Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Coming out in Niterói

One of my students came out to me in class yesterday.

We were in the middle of the first-10-minutes “how was your weekend” conversation part of the class. He was telling me about his trip out of town and then chirped “Can I trust you?” To which I shrugged and replied – “Who am I gonna tell?” (except maybe everyone who reads my blog. I was a therapist for years. I’ll let you in on a trade secret: confidentiality is a myth.)

Then he told me he was visiting his boyfriend. Cute! He was all smiles filling me in on his weekend adventure (plus a quick reference to the dreaded conversation he has yet to have with his father.) I had actually just been thinking that very morning that perhaps this guy (only 18 y.o.) was gay. Really. My gaydar works even across cultures.

I have a personal theory about when LGBT folks come out. It is my experience that being in the closet is so uncomfortable, troubling, personally shaming and lonely that we come out at the FIRST POSSIBLE MOMENT we feel it is safe to do so. In that light I’m proud my student felt safe enough to share his story with me.

Anyone who knows me (and Luiz) knows that we are ‘out’ 100% of the time. It has been more than 30 years since I’ve seen the inside of a closet. Luiz and I have long since forgotten how to hide ourselves. What’s weird is that here in Brazil (older, our peers) gay people speak of the need to be closeted, yet I have NEVER experienced a negative consequence of just being myself (knock wood). In fact, I brought up my being gay during my job interview at FISK school saying that if so much as one child made a homophobic remark toward me I would be out the door. I have no patience for that. The manager assured me there would be no problem (and there wasn’t).

In the case of my students (now they are all adults) they know pretty quickly that they are dealing with an out gay man. My office contains photos of Luiz and I, etc. plus I do not switch out pronouns when referring to my husband.

Most importantly, I think, I do not assume my students are straight. If we are talking about meeting new people or going to clubs, or whatever, I do not limit my speech to just the male-female paradigm. In doing so I make room for the LGBTs whom I may be talking with to be themselves with me. No shame. No judgment. In fact – affirmation.

So I assume my student felt like he could share his excitement about his weekend with me (perhaps I am one of very few people he can do that with) given the safety demonstrated in our relationship.

When I was teaching at FISK my gaydar went off around two of the teenage students there. Again, my speech was always inclusive and uncensored. Before long both of them (separately) came up to me after class and shared stories that were essentially intended to let me know they were gay. They used to beam when I spoke in ways that were clearly inclusive of their reality.

Anyway, yesterday was a warm reminder (here at the end of gay pride month) that our personal behavior has consequences, and often times those consequences are good.

[For the record, I have changed some details about my student to honor his/her request for privacy.]

OK Go diversion

From the guys who gave us the treadmill dance video.

[I particularly like the goose that won't get out of the shot -- probably a drag queen.]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Freestylers take center stage

All this World Cup attention on football/soccer is bringing the Freestyle folks out of the urban alleyways and rural playgrounds to show off their stuff.

Freestyle is an individually played but competitively appreciated sport somewhere between futebol fancy footwork and break dancing. Sorta like individual hacky sack with a soccer ball. It is mind blowing when played well. And its popularity is exploding around the world.

Check out this video of Ronaldinho showing off his moves. The musical remix by the Black Eyed Peas of Segio Mendes’ classic “Mas Que Nada” is worth the time by itself.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The waters part for the national team

Work? Why work? Go to school? Why? Brazil continues to win World Cup games. Everything else can wait.

I attend Portuguese language classes at the State University in Rio every Friday. Let me correct that. We have classes on the Fridays that do not conflict with Brazil’s team playing in the World Cup.

We were warned at the beginning of the semester (back in March) that there may be “interruptions” should Brazil’s team realize success and have World Cup games scheduled during class times.

Two weeks ago our class was cancelled and now, given the victory today, this Friday’s class will be cancelled (postponed) as well.

Forgive me if I point out the obvious – but aren’t language classes more successful when they happen regularly and without long intervals between classes? (But this is the World Cup - not to mention other holidays along the way.) This is when I remind myself that I’m paying only R$150 for the entire semester.

Two of my classmates (one from China and another from New York) have had to drop out because they (foolishly) thought the class schedule was set, but have since discovered they will have to miss two classes due to unforeseen extensions to the class schedule.

Honestly – I love Brazil. Where else will your boss tell you that you MIGHT have next Friday off – IF the futebol team continues to win in the World Cup?

