just like the Jews in New York moved to the Upper East and West sides.

I heard the story of how Paulo and Edite met–Edite’s mother knew Paulo and Edite went to the Purim Ball at Hebraica to scope him out, then one of her friends started dating one of his friends, and she had another friend who lived in the same building as his family.  We saw where Paulo had his first architecture office. After wandering in and out of a few stores we went to a synagogue where Edite’s father was one of the benefactors and played an instrumental role in the building’s refurbishment in the 1970s.  It was beautiful inside–all dark wood and dreamy blue light.  Karen hadn’t been there for thirty years and she said it looked exactly the same as she remembered from being a child.

Upstairs in the women’s section, we also found where Edite’s mother still has a seat with her name on it. Flank was her maiden name before she became a Traiman.

After the stop at the synagogue we went to a kind of galleria where upstairs there was a small, totally nondescript stand that apparently sells the best falafel in Sao Paulo.  It was.  We got plates with crispy, lemony falafel, tomato, cucumber, and onion salad, some pickled cabbage and fresh pitas.

Full and satisfied we went next to Unibes, an amazing NGO and community center that started out as just a Jewish-based organization (União Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem-Estar Social), but has expanded to become an entire community improvement operation, offering a wide array of services.  We first met Ida and Henrique, who showed us around.  They took us to the pharmacy, where doctors offices all over the city donate hundreds or maybe thousands of free sample drugs to Unibes.  Volunteers sort them by brand, kind, and expiration dates, and the result is shelves upon shelves of medicine that will be distributed to anyone who comes in with a prescription.  If the organization doesn’t have the right thing, they will buy it for the patient.  About 120 people come in per day with prescriptions to be filled for free. From there we went to the Bazar, through the back where we could see boxes and bags of clothes waiting to be sorted.  The bazar looked like the Salvation Army at home, with a combination of new clothes donated by stores and used clothes donated by individuals.  We crossed the street and went to the center for the elderly.  A young woman in jeans and a tee shirt was leading about fifteen or twenty older people in arm exercises while they all sat in a circle.  We saw their herb and vegetable garden in the back, and learned that a gardener comes every Thursday.  Each day each there’s a different activity for the old people, idosos.

From the center for the elderly we stopped at the bazar for non-clothing items, where lines of refrigerators and stoves and washing machines, all used, gave way to a room full of stools, chairs, tables, paintings, luggage, toys.  We went then to the kindergarten, where two hundred children are supposed to come tomorrow for the first day of school.  They are there from 7.30am until 5pm when their parents come pick them up and the school provides them with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It was an extremely happy place, with teachers cutting name tags out of construction paper, and a sparkling clean kitchen waiting to turn out hundreds of meals over the next year.  There was a playground in the back and classrooms upstairs with miniature desks and chairs, small toilets and knee-high sinks.  In another part of the city the center offers professional training classes, teaching adults how to work as maids and house cleaners, cooking, computer programing and web design, typing and financial skills.  I was totally, utterly impressed and hope to go back to volunteer.  While we were waiting by the front for a taxi, a group of mentally disabled elderly were leaving to go on an excursion to the mall.  At the front of the line, there was a tall, skinny man holding hands with a woman.  Those two, Ida said, are a couple.  Whenever there’s a party and people dance, she always stands next to him and keeps hold of his arm. Keep your hands off her man.

After a day of such exploration we spent the rest of the afternoon at Karen’s, hanging out at the pool and doing research for a possible trip to Jericoacoara.  Our relaxing afternoon was offset just the tiniest bit by getting ensnared in Sao Paulo’s terrible traffic on the way home, and Scott just made bacon (which we had from making bacon and chili pepper tomato sauce from scratch last night), and sweet potato fries fried crispy golden in the remaining fat for his dinner…and now fried ravioli.  Adventures in bacon fat frying on Rua Bandeira Paulista.  He said he can’t believe how easy it is to make food taste good if you can use bacon fat.

Also, VOTE FOR MENINA NA RIO TO WIN! Right now I’m in third…


4 Responses to “Bom Retiro, Falafel, and Unibes”

  1. Barbara said

    Scott did not learn his cooking skills in MY kitchen! Loved reading today’s blog! Keep ’em coming!


  2. meninanorio said

    We had such a fun day with Karen and Edite–they’re amazing (as you know).

  3. Edite said

    Brooke,dearest now I know why is so easy to fall in love with you. Glad you came!
    I can imagine(Jamie told me once in N.Y.)what a pleasure it is to live near by and enjoy your(precoce) wisdom and kindness.
    Thanks for teaching us to become better, towards
    your experiences.
    Love you (Scott included)

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