Monday, May 30, 2011

A day on Paquetá Island in Rio

Last Friday we spent the day touring Paquetá Island in Guanabara Bay.  That is, we took a ferry from Praça IV in Rio to the island, about 15 kilometers – it took about 80 minutes.  We had a great time, in spite of the grey and chilly weather. I highly recommend a visit to this peaceful local getaway. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the island.  It’s all about horses and bikes.

Paquetá is actually a neighborhood of Rio, but its history is quite unique.
Carriages wait for you at the ferry terminal.

Paqueta is as old as Rio itself.  The first record historians have of the island is in 1555.  It has been an independent entity, a part of neighboring mainland communities, fought over, re-incorporated, etc. – the tiny island has a rather tumultuous history, which you can read about in rich detail on their website here.

I loved how fully grown trees were in the middle of the streets.

This small, figure 8-shaped island has a total area of just 1.2 square kilometers, just 8 kilometers in circumference.  There are about 4,500 permanent residents, mostly from families with long ties to the island. Tourism is the main source of income, but in fact most residents work for the City of Rio in municipal positions such as water treatment, governance, teaching, grounds keeping, etc.

Luiz and I visited the island as part of a group from his tourism course. We took a horse drawn carriage around the edge of the island, stopping at featured points such as a lovely park with a path to an elevated lookout. The carriage driver was very informative and took pains to share his knowledge of local history, along with some critical political remarks.

The island has some really scenic beaches (although the water is not always safe to swim in) and some beautiful parks.  The views of São Gonçalo, Niterói, and Rio are great. The place is SUPER peaceful – perfect for a romantic picnic. It is also quite safe – so families can enjoy the shoreline without worry.

I suggest if you have a sunny day in Rio and you are looking for somewhere to go – definitely consider Paquetá.  Enjoy the ferry ride, rent a bike or ride a carriage, tour the island, settle on a beach or in a scenic park, later have lunch in a bay-side restaurant.

It’s not Martha’s Vineyard. It’s not Mackinac Island. It’s not Key West. But it has its charm and you will definitely feel very distant from the cacophony that can sometimes characterize Rio.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Warm comfort chicken drumsticks recipe

It has been unseasonably cold here. Really chilly-zinho.  The chatter among many local bloggers is about how to stay warm.  Personally, I am still walking around in my shorts, T-shirt and havaianas, even while the locals are sporting their boots, jeans, sweaters and scarves - although we have put a blanket on the bed.

An old trick from my San Francisco days (where vintage houses often have neither heaters nor air conditioners) is to find a dinner that will heat up the house over the course of preparing it.

Passing the butcher shop the other day I noticed that mini-"Drumets" were on sale.  So I came home and searched TasteSpotting for inspiration.

Yikes - the recipe I discovered and subsequently made was SO GOOD that I'm making it again today! [And heating my apartment.]

This recipe takes about 8 minutes to prepare - the rest is just baking it off in a very hot oven until it reaches your personal taste level for char and crunch.

I've posted the recipe and step by step instructions over on the Cooking in Brazil blog.  Check it out.

photo credt:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How did I get here?

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.
And you may find yourself in another part of the world.
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife.
And you may ask yourself - Well...How did I get here?

Teaching English and providing written translation in Brazil.  WTF?  My past includes more than 20 years of professional management experience, managing million dollar budgets, schmoozing with the mayor. And now… correcting pronunciation and explaining common grammar errors.  
And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
I just did a little inventory.  I have 34 lists of conversation questions, 25 lists of idioms, 76 lesson plans based on current events, 35 pages of song lyrics, and 40 vocabulary lists (plus much more). I’ve become an English teacher.
And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
Somehow I have carved out a niche. I have attracted clients. I have created a rhythm that pays the bills, but does not consume me in the process.  Luiz and I have made the transition.
Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Brazil: Can’t live with it, can’t live without it

