Last Saturday, on a gray, soggy winter Martha’s Vineyard afternoon, about 100 guests gathered in an Edgartown restaurant took a culinary trip to Brazil. The Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living sponsored the trip, held at The Grill on Main, as part of its 2012 series of cultural luncheons.
Attendees received a thorough introduction into the land and people of the 5th most populous country in the world. The afternoon featured music, dance, a martial arts demonstration, a short talk and power point presentation and, of course, a traditional Brazilian meal prepared by Grill owner and chef Tony Saccoccia.
As guests arrived, Dan Waters of West Tisbury played guitar and sang Brazilian songs in Portuguese. Mr. Waters, a familiar figure on the Island’s cultural scene, grew up in Brazil where his father worked for a large American corporation.
The music and a salsa dance performance by Neila Manteiro and Adilson Ribeiro (aka Mestre Gunga) continued during the first course – a potato and greens soup.
After acknowledging board members, staff and volunteers in attendance, Center for Living board president Diane Jetmund introduced the afternoon’s speakers, senior pastor of the Alliance Community Church Valci Carvalho and Bruno Oliveira.
Mr. Carvalho related a couple of funny stories where the language barrier caused awkward situations for some of his countrymen. Mr. Oliveiro, a 22-year-old landscaper, gave an informative power point talk that focused on Brazil’s diversity – from ethnicities, to flora and fauna, to biodiversity.
Mr. Oliveira said he moved to the Vineyard from Brazil in 2004 and travels back regularly to visit his family. He showed stunning pictures that illustrated the many environments that make up the vast central South American country — rainforest, a spectacular waterfall, a lagoon studded desert and tropical islands.
Mr. Oliveira also talked about Brazil’s multicultural mix that includes a large Asian population, as well as people from a number of European nations.
The talk concluded with some insight into the Vineyard’s Brazilian population. According to Mr. Oliveira, migration from Brazil to Martha’s Vineyard began 28 years ago and most of the current Brazilian expatriates here are from two small cities — Mantenopolis and Cuparaque located in two neighboring states in the southeastern part of the country. He noted that citizens of these two towns have found the rural, small-town feel of the Island attractive.
The afternoon’s entertainment concluded with a short description and demonstration of capoeira by the local group MV Capoeira Mandingueiros dos Palmares. Capoeira is a combination of martial arts and dance accompanied by music played on Brazilian rhythm instruments. At the conclusion of the performance, Ms. Jetmund bravely stepped up to face off with one of the group and impressed the crowd with an impressive arsenal of the roundhouse kicks and cartwheels that dominate the discipline.
The three-course meal included the Brazilian national dish — feijioada, a pork and beans stew that Mr. Saccoccia explained is only eaten at lunchtime, generally for special occasions. Brazilian native Anic Chavez collaborated with Mr. Saccoccia on designing the menu, which concluded with a typical condensed milk pudding.
Earlier this year, the MV Center for Living hosted a Scottish luncheon. Last year the group celebrated the cultures of the Wampanoag, African-American, Jewish, and Portuguese communities on the Island.
The next luncheon, in April, will commemorate the historic deaf community of Chilmark and the final event for 2012, in May, will celebrate the Vineyard’s agricultural tradition.
In an interview prior to the luncheon, MV Center for Living executive director Leslie Clapp explained the motivation behind the series. “It’s a reaching out to the community to let people know that we’re here and what we do,” she said. “We want to branch out into the community.”
The organization, previously known as the Island Councils on Aging (a separate entity from the individual town councils on aging) changed its name in 2009 to reflect a focus on living rather than aging.
Among the services that the Center for Living provides are the 55 Plus Times (an MV Times monthly supplement), Emergency Food Cupboards, an off-Island medical taxi service, the monthly culinary arts luncheon, distribution of fuel assistance funds, a public transportation education initiative and a network of providers web sites. The largest component of the 50-year-old organization is their supportive day program, which provides elders with an activity-rich home away from home four days a week.
The Center for Living currently operates the program at the Tisbury and Edgartown Councils on Aging facilities but hopes to establish a permanent home. “Our biggest goal is to provide a new space for the Supportive Day Program. That’s on the top of the mountain that we’re climbing here,” Ms. Clapp said.
For more information on the Center for Living, call 508-939-9440.