Friday, June 27, 2008

Feel the love

Happy 70th birthday mom!

Congratulations on 70 wonderful years and the promise of so many more to come. Lookin' good for 70 grrl! (Seventy is the new fifty.)

We got a cake that says we love you on it. (Scroll down and start the soundtrack as you read the rest of the post.)

Here are a couple shots of the birthday girl we took while staying with her and Pat in Florida before our move.

Full on family shot.

Mom and the kids.

Seriously mom – thanks for your unconditional support of my plan to move to Brazil. It has really meant a lot. We are taking notes of all the great places we are going to take you and Pat when you come to visit – so plan a long vacation!

Luiz sends love and kisses and thanks for all your help. Zozo and Tonico send their best. Luiz is hoping it won’t be too long before you two make it down here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Brazilian horse power

Brazilians have a love affair with new cars. The roads are filled with them. Of course there are lots of older cars – but clean, new cars with tinted windows are as common as coconut palms at the beach.

And so it is especially jarring to see juxtaposed to all the modern cars the occasional horse and wagon. Typically a junk man (often with son) and sometimes a freight hauler. These guys clop along through the traffic taking care of business.

The horse thing is not uncommon in the country, for sure, but I’m talking here about horses grazing on grassy medians in urban Rio (population 6+ million) or competing for road space in Niterói (population 650,000).

When we went to Belo Horizontes (population 2.5 million) for Carlos’ birthday a friend dropping off a huge cooking pot for the feijoada arrived on horseback. Here’s a shot of the horse and cart ‘parked’ in the front of the yard during the party.

The strangest horse story to date happened one early morning while I sat in my wooden rocker reading before Luiz woke up. I heard the unmistakable clip clop of horse hooves getting louder outside our window. Now, we live in a very urban neighborhood. The streets are lined with 20 story condominiums. The sound was very bizarre.

I got up to investigate and looked down to see two unattended horses walking calmly down the middle of the street. No human in sight. The horses just made their way down the street. The few vehicles on the road at that hour slowed to carefully drive around them.

Every day is an adventure…

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I just can't help myself

If you are not already a fan of the web blog Crooks and Liars I encourage you to visit it several times a week. Just look at the fun you might find!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Legal same-sex marriages begin in California!

Go figure – we leave the house and California moves ahead to legalize gay marriage.

Luiz and I jumped the broom back in 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Newsom opened up City Hall for same sex marriages. We were married for all of a few months before the CA Supreme Court annulled the 4,000 some marriages conducted in San Francisco and other locations in California.

While our marriage license was rendered a sweet piece or memorabilia, we are putting it to good use here in Brazil as part of our case demonstrating our “stable union” for purposes of my immigration petition.

Hats off to all our brethren in California! Choose carefully!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Visiting Rio's Jardin Botânical

We recently took advantage of a beautiful day to visit the Botanical Gardens in Rio with our friend Victor and his SUPER CUTE daughter Ana Clara.

Quoting from – An Insider’s Guide to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (a terrific site for anyone planning a trip to Rio):

Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro was founded on June 13, 1808 by Dom João VI, who then was prince regent of United Kingdom of Brazil and Portugal. It is one of the great tropical botanical gardens of the world.

The Botanical Garden was originally created to adapt to the Brazilian climate plants like nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon that were imported from the Western Indies. It was open for public visitation in 1822 during the reign of Dom Pedro I, Dom João VI's son. In 1937 it was listed as part of the Brazilian Historical Heritage, and in 1992 it was considered by UNESCO a biosphere reserve.

The 340 acre Gardens just celebrated its 200 year anniversary.

We spent the better part of three hours wandering the trails and walkways looking at the huge variety of plants, flowers, sculpture, historical buildings and even spotting a black beaked toucan. As a special treat we watched a small group of monkeys enjoy their lunch high in the trees.

There is an orchid house, a bromeliad exhibit and a little greenhouse filled with carnivorous plants. Lots of formal gardens and lots more just quiet green space.

I think my favorite spot was the lagoon with Amazon water-lilies more than a meter in diameter.

So many of the national treasures in Brazil suffer from the lack of resources to maintain and preserve them. Thankfully the Jardin Botânical has an apparently thriving "Friends of the Jardin Botânical" association and restoration work is either completed or in progress throughout the garden.

It's Valentine's Day all over again

As a bi-national couple Luiz and I enjoy the luxury of TWO Valntine's Days. In the States it's on February 14th and here in Brazil Dia dos Namorados (Valentine's Day) is on June 12th. According to Wikipedia: "This day was chosen probably because it is the day before the Festa junina’s Saint Anthony's day, known there as the marriage saint, when traditionally many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend." (Apparently the February 14th date falls too close to or within the floating Carnaval festival where sex and debauchery rule.)

To celebrate this past week we joined three other couples and went out to dinner at a pizza and pasta "rodizio" restaurant. That is: all you can eat. I'll have to do a Brazilian pizza post some time. Anything and everything goes on a pizza in Brazil. My favorite being the strawberry and chocolate dessert pizza.

