Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pai e filho

Yesturday, while waiting at the bus stop on our way back from the central fish market in Niterói, a sweet older woman stood observing Luiz and I chattering away. She was all smiles.

The sun was blistering hot so I offered to step back into the bus shelter and open up some shade for her while we watched for our respective buses. "Não, obrigada," she said. No thank you.
Then she threw Luiz for a loop by asking if we were father and son. She enjoyed seeing such closeness between male family members. "Pai e filho?" she insisted.

Luiz was so taken aback he could hardly respond. I, of course, nodded my head and smiled. "Yes," I said. LOL!

This morning Luiz asked if he really looks so old as to be mistaken for my father. I assured him that he does not look old -- I look young!

We'll never see you again senhora, but thank you for really brightening my day!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Luiz in the heartland

A couple weeks ago Luiz joined a crew of researchers to interview drivers along the road between Brasília and Barra do Garças. It was a 10 day adventure with a nice salary to boot. He was invited to participate by a friend of ours who works for the Department of Transportation.

As with anything, the trip included bad moments and good moments. Chief among the bad moments were the very long drives in a crowded car to and from central Goiás state, where the research took place – more than 24 hours in each direction.

Standing on his feet under the punishing sun all day took a close second in the negative category.

On the other hand, the trip afforded some tourist time in Brasília, the nation’s capital. While being a city with a rather dreary reputation, the architecture is world famous as a central achievement in Oscar Niemeyer’s long and groundbreaking career.

Being in the middle of nowhere had the advantage of being habitat for exotic (although locally common) birds. He saw rare blue macaws, toucans, lots of parrots and the more common yellow, green and red macaws, plus eagles and an owl. They saw ant eaters, capivaras, snakes and vast expanses of cattle and horses.

Always a favorite for Luiz, their travels included some time at a spectacular multi-level waterfall.

The days were long and the sun never let up. But you know our Luiz: always staying on the brighter side of things.

Garota de Ipanema

Listening to my iPod this morning I heard Bossacucanova's version of Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema). It made me think to add it to the growing list of other versions I have at this earlier post.

This may be the beginnings of a collection of sorts... (My impulse to post various versions of this particular song is really directed at my fellow gringos. I get it that most Brasileiros have heard quite enough of this tune.)

I could not find the version on my iPod from their Brasilidade CD. That one is actually better than this one, I think. But check this out. It gets (much) better as it goes along, so stay with it. Good jazz version.

You know you are in Brazil when

You know you are in Brazil when you begin cooking dinner before 7:00 in the morning. It’s simply too hot to cook in the afternoon.

Just imagine standing over a stove with two burners lit, rice boiling and vegetables steaming, with a hot oven at your knees – all contributing to an even hotter ambient temperature. Been there. No thanks. I literally drip with sweat, soaking my shorts.

Luiz and I do not have air conditioning, except in the bedroom. When I do have to cook in the afternoon I bring an oscillating fan into the kitchen and set it up on a stool. But that just circulates the hot air. Still, it’s an improvement.

This morning I got up at my usual 6:30 am and got to work. First: a pot of coffee. Then I put in a load of laundry (which requires nearly two hours to run its course). Taking some leftover chicken and vegetable stock from a previous roasted medley I set lentils to boil. Using chopped onions and some garlic I quickly sautéed some brown rice and then set it to boil as well. Finally, I scrubbed three whole beets, cut off the greens end, wrapped each in foil and placed them in a hot oven to roast.

With that I escaped to the living room to study Portuguese under the ceiling fan.

By nine o’clock I had completed a green lentil, red onion and brown rice pilaf (my antidote to the ever-present white rice on the dinner table), skinned and sliced the roasted beets and put to refrigerate, hung the laundry, and cleaned the kitchen. All this before the sun crested the tall apartment building to our east.

Dinner has been prepped. Now I can enjoy some beach time, like any respectable Brazilian.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Disney Magic Moments Parade in Copacabana

Below is a partial, loose translation of this news release about the upcoming event.

This Sunday, November 29th Mickey, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck and company will be together for the first time in the middle of Copacabana beach, in a show that promises to delight parents and children. The most famous pedestrian street in the country will be filled with joy at the Disney Magic Moments Parade, starting at 9 am. Featuring 350 artists, dancers and actors, the parade will begin at Station 6, near Forte de Copacabana (between the Rua Joaquim Nabuco and Av. Princesa Isabel) and continue to the height of Princess Elizabeth Street.

In honor of Brazil, the Disney Magic Moments Parade will open with the character Zé Carioca, created in 1940 and will have as company Donald Duck. The event will also include seven floats: Mickey Mouse and Friends, Fairies, Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh, Toy Story and Princesses. The parade will also feature entries highlighting The Lion King, High School Musical, Lilo & Stitch, Disney Villains, The Boat of Peter Pan, and Playhouse Disney Mogli. Everything was built entirely in the city to adapt to the pavement's width. For fans of the musical High School Musical, a surprise: the entire cast of the Brazilian film will be on board the car dedicated to this theme.

