When I arrived in São Paulo in 2008, I was extremely proud of my luggage, or rather, lack thereof. Everything I would need for the indefinite future fit in a suitcase and two backpacks. I might not have needed the suitcase at all if I hadn’t insisted on bringing winter camping gear, you know, in case I went camping in the Andes in the indefinite future. (I did, but first I used my sub-zero sleeping bag, wool and fleece to survive a São Paulo winter).
I hauled the same suitcase and backpacks on the bus when I moved to São José dos Campos, but after nearly two years of settled-ness, numerous bags and boxes were required to shuttle my stuff to our new apartment (thankfully just across the building). My not-so-portable belongings now include a piano keyboard and a humongous mirror (it’s for dance practice, I swear) and not to mention furniture, which I had managed to avoid buying, ever, until moving to São José.
Perhaps my frequent moving has been a way to control shopping binges, or at least assure the effects won’t be permanent. Though I get paid in local currency, I still automatically divide prices by 2ish to convert to USD; Brazilian clothes and food seem cheap so I buy twice as much. And precious time with family and friends on rare trips to the US becomes punctuated by shopping sprees for shoes, consumer electronics, and personal care products that are either extremely difficult to find in Brazil (100% peanut butter) or ridiculously marked up (sunscreen, camping gear, anything with a plug). The flipside of deprivation is obsession – when I wandered into a mid-level Boulder grocery store on my first day back in the States in June, I spent a good hour and a half in a daze, trying to choose between twenty kinds of mustard and an entire wall of organic produce. (What I ended up with were the odd things I miss: Wheat Thins, blueberries, hummus, baby carrots, cottage cheese, mushrooms, tempeh. Cheap junk food, I can buy in Brazil.)
So what’s my problem? Stuff stresses me out, how it sucks time, attention, energy and time away from people, ideas, health, the environment (you know, the priceless stuff..). I get a kick from traveling the moment I walk out the door with my backpack, knowing that as long as I have my passport, credit card, and a toothbrush, I can figure out the rest as I go. (Of course the toothbrush is optional, because as my Mom always reminds me while I’m obsessively packing, they have stores there. But they might not have a bookstore, so emergency reading material is not optional.)
Philosophies differ. One friend insists they need to see their money materialized in houses, cars, etc. to feel a sense of progress and accomplishment. Another, transitioning from a life of road trips between seasonal work to marriage and grad school, sees the purchase of furniture and home appliances as a rite of passage. I do quite regularly yearn for a hotter shower, a clothes dryer, more diverse footwear, a new MacBook Pro. I’d love to have the disposable income to explore some new continents, or for that matter, visit my family more often. But I’m grateful for the tradeoff – the time and stability to become comfortable in a new country, the luxury of learning for a living, and the flexibility to get out of town when I need a break from routine. At the moment, I’m back in São José, and need to go unpack.
It’s the new sensation! (1) A shuffling, hip-swinging dance step, (2) an anglicization of the Portuguese verb rebolar* or, (2) the latest catchy/obnoxious pop song heard in ring tones and street CD kiosks everywhere.
Yeah, this is exactly what living in Brazil is like. ;)
Rebolation has also inspired some clever parodies. My favorite is from the produce market chain Hortifrutti. Repolho = cabbage. :)
* vt to swing, to sway
At a birthday churrasco in Rio last weekend, I met, for the first time, an American who passed the native test: a real live Brazilian assumed she was one of them. Everything – accent, posture, body language, platform sandals – was spot on. Of course, perhaps a native of Rio could have told the difference – apparently they can distinguish between natives of different bairros.
When pressed she admitted, “Yes, I’m American, but I’ve lived here a long time.” And, she proudly announced: “I have no desire to go back.” That may have something to do with having just bought an apartment in Ipanema, an all-around lovely place (although still a bit agitated for my tastes).
I was impressed. Yes, she married and moved to Brazil young, but pure time doesn’t erase foreign accents, a combination of talent and the will to assimilate does.
And me? (Hey, it’s my blog.) I’ve been here two years. Upon meeting me, Brazilians alternately note that I have [no, a little, a very strong] accent. I’m comfortable and content, but that invariably makes me antsy. I’m not eager to move back to the US, but I can’t say I never want to leave Brazil. I see myself as more of a multi-citizen than an expat, aproveitando the pluses of each place but unwilling to romanticize or overlook the minuses.
I’ve adapted. I check over both shoulders before crossing the street, chit-chat with strangers, and feel weird if I don’t know the name of every single person I interact with. I feel naked if I leave the apartment without earrings or a dab of makeup, even just to run to the corner bakery or the GYM. I shower before I go out, after I come home, and before I go out again. I wear flip-flops at home, and am obsessive about dirt (indoors). I eat a huge lunch and bread for breakfast and dinner, put soy sauce on my salad (ok, maybe a São Paulo thing) and ketchup on my spaghetti (ok, maybe just laziness).
