Saturday, October 31, 2009

How’s your Portuguese coming Jim?

It’s not easy picking up this totally new language. I attend language instruction classes twice a week at the local university. Classes are two hours long. My classmates come from China, Nigeria, England and South Africa. We are a motley group, each with our own story and level of urgency for learning to speak like a local.

Just the other day I was reminded that I have a long way to go. Zozó asked me if I had a battery she could borrow to test if a plastic toy worked. I had what she wanted, but to my horror I misspoke rather dramatically.

Rather than saying “recarregando” I said “recagando.”

I intended to say I had a rechargeable battery. What I said, however, was that I was re-shitting. Both she and her friend burst out laughing. They knew what I meant, but my mistaken choice of words had them snickering uncontrollably.

It’s not easy being green.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's hard work - if you can get it

[setting up the street vendors]

[the cardboard man]

Good work is hard to come by here in Brazil. Hard work, on the other hand, is all around us.

[the kitchen gas man]

[the salvage man]

Our apartment in Icaraí has a small balcony that looks out over the main road, Gavião Peixoto, cutting through our neighborhood. Every morning there is a parade of men who have been hired by street vendors to lug their wares from a nearby garage to their spot on the sidewalk. (So these guys are a couple of rungs lower than the street vendors on the “good work” ladder.)

[the water man]

[the grocery delivery guy]

These workers are like a line of ants making their way to and from the overnight storage garage around the corner to the various vendor locations several blocks back up the one way street in front of our apartment.

[the bakery delivery guy]

As the main thoroughfare in the neighborhood, our street also gets a steady stream of delivery people, freight haulers, salvage collectors and other workers making their way to their destinations. One way - schmun way. While the four wheel vehicles go in just one direction (for the most part), motorcycles, foot-powered and hand-powered wheeled contraptions are just looking for the shortest distance between two points.

[the empadinha man]

[father and son team will haul anything you want]

[municipal workers off to the worksite]

[the rug man]

How these folks survive on what must be very minimal compensation for their back-breaking efforts I cannot fathom. Like clockwork these men are out there in the street every morning starting at 6 a.m. for another long day.

Fresh bananas

By and large most bananas consumed were plucked from banana plants weeks before they get peeled and added to your morning cereal. I've learned that these plants are not trees proper, but rather herbaceous plants, even though they can grow to nearly 20 feet tall.

Yesturday I had the delicious pleasure of peeling and eating a banana that had ripened completely on the plant.

At the house in Itaípu we have a "voluntary" banana plant that appeared late last year in the corner of the yard. We've let it be and have watched as it grew and then flowered with a stem filled with banana bunches (or hands).

We had pretty much forgotten about the ripening bananas until last Saturday when we had a yard full of friends at yet another BBQ pool party. Claudio noticed the near ripe fruit and reminded us that if we didn't want them the birds would soon enjoy every last bit.

So we cut down the stem and I had my first fully ripe banana straight from the plant: soft, plump and flavorful. Yum!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gay Pride in Itaipuaçu

Luiz and I spent Sunday afternoon with our friend Alexandre at the Gay Pride Parade in Itaipuaçu. Who knew such a small town had such a boisterous party for the LGBTs among them? It was inspiring.

Itaipuaçu is a “growing” community with only one paved road snaking its way through the now-sprawling community. All the other roads are ridiculously rutted and washboard to the point of near impassability. But the town grows.

And they have a really cool gay pride party at the beach.

There were two trio electricos (enormous sound trucks) and a main stage. The health department was out in force passing out condoms and promoting sex education. Overall it was very top notch – excepting that we were in the middle of nowhere.

Very nice. Who knew!?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flor de Luiz in yellow

Luiz was back at the Modern Art Museum Bistro for the one year anniversary party for a new private hospital in Niterói. As usual he dazzeled them with his vision.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gal Costa - don't miss her in SF

For our friends in San Francisco -- did you see that Gal Costa will participate in the SF Jazz Festival on Sunday, October 25th?

We saw her at the Herbst Theater the last time she was in San Franicisco, just days after the September 11th attack in New York. It was an emotional evening.

