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.