Gadling Take FIVE: Week of June 27 to July 3

Happy 4th of July a day early. This week we’ve welcomed another blogger Kendra Bailey Morris who will be enticing us with posts about food in her series The Accidental Chef Travels. Oh, how we love to eat at Gadling. We’re hooked already.

Also Hotel Month has kicked off. Each day will bring a new angle to where to stay and helpful tips to make your slumber experiences good ones.

And here are five posts that offer insight into destinations. As always, I’ve had a hard time choosing.

Art in Pernambuco, Brazil: Vitalino and Brennand

If you ask about influential artists from Pernambuco, Brazil, you’ll likely hear the names Vitalino and Brennand. But despite both hailing from the same region and working with ceramics, they couldn’t be more different. I’ve just had the chance to check out the work (and museums) of both.

Mestre Vitalino was the first to create the figurinhas (figurines) that are synonymous with northeastern Brazil. The colorful, beady-eyed, orange-clayed figures have become the region’s modern-day folk art–the kind that would seem to have a much longer history. Vitalino was only 6 years old when he modeled his first figurine–an animal–and his art eventually expanded to include soldiers and musicians, then doctors and lawyers. Vitalino would’ve been 100 years-old this year on July 10th, although he passed away at the age of 54 in 1963.

I visited his former house in Alto de Moura, Caruaru; a modest four-room house made of–what else–clay. Made by–what else–Vitalino’s own hands. It’s there that one of his six sons, Severino, welcomed me to what’s now the Museu do Mestre Vitalino. Severino is also a clay artisan (it runs in the family); one of the 1,000 in Caruaru. I left the museum wondering what it was like for a man who lived a poor and simple life to eventually have his work featured in the Louvre.

Although Francisco Brennand’s gallery is just as antiquated–it’s in an old sugar refinery–the artwork inside is not. (He’s so with the times, in fact, that he’s displaying a huge Obama banner outside.) The son of an artist, Brennand started out as a painter (often depicting himself as the wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood fable with semi-clothed protagonistas). But what he’s most known for is his work as a ceramic sculptor.

His art that’s displayed at Oficina de Ceramica Francisco Brennand–more than 2,000 ceramic pieces, from sculpture to tiles–is often abstract and erotic, sometimes broken but intentionally left that way. Outside is a sculpture fountain with nods to both the female form and Salvador Dali’s work, and a sculpture garden designed by the landscape architect Burle Marx. Not a stranger to controversy, Brennand has been known to buck the system through his art, like figuring statues of soldiers in opposition of the military rule of Brazil’s past (from 1964-1985). As an artist who’s appreciated in his time, at 82 years-old, he’s coming full-circle and beginning to return to his painting roots.

When in Caruaru, Brazil: celebrating Festa de São João

As a fan of summer, I think I’ve finally found a way that even I could be happy ringing in winter: Festa de São João. I’ve just taken part in the festivities in Caruaru, Brazil.

Like many festivals in Brazil, it combines a religious side and a pagan side. There’s the winter solstice side that celebrates the harvest (especially corn) throughout the month of June. And on top of that, three days are taken to honor saints: Anthony on the 13th, Peter and Paul on the 29th, and–most importantly for this region–John (São João) on the 24th.

How do you celebrate Festa de São João? With music and dancing, of course (it’s Brazil, after all)–especially the lively regional favorite of forró, which sets the mood of the festivities. You’re also likely to come across street fairs complete with food stalls, the marching of guarde civil bacamanteiros, and costumes that honor rural life (like women in pigtails and painted freckles).

And then there’s my favorite: the bonfires–not just found in the central square, but liberally throughout the streets of residential areas. It’s not uncommon to see the homeowner standing in the doorway mere feet away, gazing down at theirs. The bonfires start from waist-high stacks of logs, and end in ashes, smoldering as s’mores-worthy embers hours later. The reason for the bonfires? They’re a reminder of the birth of St. John the Baptist. To recap the Christian story: Isabelle burned a fire to tell her sister, Mary, when John was born–a kind of precursor to today’s phone call or text message.

Like February’s Carnaval, Festa de São João is celebrated across the country, but no place more than in Caruaru, and neighboring towns Gravatá and Arco Verde (about 1 hour west of Recife in northeastern Brazil). People flock there to be at the heart of the celebration–it’s not uncommon for more than 150,000 people to join the festivities every night in Caruaru.