Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Years Eve

New Years Eve in Brazil is a big deal.

Most people simply love the chance to PARTY. But so many others are looking ahead to the New Year and making offerings to the saints to ensure all will go well.

In addition to enjoying the New Year’s Eve merriment, thousands in the crowd are also at the beach to celebrate the Festa de Iemanjá.

Iemanjá is the Goddess of the Water / the Sea, the mother of all the gods in the Candomblé religion of Brazil. On this important night she is offered flowers, gifts and perfume which are placed into little boats and cast adrift into the sea, or simply tossed directly into the water.

Many, many people will walk to the water’s edge with flowers at midnight.

While Copacabana is packed with tourists and residents alike present to enjoy the huge fireworks display – so many others are quietly making their offerings to Iemanjá.

For the fireworks – check out this link for an amazing 360 degree look at the fireworks in 2007.

Christmas Eve among friends

It is my pleasure to recount a very nice Christmas eve with friends - actually, neighbors of Zozó and Tonico. Each year Zozó and Tonico (who have no traditional evening with children or extended family) join in the party of their friends across the street - Sra. Conceição and Sr. Sergio.

We were delighted to be among an extended family of about 20 - including two young boys - and another couple invited in for the night.

It was a very sweet evening. Two of the daughters present were English teachers, so I had lots of opportunities to connect.

As is the tradition, a huge buffet was set out to tempt everyone, but was not to be consumed until after midnight. Scrumptious ham, turkey, file mignon, multiple salads, and “stuffing” from the turkey that was farofa with mushrooms, onions, and who knows what – but super tasty!

Dessert included pudim de leite, pavê, rabanada, sweet bread and sorvete. (In English that means YUUUMMMM!!!)

At midnight (as is the tradition) we gathered in the living room to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We stood around the outside of the room while the young boys brought in a statue of the baby Jesus and placed it in a featured “manger” cradle.

One of the men/sons then sang “the First Noel” followed by a reading of scripture by his wife. Then the whole room sang the hymn.

Finally, the elder grandmother spoke her thanks/blessing, followed by her daughter (our host) and concluded by Senior Sergio appreciating all present and insisting on a positive 2009.

Very nice.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas

Feliz Natal everyone. Thank you for all your love and support this past year. It has meant a lot to us as we have embarked on this new journey - with all its ups and downs.

Best wishes to you and yours for a terrific new year filled with good health and loving family and friends nearby.

Luiz and Jim

Monday, December 22, 2008

Luiz won't let me say what I really think

12/22/08 VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Monday that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behavior was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

This from a guy who's always in a dress and who's hat always matches his shoes.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's Christmastime at Flor de Luiz

Luiz has been lost in a flurry of red flowers, green leaves, gold balls and silver ribbon, among other things. It’s Christmastime at Flor de Luiz and his super cute creations are flying off the shelf.

Permanent botanicals (aka: fake flowers). People love his detailed creations: wreaths, arrangements, florals with a candle and large centerpieces. And Zozó knows how to price them to maximize the sale (thank the goddess, because Luiz’s humble heart practically gives them away.)

I just have a few pics since the really gorgeous ones barely stayed in the apartment for a day.

Luiz pumped them out and converted our dining room table into a holiday home decorating showcase. And Zozó did the rest, escorting all her boutique clients into the living room to tempt them into a purchase.

In a couple weeks Luiz had sold nearly twenty pieces.

Boas Festas!

Permanet Resident Visa - signed, sealed, delivered

OK – now it is totally official and final. My passport has been stamped with a PERMANENT RESIDENT visa and I have a Carteira de Trabalho from the Ministéro do Trabalho (a workbook from the Work Ministry.)

(Rainbow strip to cover my ID numbers)

Pop open some Champaign. Pretty good process overall. I got my papers and right to work in less than a year. We worked with a friend of a friend -- who just happens to be the president of the most experienced and well connected legal firm assisting foreigners with visas in Niterói. Her multimillion dollar company’s stock and trade are the many oil companies that work out of Rio and Niterói. Plus she gave us a 50% discount for being queer friends of her queer friend (at least some times being gay works to our advantage!)

I’ve posted before about the paperwork involved, but I want to describe here our final trip to the Federal Police (FP) office where everything had to come together to the satisfaction of the agent there who would then issue the visa.

A representative of the law office took my file and myself to the Federal Police office. After a not-so-long wait our number was called. We were at the FP office in Niterói, so the wait is typically less than at the similar office in Rio.

