Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blogger Meet-Up – Update

 Thank you to everyone who responded to the initial post and who have continued with thoughts via email and Facebook.  Looks like we have a plan.

Mark your calendar: on Saturday, July 16th we will meet in Praça XV in Rio at 10:00 a.m. for first a walking tour and then lunch thereafter at about 12:30 in Cinelandia. We will have a trained city guide leading the way (my partner Luiz).
Everyone is invited: bloggers (expats and otherwise), commenters, readers, lurkers – anybody. Just keep in mind that we are gathering for a social day where we will speak English with each other. Join us.
Here are the fun details:

We will meet at 10:00 sharp at the Master Velentim’s Fountain (old drinking water fountain) located in sort of the middle of the Praça.  From there we will walk through the Arco de Teles and into an ancient section of Rio where some of the streets are just as they were 300 years ago.
From there we will head downtown, past the Imperial Palace to the Tiradentes Palace. From there we will turn up into the thick of Centro, toward Rua da Carioca. On the way we will stop at Confeitaria Columbo, an historic and amazingly ornate place for tea and sweets.

Then back to Rua da Carioca, with its historic buildings and scenic backdrop.
After passing Praça Tiradents, when we get to Rua do Lavradio we will turn left and enjoy this cute, cute, cute street that is the center of antique shops in the City, plus multiple very cool restaurants.

Once we get to Av. Mem de Sá we will turn left and head to the Lapa arches.  We’ll walk under the arches and turn left and head toward Cinelandia.

Once in Cinelandia, with the Municipal Theater, the National Library and the National Museum of Arts in view, we will settle in for lunch at the 90 year old restaurant, Amarelinho.

For people who want to skip the walking tour, plan to meet up with us around 12:30 p.m. at Amarelinho. You might want to get a cell phone number from one of us so you can time your arrival and not wait too long.
Sound like fun?  Come join us!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Taxes in Brazil

This is a sore subject for most Brazilians. Taxes in Brazil are outrageous. Everything is more expensive because of the taxes levied on them. It is generally understood that the high level of tax evasion among individuals and businesses is a direct result of the stupendously high tax rates at every turn. There is a campaign underway to educate residents as to just how ridiculously high their taxes are (on everything) and to get the government to simplify the tax system (lowering many consumer taxes) and thereby lower the rate of tax evasion.  A more sane taxing system would cost most people less, and raise more revenue for the government – or so goes the argument.

Remember that I am just a simple guy. I am not a tax accountant or attorney.  The information posted here is what I could learn from various web resources. So please do not take this as totally accurate.  If tax issues are your concern, consult a professional.
Let’s take a look at the overall tax situation for folks living in Brazil. [I got much of this information from this website.]
There’s the income tax. All Brazilians and foreign residents are subject to this tax. There are five categories for taxpayers:

Monthly Salary
R$1,434.59 to 2,150.00
R$2,150.01 to 2,866.70
R$2,866.71 to 3,582.00
above R$3,582.00

Other taxes include:  taxes on services.  That is, for example, if you are a taxi driver, 2 -5% of your earnings are paid to your local jurisdiction (percentage varies by locality).
Inheritance tax. This is typically 8% on the value of your inheritance, but your local state may boost this a bit.
Tax on motor vehicles. This tax is based on the value of your vehicle and is paid annually.
Property tax. For urban and suburban property, the rate varies from 0.3 – 2%; rural property is taxed from 0.3 – 20%
Real estate transfer tax (paid by the buyer). This tax varies from 0.5 – 6%
Social Security tax (INSS).

Monthly Salary
Up to R$911.70
8 percent
R$911.71 to R$1,519.50
9 percent
More than R$3,038.99
11 percent

And those are just the taxes you can see.
There are also taxes levied on virtually all the products Brazilians consume. Here is a 9 page pdf that lists scores of products from every sector and the taxes levied on them.  It is shocking. Nothing escapes the tax man.

