Saturday, January 31, 2009

Carnaval Fever

It’s the run up to Carnaval – the best time of year. People are crazy for Carnaval. There are parades, block parties, rehearsals and all types of late night revelry. It’s great. And in true Brazilian fashion, where there are people there are street vendors with cold beer, hot dogs and grilled meat on a stick.

Last night we went to a smaller more obscure School of Samba: Estacio, in Rio. It has a reputation for being a largely gay School (perhaps why it has dwindling neighborhood participation.) It was GREAT. Only R$5 to get in (the more famous Schools charge R$20-R$40 to get into the rehearsal hall.) The first thing I noticed was how well decorated the hall was – clever use of fabric and color. Gay people – we have that knack. =;-)

Unfortunately we did not take our camera – it’s a pain in the butt to hang onto all night long. What a missed opportunity. Beautiful hall, super cute men and women, some extravagant costumes, and just plain pure Rio Carnaval.

It was Friday night so the name of the game was party, not rehearsal. Generally the Schools have two events a week in the run up to Carnaval. Earlier in the week, like a Tuesday or Wednesday, they have their rehearsal night when the community shows up to work on their parade choreography and practice singing the samba. Then on a weekend night they host a party to build enthusiasm for their school and make some money from entrance fees and food and drink sales to help pay for the floats, costumes, salaries, etc.

Last night there were about 40 members of the bateria (percussion band) on the stage banging out the samba, with a few singers and a dozen or so nearly naked beautiful brown and black women shaking their booties like nowhere else on the planet.

The music was deafening and the beat penetrating. It was inescapable and hypnotic. Who knows where the energy comes from but we were swept up into the magic and before we knew it it was 5:00 a.m. and time to step outside to have a hot dog and a few more beers before chasing the sunrise on our way home.

This is a weekly thing until Carnaval. Plus on Sunday our local School: Viradouro practices on the main street through downtown in the evening. That one is free.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Looking for work

I’m back to looking for work. This time I’m diving into the “Teaching English” pool – as so many have suggested. For years I have read about, talked about and thought about being an English teacher as the logical entré into the workforce. It has not exactly been my first choice of careers, but we do what we have to do.

As I mentioned in an earlier post – I quit my previous job. This action SHOCKED my friends. “Do you have an alternative!?” they asked with a look of disbelief. I did not. But I am not willing to deliver up my talents and attention to a boss/workplace that disrespects my contributions. Long story…

So here I am in the middle of Carnival season looking for work (i.e. not good timing.)

Anyway – the task is to find work, not to focus on the obstacles. I refurbished my resume with a slant toward my past experience as an educator and trainer. The internet has been, as always, a remarkable resource for researching the road ahead and identifying target employers.

With newly-polished resume and cover letter in hand I have been walking the streets of Niterói introducing myself to each of the 59 (FIFTY NINE!!) private schools/storefronts offering English language instruction. So far – a few nibbles.

Teaching English is not so much about having an international certification regarding lingual pedagogy as it is about joining a franchise and being taught their method of instruction. Most schools boast that their way of learning English is better/faster/more in depth than the other guy.

So as a totally green Gringo I am still employable because each of these schools need/wish to have a NATIVE SPEAKER to lead their conversation classes. That would be me.

More later – but for now I am looking for an opportunity to break into the field. Part time/on-call work seems to be the first step. I’ve got time. Luiz and I have some reserves so there is no pressure. Slow and steady will win this race. Race? No – no race here. Put me down for slow and steady.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Barack reaches out to Lula

Imagine that - the president of the United States called the president of Brazil to discuss mutually beneficial trade talks. Duh. It is truly a new day.

BRASILIA, Jan 26 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama wants to work with Brazil on biofuels and pledged to advance global trade talks as a way to stoke economic growth, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's spokesman said on Monday. Read more.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Culinary trade-offs

I’m still reluctantly adjusting to the small changes required because certain foods are not available. I brought a bunch of my favorite cookbooks but so often the ingredients are nowhere to be found, especially spices. I’m used to the very cosmopolitan supermarkets of San Francisco with whole aisles of foods targeting Asian, Mexican, African American, Organic, and other niche markets.

Here it’s all Brazilian all the time. Looking for buttermilk? Sorry. Peanut butter? What’s that? Pecans? Nope. Asian plum sauce? You’ve got to be kidding. Bok Choy or bean sprouts? LOL! Anything Thai…forget it!

Also – I miss whipping out a flawless pie crust (for which I am/was famous.) It is just too hot. The secret to a perfect pie crust is to keep everything cold and NEVER let the butter go soft on you. Well, I’ve tried putting the mixing bowl, rolling pin and all ingredients in the refrigerator. I use ICE water. I frantically zip the mixed dough into the freezer to chill down before rolling. After rolling it out at buzz speed I whip it back into the freezer before baking. But alas, along the way things just heat up a bit too much and I get a less than perfect crust (which people still love – but I know the difference.) This explains the bizarre but tasty powdery/crumbly crust used here for baked entrées and the absence of dessert pies as I know them.