The agent was very sharp and super meticulous. He quickly assessed my paperwork and began pushing back against the application at every point there seemed to be a problem: The publication date of my approved process was well past the 90 days tourist visa expiration date. We pointed out that I had gotten a 90 day extension to the tourist visa. He located that stamp in my passport and then noted that even with the additional 90 days my timing was still off. We then noted that we had submitted my application PRIOR to the expiration of my visa extension, so any delays thereafter were a result of Brazilian processing, not my overstaying my visa.

He understood that was OK but needed proof of the date we filed. This was a problem. We should have brought proof – and it should have been in the computer. The screen in front of him had all my entry and exit info, but did not include the date my process was received and initiated.

So we got bounced from the window to go get proof of this information. He was not willing to take our word for it (naturally). So Jefferson, my lawyer’s representative, got on the phone and tracked down the needed information from the law office. We stepped back to the window, provided the information and he was then able to look it up via another route.

With all p’s and q’s in the right place the stamps started flying, papers got embossed, they took my fingerprints, I provided two more photos of myself, and with a smile the Federal Police agent congratulated me and handed over my documents. (ID card will be ready in 90 days or so.)

I called Luiz and said I thought we should go out for sushi to celebrate!

Now with visa in hand we went to the local Ministéro do Trabalho office to get a workbook - you cannot get a (legal) job without one. We sat in another line. It was pretty fast overall, but VERY typical old school bureaucracy. No computers, just two workers sitting behind a table taking people one at a time to issue workbooks.

When I was up the worker pulled out a blank form and blank book, hand wrote a couple pages of information, glued more of my pictures to both the form and the book, then ceremoniously smacked the completed book onto the tabletop. Done. And surprisingly – no fee.

Just in time too – I had quit my job the day before! More on that in another post.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Year end Candomble

While enjoying a walk along the beach we came upon this tribute to multiple gods and goddesses (more accurately: Orixás). I cannot explain the whole situation, but clearly the person or people who created this tribute/offering to Candomble principals took care to give their best to each Orixá they included.

Tributes like these will remain on the beach untouched. Others and families enjoying the sun will leave well enough alone.

This particular offering includes many Orixás. They really went for the whole enchilada.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jessye Norman sings Ave Maria

The divine Jessye Norman sings Ave Maria in Notre Dame cathedral. This song takes me to a sad place, but somehow lifts me up.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Niterói celebrates 435th anniversary

This post is a little late but I had to include it.

Niterói, with an approximate population of 500 thousand people and the city where Luiz and I live, just celebrated its 435th anniversary on November 22nd. Founded in 1573 Niterói was the capital of Rio de Janeiro state until 1975.

In the language of its founders - the Tupi Indians – Niterói means "hidden ground water." (Fun facts to know and tell.)

Most residents, when teased by cariocas (residents of Rio) that the “only” good thing about Niterói is its spectacular view of Rio de Janeiro, will blithely remind their tormentor that Niterói is ranked by the United Nations Human Development Index as the third best city in Brazil for quality of life – and first in Rio state.

We love it. And we especially love our neighborhood Icaraí. We are perfectly located for shopping, busses to anywhere, proximity to the beach and the aforementioned spectacular view, and it seems we are in a professional medical offices ghetto. Everything we need is within a few blocks of our apartment.

Niterói has ocean beaches, natural areas, historic sites, numerous museums (including the famous MAC – Museum of Contemporary Art), great boutique as well as mall shopping, lots of free concerts and other events, and an enthusiastic, if not always champion, School of Samba: Viradouro.

Works for us.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving in Brazil

Not much talk of Thanksgiving down here. There are no cranberries - no matter how chic the store is. (This is a drag when you have a hankering for a vodka and cranberry cocktail!) If you're thinking about an Xmas gift - send cranberry juice!

Luiz promises to cook a few sweet potatoes for me. (And they are not the same either...)

All's well - I'll make a few phone calls and tap into the holiday. :-)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Zumbi dos Palmares - Black Consciousness Day in Brazil

November 20th is celebrated, chiefly in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as a day of black awareness (consciência negra). The day has special meaning for those Brazilians of African descent who honor Zumbi as a hero, freedom fighter, and symbol of freedom. Zumbi has become a hero of the twentieth-century Afro-Brazilian political movement.

Zumbi dos Palmares (1655 - November 20, 1695) was the last of the leaders of the Quilombo dos Palmares, a rebellious settlement mainly of runaway and free-born Black African slaves, located in the present-day state of Alagoas.

