Thursday, July 31, 2008

Churches in Rio

Rio has an impressive number of old churches, some on the same block or just across the street from each other. My morning and afternoon commute walk through the old “Centro” district takes me past 8 or 10 amazing architectural beauties.

Built in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s these churches are incredible Brazilian baroque, rococo, neoclassical and eclectic masterpieces. The wood carvings, marble and other stone work, paintings and cast iron doors are amazing.

I’ve put together a slide show of shots taken at a few of the churches I walk past each day. For the record, the churches in the pictures include: Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lapa dos Mercadores, Igreja de Santa Cruz dos Militares, Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Candelária (THE old cathedral of Rio), Mosteiro de São Bento (the amazing baroque and rococo shots at the end of the slide show are all from here) and another Nossa Senhora something or other – I’ll have to go back and check.

You could spend a month checking out the all churches in town.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I'm a political animal here and in the US

While I'm trying to integrate into my Brazilian situation as much as I can understand (political discussions remain a bit over my head for reasons of limited historical understandings and even more limited linguistic mastery) I continue to keep close track of political developments in the US.

Rachel Maddow and John Amato are my favorite suppliers of truth and analysis.

Anyway - here is a recent gem by House Representative Robert Wexler from Florida (my new state of residence, although he is not my representative) that warms my heart.

Accountability used to be important...

Check this out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another great party with Marcia

We never miss Marcia’s birthday party. Nobody throws a party like Marcia Santana Orlando. This year she and her husband Mike came home to Sete Lagoas (from San Francisco, CA) to celebrate with much of her family.

A quick. overnight long-distance bus ride took us to Carlinho’s house in Belo Horizontes, where he joined in and we drove to Marcia’s sister Mary Lou’s sítio for a long luxurious weekend.

Check out this “weekend house” just outside of town.

Perfect poolside comfort. The main house is just up the hill. The building poolside is the outdoor kitchen, sauna, bathrooms and party salon.

Fabulous breakfasts on the veranda each morning.

This place is the perfect party house: indoor and outdoor kitchens, swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, futebol field, big open air party room, 5 bedrooms, a dock at the lake with an elevated patio, and on and on. Throw in some world famous Brazilian hospitality and commitment to joyfulness and marathon celebrations and you have another memorable birthday party.

Carlos helping out at the wood-burning stove.

I love the clay and stone pots.

Down at the lake.

Luiz took a pair of scissors and plucked some flowers from the extensive gardens. Together with a few of the lollipop theme decorations he whipped up this extravagant arrangement.

View up from the futebol field.

We're looking forward to the next party!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Zero tolerance for drunk driving

On June 20th a new law took effect that reduces the alcohol limit in a driver’s system from 0.6 decigrams to 0.2 decigrams. That means even one beer puts a driver over the limit. People are not happy. Well – drinkers are not happy. Everyone else is hoping it makes a positive impact.

Drivers in Brazil are already famous for flaunting nearly every law of the road you can think of. A two lane road fills with three columns of traffic if people feel the car in front of them is moving too slowly. Drivers pass in no-passing zones ALL THE TIME. It seems no one uses their turn signal to indicate they are changing lanes. Speed limits are for sissies. Most folks seem to have skipped the auto safety class that encouraged them to drive a reasonable and safe distance behind the vehicle in front of them (even at high speeds!) It’s crazy out there.

Deaths by drunk drivers are shocking in number. Approximately 36,000 people die in traffic deaths each year in Brazil. Of that a full 45% are due to drunk drivers. These numbers are actually relatively similar to the US where about 42,600 people die in traffic accidents and about 39% are alcohol related.

It is not uncommon here to see a sale on 12 packs of beer at gas stations.

The new law has already resulted in 25% less alcohol sales in Rio de Janeiro. Folks are freaked.

The news a few days ago included a Catholic priest complaining about the new law because he could not celebrate mass in one church, then drive to another to celebrate another mass without being at risk of a drunk driving ticket.

The fine for your first offense is R$955 (US$597), one year suspension of driving privileges and possible vehicle impounding. If the driver’s blood alcohol tops 0.6 decimeters s/he is arrested.