Check out the details here and here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bossa Nova Classic

Yesturday, while preparing a truck load of flowers for a gig on Monday, Luiz had the radio tuned to a station playing nothing but old time classics. Lost in his world of flowers I could hear him singing along to practically every tune.

For an hilarious walk down 60's memory lane check out this clip. Every detail from the wood paneled walls to the bee hive hair to the frilly blue hat on one woman's head is a hoot! Poor thing - she looks like a deer in the headlights.

For a more current and boundless take on the classic - check this out. Elis Regina groovin' at the Montreux Jazz festival. Still dated, however, at 1979.

The timeless Gal Costa does a wonderfully melodic version. Beautiful.

Bossacucanova jazzes it up a bit. (But not like Elis Regina!)

My personal favorite is Marina Lima's 2008 version.

Friday, October 16, 2009

No change in Brazil

Sometimes I don’t get the logic rattling around in the heads of Brazilian business people. Take grocery stores for example. My experience, again and again, has been that the check out cashiers NEVER have any change!

How is it possible that a cashier that has been taking money from customers for hours can’t break a twenty?

It happens almost every time I go to the grocery store. Check it out: I’m waiting in line with my stuff and the person in front of me tries to pay for their groceries with a fifty. The cashier can’t make change. They have to call in the roving change-making lady to break the fifty for the customer. Then they change exactly that one fifty reais bill for that one transaction.

Then I step up to buy my fruits and vegetables with a twenty. Guess what? The change the cahier got for the single previous transaction did nothing to relieve her lack of change overall. So now they have to call back the roving change-making lady to give me four bucks change from my twenty.

It is mind boggling. None of the cash drawers at ANY of the grocery stores have any cash in them – at any time of the day. We wait repeatedly for the change lady to come and provide a few reais.

I have watched while the manager has come by to collect all the money in a cash drawer – leaving the cashier with less than R$50 in the drawer. Then all us customers have had to wait while the change lady has had to to come by to break any and all large bills in virtually all transactions that follow.
Once I was the first customer for a cashier just starting her shift at a major grocery store. First customer. Her cash drawer was empty and she had to call the roving change-making lady to complete my transaction. Sigh.

Experienced grocery store managers are encouraged to move to Brazil and liberate us from this nonsense.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You know you are in Brazil when

You know you are in Brazil when your mother-in-law lives in your lap. I’m just saying.

I love my mother-in-law. But why does she spend more than 22 hours a week watching TV in my living room -- and at an inordinately loud volume?

Few people in Brazil have made me feel more at home than my mother-in-law. She has gone out of her way again and again. While that may be the case I still do not feel obliged to tell her, at age 49, where I am going, when, for how long, and for what purpose.

We get along great. I pretend to understand her Portuguese and she pretends to understand my English. Yet all the while the inertia is that I am to go along with her directives. Yeah, sure, fine. Not really.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have been in the presence of my mother-in-law more in the last two months than I have been with my biological mother over the past seven years (save the brief – and very enjoyable - month we spent together before Luiz and I moved here.)

Things are different here in Brazil. People live with their parents. Adult children live with their parents – for many, many years. And intergenerational families gather quite frequently (read: weekly).

For me, while I love my mother, I saw her in person every five or six years or so. It was fun, but rare. And in some ways it was fun because it was rare. (I love you mom. Those were great times. Don’t misunderstand me.)

Now I open the door every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. to welcome my mother-in-law into our house for the day. And also on Monday, Wednesday or Friday if she has a doctor appointment or a hair appointment in the neighborhood. Goddess love her.

At least it gets me out of the house. If I wasn’t motivated to do some outdoor exercise before – I am now.

Keep breathing, I tell myself. Nothing is going to change. Find the groove.

Some things, I hate to admit, are less appealing in Brazil than in the United States.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How do you propose to protect marriage?

I think this gets filed under “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Gay people are so clever…

Teary marriage recommitment

Luiz brought down the house the other night with sincere sentimental words of praise for two friends celebrating 25 years of marriage, two wonderful kids and a friendship others aspire to. At a dual birthday party for two other friends we all surprised the married couple with a tribute to their exemplary relationship.

Luiz crafted a beautiful speech that hit all the right notes. He encouraged both Honorio and Risô to speak to each other about their love. And in the process Luiz had everyone in tears, including the two teenage children of the featured couple.

