Saturday, November 27, 2010

Living in the quiet zone

OK, so maybe my world is not all that quiet, per se, but I don’t really engage with the ambient noise around me. I do not “overhear” others’ conversations. You could say I’m living in my own private Idaho.

Since I’m not quite there yet with the language, having people chatting near me on the bus is not really a distraction. Although if someone is using their outside voice while on a cell phone I get annoyed all the same.

I don’t listen in while the person in front of me chats with the grocery store checkout worker. I rarely have to engage (beyond a sympathetic smile) in the frustration expressed by others in a slow bank line. And I can always plead ignorance when a party conversation turns boring and I start to drift. 

I am grateful for this reality on days like today when the television is chatting endlessly about very provocative news events.  It all passes me by, unless I choose to engage.

I’ve really had to get comfortable with the sound of my own inner voice. I am with whom I converse most. When not ruminating on my own I usually have a pair of ear buds in my ears and am listening to an American liberal news podcast of some sort.

I’m pretty much on my own.

Sure I could listen to Portuguese lesson podcasts, or carry my Portuguese dictionary and try to decipher what is going on around me. Been there. Done that. Exhausted.

No thanks – I enjoy my own company, and I enjoy not having to be a part of (if only clandestinely) every conversation around me.

There are definitely days when I overhear a conversation and think – “Wait, I understood that.” But then I usually turn up my iPod.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Necessities from the US

Luiz is back from his trip to Belo Horizontes and he has come bearing gifts.

Our friend Marcia came from San Francisco to visit her parents and celebrate their anniversary. Being the pushy one that I am I asked Marcia to please bring a few things for us. Always the most generous in the crowd, Marcia was happy to haul our goodies, which Luiz has since picked up and brought back to our apartment.

The best package is Luiz himself, safe and sound. I sleep better at night with him next to me.

He also brought: a new Shark cordless mini-vacuum. It’s a silly convenience, but we love it. Our old Black and Decker Dust Buster had since bit the dust (so to speak).

There is my new iPod Nano – whoopee!! I screwed up my last one at the beach. It’s been a while since I’ve had the joy of podcasts and music when taking the bus to Rio.

Lots of new ink cartridges for my photo-printer. Locally they cost R$35, on the internet: US$5.

Then of course there are the TexMex spice packets, corn and flour tortillas and a big can of enchilada sauce. – Never enough TexMex!

Christmas in November.

But nothing tops having Luiz safely back home.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pumpkin Coconut Pecan bread for Thanksgiving

Luiz has never been a turkey fan.  Cranberry sauce is just a distant North American memory.  Watching the Detroit Lions lose another (American-style) football game puts me to sleep nearly every year, and my real pumpkin cheesecake recipe just isn't the same here with local substitutions.

But I've discovered a soothing, pleasing and comforting recipe that awakens the Thanksgiving in me while not requiring four courses of starches and a nap.

You can find the recipe over on Danielle's Cooking Blog.

In the mean time - here is the picture version.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in Brazil

Does not compute.

Outside of expat communities, the idea of celebrating a traditional US Thanksgiving day, meal, ritual… nobody knows what you are talking about. No surprise. You can definitely search out an expat scene cooking up dry roasted turkeys with bloating bread stuffing gratefully drenched in an overly floured lumpy gravy. It’s out there. But the Brazilians will just look at you with a blank stare.

On the flip side, I presume, folks in the US are not stepping out to celebrate Afro-Brazilian consciousness day (as one example). Brazilian communities in the US surely gather to celebrate Dia da Independêntia (while Americans have no clue what is going on).

We live here. We don’t live in the US. Things are different.

That said, I have some killer pumpkin bread just coming out of the oven.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone

And this house just ain’t no home anytime he goes away.

Luiz is in Minas Gerais this week for a few parties. Our dear friend Marcia from San Francisco is visiting her parents in Sete Lagoas to help celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. A big party was in the works for this past Saturday. Knowing the nine Santana sisters and their solitary brother as I do (and their reverence for their inspiring parents) I know the celebration was without limits.

In true Brazilian fashion, the celebration started with a mass, followed by a churrasco at one sister’s sitio that went well into the next morning. Then the next morning (or afternoon) as people awoke the party continued with many friends returning to help eat up the food and work their way through another freezer full of beer.

No need for an excuse, of course, but the stated reason for another full day of celebration was the engagement announcement of one of the sisters.

Marcia was generous enough to bring a few things for us from the States. Luiz will be picking them up (including my new iPod nano!).

Then Luiz will spend a few days with our friends Carlinhos and Dü in Belo Horizontes. They just moved into a new house – so Luiz is bringing them a little house warming floral arrangement. They are always terrific hosts.