It's been a year already

Today marks one year to the day that Luiz and I touched down at the Rio International Airport. So much has happened – so much progress – both here as well as in the US.

I’m grateful for the patience my in-laws and friends continue to show as I struggle to actually speak Portuguese. I’m getting pretty good at following along with most conversations and I’m definitely better on the phone – but any serious conversation of any length continues to be out of reach. This is very frustrating for me. Osmosis is not working – I need more formal instruction. It’s on my list!

Luiz and I are both grateful for the progress we have made to get him integrated into a cancer-care situation that is the best available. And we’re even more grateful for the LACK OF PROGRESS his Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia has shown over the past year.

Have I mentioned that Luiz now rides the busses for free? After a mere four months of paperwork, signatures, documents and waiting the ‘system’ has granted free transportation to him so he can get to and from medical appointments. As I used to say when I worked at the American Cancer Society: “You’re not going to survive your cancer if you can’t get to your medical appointments!” Here in Brazil they take that seriously and give free bus passes to anyone with a chronic illness – who can survive past the four months it takes to finish the paperwork!

Luiz has made great strides in getting his Flor de Luiz floral design business up and functioning. One unexpected lesson learned is the popularity here of permanent botanicals (fake flowers.) It’s a good thing economically – they don’t die on you if you fail to sell an arrangement within a few days!

We have both morphed into slow-paced locals who feel good about ourselves if we accomplish just one thing per day. There is always tomorrow. What’s the hurry?

Over all, not bad for one year in. Good friends, great family, Jim’s legal, Luiz is working and we have a brand new beach umbrella whispering our names every day to be taken out for some sun.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Everybody is smiling (and/or crying)

Barack the globe.

Today there was live coverage of the entire inauguration on one of the national TV networks. And the biggest network - Globo - broke into programming to show the swearing in of Barak Obama live.

From the Huffington Post:

The ascendance of the first African-American to the presidency of the United States was heralded as marking a new era of tolerance and possibility.

Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who also inspired millions, sent a letter to Obama shortly before his inauguration. "Your election to this high office has inspired people as few other events in recent times have done," Mandela wrote. "Amongst many around the world a sense of hopelessness had set in as so many problems remain unresolved and seemingly incapable of being resolved. You, Mister President, have brought a new voice of hope that these problems can be addressed and that we can in fact change the world and make of it a better place."

The anti-apartheid icon's sentiment was echoed in much of the world.

Alex Andrade, a 24-year-old unemployed black Brazilian, said Obama's rise has inspired Brazil's poor. "Blacks face so much discrimination here," he said, standing outside the Cantagalo slum, where ramshackle shacks line steep hills in Rio de Janeiro. "Now with a black man in charge of such an important country, it might help decrease the racism in Brazil."

One of our black Brazilian friends called today, in tears, to share her enthusiasm for the hope Obama's inauguration brings to her and other black Brazilians.

This is truly a big deal.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Which beach today?

There is no shortage of beaches in our city. We have several within the bay and many more outside the bay, facing the ocean.

Generally our favorite is Itaipu (open ocean) – with its on-the-beach service of food and drink – including umbrellas and chairs. Some of our friends prefer Cambuinhias (open ocean) because it is a location not serviced by a bus line – so there is a different “class” of people who go there (those who can afford a car). There, too, they have on-the-beach service. (This whole class thing drives me crazy - you see it everywhere in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. URRGH!)

The younger set prefers Itacuatiara (open ocean) with its stronger surf. It’s a super beautiful beach that satisfies surfers and the “see and be seen” younger crowd.

The one we go to only occasionally is Piratininga (open ocean). There is bus service, but no on-the-beach services. So the crowds are minimal. You have to bring your own sun umbrella (and chairs if you prefer.)

Our nearby local beach is Icarai (bay). It’s terrific for people watching – lots of beach volley ball and soccer. The view of Rio is spectacular. But the water is less than pristine, so we never go there for swimming.

One jewel in the bunch is Praia das Forte. It is on a military base so we can only go there when our friends Marco Aurelio and Lilia extend an invitation. Marco Aurelio is a career military guy. This beach is amazing (open ocean.) It has complete on-the-beach services PLUS the added advantage of being subsidized-cheap for the military and way less people per square meter. And the view of Rio and the mouth of the bay is “reach-out-and-touch” amazing.

Ahhhh – so many beaches – so little time.

Doing the laundry in summer.

Yikes it has been hot lately. Every day it has been over 95 degrees and sometimes over 100. Thank goodness for unemployment and the beach!

One bizarre, almost Pavlovian, impulse I get whenever it gets really hot is to do the laundry. Perhaps it is not so bizarre. With the ambient temperature so high the clothes will dry more quickly. It drives me crazy when our clothes take forever to dry during rainy days.

You see, we don’t have a clothes dryer. I don’t know anyone who does. In this hot climate the suggestion that we need a machine that heats up clothes to dry them when it is already 90 degrees outside just draws blank stares from people.