Anyway - to help celebrate our love and commitment, here is a sweet video for just such an occation. (You'll excuse my sentimentality but it is Valentine's Day, after all.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brazilian TV – actually educational

Brazilian television is intentionally educational.

It must be stated up front that television in Brazil is SOOOOO different than television in the US. Forget about the simple and stark difference that commercials dominate in the US and the actual programming dominates here. It is not uncommon here that a full 40 minutes of a movie is shown before the first commercial break. A mere three or four minutes of commercials and PSAs follow, then back for another 30 minutes of the movie.

The key reference in the last statement that really focuses on the culturally different aspect of television in Brazil is Public Service Announcements.

I’m not really keeping track, but it seems like about one third of the station breaks are for public service announcements. Lots of them. They focus on everything from not drinking and driving to how to breast feed your baby (complete with explicit video.)

The television is clearly being used as an instrument to educate the citizenry. Think about it – in as many as 8 states (out of 27 total) the illiteracy rate is above 15%, topping out at 21%. In the US 99% of people over 15 can read and write. Brazilians average 6.2 years of formal education (compared to 12 years in the US).

In spite of the widespread poverty (which goes way beyond what folks in the US consider poverty. Nearly 24% of families live on less than $2 a day) eighty eight percent of Brazilian households have a television.

It looks to me like television is a good vehicle for helping people get what they may have missed from the education system. And apparently it looks that way to the government and social service organizations as well.

There are several campaigns on the television to help educate people. They include the typical government messages to not smoke, not drink and drive, stay in school, etc. But there are others that go way beyond this to include quick cooking demonstrations for accessible, inexpensive, nutritious dishes; or how to extract breast milk and freeze it for future use; or encouragement to have your baby registered with the local municipality and obtain a birth certificate.

Here are some other topics in PSAs I’ve seen:

- Report and don’t tolerate corruption
- Various proper use of Portuguese “on the street” Q & As
- Reminders to take your political votes seriously because they matter
- Reject prejudice and racism
- Embrace those who are different from you (people with disabilities)
- Encouragement to be ethical and not cheat others or go around the law
- Various public health campaigns like using condoms or helping to eradicate Dengue
- Regular kids are doing extra ordinary things – be inspired!

In addition to traditional PSA messages the writers for the major novelas (hugely popular high budget evening soap operas – more like a US television mini series) write similar messages into the dialog of some characters, e.g. The wise grandmother tells her grandchild to wash the produce before cooking it, or the neighborhood busy body goes around scolding folks for not eliminating potential pools of standing water in their yards to help fight the mosquito that can infect you with Dengue Fever.

The television is clearly a tool for positive social impact. While I eschew the idiot box in general (or these days, the idiot flat screen) it’s nice to see it being consciously used for some good and not just another vehicle to get people to buy stuff.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Getting legal in Brazil

I have some business to settle regarding the ability to stay in Brazil legally and obtaining permission to work. My tourist visa allowed for an initial 3 months time in the country. That was my window in which to line up a plan to qualify for a Permanent Resident Visa.

Actually – I did my research before we left San Francisco and started getting the necessary paperwork together back then. This article at helped show the way for how Luiz can sponsor me for a permanent visa based on our relationship. This is not a federal recognition by Brazil that we are domestic partners and thus Luiz can bring his partner into the country to stay. Rather, it is a law that simply states that if you are part of a “stable union” regardless of gender (aka: gay or straight) the Brazilian can sponsor their partner for a permanent resident visa. So I used this law to help get the necessary documents in order.

Once here, during our initial 3 month window, we got a GREAT referral from our friend Sonia Peyroton (who designed and built Luiz’s Flor de Luiz website) to a lawyer Mariangela Moreira who specializes in Brazilian immigration law. In fact, she is THE lawyer in Niterói for these matters.

During one of our visits to her offices, while we were discussing the use of the Stabel Union law, Mariangela had a question about a change to the law she remembered had happened recently -- she called the top federal police immigration guy in Niterói on his cell phone to get a clarification. Friendly chit chat -- got the answer. We are definitely in good hands.

So at this point we have extended my tourist visa for another three months, we have obtained for me a CPF number (like a Social Security number) so I can open a bank account, etc., we have pulled together most of our case presenting Luiz and I in a “stable union” and how I will be an asset to Brazil and even if I'm not Luiz will take responsibility. Now we are about to send it all off to Brazilia for processing.

Once my case is in the system I will get a process number and then all time limits for my temporary tourist visa are suspended. That is, the bureaucrats in Brazilia are free to take as long as they like (I’m told it could be 9 – 16 months!) to process our request and I will remain legally in the country. With the process number I will be able to follow my case on the government website. Like watching paint dry, I'm sure.

Then – once I get a permanent resident visa it comes with the right to legally work in Brazil.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dona Zozó and Seu Tonico

From the first moment we arrived until this one right now I've been grateful for Zozó and Tonico, my in-laws. Nothing here would be possible without their support.

More importantly - the reuniting of Luiz and his mother is a life-affirming reunion that cannot be underestimated - on either side. It is inspiring to see them love each other.

I am both a spectator and a recipient. And most grateful.