I truly love living in Brazil.  The focus on family, friends and enjoyment is SO MUCH MORE pronounced than what I experienced in the USA.  The expression: “You work to live, not live to work” nails it. [OK, I know, I’m out of the loop.  Young Brazilians are working their butts off, chasing money. But I’m among the old school folks who focus on qualidade de vida.]
It makes me smile on the inside and out when complete strangers walking down the street catch my eye and say good morning. I have more than one story to tell from San Francisco when I was scolded by a parent for saying hello to a small child on the street.  Here – never.
Fresh, cold, coconut water (nectar of the gods), on the beach, with a view of Rio de Janeiro – with no reason to rush home for anything, ahhh. Sit and feel the bliss. Whatever else you have to do – it can wait. Trust me; it can wait. (Note: if you rush home to make that appointment, you will be the first person there and will wait another twenty minutes for the others to show up.)
Children rule. Everyone reveres children. Children are everywhere, smiling. Everyone looks after everyone’s children. Children get a pass. I don’t usually like children (I didn’t, much, before I moved here…now I have had a change of heart), but here – the relationship is somehow more authentic, more direct, more personal.  I can see the little person.
Some of the cultural differences between the USA and Brazil are so amazing. So sweet.  So inspiring. But of course there are other differences that rub me the wrong way (but I keep my glass half full).
Like when I go to the grocery store and never get eye contact or friendly chatter from the checkout lady. She’s allowed – she gets paid sh*t.
While I love my mother-in-law, daily visits are just not in the cards. Over about 24 years living in San Francisco I saw my own mother face-to-face maybe 8 times.  Visiting my MIL DAILY is just not fathomable to me.  But she cannot understand why I would not want to visit and eat her wonderful food. Different worlds. We have found our balance point.
It never fails. I’ve seen it a thousand times. Perfectly nice people become myopic and maniacal when they get behind the wheel of a car. Pedestrians are dismissed. Traffic laws are optional. Faster is better. [Is this true in Bahia as well?]
There is no question that I love living here.  But differences bring on irritations.  Call me normal.  I feel them.
Marginal critiques aside -- do come visit us and I will make you feel at home with love and a perfect caipirinha.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Who owns you?

At first I just posted this to my Facebook. But the more I listened to it the more I wanted everyone to hear it.

I think it is good if we are critically thinking participants in our democracy. (That's not controvercial, right?)

School us Sr. George Carlin.

Zezinho featured in Forbes

Hey Zezinho - who's your promotions manager?  Good work landing the article in Forbes online. Nice!

That ought to drive some clients your way. Congratulations.

Favela Tourism Provides Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Rio
Posted by Felicity Clarke

Rio de Janeiro has long been the “face” of Brazil and is the most visited city in South America. Tourism represents a significant area of the city’s economy, and one which is only set to grow with the forthcoming World Cup 2014 and 2016 Olympics. In recent years, there has been a huge increase in visitors to the city, adding a favela tour to the traditional must-sees such as Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain.

While the vast majority of the tours are operated by companies outside the communities, the growth in favela tourism is an area of entrepreneurial opportunity for favela residents.

One of the most visited favelas in the city is Rocinha. Located close to tourist hot spots Ipanema and Leblon, it is the largest favela in the city with an estimated 250,000 residents living in the vertiginous, tight wall of brick and concrete housing that covers the entire hillside.

Zezinho da Silva, 48, is a Rocinha resident whose enthusiasm and pride in the “city within a city” is evident on sight, from his 100% Favela T-shirt to his extensive favela tattoos.

Born in Rocinha to a father from the northeast of Brazil and American mother, Zezinho grew up in the favela before living in the U.S. on and off until 2008, when he decided to return to Rocinha for good. He says: “I wanted to live somewhere with a sense of community, which is something I didn’t feel in the U.S.”

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Being a tour guide in Rio state

Luiz is everywhere these days. Regular readers know he is taking a two-year course at the state university to be licensed as an official tour guide.  It hasn’t been easy.  He wakes Monday through Thursday at 5:20 a.m. to catch a bus at 5:50 a.m. to get to school in Rio on time. Classes go until 12:30 p.m.

In addition to his new friends, the fun bits about the course are the many “technical” tours he takes of places of interest: museums, the botanical gardens, historical districts, forts, etc.

On Friday I went with Luiz and his classmates to the largest water treatment plant in the world, located just outside of Rio.  This filtration plant, built in 1955, treats 43 cubic meters of water every second, 24/7/365.  It produces all of the clean drinking water for the city of Rio de Janeiro, plus some neighboring cities. It was quite impressive.

Yesterday Luiz went to the Copacabana Fort for a behind the scenes tour.

Nowadays, as we ride the bus through Rio, Luiz points out various places and describes some little known fact about them.  He’s loving this new adventure.
I’m very proud of him (and I love the free tickets to cool stuff!)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cultural da Índia event report back

Wow. Wow. That was amazing.