Super sweet. After about 30 minutes of open hearted loveliness – and hugs all around – we went back to the business at hand: partying.

Live music, beer, enough finger food for a week, dancing, two super gigantic cakes and banana cupcakes for the kids complete with plastic monkeys on top – that’s what I call qualidade de vida!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gay Pride Festival in Niterói

October 4th was the LGBT Pride event in our home town of Niterói. It was calm by our old San Francisco standards but a hoot all the same. There were countless gorgeous boys and men, rough and tumble lesbians (as well as the lipstick variety) and of course the requisite drag queens who always steal the show.

There were a good 20,000 people or so, several trio electricos blasting out dance music and lots of onlookers as well. We slowly made our way along Icaraí beach soaking it all up.

There’s more fun to come. Niterói’s party was just the precursor to the main event coming up in Rio on November 1st.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Live Your Passion

It just may be possible to penetrate the encrusted shell of Brazilian cynicism using the Olympics as a vehicle. We'll see.

I'm confident that the youth will be energized, and with that ANYTHING is possible.

These days, inspiration abounds. Check this out.

Happy ending to petty theft

It has been very frustrating for me to tell my students this week that while at the Copacabana Beach olympic celebration last Friday I had my wallet and cell phone stolen. It only reinforces their near-hardened cynicism about crime in Brazil. (The subject has come up because my conversation topic for this week has been Rio and the Olympics.)

"But we still had a good time" I have insisted, and "We are not going to live our lives forever on the defensive." I have been coming to Rio for nearly 10 years. This is the first time I have had anything picked from my pocket. (knock wood)

Well, I can now return to my students and report that a young, Brazilian, good Samaritan called us yesturday and said he was working security at the event and some person handed him my wallet saying they had found it on the beach. He offered to deliver it to our house.

The hair on the back of our necks stood up a bit. Seems wierd the guy would offer to deliver it to me when he lives nearly an hour and a half away by bus. But he insisted that he understood the difficulty in getting personal documents replaced and that he wanted to do a good deed.

Zozó and several of our friends cautioned us to expect a visit from a thief with dangerous intensions. I insisted everyone calm down and see the glass half full.

Long story short: a very nice young man who indeed works in security stopped by this evening and handed my wallet to Luiz. Everything was intact (except the small amount of cash I had in it, of course). No drama.

Chalk one up for the goodness of honest Brazilians countering the stereotype of relentless thievery in the city.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let the games begin!

Looks like a 10!

While public opinion sways from very positive to hopelessly negative that Rio and Brazil can make the most of this incredible opportunity, some of us are just plain having fun with it.

C'mon folks: live your passion.

(Veja is a weekly news magazine.)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It's all Olympics all the time

(That would be the famed Copacabana Palace in the background.)

You gotta love livin’ in Brazil. (We sure do.) Especially now. Things are going our way.

The economy is strong. The middle class is expanding. Brazil will be hosting the 2014 World Cup. And now Rio will host the Summer Olympics in 2016.
Feel the love. “Live Your Passion.” (The slogan for Rio's Olympic bid.)

Luiz and I spent the day on Friday (Olympics decision day) on the beach in Copacabana along with tens of thousands of other enthusiasts. In an “only-in-Brazil” moment, the city of Rio declared a holiday, for all municipal workers, to promote pride and enthusiasm for getting the Games. Go to the beach!

We were there. LOTS of people. Lots of enthusiasm. Lots of energy.

The moment the decision was announced the sand on the beach jumped a meter into the air. People screamed. People danced. Arms waved and feet leapt. Confetti from cannons showered sparkles over all of us. The blazing afternoon sun lit up a sea of Cariocas proclaiming their next step into the prosperous world. “It is our time.”

What a joy. What an opportunity to be among the throngs.

Too bad a pick pocket got my wallet and cell phone. I hate when that happens.

But everywhere we go people are thrilled. I have asked many friends if they think the money needed for the Olympics could be better spent (as some commentators are saying) on schools or roads or police training. Without exception people say it is not an either-or situation. The Olympics, they think, will definitely be a net positive for Rio, if not also for all of Brazil.
(And I got to meet President Obama and his secret service!)