But alas, I am here alone all week. Zozó is just a few doors down the street, but hanging out with my MIL is not my style, although I do check in and have helped her with some errands.

Luiz and I are so very lucky. We spend, quite literally, 24 hours a day together, day after day, week after week. The time is never dull nor over spent. We enjoy being together, even when it goes uninterrupted for months.

Then when either of us is away, we instantly miss each other. Lucky us. Lucky me.

Luiz will be back on Thursday. That will be a Thanksgiving reunion worth celebrating.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Working weekend and ear plugs

My feet hurt. Standing in a rented suit for two 11 hour days, chatting with business men who really just want to rest and eat a free petite sandwich, and only occasionally sitting when your boss is not looking really puts a hurt on your feet. I have some serious respect for the women who have to bear this as well – but in heels! (shout out to Danielle)

The Brazil Game Show was a HUGE success. It sold out both days. Lots of great press. Total mob scene – and the noise! The exploding warships, automatic weapons and screaming characters of the latest in high-end video games are LOUD. And a cavernous convention center packed to the gills with gaming stations is REALLY loud.

Talk about a fish out of water. The last video game I played was the original Pac Man. At the Show this weekend I was reminded that Pac Man is now celebrating 30 years on the market (and the new version looks nothing like what I used to play).

Even though I was blown away by the quality of the graphics and the sophistication of gameplay (I just learned that word), I have to say I was saddened and sometimes disgusted by the level of pure, unadulterated and in some cases directly personal violence contained in some of these games. I watched one guy take a baseball bat and beat the life out of human characters with blood and guts splattering against the walls. He just kept batting the human characters’ heads. It was really disturbing.

And don’t get me started on all the hired “babes” walking around in 10 square centimeters of clothing – reinforcing the worst stereotypes about women among the pubescent computer nerd guys… it was SO yesterday.

But it’s all past now. This was my first working weekend in the three years we’ve been here. Twenty two hours standing and schmoozing. Yuck. But I negotiated a really sweet pay package – so I guess it was worth it.

Now I’m back in my Havaianas and shorts. ahhhh…

Friday, November 19, 2010

A little taste of heaven

Chicken enchiladas. Enchiladas with chips, guacamole and fresh roasted salsa. I had refried beans in the fridge, but why stuff yourself?

Heaven. Pure corn tortilla heaven.

I remember this…  The taste was spot on.

Thank you Carlos!

Last call for donations for the Rocinha art and school supplies project

At the end of the day I am pulling down the PayPal link for our Art & School supplies project for Tio Lino and his young charges.

If you have been putting off making your donation - now is the time to act. 

We have raised more than R$750 to date (including R$80 Zezinho has for the kitty).

Every little bit helps!

Remember - it's over tonight.  Click on the link in the right column.

And thanks to everyone who has helped make the campaign a success.

I have corn tortillas in my fridge!

I still can’t believe it.

Last night a good friend stopped by for a quick visit. Carlos lives in Ft. Lauderdale but has been in Rio visiting family for the past week. We were excited to have him over.

Imagine my surprise when he plopped a big bag of goodies on our kitchen counter. Out of the bag Carlos pulled: CORN TORTILLAS!!!!!!!!!! A big package of 30 beautiful, perfect, authentic corn tortillas.

Also in that glorious bag of goodies: chocolate chips, peanut butter, pecans, small and large flour tortillas, Mexican hot sauce… amazing.

Carlos is a friend who not only reads my blog – he hears my cries.

Thank you Carlos!!!

Tip: if you come by our apartment today you can eat guacamole with real corn chips! 

[happy dance]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I hate cops who shoot gay people

There is an unstated rule over here at Qualidade de Vida: “Don’t go negative.” If people want to hear crappy things about Brazil, or Rio, or Brazilians – they can look elsewhere. There are WAY too many positive things going on in our lives to focus on the down side. Our glass is definitely half full.

(Here comes the exception.) But I want to comment on an incident of homophobic violence that happened right after the Gay Pride parade last Sunday. In general I don’t repeat news stories on the blog, but this one strikes a chord with me.

When the cops shoot gay people for no reason I make an exception to my rules.

In short, three military sergeants from Copacabana Fort were out “patrolling” (?) and came across two gay men in a park. They were not boyfriends or a hook up situation. Not that that should matter – you should see the public displays of affection by straight couples in Brazil. In this case we had two gay friends, in a park.