Last night Luiz and I joined a couple friends to attend a music and dance performance by Indian artists at the Sala Baden Powell cultural space in Copacabana. It featured about 50 minutes of mind blowing music and drumming by Anuradha Pal and her group “Recharge.” And then about 40 minutes of exquisite dance by Arunima Kumar, with live musical accompaniment.

The performances were part of a cultural exchange festival sponsored by the Indian Consulate and the Brazilian Cultural Ministry, among others. The event, in Rio, started on May 19th and will conclude May 22nd. The event continues through June 5th, touring through São Paulo, Brasilia, and then Belo Horizontes.  You can find the schedule and additional information here.
Check out this video of master drummer and composer Anuradha Pal.  Her website is here. She was AMAZING.
Here is a video of Arunima Kumar performing a number similar to one of the three she presented last night.  Really beautiful.

Keep in mind that tonight in Rio is a different performance than what we saw last night (so I cannot comment on its impact, but I bet it will be wonderful). To see what we saw, you would want to go May 22nd. Oh, and if you go, sit in the balcony.  It is a small theater, so you will not be too far back.  The main floor seating is odd in that it slopes DOWNWARD away from the stage, so you cannot see the dance performer's feet, which would be best.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Why work when you can pay another guy to do it?

My father was a master cabinet maker / craftsman who could build, repair or remodel anything.  Be it woodworking, masonry, electrical or plumbing – he knew it all, and tried to share his wisdom with me.  I, on the other hand, never took to the trade (although my mother, sister and brother worked for the family business and soaked up all the training and confidence my father had to offer.)

When something breaks in our house I call a handyman to come fix it.  My dad has probably rolled over in his grave at some of the things I have paid to have installed or repaired.  While I can still hear his voice in my head: “If someone else can do it – we can do it,” I nonetheless pick up the phone and get ready to write a check.
Here in Brazil I don’t feel so bad. Labor is so cheap (which is a really bad thing for those of us who sell our labor to make a living) that it is often cheaper to hire a guy than do it yourself.  Let me offer an example.

We have a “Blindex” style shower in the bathroom.  That means the shower is surrounded by glass (no shower curtain). The door hinges are designed to use gravity to automatically close the door.  When you open the door the hinges twist and lift the door ever so slightly and then when you release it gravity lowers the door, hinges twisting, back to the closed position. Recently, the central pin in one of these hinges gave out (It was a good 20 years old).
Feeling very proud of myself I took the door off its hinges and set it safely aside until we could get this repaired.  At first I looked into doing it myself (gasp! – I know). I walked to the neighborhood glass and mirror shop and found that replacement hinges would cost between R$70 – R$90.  Then I would have to change them out and re-hang the door.
Not this Jim!

Somehow I never got the juice to actually begin the project. (Oh, really…)
With our birthday party looming we finally called a guy to come fix it.  In true Brazilian style, the guy had an idea for how to repair the broken hinge rather than buying a new one.  I am always skeptical of these funky fix-it jobs, but making it work on a shoestring is a proud art form among Brazilian handymen.
Long story short – the guy rebuilt the hinge using R$2 worth of materials.  Then we directed him to our electric-heating shower head which had long ago stopped functioning on two of the three temperature settings.  He bought a R$12 part and fixed that as well.
So if I had done the work myself I would have spent R$80 on new hinges and bought a new showerhead for R$60 – and maybe electrocuted myself.
Instead, our handyman guy used R$14 in parts and charged us R$40 for his labor.
It was cheaper to hire some help.  The jobs are done right. And I did not have to break a sweat.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Luiz and I would love to have another slice of the cake I made yesterday for our birthdays party, but alas, there is none left!  Talk about a hit!  Our guests LOVED it and the kids had cream cheese smeared across their smiling faces.

My mother’s version of Carrot Cake (and dare I say, the US American-version of carrot cake) is totally different from the Brazilian version.  Here the cake is not as sweet (at least, not in my experience) and has a thin layer of chocolate icing on top.
As you can see, that’s not how we make it back in the States.
I had a hankering, so I went for it.  I did, however, modify my mom’s recipe just a bit, including adding some flaked coconut to the frosting to help bridge the cultural divide.

The full recipe with photos and step by step instructions is over on the Cooking In Brazil blog. Go give it a try.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Some things ARE the same in Brazil and the US

Not my cake.  Photo from the scrumptious food blog "Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice"

You know how you think: “I’ll make the cake for our birthday party.  It will save us some money.  Bakery cakes can be so expensive.” At least, that’s what I think (unless there is a COSTCO nearby).

