Tuesday, April 29, 2008

LOST

Honestly? Sometimes I feel a little lost. I’m in a new place where I am not fluent in the language, I don’t have a social circle, and I don’t fit in culturally. Don’t think I didn’t anticipate every bit of that statement, because I did. Sometimes I felt lost in Chicago too.

But what is really irking me at the moment is that a new episode of LOST aired last night in Brasil and I am without means to reunite with my crew. Big sigh. Anyway…

I don’t have a key to my mailbox. So, I suspect Ênio must have intercepted the mailman because last week he handed me an envelope - my CPF card. The number (similar to a social security number in purpose) was granted six weeks after I filed the application with the Brazilian Consulate in Chicago last year. But the process of securing a physical card has been a great deal more intricate. Somehow, holding the card feels like a personal achievement. Plus, it was mail. Addressed to me. In Brazil. Neat. I am expecting some bills to arrive in the mail soon too, and am strangely excited to receive them.

Being keyless, I am learning the ins and outs of the segunda via. Literally, I suppose, it means something like “alternate route.” It’s the back-up plan for Brazilians. The way you work something out when the usual way doesn’t work (for a multitude of reasons). My internet bill was due on the 24th, so on the 23rd I went to Claro to pay for my internet service in person. I thought it was a one-stop deal, and was slightly caught off guard when the clerk handed me a printout of my account and instructed me to go to the lottery shop. Como? Lottery offices are abundant here, for predictable reasons. Paying my internet bill in a lottery shop initiated a flashback to my childhood, when my mom asked me to run into the neighborhood drugstore to pay the electric bill. Oh, apparently the segunda via for the electric bill is at the supermarket, Adam advised. Good to know, until I get the key.

I hung out with Adam and Fabricia again last Thursday afternoon. We ate McDonalds (ha) and had a great time. Later that night they embarked on the twelve hour bus ride to São Paulo. I have been thinking about them ever since they left. Adam was flying back to Connecticut and Fabricia will be working in São Paulo until they can sort out the necessary details. I hope that happens very soon. I know how it feels to get on a 5,500 mile flight without the person you love. It’s awful. Boa sorte queridos. Godspeed.



After bidding them a safe journey, I met Victoria Winter at Champanharia Ovelha Negra. I met Victoria, a kiwi expat that has been living here since late 2006, through Facebook and we had coffee a few weeks ago. We agreed to rendez-vous again at the Black Sheep Champagne bar because it’s on the corner near my apartment and was just awarded best Happy Hour in the city (for the third time). We drank lots of champagne (wink) before her boyfriend arrived with four of his friends to take us elsewhere. I chased the bubbles with two beers. That’s notable, by the way, because I never drink beer. I got in around 2am and achieved nothing the next day.

On Saturday night I attended Opera do Malandro by Chico Buarque. It was somewhat of an amateur, but also economical, production at the previously highlighted Casa de Cultura. I enjoyed it and was pleased with myself when I actually understood a cultural joke, drawn from the film Cidade de Deus (City of God, look for it, it's excellent).

Sunday was the first of two games in the final round of the Gauchão. It was a very intense game which nearly ended in a 0-0 tie, a good enough result for Inter since the next game is here in Porto Alegre. But the opponent, Juventude, scored a wickedly cunning goal at quite literally the last second of extra time. Ufff! I couldn’t believe it, nor could I deny them their credit – they deserved the win. To win the state championship, Inter has to win by two on Sunday. This week I’ll be trying to score a ticket from a cambista (scalper) on the streets of Centro. That should be interesting.

In other news, I had my thinking-like-an-American* checked this week. My microwave wasn’t working so Ênio told me to leave it with Clare (who works in the lobby) and he’d have it fixed or replaced. I brought it down the next day and, assuming Clare had stepped out for lunch, left it behind a planter as I ran out for class. I returned an hour and a half later. Neither Clare nor said appliance was there. When I visited with my fun (ex-) neighbors, Adam mentioned that he saw it earlier and that I probably shouldn’t leave it there, because Clare wasn’t working that day. I said that it was already gone… what did he mean Clare wasn’t around? Did he think someone took it? He responded with a raised eyebrow. I have no official answer on this yet, but it’s possible that someone in our small apartment building made off with the decrepit old thing. Merda.