Historians vary in their estimate of the population of Quilombo dos Palmares in the 1690's placing it between around 11,000 and 30,000 inhabitants. It was undoubtedly the largest fugitive community to have existed in Brazil. Quilombos represented slave resistance which occurred in three forms: slave settlements, attempts at seizing power, and armed insurrection.

Zumbi was known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties. As a result of his heroic efforts fighting for Palmares' independence in the face of the Portuguese military’s assaults he became known as the commander-in-chief in 1675. Zumbi was captured by the Portuguese and beheaded on the spot November 20, 1695.

While the holiday (introduced in 1995) is ‘official’ in only two states, hundreds more cities and municipalities across the country recognize the holiday and its popularity continues to grow.

Jim's an official Permanent Resident of Brazil

It's official - well, almost. My petition for a Permanent Resident Visa from the Brazilian government has been approved!

It took a while. We started this back in May. We hooked up with an immigration lawyer and submitted all our paperwork. Then month after month there were new requests from Brasilia for this document or that. Once we had exhausted all their requests we waited for a hearing. Month after month the hearing was postponed.

No big deal now. It's in the bag. Actually, the approval has to be printed in Diário Official do Brasil. Then the ink dries.

But our worries that approval would somehow be denied are gone. I am now free to come and go as I please. Next step is to obtain my "Carteira de Estrangeiro" - it's the Brazilian ID for foreigners.

All in all it was a pretty short period of time compared to some others. We really had great legal assistance and advocacy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The rain has begun

One of the best kept secrets by travel agents all over the world is that summer in Rio is also the rainy season. Come see the fireworks on New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach – but be prepared for rain. Carnaval in Rio: greatest glitzy show on the planet – but be prepared for rain. Spectacular views from the Christ the Redeemer statue or atop “Sugarloaf” mountain for sure – but be prepared for rain. And of course the beach: bikinis and volleyball - ahem – when it is not raining.

The good news is that it rarely rains all day. The other news is that it can easily rain every day for many vacationers. A good rule of thumb is to get your bikini-clad bottom to the beach by about 10:00 a.m. This will allow you to get some good beach time in before the sun scorches you. And it gives you plenty of time to people watch before the typical summer late afternoon showers.

But then there are the real rains. Like the 90 minutes of downpour the other day that brought everything to a standstill. It was almost 5:00 and I was still at work. I could see the sky seriously darkening through our 14th floor office windows. For a moment I thought I should bolt to walk the 15 minutes to the ferry before the sky opened up. But luckily I thought better of it.

It began to pour. Really pour. The air turned white from the raindrops blocking out your line of sight. Within minutes the streets below were flooding. I called Luiz to tell him I was stuck at work and would head home when things settled down.

Traffic stopped. People were walking through the streets drenched, in water above their ankles, and at some crosswalks rising nearly to their knees. Then the garbage appeared. Washed down from the streets above the flood was now swirling with plastic bottles, newspapers, plastic bags and whatever else had been lying in the gutter.

It rained for well over an hour while I waited to see some sign of a letup. I was wearing a new pair of sandals (they cost me over R$100!) and I was NOT going to wade my way through the streets! When I suggested to my boss I would put them in a plastic bag and walk barefoot he burst out laughing. “Your feet are worth more than the R$100,” he said. I waited.

Finally the sun broke through and the rain slowed. In about another 40 minutes the water receded. I was able to make it all the way home with dry feet.

Later that night on the news there were reports of flooding all over the state and beyond, including the requisite landslides that blocked roads and mudslides taking the poor’s houses down hillsides.

The silver lining was that the next day the air was the cleanest it had been in weeks and Rio sparkled in all its beauty looking out from my view on the second floor of the ferry going to work.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Luiz's very positive health update

The short story is - Luiz's doctors have now asked him to come in every two months (rather than monthly.) In other words there is very little progression of his chronic lymphocytic leukemia so why stress ourselves with monthly visits?

So Luiz gets the holidays off and only returns for a check up in mid January. YEAH!!

For those of you following along at home, Luiz's complete blood count shows very steady numbers, mostly in the NORMAL range, while his platelet count (on the low side) has actually been RISING over the past three months! While some other numbers are outside of normal ranges, they remain barely so - and holding. His most recent physical exam showed no growth in lymph nodes.

In other words - everything is great!

