Friday, February 26, 2010

Break from the heat

We're finally getting a break from the record summer heat. It has been over 100 degrees for the past couple of weeks. It has been exhausting.

It rained quite a bit last night and a cold front moved in. When I woke up this morning it was about 73 degrees.

Looking out the window I saw people going to work and school wrapped in jackets, sweaters and hoodies. I know my Brazilian friends love to show off their fashion, but it seemed a little crazy. I had to laugh.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The luxury of time

Wouldn’t it be great to have the time to organize even the most obscure messes in your life? -- to finally clean out the junk drawer; know what greeting cards you have in that box in the closet; actually make a list of all your user names and passwords in one place.

My suggestion would be to move to Brazil.

Simply put – I work about half as much as I used to in San Francisco. In a good (bad) week I work about 25 hours. The rest of the time is for me - for Luiz and me. For Zozó, Luiz and myself. Qualidade de vida.

Here’s a mundane example of how I can use my time to organize the things around me. Remember – the things around me are printed in Portuguese!

We have an inordinate amount of topical cream tubes in our medicine cabinet. I have long since lost track of for what reason we'd purchased these creams. But I do have a recurring skin allergy that needs attention, so I need to know which medication is best under the circumstances.

Today I decided to sort everything out. And I had the time to do it. My list includes the name of the product, in Potuguese as it appears on the tube, and its medical indication, in English. Problem solved.

Life here is slower, for sure. And that has its multiple advantages.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Teaching English

While I now find myself teaching English as my line of work, I was never very good at the rules of grammar, etc. behind the English language. I certainly never got formal training in teaching English. But I've got a pretty good ear for what's correct. More important for my job prospects, I am a US-born native speaker – with a valid work permit. Somewhat rare here.

I get a chuckle when I see things in the English text books or on the walls in the classroom that are incorrect, in my humble opinion.

For example - there is a list of basic phrases taped to the wall in every classroom at FISK. Among them is the ever popular "Can I drink water?" Huh? I like to tease the students when they ask this and say "I don't know, CAN you? Are you able to drink?" Teachable moment...

I especially like it when I see errors in the advertisements for English language schools. Check out this billboard.

It appears the little girl has lips. I assume they function properly. She probably CAN give the boy a kiss, but will she?

The other one that drives me nuts is the use of the phrase: “Do you have any doubts?” or “Teacher, I have a doubt.” Questions – do you have any questions? The professional educators at the highest levels of FISK use this expression. It’s more a literal translation from Portuguese, I think, or maybe it’s British English. Don’t know. But I point out to students and colleagues that through 19 years of school in the States I never once had a teacher ask me if I had any doubts (unless it was in a religion or philosophy class).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How do you measure the life of a man?

It seems every few minutes we are reminded of the hole left in our lives by Tonico’s passing.

Now who’s going to make the coffee and walk to the bakery early every morning before Zozó gets out of bed? What happens if the house needs a repair? Who will patiently and generously say yes to any of our requests? And the next time Fluminense loses a futebol game, who will we tease?

We have literally been taking a kind of inventory of Tonico’s belongings. Like many men of his time he saved nearly everything that would seem to have value or usefulness at some future date. On one hand it drove us crazy that he saved almost everything. On the other hand, he got the last laugh when we were remodeling the apartment and he still had a few extra kitchen floor tiles he had been saving for the past 35 years. We put them to good use.

His workshop was packed from floor to ceiling with tools, building materials, soon-to-be-fixed broken stuff, and things only he could tell us what the heck they were.

You know you have made an impact when your male friends break down in tears remembering you. Our private and collective fear that we won’t quite know what to do when something goes wrong is aching evidence of what we have lost.

(Sorry this tribute video has movie credits included – but it was the best audio I could find for this song.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We made it to the Sambadromo

Luiz and I got last-minute tickets to Carnaval in Rio. I’m not sure how I can recount our long night of Carnaval revelry in the Sambadromo using my customary short-form post style – but here goes.