The armed military men began to harass the young guys (20s maybe) and demand documents, etc. Then they started with the homophobic insults and humiliation. Cops on kids. Nice. Then one of the brainiacs needed to make his homophobia known even more severely. He pulled his gun and shot one of the kids in the stomach. Two young guys in a park – one shot by a f**king a**hole in a military uniform.

The young man is ok. The bullet passed through his torso and missed all organs. He went to the hospital, then the police to report the incident. To their credit the military did a full investigation and brought the young man out to the fort to identify which men were involved in the incident. He identified the shooter and then after some questioning the guy confessed.

The military sergeant is spending some time in jail awaiting trial. Scumbag.

Unfortunately, there is an issue in Brazil with untrained military and police officers who live outside the rules. Don’t get me started. Glass half full…

But I had to smack down the authorities for their offense against my people.

Book Review: Every Man Dies Alone

It’s not exactly light summer reading, but for readers in the northern hemisphere, where you are moving into winter, you may want to curl up in a chair by the fireplace with this book.

Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada (2009, Melville House Publishing), is a recently published, never before translated work by a long-deceased successful German author who lived through the Nazi regime – even spending time in a Nazi insane asylum.

This is not a joyful book, but it is a terrific read. One blurb on the cover, written by holocaust survivor and author Primo Levi, reads: “The greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis.”

The publisher’s synopsis: “In a richly detailed portrait of life in Berlin under the Nazis, the book tells the sweeping saga of one working-class couple’s decision to take a stand when their only son is killed at the front. With nothing but their grief and each other against the awesome power of the Third Reich, Otto and Anna Quangel launch a simple, clandestine resistance campaign that soon has the Gestapo on their trail, and a world of terrified neighbors and cynical snitches ready to turn them in.

“In the end, Every Man Dies Alone is more than an edge-of-you-seat thriller, more than a moving romance, even more than literature of the highest order – it’s a deeply stirring story of two people standing up for what’s right, and for each other.”

I loved it. Let me know if you would like to borrow it.

Local foodie event

Hey Cariocas and those of us who aspire... have you seen this?  There's a big foodie event this weekend at the Museum of Modern Art in Flamengo.  There will be lectures, demonstrations, tastings, live music, the works.

Looks like fun (although I will be trapped at the Brazil Game Show talking geek-eeze with gaming industry guys psyched about the big busted females giving away joy stick key chains...)

Circuito Rio Show de Gastronomia 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Luiz health update

Another two months – another stable health check-up for Luiz. 

Sometimes Luiz can’t help but feel a lump on his shoulder (lymph node) or think that the casual infection in his finger just won’t clear up, or discover a dark splotch on his skin and think: “This damn Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is slowly but surely taking hold and weakening me.”  But then we get the raw data from his complete blood count and are reminded that he is nearly as healthy now as he was three years ago when he got his diagnosis.

You can’t run away from the thoughts that are going to naturally pass through your head:  good ones and bad ones. But it pays to clarify things with periodic blood tests.  Not every tired afternoon or common cold is a sign of CLL lurking in the wings.

I recently had an English student who is a psychologist and holistic medicine Masters student.  She has worked with cancer patients for nearly 20 years.  Lenice said 100 times during our classes how important living a life of happiness, sans stress, is for the survival and quality of life of people living with cancer.  Overall Luiz continues to be a model patient in this regard.  I am SO glad we moved to Brazil for so many reasons, but one big one is the low-stress lifestyle.

This week we are celebrating another check-up that shows Luiz continues to do just fine.  Thank you to all of you who keep Luiz in your thoughts and well wishes.

Oh – one more thing.  We discovered, while at our appointment at the National Cancer Institute in Rio, that patients are entitled to free meals in the cafeteria when they come for appointments, and should the patient be staying in a ward, their companion who is holding vigil is also entitled to free meals. (Public health facility = lots of poor people.)  You are not going to survive your cancer if you can't get a decent meal once in a while.  Are you listening USA?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's Christmastime at Flor de Luiz

Luiz and I visited his favorite “permanent botanicals” shops in Rio’s Centro district.  It’s a challenge to whack your way through all the bizarrely shaped and colored plastic crap to find the finer silk florals and unique accents, hidden diamonds in the rough, but they are there.  At this point Luiz not only knows where to shop, but the shop owners know his name and come to kiss him hello.

Back in the workshop Luiz has organized his new finds and is starting to create new arrangements which sell for Christmas, but will also last throughout the year.  (Remove the ribbon or xmas balls and – poof!)

It's odd, but – I don’t know if you have noticed this here in Rio – the trendy color scheme for the holidays this year is pink and purple (with glitter).  It would not be my first choice, but as pink and green are the colors of the wildly popular Mangueira school of samba, I guess it's just a small leap to pink and purple.  The colors do compliment each other, but for Christmas?  What do I know?

