Monday, July 7, 2008

No soup for you!

I had an experience the other day that made me chuckle in its likeness to the classic Seinfeld episode, “The Soup Nazi.” There are loads of street vendors here selling churros, pão de queijo, assorted meat kabobs, and the Brazilian twist on the USA classic, the cachorro quente (hot dog). I was strolling along, craving sausage in a bun (like ya do) and actually pulled an about-face when I passed a cart with a tasty-smelling cloud. I approached the cart from what I presumed to be the customer side—opposite the vendorand looked at the different options. When I asked him if a particular type was apimentado (spicy), he ignored me. Hmph. Com licença (excuse me), I said. No reply. He didn’t even raise his head. I ducked down to make eye contact beneath the brim of his cap, and repeated, “com licença?” with a smile. He looked down again and, saying nothing, gestured with a clear irritation that I was on the wrong side of the cart. Apparently I was supposed to approach from his side. Forget that cachorro quente man! I’ll go to another cart, more politely attended, up the street! Unfortunately my shock and my Portuguese prohibited me from relaying the message, and I just walked off in a huff.

"I get by with a little help from my friends." I’ve had a busy week! (It deserves the punctuation.) Aside from a growing class load, my dance card has been filling up. Well, ok, not my dance card exactly, but my social calendar. After classes last Monday, I met Victoria, Joanna, and Clair at Livraria Cultura for a browse, a cafezinho, and a little lunch. I was struck by the “adultness” of our conversation—covering women’s issues from relationships to having children—because, somehow, it seemed so far removed from other chats I’ve shared with girlfriends. I was so absorbed in hearing the different thoughts and experiences of the group. I don’t know how to explain it…but it felt so…transitional. We were four women in our late 20’s to mid-30’s, from completely different backgrounds, discussing the same ideas and communicating the same desires and fears. The seemingly innocuous luncheon, when examined more closely, actually begins to obscure the linear thinking that indoctrination inspires. I hope and expect that, in time, only traces of my programmed reactions to certain experiences will remain. Well, at least that’s how it feels… and it’s kinda the Big Point to this sort of adventure. Anyway, I am really enjoying the company of my new friends.

I met Clair last week at Christiane & Roberto’s UN luncheon. She’s a German psychologist that met her Brazilian husband, Carlos, in Holland. They recently moved to Porto Alegre with their son, Rafael (now 8 months) to experiment with building a life here, much the same as me. Add another pair to the ECC group that’s building.

I shared a great meal with my newest friends at their apartment Friday night. We laughed our heads off in the kitchen when Clair related a story of an indignant laundry lady who was put out by the family underpants being included in the washing. We dined on a homemade chicken and vegetable casserole and a lovely salad with avocado (Thank you Clair!). The latter is notable because gauchos, being hardcore carnivores, don’t do salad like we (and apparently our German friends) do. Here, salad is three pieces of lettuce, two slices of tomato, maybe a few bits of onion or beets, and some cooked carrots. Avocado is reserved for sweet recipes, like smoothies, not savory things like salad or cheeseburgers. Likewise, it’s hard to come by home-style brownies, especially given the difficulty of finding ingredients like baking soda in the supermarket (though I’ve learned that you can ask a pharmacist - Como?). So I was particularly delighted that Joanna, responding to a comment I made about missing the old standby dessert, went all Julia Child (literally) and prepared a pan of from-scratch brownies. Yum. Incidentally, that was my piece... and I was being polite, refraining from diving face-first into the pan.

There has been other socializing toohanging out at Joe & Joanna's cool apartment and spending a sunny Sunday afternoon with tea and snacks in Redenção with Clair, Carlos, and Rafael. Tudo beleza.

It has been observed that I talk a lot about food. It’s true, ha! But it’s such an ever-present reminder that you are in a new place, given that I eat (at least) three times a day! Despite my drooling as I write about all these buffets and homemade meals, I have vowed to get back to my original plan of relying more heavily on the fruits and vegetables. Bring on the mini-pineapple!

I chose to shoot the abacaxi in front of my little garden. On the right we have a struggling hortela (mint) plant and on the left, the Little-Shop-of-Horrors-inspired manjericão (basil). Pesto anyone?

Bonus photos as a reward for your patience! One of my classes is in an office in Centro, in a conference room which overlooks Santander Cultural and Praça Alfandega. It’s a lovely green square that is edged by various museums and such.

Tomorrow I will meet Renato, a brasileiro that is working on his PhD (in what I don’t know) at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS, commonly referred to as “ooor-gz”). He wants to practice his English and is rumored to be patient enough to help me further my Portuguese. Coitado (poor thing)!