After waking at 7:30 a.m. in Itaipú to get back to our apartment in time to refresh, pack and prepare for a 10:00 a.m. pick up, Luiz and I set out for a long day and night escaping our current emotionally overwhelming situation for a traditional “forget it all and have fun” annual festival. Our friends whisked us off to Rio for a pre-Carnaval lunch/party at the home of Dora and Sergão – always top-shelf fun.

By about 3:00 p.m. we had to make our way via subway to the Sambadromo to stake out a good position in the stands. Stopping for food and drink along the way, bags packed, we entered the custom parade route stadium (under a punishing sun) in time to get a reasonably good spot.

We enjoyed every minute of our time waiting for things to begin by laughing together and singing numerous sambas – feeling the pulse of the celebrants around us. Everyone had a story. Everyone came with passion. We were in a good spot. Shortly after 9:00 p.m. things got underway.

I think almost everyone agreed that Sunday was the better of the two nights for pure star-power. The schools were terrific. There were low points (like when the paparazzi scared the wits out of the little girl trying to be queen of Viradouro’s bateria and made here cry…), but in general we were dazzled by the spectacle.

Our favorite school, Beija Flor, finally stepped off and paraded at about 4:30 a.m. They did not disappoint. But I must admit I was beginning to fade.

After the night’s competition came to a close our group took the crowded subway back to Dora and Sergão’s to eat breakfast, collect husbands and children, then make our way back home.

Once back in our apartment, in the shower, I became aware of just how tired I was and how my feet felt like hamburger perhaps unadvisedly withdrawn from my sandals. It had been a long night.

But it was not over – at this point we got on a bus and rode out to Itaipú to reunite with Luiz’s mom for the rest of the holiday. I held a vision of sleeping in a hammock near the pool.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tonico's seven day mass

Thursday was the seven-day mass for Tonico. We joined many of our friends at the local Catholic church for this customary ritual.

We’re not a religious bunch, although Zozó practices her own version of a more traditional Brazilian polytheistic spiritualism that focuses on various saints.

In Brazil, where the overwhelming majority of residents identify themselves as Catholic (although a dwindling number actually attend mass, etc.), family events such as baptisms, weddings and funerals still center around the Catholic church. But it was telling when it came time in the mass to receive communion, barely a handful of people left their pew.

The healing power of family and friends sharing in our grief was the true reason for the mass. It was the soothing balm of shared remembrance and community support.

There will be a second mass of remembrance on the 30 day anniversary of Tonico’s passing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Simple pleasures

Some time ago we let it be known that one thing we missed about living in the States was the existence of quality, yet cheap, zip-lock food storage bags. A simple thing. But when it is gone, you notice. At the big grocery store in our neighborhood, 10 zip-lock SANDWICH bags costs more than R$6.00. And the quality is not there.

Since then we have had three friends come to visit and each one has brought a bumper crop of bags with them.

OK – I think we have this desire covered. Thanks everyone. It will be 6 – 10 years before we can use up all the zip-lock bags we now have.

We do enjoy taking food to a party in one of these bags. Then when we return in weeks or months thereafter we see that same bag being recycled within the household. Sharing the love.

I think we should put a call out for a different household item. Hmmmmm… We already have vacuum bags for the next couple of years. We could really use a new Dust Buster vac. But you know – and this will come as a bit of a shock to US readers, while being totally understandable to Brazilian readers – just plain plastic wrap in a box with a serrated blade would be a joy. Here the plastic wrap is infinitely thinner and more sticky and comes without a dispenser box. It’s like trying to find the end of the cello tape on the roll every time you want to wrap up some leftovers.

Not complaining – don’t get me wrong. I’m just putting it out there. Next time you visit, bring a few rolls of Saran Wrap. Make a guy happy.

Rio hits 115 degrees

It's not just our imaginations. It's been hotter than anyone can remember. And when we do get a little rain it is too little to make a dent in the heat.

