Beauty, Bread, and Biology

Finally, we made it to Sao Luis. After two plane rides, a tram and bus ride in Heathrow, another bus ride to meet Marta and one final car ride to the farm, we made it. Since I didn’t do a blog post for the first two days because I wasn’t sure how often we are supposed to be posting I figured I’d start from here and summarize the first two days quickly before I got into what we did today. The first to days were filled with craziness, like spilling my tea in Heathrow, having trouble at the Portuguese boarder, exploring he water front of Lisbon and a girl passing out on the train ride home to Marta’s apartment. I knew that there was only more to come and I was beyond excited (and still am). After arriving at Marta’s farm we were given the grad tour of the whole place from the barn turned studios to the cute little bedrooms with windows without screens. The mosquitos love me so far. Anyway, we lounged around and talked for a while before we started preparing dinner. We all pitched in to help make tomato soup and sausage in wine. After all was made we sat and ate together at the dining table. Here we talked about life in general and how things are different from country to country. After we finished cleaning up from dinner, we all sat outside and looked at the stars for a while. There were a couple of shooting stars and Liz, Ellen and I noticed that the big dipper was in a completely different place than it was at home. Everyone started trickling out and going to bed so we brought everything inside.


We started the day off with the most extravagant breakfast from Marta. We woke up at around 8:30 so we could make it to the market on time to get some fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. For breakfast Marta put out a very soft cheese with pumpkin and blackberry jam. I was sort of apprehensive to try the pumpkin  butter because I thought it sounded strange. I was so glad I did because it was so sweet and really didn’t taste that much like pumpkin at all. Along with this we had bread with goat and sheep butter, Greek yogurt and peaches, and Portuguese pastries. After breakfast we headed out to the market. The streets here are so narrow and all of the houses look the same but it almost feel like a fairytale setting. I keep thinking of Beauty and the Beast and I’m waiting for someone to pop out of their window and scream “Bonjour!!” but I suppose they’d say “Ola” instead. We approached the market and Marta and Manuel told us that the building’s construction materials included horse manure. I personally never thought that horse manure would be that stable of a building material but here stood this super old building made of it. We walked in to find the market closed, Marta suggested it was because there was no fishing on Sundays so there was nothing to sell but fruit and vegetables I guess there was just no point to the market without fish. Instead we made our way to the supermarket across the street and bought some things for the next day and dinner tonight. The shop was so tiny and very cramped compared to the market baskets and stop and shops I’m used to, and we got an enormous amount of peaches. I had promised my sisters that I would bring something back for them, so I looked around the store and found what I thought was a juice box of wine which I thought was comical, but I’ll have to continue my search, they requested candy not wine. After our shopping adventure we went to a small cafe that was close by and got espressos. Ellen was feeling rather sick, so after she finished her coffee she went off the doctors with Manuel to get some antibiotics. Liz, Marta and I walked back to the house and started our first experiments. We went into the barn and received our notebooks to take observations, sketch and write whatever comes to mind during the experiment process. Marta brought out a huge bin of old experiments in petri dishes; different types of bacteria in all of them, and food dye in some. The patterns and shaped in the dishes looked very interesting and we examined them under the microscope. It seemed as though there were small forests in some of the dishes. After looking at these specimens we went to the kitchen to start making medium for our own experiments. There were 5 different bottles of medium. The first we made was a pink, it had red food dye, cow’s milk, and agar which is a gelatin made of plant algae. The next was purple, which had red and blue food dye, almond milk and agar. Third was yellow, which was oat milk, yellow food dye and agar. Fourth was maroon colored because of the wine that was in it, with agar, and LB, which is a nutrient to make the bacteria grow because wine does not have nutrients like milk does. Lastly was probably the most intensely colored one, with soil, agar, and LB. It was a reddish dirt so it looked like a liquefied brick or barbeque sauce. The contents of the jars needed to be boiled, so three were put in a pot and boiled on the stove in water, and the other two we manually boiled in the microwave so we could try to recreate the experiment at home. The microwave method was really annoying because we had to intently watch the bottle to make sure it did not overflow. After all the bottles were boiled we quickly brought them to the barn and began pouring them into petri dishes. There ended up being a lot of them. When all the bottles were empty, we took a break to let them cool and solidify. Lunch was amazing again. We ate left overs from last night and previous nights of cooking, with more bread and butter and the soft cheese. After lunch we went back to the barn to hear a presentation from Manuel about medium as the message. The intense philosophical background of art was astonishing to learn about and has made me think more deeply about art and how the medium artists use can be the message of the piece itself. When the presentation was over, we went back to our petri dishes and began the real experiment. The goal of this experiment was to create art with different bacteria so we thought of things that could produced interesting patterns in the petri dishes with the bacteria on them. I grabbed a few flowers from outside and stomped a couple dishes and left some flowers in a couple more. Food dye was also available to paint patterns in the dishes. Ellen stamped a dog’s foot, and I can’t wait to see what that turn out to look like. After our vigorous experimenting, we made dinner which was again, delicious. Tonight it was cod with onions, potatoes and eggs, with a side tomato and onion salad. Dessert was more interesting conversation and honey dew melon. We will look back at our petri dishes tomorrow and go to the super market once again. This whole place seems like it’s out of a story book, I can’t wait for tomorrow. Pictures to follow soon!