Maybe it is the Green Tea extract Luiz takes twice daily (my idea - limited research at the Mayo Clinic shows this to be a good idea), or maybe it is the herbal tea Luiz's mother got for him from a healer in southern Brazil (6 months of twice/daily doses), or maybe it is your thoughts and prayers (always appreciated), or maybe it is Luiz's unique biology and the biology of his cancer - who knows? But we are delighted to enjoy an extended period of calm. Let's hope it streatches out into the years to come.

In the mean time - research for improved, effective treatments continues to show promise. I am grateful to Dr. Chaya Venkat and the CLL Topics website community for keeping me informed.

Flor de Luiz in the papers

Luiz designed some (dare I say it) FABULOUS flowers for a recent birthday party for one of Niteroí’s favorite socialites. They were a true work of art, blending orchids and fruits (apples, grapes and cashews) and vegetables (artichokes) in a huge display.

In addition he used dried bougainvillea blossoms to create a remarkable floating starburst flanked by orchids and fruits for the buffet table.

Following the chic luncheon attended by 100 self-appointed important people Luiz and his inspired creation were mentioned in the society columns of three newspapers. The columnists could not say enough about the unusual and stunning florals at the event.

Leveraging this fantastic publicity, the wife of an old friend of Luiz called in a few favors to run a very large advertisement in a local monthly newspaper. She was able to run a full panel from our Flor de Luiz brochure, plus the contact-info side of Luiz’s business card. Check it out.

Barack is the talk of Rio

Barack Obama is a very frequent topic of conversation these days. Maybe it’s just that people know I am both American and that I have limited language abilities. On election day more than half a dozen people said to me: “Hey Jim – election day – Barack Obama!”

Since then Obama’s face has dominated the news magazines at kiosks all over town.

I picked up a newspaper on Wednesday (pictured) that had the headline: “OBA!!!MA” This is a play on words. “Oba” means WOW! The sub headline reads: “The world celebrates the first black president of the USA and the end of the Bush era.”

I thought it was especially nice to use a photo of Barack and Michelle kissing.

Luiz and I are a long way from our time in Turkey a few years back when we were confronted in a café by a local Turk shaming us with the day’s newspaper featuring photos from Abu Ghraib prison. Luiz was thereafter Brazilian when asked, and I occasionally said I was Canadian, if the situation felt dicey.

It feels good to be proud to be from the States for a change.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Change has come to America

Oh yes we can. And we did.

Here is President Elect Barack Obama's election night speach.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

We have cast our ballots for the US and Florida elections

While we are happy residents of Niterói and the greater Rio area, we still feel strongly about US domestic politics (could you tell!?)

So we requested absentee ballots from our Florida voting precinct, which were delivered to our Florida address. My mother then forwarded them to us here. (US$72.00 DHL fee - yikes!)

At that price we were more determined than ever to get our ballots returned in time to make an impact. As new Florida Democrats we have been looking forward to casting two more votes for Obama. Plus there is a nasty anti-gay constitutional amendment that would outlaw any way, shape or form of legal partnership/civil union/marriage for us targeted gay types. (Florida is not a liberal kind of place...)

The ballot struck me by how many constitutional amendments were listed. Like: 5. What's up with that? What happened to elected lawmakers making the law? The residents feel they have to carve everything into the state constitution? It was a bit scary.

Anyway - once we voted I was determined to get them back in time - and NOT pay another crazy international shipping fee (the postal service is just too unpredictable in this case.) So I called the US Embassy and inquired if we could drop off our ballots and have them shipped back in the mail they were surely sending back for this occasion. Bingo. Free on time delivery guaranteed.

Once the ballots are back in the states the Embassy folks will drop them into the US postal service for delivery to individual precincts. And they provided a postage paid envelope for that local service in the States.

So on Wednesday I went to the Embassy, flashed my Florida ID (should have brought my passport, actually), skipped to the front of the block-long line of Brazilians seeking visas, and proceeded to the American Citizens Services Unit.

After just a little wait there my number was called. The one thing that caught me by surprise was hearing someone talk to me in English with an American accent. It was really noticeable. I'd almost forgotten the distinct sound. I smiled.

Everyone was very helpful and I was out of there in no time.

Levers pulled. Fingers crossed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Flor de Luiz is back at the MAC!

Networking works. You’ll recall that Luiz was given an opportunity to do flowers at the Contemporary Art Museum as part of a late-night party event back in July. The photographer at that event saw Luiz’s work and then hired him to do flowers for his commercial booth at a vendor fair.