(You can file that in your “Never in America” file.)

Arrivals and departures in lush Rio style

One of the universal pleasures of traveling to Rio is listening to the incredibly sexy voice of the woman announcing arrivals and departures at Rio’s International Airport.

Waiting for our friends to exit the arrival security area is turned into pure enjoyment listening to her sultry swoon over the public address system. Such a welcoming gift as one arrives in this remarkable city (and a soothing balm when you are bummed about your departure).

It turns out the woman behind the voice has been melting hearts with her vocal talents for decades. She has had an incredible career. You can listen to her announcements at Rio’s Galeão Airport on this video, but for clearer recordings of this siren's voluptuous voice, go to her website and put on your headphones.

Note to airport designers: why go with a modern computerized announcement system when you can fill the air with the personal impact of the human voice?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Festa Junina with friends

Festa Junina is a time to celebrate the harvest (it's fall-winter here); but in reality it seems it is a time for city folk to poke fun at country folk. OK, maybe that’s not fair. Country folk are also poking fun at country folk. It’s a time to celebrate how things were, back when folks lived on a farm.

Think Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae. Think Jethro, Elly Mae, granny Moses and J. D. Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies. Think shotgun weddings.

There is always a country band, a bon fire, an old aunt looking to hook you up with that nice single girl, and surely in the background there is the distinct smell of corn cooking in all its variations.

Our group of friends just celebrated Festa Junina. We rented a small farm, paid for a band, supported all the women elders to cook traditional foods, heated up a big pot of Quentão, had space indoors on the floor for almost everybody to spend the night (some pitched tents) – and threw one heck of a party.

I must confess that I have yet to match my Brazilian friends in their ability to party for 17 hours straight. We left our house at 11:00 a.m., joined a party in progress, drove to the sítio (small farm), hung out at a nearby barzinho, warmed up the party grounds, welcomed our visitors, danced, ate and laughed for hours and hours.

In full tilt the party consumed a river of beer, ate everything in sight danced to traditional music and even brought everyone together for a traditional quadrillia (square dance).

Then after the band left at 3:30 a.m. we sang together with Wellington playing the guitar for another hour and a half.

Honestly – It’s hard to keep up! I must admit that I took two one hour naps during the duration of this party. Natives older than I plowed through with gusto!

The next morning we shared coffee, bread and cheese, leftover corn sweets and sat in the sun while Victor played the guitar.

Ahhh – qualidade de vida. (And we have been invited to another party next weekend in another town.)

You know you are a gringo when

You know you are the gringo still pitching for inclusion and kudos when you agree to make fresh garlic bread for the World Cup game viewing party. Bread – so what – that’s the easy part. It’s having it fresh out of the oven by 10:00 a.m. so you can bring it with you to the 11:00 game party that is the trick.

Our friends Lilian and Marco Arrelio were hosting. Claudio was making the lasagna. My now famous pull-apart garlic bread was in demand. “Jim, can you make it for the party?” they asked innocently enough. “Sure,” I said – not putting it together that I would have to get up at 6:00 a.m. to start the process.

Oh well, it would give me a chance to try out my slight modification of sprinkling grated parmesan cheese on top before baking (and adding a little vital wheat gluten to the pastry-style flour).

I’ve taken to baking bread lately. It is hell on my ever-expanding waistline, but it fits in well with the bumper crop of free time I have on my hands being a part-time English teacher. (And who wouldn’t want to come back for a second language lesson after checking me out the first class and being served fresh bread? – Realtors, you know what I’m talking about.)

So here’s how it played out. I use a recipe from an old Kitchen Aid mixer recipe book, although I use fresh minced garlic and salt rather than the stated garlic salt.
[mix/knead the wet and dry ingredients for about 7 minutes, place in a greased bowl and let double in size.]

[Roll out to about 12" x 8" and slice into four pieces.]

[Brush a garlic butter mixture on top of each slice and place slices atop each other.]

[Now slice this stack of slices into 3" pieces and place them vertically in a baking pan.]

[Brush everything with the butter garlic mixture and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.]

[Let rise for about an hour to again double in size.  Bake for 35 minutes.]

[This concoction pulls apart at every seam.  People love the finger food aspect of it.]

Friday, June 25, 2010

Brazil’s good news and bad

Brazil’s unemployment rate hit an eight year low in May, registered at 7.5% according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. That’s the good news. Lowest in eight years – it’s like opposite land here compared to the US.