I found the mecca of fruit and vegetable markets, by accident, and plan to get an old-lady cart and go back next Saturday for things such as these:


The green Sonic-the-Hedgehog thing is a graviola, or gaviola, or something with a g and a v. It looks and feels so strange but, in fact, tastes like cucumber. I don’t know what the magenta thing is called. It is reasonably flavorless, though it’s probably full of vitamins-isn’t that what they say about brightly colored vegetables?

I was expecting a rainy Sunday and planned to prepare rice and beans (I mean, if I’ve already started drinking beer…), study and watch the game on TV. But when I awoke to sunny blue skies at 9:30 after a mere 5 hours of sleep, I hastily rushed to dress and scrambled to get outdoors! I took some photos of Parque Farroupilha, that great Sunday hang-out, for you to enjoy.






Happiness! Remember the cuia I told you about – the chimarrão cup that I saw (in magnified version) on a rooftop during the bus ride to Torres? I saw something similar in the park. I give you The Giant Cuia!


I have been living this new life for a month. I have so many personal reflections, but those are, well… personal.



My hope is that among the bright colors and sunlight, the malleable “rules” and time to soak everything in, I keep growing and changing into the Me I envision. To find, perhaps, the parts that feel lost.

Beijos, 


Loquinha Gauchinha

*For the record, I use the word American because that is how it will be best understood by my peeps. It deserves to be noted, however, that my ethnocentrism has been corrected. There are many nationalities within the Americas.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Faith renewed

Yesterday was a good day. I slept in. I went grocery shopping, then to pilates, and then I met Adam and Fabricia. Adam is American, from Connecticut, and Fabricia is from the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Ênio told me there was an American in the building, as he told Adam about me. Truth be told, I was hesitant to introduce myself because… well I (erroneously) assumed it was some older businessman that I wouldn’t have much in common with, and besides, I have enjoyed living in my own space until now. But I met them today, coincidentally, because they were in the lobby with Ênio when I left for pilates. We chatted a few minutes and I said I’d knock on their door this evening. They welcomed me in and gave me some excellent advice on getting acclimated and getting things done. Adam also gave me some enhancements for my language-learning library and a local travel guide that will surely be invaluable in the coming months. I was so sorry that I hadn’t met them sooner, because they are leaving tomorrow. I know the three of us would have become great friends. But then, our paths may cross again, eh?

Last night I wanted to watch Internacional play Paraná for advancement to the next round of the Copa do Brasil. Television programming is a funny thing—it is rather unpredictable. When Inter plays away, the game is broadcast on “open” (that is, non-cable) TV. When Inter plays at home, the game is broadcast on cable—or so I thought. I don’t have cable so, after confirming yesterday that the game was scheduled to air on the cable channel SporTV2, I went to the corner bar last night to watch. Confused by the fact that a different game was airing on the channel, the owner informed me that the game was airing on SporTV2, but only to people outside the region. Basically if you live in POA, you have to go to the stadium, listen to the radio, or (I think) subscribe to pay-per-view to follow along with the action of any game on your own turf. But! There was a home game a couple weeks ago that, according to these guidelines should not have been aired, but at the last minute was broadcast on open TV because the opponent was considered to be “easy kill.” In the end, you never know if you'll catch that game on TV or not because programming and rules aside, things are simply more malleable here.

So, back to the scene at the bar, where I met the spirited 67-year-old Geraldo, henceforth to be referred to as “Al”. He didn’t like the full nickname I issued, Al Capone, because... what would the neighbors think? After we discussed the beneficent side to Al Pacino’s The Godfather, he agreed with a twinkle in his eye that just “Al” would suffice, to keep the parallel our little secret. “O Comandante,” as another patron called him, has his own table at the joint. He takes the bets on the games and keeps track of which proceeds go where. He knows everyone that walks in by name, where they live, what they do, and how long they’ve been around. Surely I must have been quite the novelty and distraction in Al’s evening being the sole female, young (by comparison to the regulars), foreign, buying myself cocktails and watching futebol. He made me promise to come back as soon as possible. And being from the old school of manners, Al walked outside the bar, unprompted, when I left at midnight to watch me cross the intersection and see that I made it indoors safely. Even though I didn’t get to watch Inter’s game, I was well entertained by the cackling and bickering of that crowd of men, that club they have, that ritual.