I’ve started a savings account for taxi fare!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Avoiding the traffic by taking the ferry

My daily commute is a daily reminder of another way Brazil is quite different than the US. In this case it is a study in contrasts between the Rio de Janeiro bay area and the San Francisco bay area vis a vis public transportation.

I begin my commute just around the block from our apartment where I pick up a bus that takes me to the ferry terminal. During the commute hours a bus passes that stop about every 3 or 4 minutes. If I walk out of our front door and see my bus coming I don’t scramble and race to the stop – I know another will arrive in literally no time at all.

The bus fills up as we make our way to the ferry terminal and the downtown bus depot (with transfers to all corners.) At the ferry terminal stop the bus nearly empties.

The popularity of the ferries is remarkable. They run between Rio and Niteroí around the clock. Between the 7:00 - 10:00 a.m. and 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. commute hours they depart every 10 minutes. Six ferries loop across the bay and back in rapid succession. Moving out from peak commute hours they run every 20 minutes, then every 30 minutes throughout midday, then once per hour through the wee hours of the night.

The new ferries hold 1,300 passengers (although it appears they ‘only’ load them up with 1,200 riders.) And every one that I have ever been on has been packed. So that would be some 21,600 commuters in three hours (read: less cars on the road!)

It’s safe to say that many of the riders do not own a car (or two cars if their spouse is using the sole family car to get to work in another direction.) Or folks are just leaving the car at home as there is scant parking in Rio anyway and what there is is terribly expensive relative to wages.

So folks pack the ferries. (And I should add there is a steady stream of packed busses making the ride over the bay bridge pouring commuters into the streets as well.)

Very impressive. And it’s fun (more fun than waiting in traffic to pay the toll on the bridge!) Newspaper vendors sell all the daily papers. A snack bar on the second floor sells coffee, tea, juice, sodas and a wide variety of savory favorites. Fifteen minutes of calm on the way to and from work.

The commuter ferries between San Francisco and Oakland are lucky to stay afloat financially – and I think even that is accomplished via subsidies from bridge tolls.

Perhaps this is a window into San Francisco’s future. Gas prices here are around R$2.40 per liter. At 3.79 liters to the gallon that’s R$9.10 per gallon. In dollars that would be about US$5.69 per gallon. But I think the R$9.10 is really the better relative comparison. It may be a safe bet that when gas tops US$9.00 per gallon in the San Francisco Bay Area more people will take the ferry. Let’s hope we don’t have to go there!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Working in downtown Rio

The days of sleeping in and walking around town in flip flops all day have come to a close. I’ve got a job. It was bound to happen.

Actually I’m thrilled. And EVERYONE I tell lights up and exclaims CONGRATULATIONS! as if I have won the lottery. Good work is really hard to fine here in Brazil – no fooling.

I’ve been picked up to provide some business consulting and operations support for a friend of ours who owns a business that renovates, repaints and weatherproofs large buildings in Rio; large scale condominium buildings and downtown office buildings.

The business model is a real money machine, but a recent series of missteps on a really big job, including some labor disputes that cost a bundle, ground the business to a halt. We are resurrecting it one week at a time. But the model is a winner and his track record and past client base bode extremely well for a full recovery.

On the surface I’m helping to tighten the operations and provide some reality checks and coaching around certain business practices. We’re focusing on old and new business relationships and their promise to reward over time. The unspoken dynamic is that I’m head cheerleader to a guy who has been beaten down and discouraged.

It’s a lot of fun. My nearly one hour commute consists of catching a bus around the corner from our apartment, then transfering in central Niteroí to a ferry for a 15 minute ride across the bay. Then I walk about 15 blocks through the narrow cobblestone streets of the very old, historic “Centro” district of downtown Rio to the Praça Mauá district.

Our office is on the 14th floor of an office building with a view of the Christ the Redeemer statue out the window.

The odd part about my job (and this may have occurred to you reading this) is that everything from the phone machine to the personnel files to the client contracts and accounting is in Portuguese. (Imagine that!) So I live with Google Translate on my computer and play a constant game of dropping text for translation and navigating my way though the maze, all the while picking up the rather arcane vocabulary of construction materials and contracting. I’m a hoot on the phone!

It’s nice to have an income, as modest as it is. More importantly I’m out of the house and walking the streets of downtown, navigating everyday experiences and soaking up the buzz of it all.