All dancers participating in the Parade are Brazilians. The attraction will also feature 20 songs especially recorded in Portuguese, in a studio in Los Angeles, so the audience at the site can better appreciate the parade.

Date: November 29, 2009 - (Sunday)

Location: Copacabana beach between Rua Joaquim Nabuco and Princesa Isabel

Parade begins: 9:00

Ending at: 10:30

Hey, if you live in the area and you have kids, this looks like a terrific FREE event!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Does "I'll be there" mean "I'll be there?"

Last night I had a culture clash moment. I have to keep reminding myself that cultural mores are different in Brazil than in the United States. Even when that does not compute.

Last night I was hosting my boss for dinner. We had spoken several times during the week about the night. I had asked what she likes to eat. We decided on a time to get together. Usual stuff.

So I went about making it happen. In true qualidade de vida fashion I didn’t just go to the fish market to buy some fillets, I spent the day at the beach relaxing and soaking up the sun – then bought some totally fresh fish on the beach from a fisherman. (R$10 for 6 fish cleaned and filleted – amazing.)

[Not really my salad, but close.]

After an afternoon nap and refreshing shower I proceeded to prepare dinner: a picture-perfect steamed vegetable salad; rice to my satisfaction (while maybe others here would say it was not salty enough;) and an amazing baking dish brimming with a carnival of fish fillets, onions, mushrooms, green peppers and garlic. Super bom.

I set the table and even dusted the coffee table and shelves by the television.

About 25 minutes before my guest/boss was to arrive the phone rang. (The Brazilians know what comes next.)

“Jim, I’m still trying to resolve a problem with my cell phone. I don’t think I can make it tonight. OK?”

“OK, fine, no problem.” I replied.

What’s up with that? With friends – I get it. But when I am hosting my boss for the first time you would think she knows this is not just pizza with the gang. Luckily I had not already opened the wine.

Oh well. Keep breathing. It’s no big deal, really. I got snagged by my expectations that then clashed with my boss’s sense of casual weekend flexibility.

So half of the beautiful, tasty and completely boneless fish went into my stomach – and the other half went to the refrigerator.

It’s all good. We fall down - we get up.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Today is another holiday

They just keep on comin'

I'm having my supervisor at FISK over for dinner. Long overdue. I asked if she likes fish and she does. So my plan is to spend the day at Itaipú beach and buy some fresh fish from a fisherman who will undoubtedly spread out his catch on the sand for sale.

When the sun gets to be too much I'll come home, take a nap, then get up and prepare dinner.

Ah... qualidade de vida indeed!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Girlfriend - take a pill

Oh my god -- or as the more hip might say: OMG!

You have to see this. Miss Gay Brazil was reveling in her moment of victory when Miss São Paulo got a little jealous and otherwise extremely upset and literally ripped the crown (and wig) off the new reigning queen.

OK baby – don’t be playin' with no drag queen, honey. She will cut you! You know that was not the end of it!

A shout out to my homeboy Tim for alerting me to this travesty. LOL!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

There's only one Rio

Yet another delightful presentation of the uniqueness and beauty of Rio de Janeiro.

Even if you don't speak Portuguese, listen carefully: "Só existe um/a..." There is only one...

I pulled this from the relatively new official tourism website for Rio. Check it out. It's got everything!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Like mother like daughter

At a recent BBQ in Itaipú the girls were imitating their mothers. And I don’t mean by putting on their high heels.

Probably about half of the adult women in our circle of friends have gotten breast implants. Nothing enormous or freaky Vegas-like. Just a little enhancement. If you have seen many Brazilian women you know that their bodies feature large hips and butt and pretty modest (if not small) breasts. It’s just nature being nature.

Anyway – this cosmetic procedure has not gone unnoticed by the children. On this occasion at the pool water balloons served the purpose of breast enhancement among the girls.

Could it be cuter? I don't think so.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Brazil tops list of vacation days for workers

It's not just my imagination. Workers in Brazil enjoy a bumper crop of time off during the year. And as I recall that was not the case in the USA. I'm pretty sure I have that right.

Now there is a study that sets the record straight (er - accurate). According to this article in today's Chicago Tribune business section citing a recent study comparing workers' holiday time in 41 countries, Brazilians are at the top of the list of workers with the most time off with 56 days off per year while residents of the United States are near the bottom of that list with roughly 25 days off per year.

I knew there was something about working here that I liked (and it was not the salary!) According to the study, in Brazil the government mandates that employers provide 30 days vacation for workers -- and that is not including public holidays (of which there is a steady stream).