At that event Luiz got lots of exposure and charmed many a colleague. The producer of that vendor fair later contacted Luiz to do flowers for a corporate event back at the Contemporary Art Museum. It was a no-holds-barred event for physicians and other health care providers to announce the opening of a new state-of-the-art medical clinic in town.

The event was on a Monday night, so the museum bistro space kept the flowers through the week. Just a few days ago Luiz got a call from the manager at Bistro MAC with a referral to a customer who saw his flowers when she went for lunch and wanted to speak with him about an event she has planned in the space.

We like how this is going…

Another connection at the vendor fair called Luiz up to help out with a wedding in Rio a couple weeks ago. Since then he has worked with her on one more wedding, and she has asked him to be with her at two future events in November and January. She started out pretty tight fisted with her compensation, but has since opened up to Luiz’s talents, dependability and dedication to the details. It is turning into a nice partnership.

Next week Luiz will have his flowers at another vendor fair, this one in a more densely populated part of town – so more client eyes will see his work.

Flor de Luiz is growing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The mail service in Brazil

The mail service here can be spotty. I don’t want to deride the local government workers – but… I gotta tell ya, we have had a few troublesome experiences.

Sometimes a letter arrives in about 10 days from the States. Sometimes it never arrives. We’ve tried regular service and Registered service. It would seem that a parcel arrives on time in reverse proportion to its importance. Sigh.

But – don’t be afraid. Things usually arrive just fine. Unless they don`t.

For the record – here is our address:

Luiz Madureira and Jim Shattuck
Rua Gavião Peixoto 331, Apt. 301
Icarai, Niterói - Rio de Janeiro – 24.230

Some words of caution when dealing with the Brazilian postal service:

For the most part things are fine. However we have waited up to 10 weeks for a piece of mail to arrive from the US. In one case – a piece of Registered mail never arrived at all (but that was when the post office here was on strike…) On the bright side – we have also gotten mail within 10 days. Go figure.

The real gamble is sending packages. The customs office charges 100% duty on the declared value of things sent into the country. So for example, when I sent a gift to my mother-in-law and noted on the paperwork that it was worth US$60 – she had to pay US$60 just to receive the package. – some gift…

Since then we have learned from our local postal carrier that if the package is worth less than US$20 (declared) the postal service will just let it through. More than that and they will charge the 100% duty. So now any packages are labeled “used clothes” or “personal papers” or “household items”- or some such thing, and have a declared valued of US$20 or less. Sigh.

My current worry is getting Luiz and my ballots back to Florida in time to cast our votes for Obama and against the anti-gay ballot initiative in the state.

Do feel free to send mail our way – but beware the realities.

Monday, October 13, 2008

You go on Donna grrl!

Here's a nice piece of tape with Donna Brazile saying it like it is. (Now if she would just come out of the closet already...)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Make the great schlep!

Hey Jewish friends (and others) get your butts to Florida and talk to your grandparents about voting for Barack Obama.

Check this out --

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Things are looking up at work

We hit pay dirt on Friday at my job. Finally.

You’ll recall I’m helping a friend as he digs his business out of a hole. It has been about three months of re-tooling and re-schooling. We’ve been changing the focus from winning a contract and squeezing it for all it’s worth (taking no prisoners) to looking to build long term relationships with clients that will bear fruit again and again now and in the years to come.

We’ve developed a new suite of services that support clients over time moving forward. We’ve added a level of transparency to the bidding process that reassures the potential client that our price is based in reasonable reality – and not just a money grab. And most importantly we have been struggling to change the tone of my boss'es business style from a harsh trickster (whom many clients wish to never see again after he has completed the job) to a more friendly, service oriented ally who seeks to share his technical knowledge with clients to help them protect their investments (their building.)

There have been significant changes to the tone of written communications along with more use of the telephone and personal meetings – complete with careful coaching before making contact.

It’s a tough task to get this leopard to change his spots. When stress sets in he defaults to being no fun to be around. But we’re getting there.

We’ve been limping along for the past few months with small contracts (between R$4,000 – R$12,000). But using each one to practice new strategies. Teasing my boss and our engineer I put a sign up on the board that read: “We are standing in the middle of the desert waiting for our ship to come in!” (Apologies to Sheryl Crow.)

But we may have turned a corner on Friday. After a careful courtship under our new ground rules – we just closed a very profitable contract worth $170,000. Yes!

Now it’s on to phase two. Gotta stay a nice guy looking out for the client. No more grab the money and run.

