Love Letter From Pântano do Sul
Dear Santo Antonio, please find a nice husband for my wonderful cousin Teresa. She is dying to meet the love of her life. Send her a handsome, good-natured, honest, and loving man as soon as possible. I am counting on you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Arante José Monteiro Filho (Arantinho) is the second-generation guardian of this message heritage, the whispering Babel spirits in the family ‘Bar-Restaurant Arante.’ He scans the note-covered surfaces as if each day is a new reading and some words might just leap from the wall to sit down at the table with him for a little talk.
“Whenever one falls to the ground I take it home,” he recounts, “and store it in a sack. I don’t know what I’ll do with them, but I can’t throw them away.” The last count in the sacks was twenty thousand. “Lovers have written messages here on their first date then returned years later with their children who write a new message after finding their parent’s note: We are eating fish with Mom and Dad…This place is magic!”
Arantinho cares for the notes as he does for the tiny fishing village of Pântano and the legacy of regional seafood cuisine initiated by his parents in 1958. In the days before a paved road linked Pântano to the rest of the island, Arante Monteiro and his wife Osmarina opened a small store for the community, selling fruits, vegetables, drinks, baked goods, eggs, tobacco, and daily meals. It was called Arante’s Bodega.
Pântano itself is a poem. Still off the beaten track, it is now a favorite stop for gourmands, artists, tourists, the hip and marginal, or anyone who likes the look of a sleepy fishing village and wants to leave a message on the wall. The tradition began in the early seventies, decades before wireless communication, when vacationing students trekked to Pântano via a dirt track to camp on the beach and the sand dunes. With no phone connection, visitors began posting notes to inform friends of their arrival and location. The spectacular coastal scenery, slow-motion ambiance, and abundant local cachaça alcohol cast a literary spell over the bohemian visitors. The scribbled notes quickly became poems, passionate love letters, sacred petitions, and messages of admiration and gratitude. Pântano, a secret lotus land, enchanted and inspired visitors to freely share their thoughts. Many swore to return someday to see if it wasn’t all a dream.
Over the years, the notes in Arante have attracted international attention and become a local tradition. Writer-researcher Paulo Alves spent two years studying more than seventy thousand messages in over a dozen languages, interviewing local personalities, and writing his excellent book, Pântano do Sul, Bilhetes do mundo nas paredes do Arante (‘Pântano do Sul, Messages From Around the World on the Walls of Arante). One note that caught Alves’ eye is a prayer-message directed to Arante Senior:
O Seu Arante, who is up in heaven.
Blessed be your restaurant
May the flavors be made here on earth as they are in heaven
Bless our meal that you give us today, forgive our debts
Just as we forgive your bills. Amen
“My desire is to protect and develop traditional culture in Pântano and the southern part of Santa Catarina Island,” he says. He is preoccupied about unplanned development in the area such as the mega-vacation homes wealthy urbanites are building behind the beaches just outside of Pântano but still within view. He is outspoken and proud of his Azorean heritage, a defining element of Santa Catarina’s history and personality. Village processions, parties, and feasts mark the traditional Holy Ghost celebrations. Locals sing foliões and ternos de reis, a tradition that dates from the middle ages. Azorean traditions have survived for years in the area, due partly from geographical isolation, and are currently highly valued on the island.
For all my life
I will love you, in each
Farewell I will love you…
For all my life. (P.T. August 9, 1997)
Our challenge is to make love
A life process and…
…that it be infinite while it lasts.
But the real love letter lurking among the thousand messages is the cooking, a fine mix of fresh local fish under the influence of Azorean-Brazilian flavors, along with fresh vegetables, local rice, feijão and pirão. The cachaça, distilled in the countryside nearby and reputed ‘to separate the body from the soul,’ is always on the house.
I check my email but have received no news from email@example.com about cousin Teresa’s hunt for a husband. No news could be good news. In chapter 9 of Homer’s epic The Odyssey, Odysseus saves his sailors from the Lotus Land because the fruit offered them by the island natives gives such pleasure and contentment that they have no thought of ever returning home.