Well, I just ran the numbers.  I’m making a regular 9”x 13” pan cake that I will flip over and slice in two across the middle to make two layers, and then frost.  Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Check this out.

Flour:                               R$2.00
Butter:                                 5.60
Carrots:                                3.00
Eggs:                                       .80
Pineapple:                           3.50
Brown sugar:                      1.50
Milk:                                       .60
Cream Cheese:                20.00
Yogurt:                                1.20
Confectioners' sugar:        4.00
Etc.:                                      1.00

That comes to R$43.20, give or take, plus my time (and love for my guests).  So I guess the thought still applies here in Niterói – even if the cream cheese is R$20.

Stay tuned for the recipe and some pics.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

This sort of book is not typically my cup of tea: lengthy (400 pages of text, 75 pages of notes), detailed and graphically horrifying biography of a WWII war hero. But I heard an interview with the author, perhaps on Fresh Air, and clicked over to and ordered a used copy from an associate seller.  I was not disappointed.
The story is of Louie Zamperini, a southern California juvenile delinquent turned track star that participated in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. He was then later a member of the US air force in WWII, and subsequently shot down over the Pacific. He then survived adrift for over a month with a couple buddies in a rubber raft (complete with shark attacks) until he was caught by the Japanese forces and held as a POW.  After surviving more than two years of severe brutality in several POW camps Japan surrendered and Zamperini was freed.
Zamperini returns to California for the next chapter of his life, trying to emerge from the psychological wreckage created by his war experience.  He embarks on a long and heartbreaking journey to the bottom of the proverbial barrel, but then has a life changing experience that helps him climb back out.
Remarkably, later in life he manages to forgive his captors, including the one Japanese official who relentlessly targeted him with unspeakable and inhuman brutality.
Zamperini’s life, experiences, endurance, resilience and heroism is almost too incredible to be believed. This is a tale unlike most others.  It is well written and enthralling.
I will add it to my list of books at the Expat Lending Library online.  If you would like to check it out, just let me know.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Balls of steel

Have you seen this? A tourist crawls out to the lip of a near 1,400 foot cliff to view the Fumaça waterfall in Chapada Diamantina, Bahia.  Meanwhile a local guy (perhaps a capoeirista - from the way he is dressed?) stands above the tourist, his feet just inches from the edge.  Yikes!

Not me... but I can proudly say I once ate my lunch with my legs dangling over the sheer edge of Half Dome in Yosemite.

The Fumaça waterfall looks like a beautiful spot.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mister Brazil 2011 named

All photos by Sergio Mattos

Last weekend the 2011 Mister Brazil competition took place in Angra dos Reis.  At the end of the evening Lucas Malvacini, representing Búzios, was elected the new Mister Brazil.  Take a look.

Here is part of the swimsuit  walkoff.

I am grateful to the folks at the Made In Brazil blog, which promotes Brazilian models in the fashion world, for the nonstop eye candy.  What a great job.
For a lot more photos and information, go check out the Made in Brazil blog.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Flor de Luiz and Mother's Day

Luiz had a whirlwind weekend at the crafts fair.  Then again, Mother’s Day and flowers go together like cookies and cream. He sold 17 flower arrangements!
Saturday was so busy he had to work into the night to create new arrangements for Sunday.
As time goes by more and more people know his stand and return for what they are looking for.  And Luiz is gaining a greater understanding of what people seem to want in permanent botanicals (like more purple flowers).
To see his work in natural flowers, visit his website at Flor de Luiz.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

That's surprising

Things about the United States that surprise my Brazilian friends:
- Hotels, even fancy ones, do not provide a fabulous, free, fresh breakfast (B&Bs yes, but hotels, no).
- You can get a perfectly good education in public schools.
- The bill collector can seize your home if you get sick and have mounting medical bills.
- Your parents will likely shoo you out of the house once you reach 18 years old.
- There are city law enforcement agents who actually issue traffic/parking violations, really.
- Chinese take-out costs about US$7.00 (and you can find it for less).
- Clothing stores sell XXXL T-shirts or sweatshirts.
- There are no dessert pizzas.
- Classes to learn English as a foreign language are often free.
- If you buy a twelve-pack of Coke it costs less than 12 individual cans.
- There are no vendors on the beach.
- Drivers yield for pedestrians, most of the time.
- Most restaurants close at 10:00 p.m. (except for the 24 hr variety that you generally do not want to eat in anyway).
- Meat cooked on the grill is not covered in salt, rather, a sloppy, spicy sauce.
- Your cell phone service does not cost more than your car payment.
What am I forgetting…