Let me list some things. These are direct consumption taxes (not import taxes):
A soccer ball – 46.49%
A wooden chair – 30.57%
Cigarettes – 80.42%
Christmas tree ornaments – 48.02%
Books – 15.52%
Plastic masks – 43.93%
Sunscreen – 41.74%
A couch – 34.50%
Perfume (not imported) 69.13%
Perfume (imported) – 78.43%
A bikini - 33.44%
Clothes in general – 34.67%
Rice – 15.34%
Sugar 32.33%
Ketchup – 40.96%
Powdered milk – 28.17%
Bread – 16.86%
Microwave popcorn – 34.99%
Band-Aids – 30.39%
Dish washing liquid – 30.37%
Toothpaste – 34.67%
Shampoo – 44.20%
A pen – 47.78%
A pencil – 34.99%
Mineral water – 43.91%
Beer – 54.80%
Soda in a can – 45.80%
A bath towel – 26.05%
A DVD – 44.20%
A video game – 72.18%
A refrigerator – 46.98%
A cell phone – 39.80%
A day at the beauty salon – 26.32%
Going to the theater or a movie – 30.25%
A saxophone – 40.26%
A guitar – 38.77%
Cough syrup – 34.80%
Cachaça – 81.87%

I guess one of the realities is that these taxes are never collected.  The rates are so high and the system so complicated that many businesses find their way around paying the full amount. And given the taxes, by the time the product makes it to the consumer, we are paying a ridiculously inflated price.
It seem like if you could get involved in some aspect of governmental reform here in Brazil – tax reform would be a good place to start – and would bring a hefty return with success.

MORE good tax info (and some taxes I have not included here) can be found here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gay Pride in São Paulo

June 26th is Gay Day in San Francisco.  750,000 or so people will pack Market Street and the Civic Center to celebrate all things LGBTQQI. It is the highlight of the year and is the second largest public event in California, after the Rose Bowl parade.  Oh the memories.

Luiz and I lived within a quick, downhill walk of the Civic Center so each year we would host a Gay Day Brunch where friends would gather, fuel up on a good breakfast buffet (and cocktails), put the finishing touches on their special apparel (you can never over-accessorize on Gay Day) and strategic makeup, and then spill out onto the street to take in a full, long day of joyfulness.
This year, June 26th is also the 15th annual Gay Day parade in São Paulo. While we won’t be attending, we love following the festivities online.  The event in São Paulo is the largest LGBT party on the planet.  This year they could well host 3 million participants. THAT’S a PARTY!
The theme of the event this year is “Love each other, end homophobia.”
For fun, the organizers have come up with the idea of getting everyone on the street dancing with each other, a sort of debutante ball. The organizers are preparing a waltz in the center of the city. They have provided a remix version of the Blue Danube waltz to each of the 17 tri-electricos that will be keeping the crowd in high gear. Whenever the Blue Danube waltz is played, everyone is encouraged to dance with whoever is next to them.  FUN!
Gay people are so clever.

Thanks to the Inside São Paulo team for posting about this on their terrific blog about all things São Paulo.  Check them out.

Even my surgeon has an angle

Once I decided to get gastric bypass surgery it was necessary to choose a surgeon. Luiz and I asked everyone we know in Niterói for a recommendation. Surprisingly, lots of people knew someone who has had this procedure. We got several suggestions, but one surgeon kept coming up again and again.
Dr. W was recommended by two of our doctors, a couple friends and even one of my students who is a doctor. Sealing the deal was the fact that he is among the doctors participating in my health insurance network.

Our first meeting with Dr. W went well. While waiting for our appointment (they were running 40 minutes late) Luiz took the opportunity to tell my whole story to the women waiting alongside us. But as you know, there are few secrets among patients in a doctor’s waiting room in Brazil. The secretary brought us each a glass of water.

Talking with Dr. W felt a bit like talking with a salesman. He asked a few questions of me, but mostly he spent the time touting his Cracker Jack team and the sure success associated with the procedure. He did reference the need for me to make behavioral changes so as not to balloon out again in two years, but mostly he kept moving things forward.

