Wednesday, April 29, 2009

President Obama slide show

Barely a week goes by without a Brazilian of some stripe: friend, student, colleague or family commenting on the positive actions of President Barack Obama.

I could not be more proud.

Thank goodness we have turned the corner!

Check out this slide show of 300 quality photos of his first 100 days in office.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Luiz, flowers, and a wedding nearby

At the risk of repeating myself – Luiz is happiest when he is playing with flowers.

Flor de Luiz just served up 40 centerpieces, a few huge feature arrangements for the buffet and dessert tables, cake florals, as well as some ambient arrangements to bring the reception hall all together.

The fun part was having our apartment turned into a flower arrangement factory.

When we delivered the final product to the reception hall the ceremonialista (party planner) dropped his jaw and hugged Luiz screaming – “Oh my God!!”

No surprise on our end. We know Luiz is no stranger to creative floral design.

Flor de Luiz will be returning to the Contemporary Art Museum (MAC) for a wedding next month. The restaurant manager at the MAC is recommending Luiz to clients.

Paid holidays on parade

Did I mention that Thursday was a state holiday too?

If you read the last few posts you may have noticed that we just had three paid holidays in less than 15 days. Gotta love Brazil!

April 10th was a holiday for Good Friday. The day before, Holy Thursday, was what is referred to as an “optional” holiday. It’s not required, but your boss can choose to close up shop. So many people have had four paid holidays in less than 15 days.

Then April 21st was Tiradentes Day celebrating an historic national hero (see earlier post.)

Just two days later, April 23rd was a holiday in celebration of St. George, patron saint of Rio de Janeiro state. (Only workers in Rio state get the day off.) Sounds like a reason to hit the beach. Works for me.

Coming from the United States where you are lucky to have one holiday a month – and there are in fact less than that – I gotta say the Brazilian approach to work/life balance seems much more civilized.

The down side, however, is that you have to plan ahead if you are expecting to get anything accomplished. Luiz recently renegotiated our cell phone/home phone/internet contract (to our significant financial advantage) and needed to convert phone numbers on our phones. Unfortunately he forgot about the hop scotch week of holidays. What should have taken 24 hours to complete the conversions took nearly four days and several trips to the phone store. The very polite, if clueless, teenager behind the counter just kept smiling and saying, “It’s because of the holidays.”

Now we are just 6 days away from May 1st - May Day. You guessed it: a national holiday!

Friday, April 24, 2009

A 360 degree view of Rio

It's funny - but I heard it again yesterday. So many locals have never been to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio. It is on the short, short list for any tourist. And the view from up there is indeed spectacular.

I get it - as a long term resident of San Francisco I think I lived there for 15 years before I visited Alcatraz Island for the first time - and then only with visiting friends.

So for those who have never been, here is a 360 degree view from the foot of the statue. Click and drag your mouse to move the perspective. Use your Shift and Control keys to zoom in or out.

Better yet - come see for yourself!

[Special thanks to the Expat American Living in Brazil blog where I first saw this link.]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Graffiti art exhibition in Rio

One of the things that really attracted me to the “Portuguese for Foreigners” course I’m taking at the Federal University here in Niteroí (aside from the fact that it cost half as much as private language schools) was their commitment to getting the students out of the classroom to experience the community and use the language in context.

The first of these “external excursions” was yesterday when we took the ferry to Rio to visit the “OSGEMEOS – Vertigem” Exposition at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil.

Located in downtown Rio just a stone’s throw from the historic Cinelandia Cathedral is a cultural space opened 20 years ago by the Banco do Brasil. It is a huge former bank building built in the grand old style with inlaid marble floors and a towering lobby – now open to the public with performance spaces, galleries and art classrooms.

The featured exhibition through May 17th highlights the playful and visually powerful graffiti art of Os Gêmos, identical twin brothers from São Paulo – now quite famous.

It was an interactive installation including a room filled with musical instruments available to gallery goers. The surreal and colorful paintings most often spoke of the social realities and conditions from their poor neighborhood in São Paulo. Great stuff.

Check out this video (in English) documenting a recent show in New York City.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tiradentes - national hero

Today is another paid holiday... I'll take it!

On this day Brazil recognizes a national hero who lead early efforts for independence from the Portuguese. Check out the article below, originally published here.

Written by Stephen Guild

Joaquim Jose da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes (Tooth Puller), was the leader of the first organized movement against Portuguese rule in Brazil in 1789.He was born to a poor family in São José de Rey, which is now called Tiradentes, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

During his lifetime he was a cattle driver, miner and dentist (hence his name), but it was in his job as a low-level public official that he became aware of the exploitation of Brazilians. He was sent to missions in cities along the road between Vila Rica (the capital of Minas Gerais) and Rio de Janeiro, which was the path most of the gold mined in Brazil took on its way to Portugal. Here he saw firsthand how much gold was leaving Brazil, and he knew how valuable it was.

In his travels he became aware of the ideas that had sparked the French and American Revolution. He organized the Inconfidencia Mineira in Minas Gerais, which advocated complete independence from Portugal. An attempt by Portuguese officials to collect back taxes (not too different from the collection of tea taxes by the British in the thirteen American colonies) touched off the call for a rebellion.

The plans were revealed to the governor by Joaquim Silverio dos Reis, who was a participant in the movement and betrayed the group in exchange for waiving of his due taxes. Tiradentes fled to Rio, where he tried to reorganize the movement. Not knowing who had denounced the group, he went to meet Joaquim Silverio dos Reis in Rio, and Tiradentes was arrested.

The trial lasted almost three years. Tiradentes assumed the entire responsibility for the movement. Ten members of the group were sentenced to death; all of them, except Tiradentes, had their sentences commuted.

On April 21st, 1792 (today the date of a national holiday in Brazil), Tiradentes was hanged in Rio de Janeiro, in the plaza today named Praça Tiradentes. His body was cut into several pieces. With his blood, a document was written declaring his memory infamous. His head was publicly displayed in Vila Rica. Pieces of his body were exposed in the cities between Vila Rica and Rio, in an attempt to scare the people who had listened to Tiradentes’ ideas about independence.

Tiradentes’ martyrdom made him a national hero. Thirty years after his death the king designate of Portugal declared Brazil’s independence and became its first emperor. April 21 is a national holiday.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

One heavenly spot

[wild orchid up in a tree]

We are getting pretty spoiled with our unlimited access to the house in Boa Esperança. Thanks again Dora and Sergão! And now with Luiz’s bus transportation discount card he gets 10 free tickets per month, statewide. So we don’t have to pay the R$55 bus fare for him.

[walking a neighborhood street]

If we catch the bus in Niteroí at 6:00 a.m. we are fluffing our pillows in Boa Esperança by a few minutes after 9:00 a.m.. Peace, quiet, fresh air, green hillsides in every direction and no telephone or television (my favorite parts!)

[on the way to a waterfall - looking back down the hill]

The locals all know us by now. The neighbors come by to say hi and ask who else might be coming up for the weekend. The store owners wave hello and the bar owners dust off a couple chairs and set the frying oil to boil to serve us some fresh bamboo shoot pastels.

[dreamlike fantasy: boy with guitar in his backyard]

It’s a different world up there. The pace is slower than I’ve ever thought possible for working people. It takes some getting used to. And it seems the highest priority is talking with your neighbors. Only the bus runs on a schedule. Everything else can wait until you have caught up on the day’s news from those who live around you.

[daily commute]

And the cheese – oh the fresh cheese. Not only is the queijo minas warm and smooth textured, it tastes like family love itself. This last visit we bought four cakes (each a little bigger than the size of a one pint container) to bring home and share with those not able to join us. Plus – it costs about 1/3 less than anything remotely similar back in Niteroí.

[three generations of signs directing you to the waterfall]
[hiking above the waterfall]

Luiz and I walk the hills, enjoy the waterfalls and cook yucca root so fresh you can peel it with your fingers – like butta!

We’ll be back in early May!
[cutest man in the world]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Good Friday on the mountain top

Who says you can’t have a super-delicious, traditional, Good Friday bacalhoada (codfish stew) just because you are up in the mountains in a tiny getaway location? Don’t tell that to Luiz.

It was a team effort, really. Zozó provided the ingredients (including doing the two days of hard work soaking, rinsing and cleaning the dried codfish.) Luiz carried the multiple Ziploc bags of fresh ingredients to the mountain top: potatoes, onions, codfish, garlic, tomatoes, red and green peppers. Then together we chopped and sliced it all up.

Using the biggest pot we could find in the kitchen Luiz assembled the scrumptiously beautiful stew and soaked it in Portuguese olive oil. After an hour or so of simmering I was afraid half the neighborhood would be gathering outside the front gate looking for a taste. It smelled wonderful.

Add some fresh cooked rice and a crispy salad and we celebrated Good Friday just like Luiz’s family has done for generations.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tiny surprise in Boa Esperança

Shortly after we arrived at the house in Boa Esperança I knew something was up. The main entrance to the house is in the back, where there is a little porch area. I was straightening up the porch, putting floor mats in place and moving clothes pins to the line in the yard when I was suddenly dive-bombed by a hummingbird.

Being somewhere between a huge insect and a teeny-tiny, speedy UFO the aggressive near misses by this thing were startling. It took me a few times to realize it was a hummingbird. But why was it coming at me like a mother protecting her young?

Aha! Ya think? I sleuthed around in the porch area for any recent architectural additions. Sure enough, woven onto the power cord for the porch light was a tiny blob of something-or-other. Perfect location, as these things usually are: in the porch (dry), way up high and protected on three sides by the porch itself. Safe and sound. That is – until the humans come bustin’ about for a holiday weekend.

Luiz quickly adopted the hummingbird couple and their two as yet unhatched eggs as his little babies. Access to the porch was severely restricted and turning on the porch light forbidden altogether.