Friday, May 6, 2011

Brazil Supreme Court awards gay couples new rights

This article appeared this morning on the BBC website
6 May 2011                                                              
Brazil's Supreme Court has voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing same-sex couples the same legal rights as married heterosexuals.
The decision was approved by 10-0 with one abstention.
The ruling will give gay couples in "Stable Unions" the same financial and social rights enjoyed by those in heterosexual relationships.
The ruling makes Brazil one of very few South American nations, after Argentina and Uruguay, to allow gay unions with benefits similar to those afforded a heterosexual married couple.
"The freedom to pursue one's own sexuality is part of an individual's freedom of expression," said Justice Carlos Ayres Britto, the author of the ruling.
Gay activists welcomed the decision, saying it marked an "historic day" for the country.
"The degree of civilization of a country can be measured by the way people in a nation treat their homosexual community," Claudio Nascimento, head of Rio de Janeiro state's Gay, Lesbian and Transsexuals Committee said, according to O Globo.
From now on same sex couples will be able to register their civil partnerships with solicitors and public bodies, giving them proper inheritance and pension rights.

However, the landmark ruling stops short of recognizing gay marriage, which could involve public or religious ceremonies.
Brazil's Roman Catholic Church had argued against the decision to allow civil unions, saying the only union referred to within Brazil's constitution was that between a man and a woman.
But the country's recently elected President Dilma Roussef has made the issue one of her big social policy reforms.
Now if only our friends back in the States could see such progress.  I fear getting relief from the US Supreme Court is a much more distant reality, however. Sigh.

Additional info here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Documentary - Brazil: A Racial Paradise?

Wow – thanks to Meredith’s vigilance on the subject, I just watched the latest in the series of documentaries about being Black in Latin America being written and produced by Dr. Henry Luis Gates, Jr.  I posted about his important series previously.
The episode was: "Brazil: A Racial Paradise?"  Fantastic.  Take the time. Watch the documentary.
Issues of race are complicated here in Brazil, as they are in the United States.  But these dynamics can be SO DIFFERENT (and also the same) when it comes to the history of Africans, slavery, integration, opportunity, true equality.
The struggles of the descendants of slavery in the US and in Brazil are in many ways similar – but in many ways they are completely different.
This is an EXCELLENT video program that explores this material.

Here are the first few minutes of the film.

Watch the full episode. See more
Black in Latin America.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cool MTV ad

I don't actually watch MTV, but their new commercial is cool.  Check it out.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Country comparisons, the macro version

 Comparing things in Brazil to things left behind in our country of origin is a favorite pastime for many expats, at least among the newbies.  I’ve found that these comparisons start out listing all the wonderful new things discovered in Brazil that were either not available in the States (or wherever) or are simply way better here (like varieties of bananas or singing at BBQs).
Over time the comparisons switch to the quality of consumer products, or maybe the lack of certain items here in Brazil.
If we don’t check ourselves, the comparisons can spiral out of control and turn into ugly, whiny, bitch sessions.
One of the first realizations expats need to come to, in my opinion, is: DON’T COMPARE.  It will only make you crazy, and probably not a lot of fun to be around. Just live locally and love it.

However – I’ve found this really cool website that ranks countries in terms of numerous points of comparison, like: population, health, crime, sports, wealth, etc.  So let’s have some fun.
Retail shrinkage (shop lifting) as % of sales, 2010.        Brazil:  1.64        USA: 1.5
Prevalence of adult obesity, 2010.       Brazil: male 8.9%, female 13.1%           USA: male 32.2%, female 35.5%
Greenest countries, most livable places, 2008.   Brazil ranks 40th          USA ranks 23rd
Prison population, per 100,000 people.          Brazil: 191         USA: 738
Price of a Big Mac in US$, 2010.          Brazil:  US$5.10          USA: US$3.73
Road traffic deaths, per 100,000 people, 2009.          Brazil: 18.3         USA: 13.9
Circumcised men (%), 2006.    Brazil: 7.4%      USA: >80%
Women in Parliament, 2011.    Brazil: 8.6%      USA: 16.8%
Diabetes prevalence, % of adult population, 2010.      Brazil: 6%       USA: 12.3%
World Cup football championships.  – OK, not fair…

You can find a lot of fun facts to know and tell at this website.