The United States is the only country included in the study where federal law does not set a minimum number of vacation days, but a typical full-time worker with five to 10 years on the job receives about three weeks off per year.

So as people here are fond of saying, Brazilians work to live, not live to work. The flip side is the low wages. As a friend of ours once said: "In Brazil employees pretend to work and then their employers pretend to pay them!"

For me -- I'll take the time at the beach.

Friday, November 6, 2009

US financial shenanigans

People scream when I get too political on this blog (too much US politics). But I have to promote this video.

Elizabeth Warren is like your aunt Edith who doesn't care if you believe her or not. She is earnest and knows what she knows. You can listen to her or not. She has also been recently appointed as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the U.S. banking bailout.

Here she is explaining the most recent report from the Congressional Oversight Panel. (Stay with me!) The report is: Guarantees and Contingent Payments in TARP and Related Programs.

An exerpt: “The impact of the guarantees that have been offered over the past year really can’t be overstated. The magnitude of the intervention in the market has rewritten the basic rules of our financial system. By putting taxpayer money on the line to cover a private company’s bad decisions, Treasury has crossed a threshold that has left us in unknown territory.”

Trust me. It's worth your time. Get schooled.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Health Insurance in Brazil

Healthcare reform in the US must be possible.

Take Brazil, for example. We are a poor country. But everyone has access to healthcare. If you have no supplemental insurance you definitely wait for care in the nationalized system that is stressed and can be lacking. But there is care – for as long as you need it. And you don't have to sell your house to get it.

Nobody loses everything trying to pay for medical care. In fact it is against the law to have your house taken away from you to pay a debt. To Brazil's credit - some things are seen as going too far. People need a place to live!

Most employed people buy some form of supplemental insurance that kicks things upstairs a bit, reducing wait times or improving comfort levels along the way.

By way of comparison let me comment on my dental care of late. I just completed a triple root canal. (No pain.) I pay about US$5.00 per month through my employer for dental coverage. No co-pays. No deductible. The quality of care was outstanding. In fact I’m inclined to invite my dentist to our next BBQ.

In the end I paid pennies on the dollar for the service I received. She got paid what she needs and I got quality dental care. Go figure.

UPDATE: With the root canal work behind me it is time to reconstruct the tooth (I have no tooth above the gum line) and then fit it with a crown. This is not covered by my insurance company. All is not lost -- the price for the reconstruction is US$46 and the price for the state-of-the-art porcelain crown is US$200. [If you don't want to be sad or frustrated I suggest you NOT call your dentist and compare prices.]

Easy for me to say, but, the US can (and must) do better.

Feel the burn

It has begun. Summer is clearly on the march.

Today it is 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

My schedule includes a root canal in the morning, one student in the morning, and two conversation classes into the evening. Nice and light.

Luiz left for the beach at 9:00 a.m. to meet up with some friends.

It is definitely hotter in the summer, but we don’t work any harder…

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Luiz Health Update

Even though our heads understand that Luiz’s Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is behaving itself and not getting too excited in his body, trekking over to the National Cancer Institute for his quarterly check-in is always a bummer because somewhere in our guts we can’t extinguish the worry that things might change. Maybe this visit will bring bad news.

Well, not this time. Luiz’s latest blood counts show he continues to be in very good shape. And once again, his platelets count went up. (That’s good.)

For the CLL geeks: Luiz’s Absolute Lymphocyte Count (ALC), while climbing, has been moving at a snail’s pace. One of the guidelines physicians use in monitoring progression of CLL is to look at how fast the lymphocyte counts are increasing. The measure used is the time taken for ALC to double. A doubling time of one year or more is considered a hallmark of a slow, indolent disease. Over the past TWO YEARS since Luiz was diagnosed his ALC has increased by only 46%.

Again, his blood count trends continue to report nothing but good news (within the bad reality of being a CLL patient).

Thanks again for all your concerns and well wishes. Luiz soaks them up like a smiling sponge. Next appointment: January 2010.

It's all good. Luiz -- I gotta feelin'...

Check this out.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gay Pride Parade in Rio

More than 1.2 million gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and supportive people flooded Atlantic Avenue in Copacabana on Sunday for the 14th annual Gay Parade in Rio. The theme this year was "I have the right to live and love freely." The gathering is said to be the third largest event in Rio after Carnaval and New Years Eve.

In spite of a spitting drizzle that persisted all day long it was a great time full of good spirits, incredible eye candy and some very creative costumes.

There were 16 trio electicos pounding out entrancing dance music that kept people dancing in the street.

Expressions of pride, a political insistence on equality, and an end to homophobia were noted on banners hanging off the sides of the trio electricos. Speakers from various trucks took their microphones periodically to work the crowd into a prideful buzz.

And I had the pleasure of running into Carmen Miranda! (Although she looked a little worse for wear than I remember her from her movies.)

Here is one of the local newscasts about the parade: