Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shopping for Iemanjá

Luiz and I spent our first New Year’s Eve together on Copacabana beach watching what were certainly the most spectacular fireworks I had ever seen.  The year was 2000, the turn of the millennium.  It was some party.

Unbeknownst to me Luiz had two gold wedding bands in his pocket.  After midnight, when the fireworks ended, we walked to the edge of the sea. Luiz stepped in and jumped seven waves.  Then he took the rings, submerged them in the water, and asked Iemanjá (goddess of the sea) for her blessing.  I don’t know exactly what he asked, but it appears we’ve been doing pretty well ever since.

Friday night we will be returning to the sea at midnight, this time at Itaipú beach.  Luiz is preparing an offering for Iemanjá.  It will include many of her favorite items: white flowers, perfume, a looking glass, a hair brush – all arranged in a little blue boat lit with a candle.  Luiz will set it to float away, to thank Iemanjá for all she has brought us.

We picked up the little boat a few days ago at a spiritualist shop in centro Niterói.  They also had a package with perfume, mirror, brush, etc. that forms the beauty items core of the offering.

On Tuesday we got up at 5:00 a.m. to go to the Rio flower market and get some flowers.  Luiz had a list and his mother (who has her own year-end ritual offerings) asked him to pick a few things up for her as well.

The place was a sea of white flowers.  There were countless vendors with white gladiolas, a favorite NYE flower that will be sold from nearly every street corner in Copacabana on Friday and into the night.  Residents and tourists alike will be taking their flower offerings to the sea in honor of Iemanjá.

Next year, 2011, the principal deity for the year will be Oxun, mother of fresh water, queen of the waterfalls.  Her color as known in the Candomblé religion is yellow.  So Luiz bought a few yellow flowers as well for him and his mother.  It will be a good opportunity to check in with Oxun, as the year gets underway.

We will be staying at the house this weekend and I will be away from my computer.  I promise to return with photos of our NYE celebration and Luiz’s modest gift to one very special Orixá. 

Happy New Year.  (I just ended 2010 by posting my 500th post.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rocinha Art & School Supplies Project – wrap up report

Tio Lino and Zezinho

Thanks to 21 donors from three continents we were able to raise an impressive R$800 to buy art and school supplies for some of the children living in Rocinha and for Tio Lino’s after school drop-in arts program.

You will recall that Luiz and I partnered with Zezinho and Tio Lino to develop a simple, yet direct-assistance idea to provide needed supplies to both children and Tio.  Then we asked our blog readers and friends to consider making a donation.  Several other expat bloggers cross posted our request on their blogs and included a link to PayPal where supporters could make a donation.  Many shared the idea with their Facebook communities.

Looking for the right picture to color.

Here’s how it all turned out: 

For the children we were able to buy 40 simple string backpacks - good ones with a zippered outer pocket – in several colors.  Then we equipped each backpack with a spiral notebook, three pencils, a pen, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, three balloons, and a six-color box of finger paints.  These school supplies cost R$550.  (Things are not cheap in Brazil, even when buying from a discount store!)

The cramped room is lit with a single bulb.

For Tio’s art program we bought as many of the supplies he requested that we could: three dozen paint brushes in three different sizes, 5 bottles of liquid paper glue, 24 glue sticks, an exact-o craft knife, a sturdy cello tape dispenser, five rolls of cello tape, 2 boxes of 48 colored pencils, 2 adult pair of scissors, five children’s scissors and a large format calculator.  These art supplies cost R$250.  Plus Tio was given all of the random extra items of school supplies after we separated out 40 each for the backpacks (buying in bulk sometimes meant having to buy 48 of something or 50 of something).

Yesturday, during the warm early evening, we carried 4 large bags of supplies and backpacks through the narrow streets/footpaths of Rocinha from Zezinho’s house to Tio’s temporary art studio (his other place is being repaired/rebuilt).

When we arrived we were met by about 10 children who were coloring pictures and generally hanging out with Tio and a few adult women volunteers.  The cramped space was cluttered with both small tables and chairs, and the tiny artists that occupied them.

Some of the art supplies.

The air was warm and damp in the one-room studio lit by a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling.  Next time we make a donation I think I’m going to include a fan!  (But no one but me seemed to notice.)

Tio is a big Obama supporter.

We presented Tio with his art supplies while the children, wide eyed, circled around.  “These are for all of us to use,” Tio told them.

The boys staking our their area.

Then Tio and Zezinho started pulling backpacks out of the bags and handing them to the unsuspecting kids.  It took a little convincing for some to understand that they were a gift and they could take them home. 

This little girl just kept holding her backpack.

It was a surprise to me that few of the children were familiar with finger paints. We had to explain the concept and remind them not to paint on the walls at home.

Unpacking and checking out the goods.

To his credit Tio Lino pulled two boys aside and broke the news that they were not going to get backpacks because he understood they had stopped going to school.  He sent them out of the studio with the encouragement to return to their studies.  It was always Tio Lino’s intention to reward the children he knows are staying out of trouble and are focused on their schooling.

So on this first night Tio was able to distribute about 8 backpacks.  The rest were stored safely away.  He’s sure the word will get out and there will be a bumper crop of kids coming to the studio tomorrow to see if they are lucky enough to get a new backpack full of school supplies.

Getting a little help understanding how to put it on.
Everybody say "Thank you!"

While we were apologetic that we were able to supply backpacks for just 40 children, Tio grinned, hugged us and assured us that the blessings of all things good would come to everyone who helped and that he was immensely grateful and a bit overwhelmed.

Happy crowd, and a sweaty Jim!

After taking a few more photos we were ready to vacate the space so the children could go back to their activities.  Before leaving we were approached by several little ones who offered us an appreciation gift.  We were each given a beautiful wall plaque made by a student in the signature Tio Lino style of recycled material creating an urban landscape.  It was a touching moment.

It reads: "Office of Tio Lino, Rocinha the world of art! Made by Viviene"

So there you have it.  When we all work together we can make an impact, if only on a modest scale.  Modest perhaps, but the impact is quite real to each child and to Tio Lino’s efforts.  Thanks again, everyone, for participating.  I’m sure we will do this type of thing again sometime.

Becoming a follower

I’ve finally broken down and made myself a “Follower” of all the blogs I read. I used to enjoy the fishing around for new posts via my “Favorites” drop down menu, but at this point I follow, or nearly so, more than 30 expat blogs.

With the holidays slowing down my work schedule I have even more time on my hands, so what better thing to do than clean house (or one’s Favorites menu).

The down side is that those of you who follow your blog stats might see a drop in visits, as I will only be coming by when you post, and not when I am out fishing.

Blog on friends.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Medicinal plants of the Amazon documentary

This documentary, beautifully filmed in IMAX HD, tells of two medicine men, one from Peru and one from the United States, who go to the Amazon in search of information from native peoples about the healing properties of indigeonous plants.  Very nice.  Check it out. It's 38 minutes long in four clips.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas - our Brazilian experience

The tree at the local shopping mall
Can I do this? Can I somehow communicate the strangeness of our Christmas Eve celebration with family here in Niterói and the disconnected celebration on Christmas Day with our friends without diminishing the annual joy of Christmas in Brazil for others?

As my friends online have shared, for an expat from the US now living in Brazil, Christmastime is just not the same and it imposes an emotional toll, if slightly, boldly, tangentially or unconsciously. For me, the feelings were real – but I’m not sure if they were sad ones looking over my shoulder or curiously liberated ones looking ahead. I have never been a traditionalist when it comes to “family” holidays.

It needs to be said that this year was the first year we experienced Christmas without Zozó’s beloved husband Tonico. So right out of the gate we were melancholic about the holiday. We missed Tonico and Luiz and I especially ached to see Zozó experiencing such sadness.

Our three were invited (first time) to join Zozó’s 40+ year friends, two sisters and their families, for a casual Christmas Eve complete with a Secret Santa gift exchange. It was my kind of party: no bevy of kids running around (the youngest was 27), no live broadcast of the Pope celebrating midnight mass on the television, no singing carols at midnight… just great conversation, casual expectations, terrific food and, unfortunately (not my kind of party), an over abundance of second hand smoke.

The Secret Santa part had us in stitches as people stole gifts from one another and, since we were all adults, no one was personally disappointed with the final results.

Most people at the party would receive two Christmas gifts this year: one from the Secret Santa game, and one from their husband or wife (or parents). No fanfare. No pile of crumpled gift wrap.

As it turned out Christmas day was also the 40th birthday of a good friend, so there was a big party planned. The host house was an incredible place for a party, but there were next to no holiday decorations in sight anywhere. It was as if Christmas ended at 2:30 a.m. last night and now we were on to the next reason to celebrate.

Fine with me, but SO different than what I am used to.

We talked, swam, drank beer from the endless tap, photographed the kids, ate BBQ, danced and sweat in the 90 degree heat all afternoon and into the night.

There was no mention of Christmas. In fact, when I said Merry Christmas to one person he corrected me and said I should now be saying Happy New Year. Christmas was over. (It was December 25th.) Oh, OK.

It was a GREAT party all the same.

Wow – things are run a bit differently here. And by here I mean my little corner of Brazil that I know through my family, friends and the city I live in. I do not presume to speak about more than that.

Even the little ones stayed amused all night (shout out to Brooke)

Things were very different indeed. I look forward to experiencing more next year.

Two elves can really make a difference

Hope your Christmas was joyous.

Here's a touching story about how two men in New York City were somehow designated Santa's Elves and how they rose to the occasion.  It's a very sweet Christmas tale.  Check it out.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Going old school

Just to be clear, I am not a religious person.  If you know me well you know how crazy it is even to say that.  But I know there are some readers who don’t, as yet, know me that well.

My family is Catholic and I was raised within the fold.  But I gave up Catholicism for Lent about 30-some years ago and have never looked back.

But there are remnants of my religious upbringing that have not faded.  The chill I get when hearing a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria is one of them.  Maybe it is because my mother loves this song so.  Or maybe it’s because it was played at the funerals of both my father and my sister.  Or, who am I kidding, maybe it’s both.

So combine Christmas far from my birth family and Chantacleer and you get seven and a half minutes of music that makes me horripilate.

Feliz Natal; Merry Christmas everyone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere

My friend for many years, COLAGE Director Beth Teper.
Please take 15 minutes and watch this.  It's a new film by a very important youth group.

It may seem off topic for an expat blog -- but this topic has been a priority for me for nearly 20 years.  As an activist in San Francisco so many years ago I instantly saw the power and primacy of supporting the children of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer parents.

I have been a financial supporter of COLAGE (formerly: Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere -- and now COLAGE: People with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisxual, Transgender, or Queer Parent) from the beginning.  They have inspired me since before I had the knowledge of coming from such a family.

What sets this youth-led, organic, powerful, civil rights organization apart is their media savvy.  They have figured out how to share authentic personal stories with the media in a way that combats the "news makers" from slicing and dicing their remarks into sound bites to further hateful agendas. 

And every minute along the way they have been supporting children, youth and young adults from LGBTQ families with love and encouragement.  Their history and impact is inspiring to me.  They make me want to open my checkbook!

Just watch…

And if you want to support their work, check out this site.

The kindness of strangers in Rocinha

Yesterday I was visiting my friend Zezinho in Rocinha.  We are putting the final touches on our Art & School supplies project for many child residents and especially for Tio Lino and his after school art studio/school.

It was a blisteringly hot day and I was drenched to the skin by the time I had lugged the bags of school supplies up to Zezinho’s new (very nice!) apartment.  We spent about an hour sorting through the supplies and then collating them into sets placed within the new string backpacks Zezinho found for an incredible R$7 each.

Each colorful, new backpack contains a spiral notebook, three pencils, a pen, a pencil sharpener, and eraser, several balloons and a set of finger paints (just for fun!)  We were able to supply items to fill 40 backpacks.

Anyway, I will come back to all this in a later post when we actually deliver the stuffed backpacks, as well as the art supplies, to Tio.  Say tuned, it should be in the first week of January.

The reason for this post is to relate an act of kindness I witnessed while folded into a van making my way down the hill to my bus back to Niterói in Gávea.

While waiting in traffic to get around a tight turn (Rocinha has just one winding main road and it is heavily used by vans, trucks, busses and a gazillion motorcycles) the driver of our van noticed that a man making his way up a wide pathway, carrying a small cabinet on his shoulders, had dropped something.  The driver called out to the resident.

The guy did not hear at first so the van driver beeped his horn and continued to yell: “Hey, guy, you dropped your wallet, or your cell phone, or something!”  When the guy did hear he did not understand what was being said so he turned and walked back down to get within earshot, passing his dropped item on the ground.

At this point several of the people in the van were trying to help him understand what had happened.  In the mean time a boy of about 8 years saw the wallet and picked it up.  He walked it over to the man still carrying the cabinet.  Situation resolved.

For the next couple of blocks everyone in the van broke into tales of when they had had their dropped wallets returned to them complete with documents and cash intact, and how great it is that people would know how important a moment like that can be.

The feeling of community right then, in that little corner of the Rocinha favela, was palpable.

Living in the land of zero junk mail

All this talk of Christmas back in the States (here and on multiple other expat blogs) got me thinking: “Where are all the clothing, house wares and gadget catalogs that usually show up in one’s mailbox?” Luiz and I have received exactly ZERO catalogs by mail over the past three years living here; not even a folded department store circular.

We have never received a solicitation for a charitable contribution (although this occasionally happens via the telephone) nor a political hit piece of any kind in the run up to the recent election.

Aside from monthly gas, light, telephone and health insurance bills, our mailbox pretty much sits empty.

Once in a great while we will receive a personal correspondence, but then that is usually from abroad. Folks here just don’t seem to use the postal service.

I’m sure there must be some reasons for this, for example, I’m told it is unlawful to send money/a check through the mail. So that would cut out the request for charitable donations and such. But catalogs and other advertising? Seems weird.

It is a relief not to have to stand over the trash bin every afternoon and sort out the few keepers from all the trashed postal items. Lot’s of trees are being spared.

But it’s still a little weird. (Good weird.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" finally hits the trash bin

While I intend this blog to be about how Luiz and I are thriving in Brazil, there are a few occasions wherein I stray from that focus.  Usually it has something to do with US politics, and more specifically, US politics as it affects our lives as gay men.

So I’m sure you’ve heard: the Congress has repealed the punishing and hypocritical “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that our last disappointing Democratic president put into place.  (Nobody disappoints like an ally.)

Credit where it is due: President Obama has made good on a promise and has done so in a politically solid way.  He has beaten the Republicans at their own game – although I’m sure Senator McCain is not finished with his temper tantrums.

But can I work up a lather about allowing LGB people (note: trans folk are not included in this ‘victory’) to serve as pawns for the political elites who would send our armed forces to invade and/or destroy (and die, don’t forget) for invariably political purposes?  Not so much…

I have been walking an anti-war walk since I first understood what that meant.  Fighting to let ‘gays’ serve in the military has never been a top priority for me.

But then – the US military is the LARGEST employer in the United States.  Ending employment discrimination IS a top priority for me.  And for this reason I am glad that the military ban against LGB people has been lifted.

Lots of people have lots of reasons why joining the military makes sense for them.  I will not stand in opposition to all that.  I do, however, look forever with a critical eye on what and why the military is doing what it is doing – and who is telling them to do it.

But today is a day of victory for equal rights in the workplace.  I’ll take it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Flor de Luiz at the Christmas Bazaar

In spite of the blistering heat out there, Luiz is staffing a Flor de Luiz booth at the annual Christmas Bazaar in the park down the street.

It’s a mad shopping dash to Christmas and people are out in droves.  Luiz has been working every day, creating Christmas wreaths, centerpieces, topiary and just plain beautiful flower arrangements for this weekend’s Bazaar.

He’s sure to do well.  While he was setting up, the other vendors were coming by to congratulate him on his work.

Friday, December 17, 2010

You know you are living through a hot Rio summer when

You know you are living through a hot Rio summer when:

- the butter you have on your counter has separated into oil and a mushy yellow nothing

- everyone on the street is seeking out the thin strips of shade when they have to wait to cross the street or board a bus

- taking three cold showers a day is not quite enough to keep you cooled

- your t-shirt, after going to the grocery store and back, is drenched

- you have a ‘regular’ waiter on the beach who knows your type of beer and who anticipates your lunch desires

- your normal working friends call and accuse you of having too much fun

- the late afternoon rains interrupt your plans to turn daytime relaxation into nighttime partying

- even the most uncomfortable and vocal mother and child struggling to make it home after an over-heated necessary errand are greeted with patience and generosity by the people around them – helping to make the way home more possible.

Chunky Twix Cookies

Much has been written on expat blogs about the absence of chocolate chips (as in the Nestlé Toll House variety) and the clampdown that has on making everyone’s favorite chocolate chip cookies. (Although Rachel has recently spotted a variety of said chips in a store in Rio.)

Even though I have a secret stash bag of chocolate chips tucked in the back of my pantry waiting for our New Year’s Eve party (thanks again Carlos) I came across this recipe for chunky, chewy Twix cookies a few days ago while TasteSpotting and HAD to cook up a batch.

I won’t repeat the recipe here, it is still up on the Sprinkled with Flour blog. But I do have a few picks to get your mouth watering.

The only straying I did from the recipe was due to the mid-90 degree weather here (and I’m sure well over 100 in my kitchen with the oven on). After I chopped up the Twix bars I put the chunks into a bowl and popped them into the refrigerator to stay firm (not melted) until I needed to stir them into the cookie dough. Otherwise I feared they would melt into mush and I would lose the chunk factor. It was a good call.

Also, I chose to put the final dough into the refrigerator for a few hours before baking to, again, not start out with a melted mess as they went into the oven.

The next time I make these cookies I will chop the Twix into LARGER pieces. Bigger chunks would be nice.

As suggested by the recipe, be careful not to over bake – they taste great right out of the oven, but then they turn all crispy from the baked sugar caramelizing. I know because I made this mistake with one tray. They are still delicious, but the wrong texture.

Note: the dark color seen in the first photo is a function of the dark brown sugar. I have not found ‘light’ brown sugar anywhere.

Super yummy!