We sneaked a peak every now and again – but mostly left mom, dad and the potential kids alone. Super cute!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Student inspires teacher

I met a young man, Pedro, in one of my English conversation classes the other day who really touched my heart. Students in class were talking about their families – each student describing his or her own immediate and extended families (practicing words like cousin, niece, grandfather, uncle on my father’s side, etc.)

This one teenage boy’s story stood out as completely different from the others. He was raised by a single mother without any other family members in the picture. When he was 7 years old his mother died, leaving him orphaned and alone. He lived on the streets for months before being noticed by authorities.

City social service workers placed him in a poor orphanage in a crappy neighborhood where he lived for the next 6 years. Once an adolescent he was transferred to a boy’s youth program where he has been living with 11 other boys, going to school and looking toward a brighter future.

Remember – I met Pedro (now probably 16 years old) at a private English school where everyone else lives in a privileged family where their parents are doctors or lawyers or senior managers somewhere. Pedro was given a rare scholarship negotiated between the youth program staff and the school’s administrators.

His English is excellent. And his self confidence and sense of self worth are inspiring.

Pedro has rearranged his schedule to attend two of my conversation classes each week. He had been working with a British woman but wants to practice listening to and speaking English with an American accent. Thanks to the youth program where he lives he is being sent to Florida in November for a 6 month job exchange placement. The program is arranging his travel, housing and employment.

What a great story – such a wonderful opportunity for him. You see so much absolute poverty and seemingly hopeless destitution here in Brazil. (I rarely post about it – but it is everywhere.) To see this boy picked up from the streets, his obvious talents recognized, and then being slotted into growth opportunities so rare among the poor here – it really keeps hope alive for a better day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Exxxtreme kayaking in Brazil

On March 4th, Brazilian kayaker Pedro Oliva set a world’s record by kayaking over an 127 foot waterfall on the Rio Sacre in the state of Mato Grosso. The waterfall, called Salto Belo, is as tall as a twelve story building, but Pedro not only survived–he came out unscathed.

Pedro actually spent more time underwater than in the air: though the fall took three seconds, Pedro was under water for about twenty seconds before he surfaced. Pedro planned the drop with his partner Ben Stookesberry, after scouting the location and assessing the height and route of the jump.

Check out Pedro discussing the experience (in Portuguese) and the jump itself:

Monday, April 6, 2009

You know you are in Brazil when

You know you are in Brazil when you go to the grocery store and it is all decorated with palm fronds in celebration of the Catholic Church’s Palm Sunday celebration.

The grocery store? Yep.

(My personal favorite: the holy spice rack.)

I am also constantly surprised by the presence of crucifixes everywhere: the butcher shop, the construction supply store, the bank, the post office, the federal police station, the bar – everywhere!

While Brazil is famous for being a “Catholic Country,” the truth of the matter is that churches are mostly filled with older women and small children. Most of the flock seems to have strayed.

But cultural traditions die hard.

There are some who would cast disparaging glances at offerings set out on street corners or on the beach for Candomblé deities – but then again they might themselves bring offerings to a statue of the Virgin Mary. The one pictured here is in the city park near our house. It is always surrounded by flowers and other gifts. Many days it is nearly ablaze with candles melted into fiery blobs near her feet.

While I have spoken many times about the confidence Luiz and I have with the National Cancer Institute where he is being seen, there is that big statue of Mary on the fourth floor ward with all those hand-written notes begging for good health slipped under her toes. Can’t hurt, I suppose…

Saturday, April 4, 2009

10 years of love, life and adventure

April 1st was our ten year anniversary. Time flies when you are having fun!

How sweet is this? Luiz keeps an extensive scrap book (Luiz refers to it as our “scratch" book) of all sorts of memorabilia taken from our days, weeks and years together. It’s a wonderful, huge trip-tick documenting our amazing time together. We have the documentation!

Ten years. It feels great. People ask – and I will share with you here: I believe we continue to be madly in love because we forgive each other our shortcomings. (Plus we totally dig each other!) Nuf said.

To celebrate we went out for dinner at the new seafood restaurant in town. I had a 12 hour workday – so I was whipped. But I was all along looking forward to being with Luiz, giving him a sweet (Portuguese language) anniversary card, and eating fine seafood. Yum on all counts.

By about 10:00 p.m. we got to Siri, the restaurant. The menu was extensive and tantalizing. We quickly settled on a Risoto de Frutos do Mar (Seafood Risotto) and a vegetable salad.

Risotto in Brazil bares nearly zero resemblance to Italian risotto – except for the presence of rice (and even that is a different variety). Here a risotto is more a rice casserole. Delicious to be sure – but not the smooth, creamy rice concoction familiar to Americans (or Italians for that matter.)

As in most restaurants – the order is made for two. Actually, it could have easily fed four people. We took home plenty for lunch the next day for Zozó and Tonico. Delicious!

Truth be told the restaurant was less than optimally romantic. Too much light and echoing with the chatter of large groups celebrating their own occasions. We kept our gaze on each other – so we hardly noticed.

Luiz brought home some memorabilia from our table for the ‘scratch’ book.

He's such a sweetie.