But there are some things I won’t give up. (1) Chaco’s every single day, unless it’s toe-numbingly cold. Partly comfort, partly because my size 9.5/10 feet poke over the edge of the largest Brazilian women’s sandals. Luckily I’m tall (enough).
(2) My beige (and now dust-stained) gringo hat, purchased in Peru and the coolest and shadiest ever.
(3) Alone time. The only reliable place for this now is my room, due to the above-mentioned incessant chit-chat with strangers thing. I do miss the alone-in-public coffee-shop culture of the north, and made sure to spend at least the length of one cup of tea per day sitting alone in coffee shops during my trip to Germany in January. (4) Regular walks or swims. Wearing my hat, but not the Chaco’s. Usually alone, to reset my brain, but good company sometimes welcomed.
(5) NPR/BBC live streams in the morning, podcasts during my walks. Helps me stay connected with the US and how it’s evolving, and the bad economic/political news helps me not miss it too much. ;)
And that’s pretty much it.
Corruption in Brazil is big news and major gossip – scandals involving politicians trading cash for votes, police allied with drug lords, soccer club owners and church leaders getting fat off the opiates of the masses. But my first direct experience with tainted money was a minor thing. Last Saturday catching the bus home de madrugada after a night out in Rio, we had two R$2 and a R$20 to pay R$4.70 in bus fare. Unable or unwilling to break our twenty, the cobrador took our R$4 and told us to stay up front rather than going through the turnstile.*
So what, you ask? We get a discount, he pockets the cash. Well, there’s the obvious stuff – even the perception of a higher cost of doing business reduces foreign investment; public funds for education, health, roads, etc. gets drained away; it sucks to live in a place where everyone breaks the rules.
I’m no political economist, but I’ve started to wonder if the more insinuous effect of corruption could be the horrendous bureacracy that evolves to impede it. Could this be why public officials (including research scientists) have to submit a pile of paperwork (including a complete meeting agenda translated into Portuguese) justifying every trip abroad? Or why the competition process for government and academic jobs (including exam grades) is completely and permanently public record? Or why, when applying for funding to travel to a workshop in the US, I had to submit forms and a proposal to be signed by half a dozen administrators, English and Portuguese versions of my diplomas, CV, invitation and acceptance letters, and authenticated copies of my passport and Brazilian ID and Social Security cards?
Actually, the authentication wasn’t a big deal, because even though I had forgotten the originals at home, the rotary agreed to stamp them all since it was due a few hours later, given that I bring in the originals…amanhã.
* I didn’t see this because I was facing front, but there was also a drug deal taking place in the back of the bus. Apparently the drivers look the other way in exchange for protection – or a cut.
Me to a convenience-store clerk in Copacabana: Vocês têm protetor solar?
Wide-eyed clerk: Do you speak French?
After nearly two years in Brazil, I still have problems pronouncing the number 3. It’s basically the same as in Spanish, três, and it’s the t-r that trips me up. In English, hard consonants followed by r are aspirated (there’s a little puff of air in between) but in Spanish/Portuguese the r is flipped. If I’m speaking quickly, I tend to aspirate; if I concentrate, the t and flipped r come out with a gap in between, which still sounds a little off.
I anticipate an upcoming t-r with dread. Unfortunately in the case of the number três there’s no way to swap in a synonym, as I’d often do with Spanish words containing rolled r’s (my other pronunciation nemesis). Every time I buy something, I have to tell the cashier my CPF number (the Brazilian equivalent of a social security number, except it’s required for everyday financial transactions), which as luck would have it, contains three 3’s. Every time, I take a deep breath first, bracing for the inevitable “you’re not from here..” glance from the cashier. Granted my accent is obvious even from the minimal “bom dia..débito..obrigada,” but something about constantly struggling with such a basic word is a reminder that life here will never be completely natural.
I do try to maintain perspective. Brazilians conversely have trouble with t-h, and I felt somewhat vindicated when I overheard my boss, who lived in the US for several years, saying “tr-ee.” What matters is being understood.
On October 12, Americans commemorated Columbus stumbling upon Hispaniola, and brasileiros got the day off in honor of Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the country’s patron saint. Mexico’s Virgen de Guadelupe appeared on a peasant’s cloak; Aparecida’s statue was hauled out of the Rio Paraíba do Sul just north of here in 1717 by fishermen casting for a good catch to gift the governor.
Aparecida may be a national holiday, but in the northern Amazonian city of Belém do Pará, the weekend is all about Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, an icon that arrived courtesy of the Jesuits via Nazareth (Israel) and Nazaré (Portugual). The Sunday morning procession to her temple in Belém draws two million people from throughout Pará, for many a once-a-year family reunion.
For paraense expats in São José, it was the perfect excuse for a churrasco, the standard animal parts and beer complemented by Amazonian fare with ingredients one of the guys brought back from a recent trip home. While I’m pretty indifferent to typical Brazilian fare of meat, beans and starch (the salads are awesome), I can’t help slurping up the unique flavors in pato no tucupi (duck meat stewed in manioc juice), tacacá (shrimp stewed in tucupi and manioc gum), maniçoba (“feijoada paraense“), and açaí (not the syrupy beach smoothies, but the raw purply berry pulp with crunch from tapioca pellets). Everything except açaí includes tongue-tingling jambu leaves.
Tacacá is yummy.
From a previous festa paraense – stir-fried capivara meat – farm-raised in Pará and hunted in the wetlands of Venezuela.
Festas paraenses always involve dancing. I like this.
There is at a minimum brega, a peppy blend of regional rhythms with a touch of Caribbean calypso. Brega literally means “tacky” or “cheesy,” and it is indeed rather obnoxious – unless you’re dancing. The basic step is like salsa, except without the pause on 4, so keeping up with the off-accent 1-2-3 4-5-6 is quite engrossing. The best clips I could find of authentic couples dancing brega was this documentary (parts one and two) – feel free to skip through the lengthy scenes of the producer mixing Gnarls Barkley in his bedroom.
Then there was a roda de carimbó.
..and a lesson to prep us for the samba remix of Ave Maria..
..but we all ended up just rocking out.
So over skype last weekend, my mother says to me, “Oh did you hear? The Olympics are going to be in Brazil in 2016.”
Even if I didn’t stream NPR and the BBC nonstop, it would have been impossible to not notice. Here in Brazil, it’s kind of a really big deal.
Last Friday my carioca officemate blasted the announcment live on Globo Esporte. Throughout my building there was shrieking and jumping and running about.
Intense national and carioca pride aside, the Olympics coming to Brazil is historic, a symbol of global inclusion and the rising prominence of emerging economies. President Lula emphasized in his presentation in Copenhagen that Rio 2016 will be the first South American Olympics, and that Brazil is the only of the world’s ten largest economies that hasn’t hosted the Games.
The selection wasn’t without criticism. NPR’s Scott Simon gave a rundown of concerns about Rio, including horrendous traffic, the required relocation of favelas, and public safety, commenting that “street crime is perhaps the worst in the world.”
While I can attest to the traffic – streets are narrow and major chunks of the city are linked only by tunnels – I take exception to the safety comment. While one should definitely take precautions on the streets of Rio (for example, I avoid waving my camera around or wearing jewelry made of anything fancier than coconut wood), I have visited a dozen times, including during Carnaval, with absolutely no problems. I’m inclined to believe that Mr. Simon, a native Chicagoan, is just a bit bitter. :)
Rio’s narrow and spectacularly scenic streets
Granted, drug-related gun violence does have an unfortunate tendency to occasionally spill over into the wealthy Zona Sul, where tourists like to hang out and where many of the Olympic events will be held. No worries, some Brazilian friends deadpanned over Friday beers, the city can just pay the druglords to keep the peace like they did during the 2007 Pan American Games, noted for the utter lack of violence. Seriously though, the super-pragmatist in me doesn’t see much difference in principle with some of the extreme measures taken before the 2008 Games in Beijing, including shutting down traffic for a month to clear the air and employing cloud seeders to divert moisture away from the city.
Skeptics aside, there is absolutely no doubt that Rio is just plain gorgeous, sandwiched between steep rainforest-clad volcanic rock faces and ample white sand beaches. Here’s the official Candidate City video (in Portuguese, sorry) showing digitally how it’s all going to fit.
The venues will be situated to take full advantage of Rio’s existing facilities and carta postais. Imagine, if you will: opening cereremonies and futebol in the legendary Maracanã(recently renovated in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final); Pão de Açucar and rowing on the Lagoa in the shadow of the Cristo Redentor; beach volleyball on Copacabana; and the marathon finish in the Sambodromo.
View from the Cristo Redentor of the Lagoa and Copacabana Beach
The patriotically-painted Maracanã Stadium
I just might have to stick around to see it all come together!
Overheard on the bus, inner SE Portland, from one skateboard-lugging teenage boy to another:
“So if you wear skinny pants, a small shirt and have hair that covers your eyes, you can get a ton of girls. You don’t even have to do anything! I was in the mall yesterday and I couldn’t sit down for five minutes without a girl coming up and talking to me.”
Gotta love those Portland boys!
From São José, SP to Portland, OR in 27 hours, woot! Via SFO and the haze layer from the southern California wildfires. Even so, I miss my CA crew and was tempted to escape on BART, but instead dashed to snag standby on an earlier flight to Portland, land of free airport wi-fi and clean(er) air. As bathroom karma for having spent my first two flights repeatedly scrambling over (1) the proud grandmother of a São Paulo truffle shop owner and (2) a Canadian capoeirist chick (yes, window seats are always worth it), I’m last-room aisle right across from the loo. Despite my best caffeination efforts, passed out last night 6:30pm PDT and woke up (as confirmed by the spiffy day/night map screen) shortly before São Paulo sunrise.