Besides, we had the game on the radio so I got the news when a goal was made and when players were expelled. Plus SporTV2 is allowed to show replays of game highlights. Now as I mentioned, I don’t think this tournament is as important as the others. I did learn that the winner qualifies for the Copa Libertadores next year, but…shrug…still, there are other ways to qualify. Better ways. Of course I hoped Inter would win, but I didn’t expect them to manage the 3-goal margin that they needed to advance. That’s a lot to ask of a healthy team and Inter has some key members on the injured list. Exacerbating my doubt, Paraná opened the scoring with a goal just three minutes into the game. So imagine the scene when Inter scored their 4th goal (to Paraná’s 1). I would liken it to watching Grumpy Old Men doing karaoke to “Eye of the Tiger”! And naturally the Inter-biased half of Al’s kingdom went berserk when Fernandão nailed the penalty kick at 48 minutes in the second half, bringing the final score to an unnecessary 5x1. Sweet.

I joyfully listened to the subsequent hour of honking cars and fireworks in celebration of Inter’s great performance.

I am totally going to rub it in when I see Carlos today.


I have more to say but it has to wait. I have to find a nursery to buy a window box and some dirt for my hortelã (mint) and manjericão (basil) plants I bought yesterday. I also have to find some tijolos (bricks) and rustic looking pranchas de madeira (wooden boards, I hope) with which to fashion some shelves for my tiny kitchen. Oh, I bought a water cooler. It’s more cost effective and convenient than buying 1.5 liter bottles all the time, plus now I have a place to stand around and gossip with myself.

Monday, April 21, 2008

“Luis, saia de ferias!”

One-tenth of my Portuguese-absorption is now coming from TV commercials. I’m not certain whether that observation should be followed by a “Ha!” or a “Hmph”.

The 2+ hour bus journey to Torres was enjoyable. It was the first time I’ve seen anything close to “countryside” in Brasil, let alone my state. On previous visits I wanted to explore, but lacked the time. Even passing through the city limits, and seeing some of the… less glamorous parts of my new home was stirring. About an hour into the trip I began to see the serra geral (I think that’s the correct serra) that I’ve read about. Being from the plain states, even the most modest of mountains excites me. When we neared the ocean and I saw loads of those cool modern windmills, and lakes or swamps or floodplains or whatever they were—the scenery was new and lovely in my eyes. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera at the ready when we passed the giant cuia (the cup used in serving the ultra-gaúcho-tradition: chimarrão [tea]). Some of you may already know that I have an inexplicable fondness for little-things-made-big. But I only like the realistic things, not the animated kind. Some examples: a realistic giant toothbrush outside a dental clinic—cool; the giant bowl with chopsticks outside Big Bowl on State Street—cool; a giant whisk outside a culinary school—super cool; the big barbeque mounted on the exterior of the Weber Grill restaurant—positively delightful. However, the mushrooms and frogs and butterflies adhered to Rainforest Café—hate them. En route to Torres, we passed a roadside store (I suppose) that had a giant 3-D cuia on the roof. Happiness.

Welcome to Torres…



…where you can witness the 20th Internacional Festival de Balonsimo


…poolside.



The Guarita Park Hotel is everything I hoped it would be: a lovely, tropical orangey-coral color, with a gorgeously landscaped pool; and my own private balcony in an inviting dark wood with a cream-tile floor. It is well-situated across from Guarita Park—an easily accessible nature preserve which separated me from the Atlantic Ocean –which allows the few minute walk to be a more serene experience. At the peak of the rocky cliffs in said park, I discovered what is probably the most peaceful place I’ve ever been. I sat here…


…and watched the waves crash in, sozinha, for some time.

Then, I wondered about how to get back down. I remembered the harrowing experience in England’s Lake District when the path I was descending turned out to not be a path at all—but a death trap! After seriously fearing for my life for a few minutes, I remember, I screamed for help from some better equipped hikers far below. Alas, the Brazilians were much more hospitable. I found a crazy little staircase carved into the side of the cliff, leading right to the gorgeously remote Guarita beach, which I had seen once in a photo a friend sent.

One of my favorite quotes of all time: "Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water." --W.C. Fields
I had considered bringing a bottle of wine, but forgot to pack one. But I also forgot to pack my corkscrew, and that’s just bad form! I was forced to drink overpriced mojitos and caipirinhas in the hotel bar on Friday night, though a dirty old man did send a cocktail over for me. (Smirk.) On the subject, I’ll admit that the inclusion of the next photo is tasteless, but heck, I can be déclassé sometimes.


On Saturday I roamed the town. The ten-plus miles didn’t phase me, as I’ve been working the legs so much around Porto Alegre, with far more demanding inclines. I walked the entire length of the beaches, all over city center, dead-end residential streets, and to the parque de balonismo, where the hot air balloon festival is held. There, I watched a capoeira demonstration. I adore watching capoeristas; it’s so mesmerizing. Capoeira is (in short) something between a martial art and a dance with roots traceable to the African and indigenous slaves in northern Brazil in the 16th century. The practice has a great deal more depth beyond the two capoeiristas performing in the center of the roda (circle of participants). It is rich in musical and social tradition as well. The instruments you see in the background that look like giant bows are called berimbau. (Astrud Gilberto sings a song of the same name that I fell in love with several years ago—far from knowing that was even in Portuguese, let alone anything about the instrument, the culture, or that (ha) I’d being living here writing about it now.) Hint to Blogger newbies: if you press PLAY (the right arrow) below the picture, you'll get more from the experience. ;)

video

After the entertainment, I grew impatient waiting for the big balloon launch and headed back to the beach to watch the surfers and kiteboarders.

video



I took this picture of the jellyfish before I realized it was still breathing. Then I went all Baywatch in my attempts to rescue it. "Respira! Respira!", I consoled as I tried rolling it back into the water with a shell, but I was concerned about cutting into it’s…jelly… with the shell, and the next wave set it 6 feet further onto shore. So using my havaiana as an ambulance, I scooped the blob onto my flip-flop, ran into the waves, and hurtled the thing to (hopefully) a safe distance into the sea.

Ironically perhaps, Saturday night I went for frutos de mar (seafood) because, hey, when in Rome, ? I have to be careful on such excursions because I don’t like fish—the swim swimmy kind. I was going to have siri (crab) because that’s a nice treat that’s within my culinary boundaries. I ordered small plates instead of a meal at Restaurante Beira-Rio: siri na casca and mexilhão à milanese. Crab in the shell and mussels with some tomato sauce respectively, I thought. The first dish came, and though it wasn’t what I expected, it also wasn’t as puzzling as the second. The crab meat was served in (another animal’s) half shell and was akin to a crab cake. But the mussels weren’t mussels at all. It was something deep fried (therefore difficult to identify) that appeared at first glance to be larger-than-normal calamari. Then I thought, maybe it’s halves of frog. Mmmm, I don’t think so. Calma, calma, I said to myself. I delicately sliced into a piece to find black bits, then some orange bits, and some white bits—all unrecognizable. Is it the tentacle of a larger octopus? I ate a piece, prepared for the worst. It was ok. But I kept investigating. I’m pretty sure it was deep-fried oysters, but being less-than-comfortable with the tail-like and leg-like parts, I selected just the pieces with a shape that fit into my stereotypes of what an oyster should resemble. Then I was fine. (I have since confirmed that mexilhão is in fact oyster. Phew.)

On Sunday, I did exactly what was advertised when I planned this excursion months ago—“venha fazer nada!”—I did nothing. I took a nap after breakfast (ha), listened to the rain, watched the futebol game, surfed the net a little gathering ideas for the coming week, and watched a film on TV.

Oh, the boxes, which I have named Fernandão and Girassol, are making progress. “Em Processo de Liberação” which means, I cautiously presume, they have landed and are awaiting clearance at customs. I’m not sure if they sailed to Santos, Porto Alegre, or some other port city—so those two kids still might have many adventures ahead.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A simple life

Despite popular conception, the thrill of life here (or anywhere one decides to challenge one’s conceptual boundaries) is in the tiniest details. It’s noticing hundreds of small differences in your day. For example, one of my favorite activities is grocery shopping. I love abacate (avocado), only here it is served in fruity ways—like smoothies, I hear. But I did stumble upon this “authentic” guacamole mix… just like in Mexico, it says… but this mix is from New York City! New York City?? Wait, that’s Pace Picante… still…



I also derive pleasure each time I apply skin toner with one of these cotton balls. They are not poofs of cotton like at home, but rather a strip of cotton which can be unrolled, thusly.



This week I also discovered…


That’s pastéis, not to be confused, as Word spellchecker is insisting, with pasties—which would beckon an entirely different conversation, no? Cenoura is a carrot. A pastél (pastéis is plural) is a like a square pocket of won-ton dough stuffed with, traditionally, ground beef with bits of hard-boiled egg, green olives, and a green leafy thing akin to parsley, then deep fried. Man I love those things. Although, my hype of said culinary goodness backfired on me when Thiera’s first and last experience with pastéis happened to be at a pseudo-dodgy lancheria in Rio that might have been serving us the remains of an ill family pet. Even I lost my taste for them for a while. Anyway, I read about Cenoura in Veja’s “Best of” 2008 list, and when I happened upon it while out walking (I love how that happens to me all the time, those little “coincidences”), I was pleased to experiment. Cenoura is special not just because of the quality, but the variety. They serve pastéis and panquecas (which I learned are like crepes but a little thicker…spongier) with a wide range of fillings, from the traditional carne to yummy vegetarian options. For the record, anything that contains spinach is alright by me.
I also visited an art-meets-technology exhibit and the architecturally stunning Santander Cultural center. The free show, File POA 08, featured giant video projection installations and interactive games by programmer-artists from the all over the world. Those Japanese… they are always doing something cool, aren’t they? Equally interesting, perhaps even more so in terms of promise, was the center itself. It was positively beautiful. The stained glass ceilings of the great hall must have cleared 60 feet, easy. There was wall ornamentation galore and the intricately tiled floor one would expect in such a place. But the coolest part was the subsolo (the basement level). I hadn’t previously made the connection that Santander is one of the larger financial institutions here, so I hadn’t expected something so unique when I rounded the corner toward the restroom. Woah! There, ajar, in front of me was a massive, old-school, walk-in safe door. There were others as well, some original, some just on display. There was a little exhibit on the historical progression of the currency as well, but by far the coolest discovery was the little coffee shop and adjacent restaurant built into the remnants of the deposit rooms. I picked up the flyers for the upcoming art and music exhibits and look forward to having a mid-afternoon espresso duplo next time I’m strolling nearby.



Another long walk on Wednesday took me to Shopping Total (a mall) I had never been to before in search of pants. Tangent! Just typing that sentence brings memories of the hilarious Bernard Kelly repeating, “I gotta go put my pants on!” and rolling with laughter as he worked to perfect his Jenny-speak. You see, back in the good ole days at University College Galway, we used to nurse our hangovers with loads of coffee and toast and music, communally, in our pajamas, in apartment 169. Eventually, feeling alive once again, someone would suggest we head into town for some lunch or a pint, and I would proclaim the need to return home to change into proper clothing. “Ok! I gotta go put my pants on!” (End tribute to my friends from 169.) So back in present time, I went looking for some pants because the weather has (kinda) turned here. I decided I needed just one more pair of non-dressy, fall-ish pants to carry me until I reunite with my boxes of personal items (read: clothes). I didn’t much care for Shopping Total (except that I found another Cenoura Pasteis in the food court) so I walked to a different part of the city, to the far more humble Shopping João Pessoa. Success. I bought a cheap pair of grey slacks that will give me enough variety to address any weather situation that should arise at the beach this weekend.

Yay! It’s Torres time! Tomorrow I’ll take a bus to the seaside town at the northern border of my state, Rio Grande do Sul, for the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. It will be a bittersweet journey, as I had all kinds of romantic notions about this weekend as I daydreamed about it for the last few years, but in the end I’m going alone. Should I start feeling sad on the 198km bus ride, I’ll have a balcony of my own at the Guarita Park Hotel (www.guaritaparkhotel.com.br) to sooth my soul when I arrive. That should help.

Before I go, I have a picture of me and Ênio, that wonderful man, to appease all you “please post more pictures of you” sayers. Granted, I look like I already went to happy hour, but in fact, no.


And one for me—because I love the arvores (trees) here.


There used to be a street named for the trees… but (for all you true-crime addicts out there) I have an icky story for you. While there are several variations of the story, the hard facts are that in 1864 on Rua dos Arvoredos, theater-aficionado José Ramos and his lovely Hungarian bride Catarina Palse ran a well-known butcher shop in the ground floor of their home. Apparently Catarina would use her looks to lure people (men, presumably) back to the home where they were then killed and turned into sausages. There is some debate about what role each party played in the actual process, the number of victims, and whether or not the victims actually ended up as shop stock. Regardless, Porto-alegrenses still talk about the horror, and the street, now called Rua Fernando Machado, runs parallel to mine just one block south.

On a lighter note, a musical/mood-cognisant observation. I love Glen Hansard. His is the commanding and expressive voice that leads Irish band The Frames. He’s also the leading lad in Once, which I saw for the second time this past (otherwise downer of a) weekend. There’s a line in the Oscar-winning single “Falling Slowly” that I hummed over and over as I walked, conservatively, 12 miles around the city on Monday. “Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice, you make it now.” 

Indeed. Thanks, Glen.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Time flies when you're not working.

It is so easy to forget what day it is. I’m not sure how I’ve arrived at Friday already, and even less sure how more than two weeks have passed in a blink. (And I’m just getting around to posting this missive—it’s Saturday afternoon… see what I mean?)

I have Pilates this afternoon, and was reconsidering my outfit. After you’ve gasped that I have uttered such a sentence, hear me out. Carlos is a torcedor (supporter) of Grêmio, the cross-town rival of Internacional. I’d compare it to a Cubs-Sox thing, except somewhat frequently the intense passion for one’s team has been known to incense violence. In our case, however, it’s merely playful rivalry. Carlos pointed out on Monday that I was (inadvertently) wearing Grêmio’s colors—black pants and a blue top. Before our next class on Wednesday I had been shopping to correct my error, and was wearing one of the two Inter t-shirts I found. I was planning to wear the other one today but I decided to give him a break.

You see, there are two national tournaments being played in Brasil at the moment; the state tournaments (the Gauchão in my case) and the Copa do Brasil. Incidentally, neither of these are the main event—the Campeonato Brasileiro—which runs May through November. The Gauchão is a tournament among teams in my state, Rio Grande do Sul, while the Copa do Brasil is a tournament of 64 teams representing each of Brasil’s 26 states. Mind you, some of the best teams don’t play in the Copa because they are already playing in the international Copa Libertadores which happens at the same time. Confused? Yeah, it took me a while too, and I still have a lot of questions! It will suffice to understand, for now, that the big stuff starts in May, the Gauchão is interesting because it’s a local thing, and the Copa do Brasil, as far as I can tell, is just a way to feed a habit during the “off season.”
Back to my sympathy outfit. Last Saturday Inter won their game, moving them to the next round in the Gauchão. Their biggest competition, Grêmio of course, lost on Sunday and therefore is out of the tournament. To further Carlos’ troubles, Grêmio suffered an embarrassing defeat in penalty kicks on their home turf Wednesday night, which also meant the end of their run in Copa do Brasil. They have earned themselves a month’s vacation, the headlines read, while they wait for the Campeonato to begin. Rather than rub salt in his wounds, and be a cause to my own suffering (I mean, he is my pilates teacher—he has ways of making me pay!), I’ve opted to wear the blue shirt today instead of the red one that triumphs Inter’s World Championship win in 2006.

There is more to life than futebol, of course, although I am happy to be in a place where the spread is so thin.

My communication abilities are improving slightly, though I have resolved to stop messing about and concentrate a little harder on my books this week. Still, I had a couple of linguistic breakthroughs this week. Ok, perhaps that’s a little dramatic—but I am pleased to enter three bits of evidence. 1) On Monday’s walk, I went to Chocolatão (Big Chocolate). It’s quite undelicious actually—that’s what locals call the big brown building that houses the Ministerio de Fazenda, the government department that deals with employment. I went there to complete the next phase in obtaining my CPF card, which in theory, should arrive in the mail in 30 days—given that I managed to follow all the signs and instructions. 2) Walking a little further down the road, I was stopped by some brasileiros asking for directions to Chocolatão. I pointed them in the right direction, pleased that I knew what they were saying and how to respond. 3) I went to Casa de Cultura Mario Quintana (below) to see Nicotina, a film in Spanish with Portuguese subtitles and, to my surprise, understood it. Neat.



I explored the Casa de Cultura this week more thoroughly than the first time I was there in 2005. Formerly a hotel, it was renovated to house some literary museum exhibits, a library, art shows, three 100-seat movie theatres, two cafes, and rooms for courses in the arts. I found a great little study nook on the 2nd floor where I have vowed to spend a couple hours each day this week. That is, until Friday when I leave for the hot air balloon festival in Torres.

As promised, I have attached a few photos of the most entertaining parts of my apartment. First, well let’s call it the sitting area. You see my loveseat and lovely artwork. Superb! Oh, and the metal gate in front of my front door. Did I mention that I was given seven keys when I moved in? No worries, I only carry six.



Missing from that photo is the wall of mirrors with it’s nice wood trim running in parallel diagonal lines about 18” apart. Speaking of 18”, that’s the approximate width of my kitchen door. I like the form actually… little frosted glass panes to conceal a messy kitchen but still allow light into the apartment. It the function part that’s, well…



Now behold the kitchen. The fridge is immediately on the left which opens toward the hall, rather than toward the stove and sink, where any single-occupant might be standing. (I know, I can change that and will once I figure out what tools I need.) But what really makes me laugh is the microwave and it’s “countertop” that juts out from the wall on the right, quite hazardously at eye level. ?????


I cooked my first meal in there today, and thus far haven’t cracked the noggin with enough force to require stitches. It’s all good. Yes, I have been here a week and a half, and just cooked for the first time. I ordered some pizza…



…which lasted me a few days. It was the size of the stovetop. At the joint across the street, you choose 2 or 3 “flavors” and a dessert. So in this example, we have: Mafiosa (sausage and eggplant—I don’t like eggplant), Mexicana (bacon, sausage, onion, black olives, and eggplant-d’oh!), Palmito (hearts of palm), and Chocolate com Morango (strawberry).

I have more about the week, but that's quite long enough for now. Besides I'm going to the see Apenas Uma Vez (Once), again!

Good thoughts, 
Loquinha Gauchinha

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Box Clever

So some of you heard my story about my boxes taking a nap at Brasil Legal in Chicago. Bear with me as I outline the key points for those that haven’t, and then I will introduce a little pool I've decided to hold.

Ok. Brasil Legal (incidentally, “legal” [leg-ow] in Portuguese is the colloquial equivalent of “cool” or “sweet”) is an import goods store on Western Avenue. Marcelo gave me the hot tip that they coordinate shipping to Brazil for a fraction of the cost of other methods I checked. The shop teams up with a New Jersey-based moving company called Fastway (oh, the irony!). You drop your boxes off at the shop and Fastway collects them once a week, theoretically. I was advised upon depositing two boxes on February 17th, a date I set intentionally, that it takes roughly 8 weeks for the boxes to travel to the east coast, be loaded on a ship, sail, unloaded, clear customs, truck, hotel. Great. So the boxes should arrive in the middle of April, and give or take 10 days, I’ll be there—at least, that’s what I figured.

I became slightly concerned when I noticed a couple weeks later that my check hadn’t been cashed. Hmmm. Visit website. Enter tracking number. Hmmm. The following week: website, tracking, hmmm. At least my boxes left before I did, I was pleased to learn a few days prior to my departure. My check was posted 3/19. So I checked the tracking number on the website today, just for giggles.

17/03/2008 Depósito USA
00/00/0000 Trânsito maritime

Ummm. First, I sent them in February, not March! Nice try. Second, 00/00/0000 does not look promising to me. But at least it appears that they are somewhere near a boat.

THE BOX POOL goes like this: I have created a table with some possible delivery dates (excluding any public holidays, weekends, and a few random weekdays—just to make things interesting). Select one of the dates below and bet whether I will receive one or two boxes on that day. A la “The Price Is Right” – the winner will be the person that guesses the right number of boxes delivered (on the first delivery, should there be two) without going over (or in this case, under?). There is also a slot for the pessimists out there, but that slot goes to the first person that claims it.

[Google ate my image.]

Click on my profile, then the email link to place your bet. First come, first serve. I will take the liberty of bumping you to the next open date (in the same column) should your first choice be taken. Winner gets a plane ticket to visit. Ha. Just kidding. But there will be some sort of silly prize.
Today’s first picture is a store sign I passed about a week ago, and felt that certain knowingness that I must return with my camera.



Finally! Someone who understands! (An alternate reaction that comes to mind… “Right on! Pass me the cupcakes.”)

Actually this fitness thing is going well. I’m taking pilates thrice weekly and I walk a lot. I confess, I haven’t suffered much… I mean breakfast is something like this:



Check out that abacaxi man! What a strange shape! Pineapples are so sweet here, with just the faintest hint of that tartness that riddles our pricey Hawaiian imports.

It’s the Sunday edition so I’ve included a bonus photo.



Saúde! 
Loquinha Gauchinha

Friday, April 4, 2008

Redemoinho de vento

That’s cool. Redemoinho de vento. (hedge-ee-moy-n-yo gee vent-oh) That means “whirlwind,” at least, according to one of my scholarly sources. I have never moved twice in a week before, but this week, merely six days after my arrival, I moved into my humble new home on Rua Duque de Caxias. Most things have been flowing thusly. I had my first and second pilates class with Carlos this week (more on that another day). I hooked up the cell phone, and learned firsthand how quickly the reais ($) add up from a few brief calls and text messages. I did not manage to open a local bank account, though I have one more shot once I receive my first electric bill in the mail later this month. I learned the words for shoulder, heel, broom, scissors, sheets & pillowcases, and a key word, proof. I learned that one is better off spending a few extra reais (hay-ice) on a decent bottle of wine. I learned that the mosquitoes (thankfully, not of the Dengue Fever variety) are so small that they can fit through the wire weaving of the screen—but at least they don’t seem to bite.

Most importantly, I learned the incredible value and luck of having the aforementioned Ênio (Ain-ye-oh) on my side. That man is a godsend. When he emailed the lease for my review, he mentioned he was going to introduce me to a New Yorker living in the building that offered his assistance with “newbie” things. When I signed my lease on Tuesday, Ênio walked me to Claro to help me get my cell phone hooked up and price out internet service. Later that day, while I went to the bank, he went to have the electric transferred to my name, and called a different phone company to compare phone/internet plans. He has jumped through a handful of bureaucratic hoops on my behalf, and I really cannot express my gratitude well enough. He would like a Chicago Bulls hat, which I have my people working on, but somehow it still seems very uneven. And my experience with Ênio is but one of the many fantastic encounters I have had with helpful, generous, and patient porto-alegrenses in a single week.

Want another? Carmem, the manager at Hotel Lar, didn’t hesitate to adjust my rate from a monthly one to a weekly one, upon hearing the news that I found an apartment. She was only sorry to request that I wait until April 26th to receive my refund, which apparently will be in cash, because (quite reasonably) they have to wait for the international credit card transaction to clear. What’s more, she had no issue with my boxes being delivered there and said that she would gladly call my cell when they arrived. Jefferson, Ricardo, and Dione were sad to see me go so soon, but told me to stop in whenever I needed some help or advice, or just to say “hi” once in a while. Will do.

In fact, the only experience I’ve had so far that lives up to the stereotype about Brasil’s penchant for red-tape was getting a tiny wireless modem for my laptop. To achieve this seemingly simple chore, I made five visits to Claro, each with its own waiting time. In my trips to and fro, I gathered the many documents, and then I gathered more. In the end, I needed my passport, CPF (the equivalent of a SSN), my apartment lease (which then had to be notarized), the official government registration of the building, the receipt from the electric company regarding the service transfer request, a photocopy of the identity card for the property owner, my mobile number (which I have) and a landline number (which I don’t have). Seriously.

But just when you reach the point where you nearly give up in frustration, if you persevere, you get what you’re after. Tonight I am in my room, singing along with The Decemberists on my fun little iPod speakers, clicking out my thoughts on my laptop, with its little blue “you-have-wireless-connection-you-cool-girl-you” light flashing at my side. Man, life is good.

On to the pictures and the funnies. I will post pictures of my apartment in short order, once I figure out how to photograph the kitchen! (Maybe a video of me turning in place?) In the meantime, here’s one of the pôr-do-sol (sunset) for which POA is famous, taken from my bedroom window. Naturally, the photo cannot possibly do justice to the spectacle. Rest assured, I enjoy it immensely from my perch.



And one of Monteiro, the charming old man I met in the park selling these little paper toy things that transform into many shapes—including, um, headgear.



My favorite entertaining experience of the week (well, of the sort that can be relayed en masse) is this. Ênio introduced me to a friend and colleague during our lease review, and business was suspended for a few minutes as “get-to-know-you” chat took precedence. During the conversation, I caught enough to understand that Ênio was relaying to his friend that when I phoned him on Sunday about the apartment, he thought, based on my accent, that I was Japanese. He was surprised, seeing me waiting outside the building, that in fact I had blondish hair and blue eyes. Me, Japanese? Ha ha ha, apparently I need elocution lessons in Portuguese.

Alright friends, I think that’s enough for now.

Beijos, como sempre,

Loquinha Gauchinha

Endnote: For the time being, I have opted not to include a Comments link on the site. I prefer to receive feedback via email, but I have enabled a link to shorten the process. Click on my profile, then click the email link and type away.