I know there are significant cultural differences between how I’ve learned to do business in the States and how many Brazilians would run their shops (and I don't mean to cast everyone like my boss) – but somehow I gotta think that being nice to your client and honoring your word about quality and performance will translate just fine.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Community wedding in Itaboaí

We went to a “community wedding” on Saturday featuring 17 couples from the surrounding area in Itaboaí. Two years ago Luiz’s goddaughter, Claudia, married her husband in a civil ceremony but then this opportunity for a full on wedding in their church came along. So now they planned to walk down the aisle in real style.

In fact, the opportunity to be the focus in all that pageantry was too good to pass up for Claudia’s sister as well. Maria Inês convinced her husband (civil ceremony 30 years ago!) to don some duds and re-commit.

By sharing the costs involved Claudia’s catholic church, Nossa Senhora de Fatima, offered an opportunity for the poor residents of their congregation to access a beautiful church wedding complete with lots of flower arrangements, a seven piece band with beautiful vocals, and accent lighting to enhance pictures and videos.

Normally the church charges R$300 for a wedding. In this case the couples were charged just R$60. The “parish family” then made arrangements for the ceremony, flowers, etc. It was a very popular idea and couples young and old took advantage of the opportunity.

Hours before going to the church we stopped by Luiz’s aunt Darcilia’s house (Claudia’s mother; their houses share a front gate and back yard) to enjoy her specialty: ox tail stew. Being on the inside at that point we were privy to all the mishaps that kept trying to derail the big day: the day before Oscar’s car had broken down and the mechanic was not yet able to get it up and running – so suddenly no car; when the rented dress and tux arrived Oscar discovered his shoes were of two different sizes and Claudia’s “permanent florals” bouquet (use included in the dress rental) was pretty mangled by the previous bride – phone calls and running around ensued; and then the guy from the reception hall called to say he had not paid the light bill so the power had been shut off!

Lots of drama. And lots of food. The stove and oven in both houses were running full tilt preparing final dishes and desserts for the guests. A friend arrived with a big van to help shuttle decorations, food and set ups to the (still dark) reception location. Repeated yet somehow calm calls to the reception hall guy ended when he assured everyone that if he could not get the power company to turn on the electricity in time he would just clip into the power lines above the street and reroute a little extra juice for our needs. (VERY Brazilian. This somewhat common practice in many poorer sections is referred to a having a “gato” [cat] where you pinch off the power grid and simply bypass the power company altogether.)

Finally the time arrived to walk to the church. Once the women’s hairdos were ready and the men and boy’s ties tied we put the brides in Tonico’s car (it had been raining all day and the muddy dirt roads would have been a disaster on shoes and dresses) and set off for the church, just a couple blocks away.

[Sorry, this is turning into a pretty long post – but it’s a great story.]

Once at the church the family members went inside and the couples and attendants went to the social hall to be coached and organized by the church staff. It was showtime.

As it turned out Luiz and I had the only camera in the bunch, so Luiz was declared official wedding photographer. He performed admirably as you can see from these shots.

It was all very moving. The music began and a procession of attendants entered and walked up the long red carpet to fill the first 7 rows of wooden pews. Then beaming brides and their grooms followed, pushing through a wall of camera flashes and past beautiful flower arrangements lining the aisle.

The priest got things underway by leading those assembled in a few prayers and then settled into a rather long homily presumably about the ups and downs of married life, etc.

Then one couple at a time walked to the front, exchanged vows and rings, received the priest's blessing and were pronounced husband and wife (to enthusiastic applause.) While the individual time was brief, yet not rushed, time did add up (remember there were 17 couples.) Just over three hours after we arrived we were cheering the newlyweds as they exited the church.

Now it was time to see if we had lights at the hall. Sure enough, when we pulled up we could hear the DJ and all was brightly lit. Somehow along the way someone forgot to pack the forks. No matter – the focus of the meal being served was Brazilian BBQ which most folks are used to eating with a tooth pick, or just your fingers. The gigantic savory torte was easily served in napkins. There were plenty of bowls and spoons for the soup. Nobody forgot to pack the beer and cups – so we were fine!

For the next several hours people danced, ate, drank and took photos.

It was a really sweet day. Claudia and Maria Inês thoroughly enjoyed walking down the aisle. The wonderful diversity of couples at the ceremony (young, old, first timers, repeat customers etc.) was heart warming. Being witness to such a touching community event was the real treat for me.