Whistling a happy tune and lost in his own private Idaho, Luiz has been in the workshop creating one arrangement after the other.  Next come the specifically Christmas items: wreaths, centerpieces, door hangers, etc.  Stay tuned.

To see more of Luiz's work in natural flowers, check out his website.  If you need an internationally trained florist to make your event pop with beauty - contact Luiz.  Trust me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rio Gay Pride 2010 pics and more

 The sunshine fairies danced samba with gusto to keep the rain at bay.  They allowed just enough misty sprinkles to wet the perfect bodies of the men and others showing off their goods.  Skin glistened in the grey light of the cool afternoon.

OK, so it was not Copacabana’s best day weather wise – but believe me, no one noticed, we were all too busy being swept up into the excitement of the 15th annual Gay Pride Parade in Rio de Janeiro.

Seven trio electricos spread out across Copacabana Beach.

The official theme was to promote the criminalization of homophobia (hate crimes legislation).  There is a law that has been introduced (repeatedly) in Brazilia to do just that, but it has been defeated in large part because of the powerful Catholic Church lobby and other conservative so-called Christian organizations (who are thus in favor of anti-gay violence, I presume, why else?).

What a great day.  We met up with Zezinho and three of his friends and tried multiple times to hook up with Rachel and her friend, but no no avail.  The crowd was intense.

We bailed after about 6 hours, but the party was far from over.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gay Pride Parade today in Copacabana

Today is the 15th annual Gay Pride Parade in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro.  Beginning at 1:00 p.m. crowds will begin to gather at the western end of the beach, Posto 6.  At some point thereafter (several hours) the collection of trio electricos and colorful, happy people will begin to creep up Avenida Atlântica until the whole Avenue is covered, the trio electricos evenly spaced.

Then the party goes until after dark.  (So you really do not need to get there at 1:00).

Here is the notice in today’s paper.

And if you live here you can see out your window that the always gleeful, dancing, sunshine fairies have been fast at work and have chased the rain clouds away.  Don’t be scared.  The fairies never let it rain on a gay pride event.  (At least, that is their mission.)

See you there.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Buses and bundãos

One big improvement of late among the various urban bus fleets here is the law requiring all buses to be accessible to the disabled by 2012.  You can see the transformation in process.  One by one new buses are coming online with wheelchair lifts and special seating.

Yesterday, when returning from Luiz’s doctor appointment I enjoyed a little more space without my butt straddling two bucket seats. (yes, I am wider than a typical bus seat.  Two of me could not sit next to my selves.)  Now the special seating has been extended to gordinhos.  Really.  My very own double-wide single-cushion seat on the bus.

There is even a new decal on the window above the seat that legitimizes one person occupying the whole seat.

Sad but true.  Brazilians (along with some expats) are getting fatter, such that now public accommodation law includes consideration for the morbidly obese.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Moving to Brazil? Let's talk

Planning on moving to Brazil? Cool.

Now let’s get real. Or more specifically, let’s consider your job prospects.

Yeah, yeah, you can teach English. Sure. That works if you like poverty wages. But let’s look at what might be good entrepreneurial ideas.

Open a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop. OMG! What a great idea! Ice cream here is so whack. A rich and creamy ice cream like Ben and Jerry’s would be an instant hit! Plus it’s a fun job. People come to your shop happy – they leave happy – everyone is happy.

Be a hospitality industry consultant. Trust me, waiters, bell personnel, front counter staff, room service staff, etc., very few of them know what the hell they are doing. This is not a knock against them – it is a management problem. Management is not providing adequate TRAINING for these eager workers. That’s where you come in. Bring your consulting team to provide training. We would all be grateful! This goes DOUBLE for restaurants.

Open a children’s items store with discount pricing. Clothes, toys, safety items, medical stuff, etc. Provide the usual stock, but don’t price it to burn your clients on every purchase. Knock it down a bit and encourage your clients to come back for their future needs (duh!).

Operate a cooking school. Residents like to mix it up a bit, feel chic, and impress their mother in law. Provide a place to gossip, nibble on light foods and learn a trick or two in the kitchen. Teach about Italian, Greek, Spanish, French and traditional Portuguese foods.

Be the first on your block to open a Good Vibrations franchise. Providing all things yes in the area of sex toys and erotic enhancements in a space much like the public library is a sure hit. Add a full line of lingerie in a comfortable environment – bam!

I’m no expert, but these seem to be gaps in the local business environment.

Other residents - what do you think might be a success?