The bad news is that, while up 2.5% from a year ago, the average working Brazilian’s wage was just US$795 a month. Ouch.

So when I mention the high cost of living here it should be understood as a combination of both high consumer prices and the low wages we earn. Unfortunately neither Luiz nor I work for an American firm earning US dollars. We’re right here on the ground in Brazil, livin’ like the locals.

Não é facil. (But then, it seems every week we have a holiday.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup in the rear view mirror

I’m an instant replay futebol fan.

For the past week our television has been tuned to all things World Cup. Luiz is watching every game (and switching between channels when two games are being played simultaneously). Me, on the other hand, I’m in the office developing lesson plans, correcting compositions, or surfing the web for an easier pot sticker recipe (or looking at another online poll identifying the cutest World Cup player).

But if Luiz and the television start screaming “gooooooooooooooooal!" I return to the living room to watch the goal on instant replay.

I do watch the entire game when it is Brazil playing, but then – there is no other choice. It is inconceivable to be elsewhere, and everyone lets me know that!

[Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal keeps winning "Cutest" competitions.]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's in the mail

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  Fond memory, that’s all I’m gonna say.

What’s weird is that in Brazil the postal service is really an afterthought. Nobody, it seems, uses the post office. Although, come to think of it, there is always a slow-moving line at our neighborhood office.

I worked in a business office in Rio for nearly a year and we probably mailed a half dozen letters the whole time. We were always using messenger boys, faxes or personal delivery. Around the holidays I suggested we send a (constituent relationship management) Christmas greeting to our clients and my boss looked at me like I was off my rocker. “Through the mail?” he wondered. “Why would we do that?”

One big difference between here and back in the States is that one does not pay ones bills via the mail. In fact I’ve been told that it is specifically illegal to send money/checks through the mail. Bills arrive in the mail (often with one day left before the due date!), but people pay them at the ATM machine, at bill payment storefronts (always a long line) or via the internet.

Days can go by and we will receive nothing in our mailbox. There is practically no junk mail. Imagine.

Package delivery can be hit or miss. My mom has remarked more than once that she believes her packages sent from Florida are transported via canoe.

I once had a phone conversation with an US IRS representative to settle an outstanding situation and she concluded: “OK then, we’ll expect to get that in the mail within two weeks.” I just laughed. “Honey,” I said, “I’m calling from Brazil. NOTHING happens in just two weeks – especially a postal delivery!”

If we are really concerned about something actually getting to its destination we send it ‘registered’ (which slows it down even further). But in general we have joined the masses that utilize other means for most deliveries and communications.

Carlos – if you are reading this – we sent your bathing suit two weeks ago. And Jake, that World Cup jersey we promised… it’s in the mail!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cala Boca Galvão phenom

This hilarious cultural phenom story has been making the rounds. If you Tweet, maybe you were an unwitting participant. In this case the Brazilians really got one over on the rest of the world. It just shows how focused we all are on the World Cup (and how many Americans will text/tweet donations for a good story/cause).

Since I am not an active Twitter user (I only follow a tiny number of tweeters and never tweet myself) I first stumbled on this story at the Corin in Exile blog. But then I saw a great deconstruction of what all was going on over at Murder is Everywhere.

In short – here’s the deal. The underlying premise is that a beautiful Brazilian Amazon-region parrot species, which is quickly going extinct, needs your help. You can help save the galvão birds, represented by the Galvão Institute, by simply tweeting “cala boca galvão” whereby a modest 10 cent donation will go to the Institute for the campaign.

Here is their video.

This campaign has Brazilians everywhere snarking about those gullible gringos, and with good reason. To understand the trick being played on the non-Portuguese speaking world (and World Cup fans), follow this link to Leighton Gage’s full explanation.

Just to be sure the joke gets pushed over the top, brilliant pranksters put together the following spoof (with English supra-titles).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Step by step I'm getting there

I’ve had a Portuguese language breakthrough. Woo hoo! Last night I had a dream and it was in Portuguese. OK, well, it was a dream about being in Portuguese language class – but still, it was all in Portuguese. That’s a first.

This language journey has been a real uphill climb. But I will take good signs when they appear. Slowly but surely I’m gonna crack this nut.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Luiz health update

Last week's visit to the National Cancer Insititute in Rio showed that Luiz continues to maintain stable complete blood count numbers with most indicators within or nearly within normal levels. In many cases the fluctuation is within the margin of error. We like that.

