It’s Elementary, My Dear Caipira

Discovering the Caipirinha 
Author: Jô Soares
Translation: Clifford Landers 

It was all recorded by the Brazilian writer Jô Soares. Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson visited Brazil in 1886. He had been invited by Emperor Pedro II, at the suggestion of Sarah Bernhardt, who was in Rio de Janeiro in the midst of her grand tour of Latin America. A precious Stradivarius violin had been stolen from the boudoir of one of emperor’s mistresses and Holmes was summoned to solve the mystery. By the time he arrived, Rio was beset by a serial killer. His deductive powers did not lead him to find the killer; he was much befuddled by the tropical voluptuousness of Rio de Janeiro during the Belle Epoque. He did, however, discover other things. 

“If you’ll permit me, Mr. Holmes, the best medicine for this morning-after sensation is a good dose of cachaca.” 

“Cachaca? What the devil is that?” 

“It’s a type of rum made from sugarcane. A very smooth drink, delicious. One dose will be enough for your complete recovery. In fact, I’ll go with you. I’m feeling a bit poorly myself this morning.” 

“Saraiva, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to give Holmes cachaca at this hour, injected Mello Pimenta. 

“Nonsense, my dear Mello Pimenta. I’m sure this venerable remedy will make our English friend into a new man,” the doctor assured him. 

The four men went to a bar at the corner of Riachuelo Street. Saraiva, with his enviable alcoholic experience, ordered two servings of the best rum in the house and downed the contents of his glass in a single swallow. When Dr. Watson saw the transparent liquid, which gave off a very strong smell of alcohol, he inquired what the drink was. 

“Nothing to worry about, Watson, just a rum made from sugarcane. Professor Saraiva assures me that it has excellent curative properties,” translated Holmes for his friend. 

“I don’t know, Holmes. From the smell, it looks to me like something quite strong. Maybe it’d be better not to drink it neat,” he advised. 

“What should I do then–add some water?” 

“I think some fruit juice would be better. Orange or lime. They’re excellent specifics. We even know of their undisputed properties in combating scurvy.” 

Sherlock turned to the owner of the bar. 

“My friend here is suggesting that I put a bit of orange juice or lime in the drink. Have you by any chance got either of these fruits?” 

“I have limes,” answered the proprietor, intrigued, his eyes never leaving the hat and the Northeasterner’s sandals that the doctor was still wearing. 

Watson added, “Maybe it would also be good to throw in some ice and sugar, Holmes, to compensate for the heat produced by the alcohol.” 

Sherlock Holmes transmitted the doctor’s demands. The bar owner went to the end of the counter and told his employee to bring the materials requested. Watson cut the lime into four parts and placed two pieces in the glass along with the sugar. He then proceeded to crush the slices with a spoon, saying, “To be on the safe side, it’s best to put the segments in whole and squeeze.” 

When he finished the operation, he added a few pieces of ice and handed the curious potion to the detective. 

“All right, Holmes, now I think you can drink it without danger.” 

From the end of the bar, the employee and the proprietor looked on in fascination. The young barman asked, “Boss, what language are they speakin’?” 

“Hanged if I know. To me it’s Latin or the devil’s own tongue.” 

“And what’s that concoction they’re mixin’ up?” 

“I don’t know, something invented by that caipira there,” he said, pointing to Watson’s cowboy hat and using the Brazilian term for a hick. 

“Which hick, the big one?” asked the young man, indicating Sherlock Holmes, who was dressed all in white. 

“No, the big caipira is just drinking it. The one who made it is the little hick, the caipirinha,” replied the owner. Thus was baptized the exotic mixture that is Brazil’s national. 

Reprinted from A Samba for Sherlock, by Jô Soares, [c] 1995, Companhia das Letras, Sao Paulo.

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