Here's an excerpt from an article documenting the record temperatures.

"Cariocas, as Rio natives are called, have been punished by the intense heat and their Marvelous City is now among the hottest places in the world. This Wednesday Rio recorded the second largest thermal sensation on the planet.

According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), at 1 pm, Jacarepaguá, in the city's West side recorded the second largest thermal sensations on the planet: 43.9 degrees centigrade (111 Fahrenheit), losing only to Ada, in Ghana, in the African continent. On Tuesday this number was even higher. Rio reached a thermal sensation of 46.3 C (115.3 F).

The Sahara is not a match. The top thermal sensation of that desert on Wednesday was a mere 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

The rain that fell on Tuesday didn't help much. The National Institute of Meteorology (Inmet) tells that there hasn't been so hot a February since the institute started its measurement 100 years ago. The average temperature of the first nine days of the month was 39.7° C (103.5° F.)"

We keep water bottles in the freezer and go through them like nothing. Really, the best solution (pun intended) is to drink icy fresh coconut water. Ahhhhhh.

My prediction is that all this heat guarantees us a rainy, rainy Carnaval. That's nothing new. It seems to always pour rain on all those feathers, sequins and sweaty bodies.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's Carnaval - feel the love

Rant - caution

Can I have just one post to strike back against some of the vulgarity we have had to live with coming from relentless evangelical christians? I mean no disrespect to those readers whom I know are devout. But I do want to speak out about the offensive treatment we have survived in the wake of Tonico’s death.

In our most vulnerable moment, is it right that we get bibles shoved in our faces? Do christians have no shame? Our experience was that while in the emergency room at the hospital, learning that our father, and husband, has died – a vulture christian moved in to suggest that we should embrace her religious perspective. She provided a shiny new bible for us to find a new way forward.

Gag me. Shame on her. Shame on her church that sends her to an emergency room to lurk around for grieving families. Shame on their whole strategy. Gag me.

We will survive this loss on our own terms, thank you very much. We don’t need your self righteous crap. Back off.

I wish religious people would take a little time to see how their proselytizing is actually offensive.

OK – done. End rant.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tragedy strikes our family

I’m afraid I have some very bad news to share in this post. Last Thursday, at 3:30 in the afternoon, our beloved Tonico collapsed on the street from a heart attack. In spite of the quick intervention by a passing doctor who administered CPR until the ambulance arrived, he died. Zozó, Luiz and I were at his side encouraging him to hang on, but we lost him. He was three days shy of his 79th birthday.

This is life shattering for Zozó, his partner for the past 45 years. Her new way forward has not even begun to be imagined. For now it is a whirlwind of telephone calls, visitors, paperwork and tears. It is horrible to see her in such agony.

I’m going to refrain from eulogizing. Suffice it to say that Tonico (Antonio) was the rock on which Zozó has built her life all these years. His gentle heart and generous nature provided her with the love, support and stability she has needed to thrive. To say he will be dearly missed is ridiculously inadequate. Now everything changes.

We knew this day was coming. To be together with Zozó and Tonico was 90% of the reason Luiz and I moved here when we did. While these past two years were too short a time, we are grateful to be here now with Zozó during this horrendous tragedy.

As is customary in Brazil, we laid Tonico to rest the next day after receiving family, friends and colleagues in a chamber at the cemetery. The seven-day mass will be said at our local Catholic church on Thursday at 5:00 p.m.

Rest in peace Tonico. We love you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Carnaval coming up

It’s nearly Carnaval and we still don’t have definite plans for the long weekend. Last year we went to Cabo Frio for a fun, if loud, time. Luiz and I also enjoyed an unexpected friendship on the beach.

The year before we went to the Sambadromo with our gang of friends for a more traditional Rio Carnaval – cheering on our favorite schools of samba.

Living in and around Rio there are a mix of reactions by residents to the annual blow-out party. Some have had enough over the years and simply want to GET OUT of town and find some peace and quiet. Avoiding the tourist crush and inflated prices is the object. Some go so far as to rent their apartments on a short term basis and make a killing.