It has been two and a half years since Luiz was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. In general his numbers are nearly what they were at the beginning of this “watch and wait” (wait and worry) period of the disease. There are some patients who remain in this stable period for nearly a decade before having to address a more aggressive stage. We continue to believe that to be the case for Luiz.

If a positive attitude and joy in your heart has anything to do with maintaining good health then Luiz is likely to outlive us all. He truly is an inspiration to others and brings a smile or a laugh to everyone he comes in contact with. Heck, even the house plants love him! Lucky me. Lucky us, to have Luiz in our lives. Hang in there sweetheart. We love you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What to see in Niterói

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting various aspects of our home town: Niterói. Check it out.

I think I know now how the residents of Oakland, CA feel living right across the bay from San Francisco (where I lived for 24 years). The standing joke among Cariocas (those born in Rio) is that the best thing about Niterói is the view of Rio de Janeiro.

Very funny. Get out much? (For me, now the shoe is on the other foot. Did I mention that Niterói is consistently voted the top city in Rio state for quality of life?)

Cariocas do have a point. The view is amazing. When taking an early morning or late afternoon heart-healthy walk along the beach, the view is truly world-class.

But let’s just say you want to spend a few days exploring Niterói. Where to begin?

For now, let’s just focus on museums and cultural spots. We can highlight beaches, forts, churches, restaurants, etc. another time.

First, get yourself to Praça Quinzy in Rio Centro to take the ferry across the bay to Niterói. It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s comfortable and it’s scenic. And you won’t have to worry about a stalled car or truck on the bay bridge that could hold you up for an hour or more.

Once you have arrived at the ferry terminal in Niterói (adjacent to the bus terminal) the central fish market or the Teatro Municipal are within quick walking distance. Follow your bliss.

To get to Niterói’s famous Modern Art Museum (MAC) from the ferry terminal, you should catch the 47B bus line. Or – it is a very scenic and easy walk (maybe 20 - 25 minutes) along the shoreline, complete with food and drink kiosks to keep you refreshed, to get to the museum.

Entrance to the MAC is just R$4.00, half price for students and folks over 60 years and free for children under 7 years. Every Wednesday entrance is free for everyone.

In the Ingá neighborhood (rather close to the MAC) are two more museums worth a look: Museu Antonio Parreiras and Museu do Ingá. Follow the links for more information about each museum.

Another spot worth a peek is Solar do Jambeiro. This is basically a mansion from the late 1800s that has been restored and offers an opportunity to check out the architecture and style of living among the rich of that time. Just like the MAC, entrance is R$4, R$2 for students and seniors, free for the kids up to 7 years and free on Wednesdays. The walk through the neighborhood from the Museu Antonio Parreiras or Museu do Ingá is enjoyable.

Make a day of it. In all the area covered is rather compact. Very doable.

There are restaurants at every turn, so you will be well taken care of.

Google Street View in Niterói

Google Street View has come to Niterói. Well, almost. Their camera-equipped vehicles have been spotted zipping through our neighborhoods. The images have yet to be posted online. But I’ll let you know when they go up.

In the mean time, be careful not to get caught on film doing something you would rather not have added to the Google universe.

Just for fun, here is a Street View image of our old apartment building in San Francisco.  We had a lot of good parties there...

Checking in on the US soccer team

This post is for those of you who have been commenting that not enough attention is being paid to the AMERICAN team competing in the World Cup. And to those who have been requesting more photos of hunky players.

Personally I think gripes about the thin coverage of the Americans at the World Cup should be directed to the American media. We personal bloggers don’t hold as much sway as you might think. I just call it like I see it – and all I’m seeing is green and yellow.

But hey, as an act of pride for the country of my birth as well as an act of gluttonous revelry in kicker eye candy, here are a few shots from this article over at Interview Magazine dot com. (Two more photos at the link.)

Looks to me like these guys need a little help getting cleaned up. Any volunteers?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It has only just begun

[singing Brazil's national anthem]

One down, six to go (plus racking up some goals for the point totals). Brazil beat North Korea 2 – 1 in their first game of the World Cup. Here are some scenes from the mania in our apartment.


[deserted street at 4 p.m. during the game - not even busses]