Turns out Dr. W’s team is mostly off the grid. In addition to my appointments with Dr. W I was to make three appointments (each) with a psychologist, a nutritionist and a physical therapist (all on his team) but they do not accept UNIMED insurance and their fee is R$100/visit. It seems pretty clear to me that, since UNIMED requires a referral from each of these professions stating the appropriateness of the procedure, Dr. W hires these specialists to do just that. He has eliminated the unpredictable.

I began to feel like the place was a “Tummy Mill.” Whatever – I still felt confident with the Dr.’s skill (he has done the procedure more than 130 times). And I, too, didn’t want anything less than a positive referral from the other professionals for the procedure.

If you have had to have a bunch of tests done here in Brazil you know that it is YOU that wanders the neighborhood from lab to lab to get the tests, and it is YOU that collects and files the results in a safe place. In my experience results are not sent directly to the doctor. I had my work cut out for me to complete my numerous tests and to keep a file with the growing pile of documents and films listing the results.

When I finally had all the results in hand, we returned to Dr. W’s office for a consult. During the “consultation” Dr. W went through all the documents and entered the results into my data file in his computer. That was it. I had to say, “Excuse me, but are you going to discuss with me the results of these tests? What does each test tell us about my suitability for the surgery?” In one case I said, “Why are so many of the results printed in red ink?” To which he replied, “That means you have high blood pressure.” I said, “So don’t you think you should tell me that? Don’t you think you might want to refer me to a cardiologist for follow up?” Sigh.

I’ve found that doctors here are often focused on getting you in and out quickly, don’t explain things well unless they are asked and are annoyed with patients that have a brain and ask questions (this goes for our experience at the Cancer Institute as well). It seems very old school – just do what they say and say “thank you doctor.”

So my opinion over time of Dr. W has been less than stellar.

Each time I went for a consultation with any of the professionals in his stable I got a stray piece of paper that filled in one more piece of the overall puzzle. What I wonder is – if every patient is basically going to go through a similar process, why not put together three or four pages, double sided, that lays it all out and give that guide booklet to the patient? No. It was all disjointed and a bit confused.

Trust me, the secretary was never busy. She could easily have printed and collated said booklets.

To the team’s credit they host a 3 hour meeting once a month for patients to go and listen to presentations by the members of the team and to ask questions. But I found the meetings more like a Mary Kay sales pep talk than a careful presentation of the details and procedures associated with the surgery.

In the end I didn’t actually go to all three consults with each of the team members, but I didn’t miss anything. I was not going to part with my money that easily.

Then two days before the surgery the secretary just happened to ask, “Have you called to arrange the anesthesiologist?” What!? Who knew? It was our job to call the anesthesiologist and tell him when we needed him (because, of course, the secretary had no time between chatting with her girlfriends on her cell and standing in the hallway talking with the other secretaries in neighboring offices).

So we called the guy and made arrangements to meet so he could get a sense of what he needed to bring to the surgery. While he was examining me (now the day before the surgery) he said, “You’re pretty big. I think we will want to use an extra instrument to ensure there are no difficulties. There will be an extra charge.” “How much?” we asked. “We can talk about that tomorrow,” he said. WTF?

The Brazilian penal code has a section addressing fraud. The first three numbers of that section are 171. There is a popular expression when something is illegal that it “looks like it’s 171.” That was our take on this last minute extra charge.

The day after the surgery the anesthesiologist came to my room and checked in. Mostly he came to show off the shiny stainless steel instrument he used “just to be safe.” “I bought it in America!” he said with enthusiasm. (I was not impressed.) With his voice lowered so my roommate could not hear, he let us know that his additional fee was R$1,000. We firmly asked for a bill (which he did not have prepared) and said we were first going to submit it to our insurance company for reimbursement. He got all freaked out and told us that the insurance company would not cover it. Winking at each other, Luiz and I just smiled and said we were going to give it a try anyway. We offered our phone number so he could call us when his bill was ready. He said “No, no, you just give me a call.” Yeah, right. We’ll get right on that! Ha! What was up with that?
There were a few other bits of shenanigans we came across in the final days, but I’ll spare you.

In the end my experience was (unfortunately) similar to what I have with so many business people here; so often people have an angle, or a gimmick, or a scam to squeeze a few extra bucks out of you. Money is tough to come by in Brazil, no doubt, but thinking I’m getting scammed by my surgeon and anesthesiologist… that’s a bit much.

[I continue to heal well and lose weight at an incredible pace.]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Surgery report back

At the risk of talking about myself too much I’m going to mix a “How did the surgery go?” post, that many have requested, with a fresh fruit juice post.

Last Friday Luiz and I arrived at the hospital at 6:30 a.m. to get the necessary paperwork out of the way and get me to the pre-op room in time to be ready for my scheduled 8:00 a.m. gastric bypass surgery.
Santa Cruz hospital in Niterói is a mind bending hybrid of a WWII hospital fortress with wooden window shutters and occasional ancient, stork-like steel- legged rolling tray tables sharing the space with computer screens and recently widened swinging doors.  The walls appeared freshly painted in a pastel blue.  Santa Cruz is a private facility utilized by several insurance networks. It is not within the public system.
I knew I was not at a boutique fat surgery facility when I was handed a “one-size-fits-all” modesty wrap that ties in the back (you know the one) and it did not fit across my shoulders, barely wrapped around half my torso, and given my belly, there was no modesty action at all going on below my waist in front.  The nurse covered me with a sheet once I laid down on the gurney. [She understood, having gotten a similar surgery herself 7 years earlier – she showed us her scar.]
Once in the operating theater the lead nurse encouraged whoever was able, to speak with me in English.  Several folks could bridge that gap. There was on nurse who seemed like a fish out of water, confused, but she mostly stood next to me and stroked my arm or left her hand on my leg offering moral support. Before long I was out.
About five hours later I heard a male nurse telling me it was all over and I could feel myself being rolled into my room. I shared a room with another guy who had been in there for five days after a prostate surgery of some kind (not cancer-related).
Honestly, there was no pain. Luiz adjusted my bed to a 45 degree sitting position and slowly the fog of the anesthesia lifted. Before long a nurse brought me my lunch: coconut water, which I was to sip in tiny quantities throughout the rest of the day.
By about 7 p.m. I was getting restless so I got out of bed and went for a little walk down the hall and back. It was pretty uncomfortable, but I was a bit surprised to be on my feet so quickly.
The next morning, by about 9:00 a.m. I got a visit from the surgeon who debriefed me on the procedure, which he said went without a glitch, and wrote up my discharge papers. 
Within the hour Luiz and I had taken a cab back to the apartment and I was signing on to Facebook to check in.

For the first week I am on a “clear juice” diet: 30 ml every 15 minutes.  It doesn’t sound like much, but when your stomach is the size of a walnut, just a couple tablespoons of liquid are pretty filling.
We found a delicious white grape juice at a local natural food store (no sugar added) and I made up some apple juice. Luiz added coconut water to the mix and made some chamomile tea. Not exactly a rodizio, but enough to get me started.

I also made some carrot juice, which I then strained through a cloth and colander, but that was still too heavy and did not sit well. Maybe next week.
All in all it has gone very well so far. I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from readers and friends. I’ll keep you posted as interesting developments occur.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My first big encounter with a Brazilian health insurance company

Most people who have the means opt into a private health insurance network. There is free, universal health service for all Brazilians, but the quality of care can, at times, be sub-standard, and there are usually long waits for any interaction.
Luiz and I pay for private insurance as members of a large purchasing pool and get pretty good rates.  As a 51 year old consumer, my monthly premium, for example, is just over R$300 a month.

The system works pretty much like it does for HMOs in the States.  There is a network of providers, labs, hospitals and an ambulance service.  You must stay within the network.  Contrary to the USA comparison, there are no co-pays, deductibles or gate-keeper physicians.  If I want to see a cardiologist I just call and make an appointment, no need for a referral from a GP.
In November of 2010 I decided to get a gastric bypass operation to help me manage my weight and improve things like my high blood pressure and aching knees and feet. So we went to the surgeon’s office and started the process.
Over the coming weeks I went for numerous tests (endoscopy, 24-hour blood pressure monitoring, overnight sleep apnea testing, multiple blood tests, x-rays, etc.).  I never paid a dime for any of it.
We also went to our insurance provider, UNIMED, to get the details as to what we needed to get approval for the procedure.  It seems being fat is considered a pre-existing condition. So I would not qualify for the procedure until I had logged two years with the insurer.  While I had been a client of UNIMED for over 3 years, it turns out that when I switched from UNIMED-Rio to UNIMED-Fluminense that moved me from one independent entity to another.  So I had to have two years with UNIMED-Fluminense.  Sigh.  So that pushed things back about 5 months.
Other than that delay, the insurance company pretty much played it straight down the middle.  If I could provide all of the necessary tests and recommendations, they would sign off. So eventually they got what they needed and approved the procedure.
From my point of view I got very good coverage.  But if you ask any provider along the food chain they will scream about how low the reimbursement is for their services.
Now – the story of the surgeon’s office and that adventure – ha! That’s another story! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: Sing You Home

This was my first Jodi Picoult novel. I recently watched a segment of an Ellen DeGeneres show where she interviewed Ms. Picoult and discussed this book.  The subject matter is dear to my heart so I took the bait.  I’m glad I did.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable read (and at times it provided a compelling excuse to avoid my translation work).

Picoult has a beautiful use of language and I enjoyed the rather female point of view she put on the page.
Rather than try and write my own review let me just say I recommend this book and have included below paraphrased excerpts of a March 15, 2011 review by Susan Salter Reynolds published in the Los Angeles Times.  I will also include it in my list of books available for lending at the Expat Lending Library.
Oh, and I should mention that the book comes with a CD that includes original tracks that reflect the mood and emotion of Zoe, the main character (and music therapist), as she winds her way through the story.  Cute touch. Music by Ellen Wilber; lyrics by Jodi Picoult; all songs are performed by Ellen Wilber.
Here are bits from the review:
Picoult is known for her ability to shed light on the issues affecting domestic life in America. She picks an issue — in the case of Sing You Home, same-sex couples and the emotional and legal issues surrounding fertility procedures — and explores it from several perspectives, including legal, medical, religious, political. She complicates already complicated dilemmas in her plots.

Picoult works hard to keep her characters from being straw men and women. The closer she gets to real life, real people, real problems, the better the novel. In a country as polarized as ours, for a Democrat as active as Picoult (who gives a lot of money to various causes and institutions) it's not always easy to make, say, the anti-abortion activist, the anti-gay-marriage minister or the school board bureaucrat banning books into sympathetic characters. But the writer must try. For without the insight into the motives and convictions of characters on both sides of an issue, the novel will fall flat.

When the novel opens, Zoe and Max have just had yet another miscarriage. The cost of in vitro fertilization has used up their savings (they are not wealthy), and the emotional strain of Zoe's determination and desire to force her body into motherhood has finally overwhelmed Max, who struggles with alcoholism and low self-esteem.

They divorce. Max goes to live with his wealthy brother Reid and sister-in-law Liddy, devout Christians and members of an evangelical church who are struggling with their inability to conceive. Max has a revelation one drunken night and joins the church. Zoe, a music therapist in schools and hospitals, falls in love with a guidance counselor at one of the schools — a woman named Vanessa.

Vanessa has been in the open about her sexuality since high school; Zoe has never had a sexual relationship with a woman. She just loves Vanessa. They marry but have to cross state lines (from Rhode Island to Massachusetts) to do so. When the subject of children comes up, Zoe remembers that there are three frozen embryos unspoken for in the wake of the divorce. She asks Max for permission to use them, but he's persuaded by his church's pastor (who, with his congregation, believes homosexuality to be a depraved lifestyle choice) to deny her request and offer the embryos to Reid and Liddy.
What a plot! Zoe, Max and Vanessa are thrown into decisions and situations for which they are utterly unprepared. Picoult's supporting characters — Zoe's New Age mother, a suicidal teenager Zoe treats each week, the church pastor and the lawyer who represents Zoe and Vanessa in the courtroom drama at the novel's end — are equally unforgettable, though we do not travel as far into their psyches as the author takes us into her main characters.

It's not the happy endings that keep her readers coming back, for she does not always provide them; it's the possibility that humans can be kind, even when they don't get exactly what they want.

I’m looking forward to reading Picoult’s novel My Sister’s Keeper.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cauliflower, Leek & Sun-Dried Tomato Quiche

Last Saturday I was inspired by some fantastic fresh vegetables at the market. I wrote up the recipe and walk you thrpough it over on the Cooking in Brazil blog.

You can put practically anything in a quiche. Let the market be your guide.

Go have a look. Get inspired.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gastric bypass surgery scheduled for Friday

Say goodbye to my hearty recipes. Brazilian BBQs, all-you-can-eat pizza or sushi restaurants, big pousada breakfasts – soon to be just a memory.
On Friday I am scheduled for elective gastric bypass surgery.  By sometime after noon on Friday my stomach will be cut and stitched down to the size of a shot glass.

Just last night I ate three pieces of a fabulous cauliflower, leek, sun dried tomato pie.  The sun is setting on that reality.  In a month or so I will again be able to eat whatever I like, but the portion size will be a fraction of that three-slice indulgence.
It’s time.  I have been on one diet or another for the past 35 years.  I like to say that I was skinny for about 15 minutes in 1999 and met Luiz. Lucky me.  Since then I have been heavier every year (unfortunately).
The decision is made. I’ve spent the past 6 months taking multiple tests, consulting a psychologist, nutritionist and physical therapist. The insurance company has finally signed off (although they have five more days to screw things up). I am preparing for surgery with specific exercises.
Wish me well!
Here is a video that briefly explains the procedure.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where have all the pennies gone?

If you live here I’m sure you have noticed that there are no pennies.

In fact, centavos do exist and they remain legal tender.  But nobody pays with them.
When you buy a bunch of broccoli at the produce store it may cost R$3.67. But when you get to the checkout counter you will pay just R$3.65.
Or if your new shoes cost R$120.98, you will certainly pay R$121.00
No pennies.
To their credit, stores always round in your favor.  But what’s up with the charade of centavos?  Why not price to the nearest R$.05?
It’s all a game, I suppose. "It sounds cheaper..."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Time for a Blogger Meet-Up in Rio

On the very exciting occasion of Danielle and Alexandre visiting Rio/Niterói, I’m proposing another Blogger Meet-Up.  Mark your calendar: Saturday, July 16th. Time and location tbd, leave a comment if you have a fun suggestion.

The first time we got together, well over a year ago, several of us met at a kiosk on Ipanema beach.  Cold beer, small plates of bar food, and lots of English conversation.  Nice!
The next time we met was on Itaipú beach in Niterói. Sun, sunscreen, beer and food – and lots of English conversation. Sweet!

For our next meet-up should we venture into an interesting neighborhood in Rio?  The historic district just north of Praça XV is visually stunning, rich in historic buildings, churches and museums and has LOTS of barzinhos and restaurants.  People could arrive early and walk around, then we could meet at a particular watering hole.  Or we could wander the area together.

Or how about Jardim Botânico?  It’s a very peaceful place to walk and take in the smell of green (and Danielle could point out the interesting birds). There’s not really an interesting place to sit and enjoy a drink and lunch. The snack bar in the park is pretty lame, food-wise.  But there are appropriate places in the adjoining neighborhood.  That could be fun.
I suppose a return to the beach is never a mistake, especially for folks like Danielle, who will be in town on a rare visit.

So what do you think?  Again – mark your calendar. Plan on joining us. We’ll work out the details in the coming weeks.  And wherever we decide, it will be accessible by bus or Metro.

Oh, and light a candle in an appeal to the weather spirits that things WARM UP!

UPDATE: Luiz reminded me that he is prepared to provide a walking tour of the historic Praça XV area (where Rio began) and describe the history, archetecture, etc.  Very chic... It would be a couple hours, including a lunch stop. Totally flexible. Something to consider.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dia dos Namorados

This is a heads-up to all the expats currently living in Brazil: Don’t forget that Sunday is Valentine’s Day.

The good thing is that we get two Valentine’s Days each year: February 14th and June 12th. The bad news is that it is a pain trying to remember the date here in Brazil (if you somehow miss the TV advertising, the storefront window displays, and the hints perhaps dropped by your loved one).

I’m told that in Brazil the date is in June to move it out from under the cloud of Carnaval, which overshadows everything in the early months of the year. The anniversary of the Christian Bishop Valentine’s beheading for performing clandestine weddings apparently is not sufficient to keep the date February 14th, but the eve of Christian Saint Anthony’s feast day (the marriage or matchmaker saint) fits the bill. (I’m sure Ray will clear this up.)

If I remember my folklore right – if you want to find a mate to marry you can bury a statue of Saint Anthony upside-down and scold it, insisting he find you a match. You then leave poor Anthony there until he delivers.

When I was growing up in Michigan, Saint Anthony was known as the patron saint of lost causes. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a connection…

At any rate, don’t forget your special someone on Sunday.

Oh, and from the eternal wisdom of Dan Savage, venerated radical sex advice columnist, if you are looking for a little coochie coochie on Valentines Day – DO NOT first load up on dinner and drinks expecting to come home and do the deed. You will just hit the bed and fall asleep. Play first, then go out to dinner to celebrate! ** Ear muff the kids. NSFW. Watch Dan explain. Adult content.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What if you could turn off the TV in a restaurant?

OMG -- Now you can!  I cannot tell you how many times I have been in restaurants or bars in country after country where the blaring TV is seen as a necessary addition to the ambiance.  URRGGGHHHH!!!

Luiz understands my aversion to this rediculous noise and always sits on the side of the table that faces the TV - so I can sit facing the other direction.

Check out this video that shows how to make it all go away.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Favela tour in Santa Marta

[Note: As soon as we got on the bus from Niterói to Rio we realized we had forgotten our camera. Please know that all of the photos included here were taken by Peter Mountain and were previously posted on a similar account of a favela tour of Santa Marta over on the very enjoyable Sem Destino blog.  Do go check them out.]
My first experience with a walking tour of a favela community was with Zezinho in Rocinha.  Nobody does it better. But now with Luiz in the tour guide biz, his class was taking a tour of Santa Marta, a favelinha climbing the hills behind Botofogo, in Rio. I tagged along to see how they do it.
Santa Marta was the first favela community to be so-called “pacified” by the police chasing out the criminal syndicates that often control favelas. Now the Rio police occupy the “top of the hill” office space.  Residents report being grateful for the calmer quality of life these days.
This community is nearly vertical.  It is amazing how houses have been built on such a dramatic slope. But there are thousands of houses.  I was nervous about having to climb hundreds of stairs to take the walking tour, but to my relief they have an electric tram (free) that takes residents up the hillside.

We started out by taking the tram to the top and then walking a bit further up to get spectacular views of Rio. The tour guide focused on the pacification process, pointing out bullet holes in cement walls. She kept it light, but also seemed to want to dazzle us with the danger of past years.

There is an unlikely football court on the top of the community.
We stopped by the tour guide’s home, where she introduced us to her (very cute) husband and darling little daughter. The house, while small, was quite comfortable.

From there we slipped further down the hillside and went to the now-famous little plaza where Michael Jackson filmed the “They Don't Care About Us” music video (much of which was also clearly filmed in Pelorinho, Salvador). It has since become a fountain of money for local entrepreneurs. There is a little bar, a cocktail vendor and a hot dog stand.  While we were there a group of men showed up with instruments and started some terrific pagode.

Finally, long after the sun went down, we wormed our way through the maze of walking paths and stairways to a tram stop and rode it back down to sea level.
While I did not find the tour as informative or inspiring as that which Zezinho provides in Rocinha, it was nice to see the flow of cash from tourists (in this case tourism students) into the community.
Check out this video made by the folks at Sem Destino.

Favela Santa Marta - Rio de Janeiro (English subtitles) from Pedro Serra on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Visiting Santa Teresa in Rio

Santa Teresa is one of those neighborhoods in Rio where you are transported back in time.  You can see the slowly gentrifying buildings and the expanding number of super cute restaurants and the unparalleled souvenir shops/galleries, but then an original wooden streetcar rattles by and you flash back to the 1950s.
The galleries and gift shops are the best in Rio - really.
Many of the buildings were very large single family homes when first built, larger than most residential buildings in the city, and with gardens. Beautiful. It is a ‘hidden’ Rio.

The jury is out as to whether most people feel safe staying in the many (and growing number of) cute pousadas in the neighborhood.  Certainly during the day all is fine, but at night people report being nervous on the streets and the occasional strong-arm robbery.  But then, this is Rio, these incidents are not confined to any one neighborhood. For me – I would go for it.

There are some incredible restaurants in this close knit, bohemian neighborhood, many with stellar reputations, views and artsy atmospheres.  This is a must. Go for lunch, go for dinner, and certainly go for a romantic meal when the occasion calls for it.

I had the pleasure of visiting Santa Teresa yesterday with Rachel. There could be no better company to wander through galleries, bicker with the shop owners who did not want their picturesque, antique Portuguese-tiled produce storefront photographed, or sip chopp from an elevated patio. Rachel is a stylish chameleon who morphs from confident, unyielding urban driver to chatty, philosophical observer of architecture, to pensive Rio resident contemplating the future of a waning jewel of a neighborhood. (Not to mention being a super mom.)
The Mineiro - a must for a drink.
We had a wonderful afternoon visiting Santa Teresa.  I highly recommend it (with or without Rachel).

Terrific archetectural detail at the entrance to this large home.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Brazil is too advanced for me

Sometimes I feel a little out of the loop. I wonder: Is life passing me by or am I stepping out of the way of a ridiculously speeding train barreling by? Luiz and I moved to Brazil to get out of the rat race that was our daily lives in San Francisco.
Slow down. Notice the sunshine. Kiss each other more. Don’t chase rainbows. Just be. Be together.
It has been more than a month since I have placed a call on my cell phone. Really. In fact, I’ve recently forgotten to check it for missed calls and text messages.  One of my translation clients is not happy with me.
We have an answering machine for our home phone, but for some strange reason Brazilians do not leave messages! And to leave voice mail is a scandal – you pay to leave the message and the recipient pays to listen to the message.  What’s up with that!? Few people even have voice mail service.
I recently downloaded the new, super cute, animated movie “Rio” and enjoyed watching it on my 21” computer screen.  Luiz, on the other hand, wants to watch it on the big plasma screen, with home theater sound.  So I bought the necessary cable, but today I utterly failed to figure out how to connect the computer to the TV.  I need a 14 year old nephew who can come solve my problem.
I used to think I was a pretty modern guy.  But now I fear I have fallen behind. (I KNOW I have fallen behind.) I rarely send a text message. I certainly do not know the short-hand text language abbreviations used in said messages. I don’t Tweet.
Make no mistake – Brazilians are at the front of the line in terms of technology.  EVERYONE has a cell phone (if only a “pai de santo”). As the saying goes: “kids these days” are all about the technology.
I have a client company that specializes in video games technology and I have had to learn a whole new language to translate their press releases. (Actually, two clients.)
Ok – so I am getting old and I don’t care about instant messaging while driving (except that it should be illegal). But I would at least like to be able to hook up our plasma TV to show a movie from my computer.  Is that too much to ask?