Other locals feel the buzz of Carnaval stirring in the soles of their feet months in advance. With every passing week it gets more exciting. They belong to their local samba school, have been paying monthly all year long for their fantasia (Carnaval costume), and attend twice weekly rehearsals to help their school be the champion.

We are among the locals who don’t always parade (although we have on several occasions) but who also feel the buzz. The run up to Carnaval is an increasingly ecstatic time. We go to blocos (organized community street parties), attend samba school rehearsals, listen to the various sambas from each of the schools, and definitely like to be “in the house” when the parades are done.

But if you hesitate you lose. This year all of the tickets for both days of Carnaval were sold out in about 8 minutes. If you don’t have ten of your friends working speed dial on their phones – tough luck.

A few months ago we thought we might go to Boa Esperança, or maybe organize a party and watch the event on a big screen TV. But nothing really came together. Now we are playing it by ear. There is still a chance we will go to the Sambadromo, although it would be in a less-than-optimal location. Other options are fermenting.

I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Unbelievable story

Something happened to me the other day that just swept my heart up into the sky.

A long time ago I was a ‘Big Brother’ to a young boy in my city that needed a little support, acknowledgement, love and consistency in his life. Twenty seven years ago my little brother and I would spend every Sunday together. That was “our time” to be together, to explore the possibilities and to have some fun.

We did all the things you might expect – except for sports, at which I was always challenged. Mostly we built a relationship that showed each other that we cared about each other and hoped for the best for each other.

Then I had to leave and move to San Francisco. It wasn’t easy. I announced my plans many months in advance to try and give us enough time to get used to the idea of being apart. But of course there is no sufficient time available to make such a separation painless.

I moved to San Francisco. He stayed in Lansing. Time passed and we lost touch with each other.

Last week I got a “Friend Request” on Facebook from my little brother. (Cue the tears.)

He wondered if I still remembered him. He told me has never forgotten me and has been looking for me for nearly twenty years. “Of course I remember you!” I replied.

Since then we have been exchanging messages to reconnect.

He has grown into an attentive father of three beautiful children. Challenges remain front and center in his life, but his resolve seems clear. I am so proud of him.

Events like this make my heart sing.

Simple observations after living in Brazil for two years

Some things are just not the same at all. For example, I rarely wear lace-up shoes. I’m ALWAYS in sandals or flip flops. The same goes for long pants. I’ve probably worn long pants only 20 times since I got here.

Given my challenges with Portuguese, the fact that we have a message machine (not that anyone ever leaves a message), and that all calls are either for my mother-in-law or Luiz, I have probably answered our home phone 4 times in two years.

Interacting with municipal or commercial agents – it’s not about customer service (with some exceptions). The example that most gets me going are the grocery store checkout clerks who are first: seated; second: want you to feed your items to them so they do not have to lean over to reach them; third: may never actually make eye contact during the entire time you are supposedly relating to each other; fourth: do not bag your groceries; and fifth: rarely say thank you. Mostly they are having a sidebar conversation with their coworker nearby. (End of rant.)

Public transportation is incredibly frequent, fast-moving, goes everywhere you want, is clean, affordable (including inter-municipal and inter-state busses), and used by everyone – the gazillion busses on the road are always full.

Everybody, it seems, is friendly, says good morning or good afternoon, is willing to lend assistance, will strike up a conversation to help pass the time while waiting in a line, is curious about you and your life, and will share a beer with you if they have the time. This is SOOO different than in the United States.

Finally, because this list could go on forever, the focus of what I’ve found to be the majority of people is to work to live – not live to work. Now I realize I live in Rio-ish. Things may be different in other cities. But here it is a beach culture, a social culture, a party culture. Sure everyone has a job and wished things were easier financially – but they ALWAYS have time to enjoy friends and family. I am so glad to be out of the rat race I used to call home.