So we hang our clothes to dry from the ceiling of the utility room, like everyone else. When in Brazil…

Forgive me if I actually miss having a clothes dryer. Sometimes I need a piece of clothing before it dries completely on its own. Dryers REALLY cut down on the need to iron out wrinkles. And that handy lint screen in your dryer keeps the little fuzzies off everything. Small things, I know, but they are also weekly realities.

We could actually buy a dryer. The big appliance stores sometimes have one (one!) for sale. But they are almost always electric and electricity is really expensive. And the sticker price for a teeny tiny dryer is shocking.

So I just pop in my iPod headphones and hang up our clothes while listening to Rachel Maddow.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Say goodnight George

At least we've been able to laugh at this clown in the margins of his disastrous activities.

George Bush Top 10 Moments - David Letterman Show

Bush speaches: Greatest Moments - David Letterman Show

Saturday, January 10, 2009

You know you are in Brazil when...

You know you are in Brazil when you go to the market to buy bananas for a cake and there are more than five varieties to choose from.

I am forever forgetting which ones are the sweet ones best for baking – as opposed to the firm ones best for cooking, or the bitter ones only for frying, or the tiny buttery ones perfect for snacking…

It is always fun to engage several women in the produce section to get them debating which variety would be best for the cake I have in mind. Invariably one will insist I bring some of the cake back to share when it is complete.

Happy choices – we like that.

Speaking of bananas

The folks in Boa Esperança have taken to cultivating bananas as a means of earning a living.

Many of the (since cleared) mountain slopes are now covered in banana trees. This is not necessarily a wise environmental decision, but people are not known for our long-term focus when it comes to earning a living.

On the lighter side – it makes for some pretty roadside flora.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Israel is way off base

I can't help but hold the Israeli government in contempt as bullies for what they have been doing in Gaza. Since I quickly get tougue-tied just trying to express myself on this issue I'm going to let Cenk Uyger, a commentator I respect, say it for me. Here are some GREAT clips from The Young Turks that really nail how I feel.

Israel's Gaza Invasion is a Dumb Idea ... for Israel

Is Israel Using The Right War Tactics?

Hard not to be Angry with Israel

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Luiz's health update

Continued good news (relatively speaking) regarding Luiz’s health. After a two month period Luiz had a complete blood work-up. We met with a member of his team at INCA to discuss the results.

Overall he continues to progress at a very slow pace. Terrific news. Blood numbers continue to creep in the wrong direction, but slowly enough that for all practical purposes his status today is the same as it was two months ago. Although for those of us who worry, we see the progression in spite of the reassurance from the physician. (I actually graph the changes over time for a number of key indicators.) Luiz – our super sweetie – sees the glass ¾ full every day.

As an example of just how slowly Luiz’s situation is moving consider this: Treatment will be indicated when (among other things) his lymphocyte count DOUBLES over a thirty day period. That is, the level of non-functioning white blood cells gets to a place that necessitates their removal to make room for more functioning cells, so they can do their job.

In early November, 2008 Luiz’s lymphocyte count was 18,485 (normal range is 800 – 4,500). In early January, 2009 (a sixty day period) the count was 19,376. That is a near 5% increase. Remember, the bells go off when there is a 100% increase in just thirty days.

He is scheduled to return in another sixty days. If things keep up like this he will then be asked to return after ninety days. Not much going on. It’s all good (in this bad world of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.)

Thanks again for all the supportive wishes you all have sent Luiz’s way.

Tia Marta's cachaça distillery

While up in the mountains in Boa Esperança we drove up a crazy, two-track, washboard dirt road to an “alambique,” a little cachaça-making enterprise. Cachaça is the Brazilian-style “rum” – but DON’T CALL IT RUM! True fire water if there ever was any. It’s made from sugar cane.

Donna Marta, the donna de casa, has been making cachaça for the past thirty years – and I’m here to tell you that her products are top notch!

Donna Marta’s operation is WAY out of the way (like several kilometers past where you think in must be along the road.) When we drove there we were confused but pressed on, following the directions we’d gotten from a local. The only sign indicating the location of an alambique was about 30 feet before her ‘driveway’.

She is very happy to have her little bit of commerce deep in the hills. Donna Marta does not sell her efforts at any other location. (And I’ll bet the government tax man has never been to her place.)

We were especially delighted to see the quality of life for the children living at her sitio.

Here are a few shots of her low-tech but effective operation.

All for the low, low price of just US$3 a fifth! – Cachaça with molasses, cachaça with cinnamon, pure cachaça, cachaça aged in oak, cachaça liqueur with banana, cachaça liqueur with mango – it was crazy!

Starting the new year in Boa Esperança

Our New Year’s Eve celebration was with our group of friends in Boa Esperança . Since Luiz and I had the luxury and flexibility to arrive early we hopped a bus that got us there on the Monday prior to the New Year. We settled in, tidied up the place and got ready for the big weekend.

Once everyone arrived we were in full tilt mode. Off to waterfall São Jose.

The next day we were ready to do it all over again, but at a different watering hole near our house.

Soon it was New Year's Eve. Happy new year!

The next day we slept if all off back at São Jose. (Well, just a few more beers.)

Later in the weekend we went to the confluence of two rivers nearby.

Overall – super friends and super celebrations.