Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tudo não é facil

The reason I went looking to get fingerprinted is another story, but last Monday, that’s what I did all day. On the advice of my síndica, I started the errand at Tudo Fácil (Everything Easy), which is a one-stop-shop for residents to handle official business—a place to obtain certificates, replace lost documents, and the like. They do not count ink among their office supplies.

Next I went to the Polícia Civil near my apartment, the most entertaining part of the expedition. I waited in line for a while before being told they don’t do fingerprints—then being directed down the corridor to find Gomez. Oh how I wish I had a picture for you! Besides the fact that I didn’t have my camera with me, I figured they might not take kindly to me taking pictures of the station interior and staff. Allow me to set the scene: the station is actually an old colonial house, a bit run down, with tall old windows…among the few windows in Porto Alegre without bars. I peeked into an office to see a tanned and grey-haired man, apparently the head honcho, behind a desk in a short-sleeved and casual-patterned cotton shirt unbuttoned to the navel, drinking chimarrão* and enjoying louder-than-expected Top 40 music from the boom box on the file cabinet, with an incense stick burning atop another cabinet.


With a smile that was half puzzled and half delighted he responded, “Sim?”

He gestured, inviting me to enter and sit. I explained that I needed fingerprints and he confirmed that they didn’t perform the task. Incidentally, I thought it strange because I saw an officer in the next room, which had hand-taped height markers on the wall—the sort that they use in line-ups—so certainly they must process criminals in this station. Despite not being able to oblige my request, Gomez quickly devised a plan to buy himself face time, and began making phone calls on my behalf. He filled the pauses with a friendly interrogation: Where are you from? How long have you been here? You speak Portuguese very well! Why did you come to Porto Alegre? How long are you staying? Would you like to share my chimarrão? Do you like chimarrão? Ahhh, well the trick to preparing it is cold water!

The curious secretary came in to listen, under the guise that it was too hot in her office. She hardly looked old enough to be working—with a petite frame and 5-foot stature, max, including the bonus inches from the stilettos, and her black shirt-dress was cinched at the waist with a very retro 6” wide elastic belt.

After the series of phone calls, Gomez instructed me to go to the Polícia Federal over on Ipiranga. There, I should request an oficial which is a fingerprint card and take it to the Instituto de Identificação on Avenida Azenha.

Muito obrigada, Gomez! Yes, next time I’m in the neighborhood, I will stop in and say hello.
At the Polícia Federal, I was told to come back the next morning because the time was 3pm and they only attend to foreigners between 9am and 2pm. I’ll paraphrase the dialog:

--But I just need a form and the officer at the Polícia Civil called and they told me to come now.
--Sorry, come back tomorrow.
--(facial expression which simultaneously revealed incredulousness and pleading)
--Ok, ok, one moment. (disappears)
--Ok come with me.

I was led to a back room occupied by a young Arnold Schwarzenegger who listed, in English, a string of reasons they could not fingerprint me. After the explanation I replied, “I only need the form.” Oh, here you go! He led me out of the office, grabbing his gun on the way, and out to the street where he pointed me in the direction of my next stop. Hand shake, cheek kisses, good luck, thank you.

At the Identification Institute I was attended by a very gracious man who argued my case several times to his supervisor, before regretfully informing me that they could not help.

On the walk across town back to my apartment, I stopped in a paper store and purchased an ink pad. Closer to home I passed the Brigada Militar (Military Police, not to be confused with the Civil or Federal police). What the heck, I thought, and approached the guard smoking out front. He took me inside, gave some advice on technique, and I fingerprinted myself.


The rest of the week has been uneventful. And hot! We are having an indian summer and temperatures have been in the 90’s since Sunday. It’s supposed to snap with big storm expected this weekend. I won’t be here to soak my arsenal of footwear, though. I’m flying to Rio de Janeiro in the morning to visit the crazy people from Tupiniquim Hostel in Botafogo, where I stayed with Thiera last November. On Saturday, I hope to meet up with some Internacional fans to watch their game against Flamengo on my second visit to Maracanã. I’ll hang out, drinking caipirinhas and meeting strangers until my Tuesday evening return flight. I’ve got a lot on the agenda next Wednesday, but I’ll try to fill you in on the inevitable funnies shortly thereafter.

Today’s photo features a scowling gargoyle on the Catedral Metropolitana. I don’t understand why the façade of a glorious house of peace should be adorned with something like this, but there it is.

Bom fim de semana,
Loquinha Gauchinha

*chimarrão = traditional Gaúcho tea/social ritual… remember the giant cuia?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Já Já! (or, "I'll be right back!")

The nice weather is lingering longer than I expected, but my life has been non-stop inaction this week, which will explain the lack of posting. I have just a few thoughts and photos to share with you today.

The current joke about Internacional is that they forgot to enter the field on Wednesday, when they were surprisingly and easily defeated by Sport, thereby getting knocked out of the Copa do Brasil. No matter. The Campeonato has begun and I’m expecting good results.

I have been looking for a sweet to satisfy myself in times of craving. I found these cute little things at the supermarket…

…which I thought might be marzipan. Instead, the center is like the coconut center of a Mounds bar covered in ¼ inch of pure sugar. Ooo, too sweet! I bit three times on a candied fig before spitting it out. Most cakes are smothered in dulce de leite, nah. In the end it’s to my advantage that I’m not keen on the majority of the desserts, though I do enjoy pudim leite. If it’s prepared differently than flan, I wouldn’t know from the taste.

Fabricia tipped me off on some entertaining signage around town. Here’s an upscale lingerie store:

Victoria Winter is quickly becoming my Verizon! Thanks to her I am growing a network. I met some people at a couple language schools that were very friendly. She introduced me to some relatives, Aninha and Tôtô (which is a nickname for Antônio), that run one school from a charming house in Moinhos de Vento (a posh neighborhood). They were such wonderful conversationalists that our quick meet’n’greet turned into a 3 hour conversation covering artwork, politics, a crooked landlord, and Cirque do Soleil. When the sun began to set, Tôtô announced, “Meninas! (Girls!) Come look!”

My Portuguese is improving noticeably too, so it feels like I am laying groundwork for better posts in the coming weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Clearly, I don't know beans.

Congratulations are in order for Seabiscuit. Amy and Paul have won the roaming box challenge. My old friend Ricardo at Hotel Lar called yesterday morning to announce that the Fernandão and Girassol had arrived. Phone conversations are tricky because I don’t have the benefit of gestures or expressions to aid my understanding. So, in my sleepy haze I rushed to the hotel at 7:45am to learn that the delivery truck had been re-routed to my apartment. Oh, that’s what Ricardo was telling me! D’oh! I rushed back home and found three delivery men trying to telephone the apartment. Next thing I know, I’m excitedly digging into my new wealth of clothes, books, and photos. The juicer! The George Foreman Grill! (Must! Buy! Chicken!) But certainly, it was my comforter, which was packed as an afterthought, merely box stuffing, that I was happiest to receive. I love it. It’s warm, weighty, and delightful. The nights are getting progressively more brisk, and I’ve resorted to wearing a sweatshirt to bed more than once. Gladly I post to you now surrounded by goose feather pleasure.

I visited Al Capone on Wednesday. What a character! Of the evening’s stories, I most enjoyed the show and tell of his silk handkerchief for tears. Someone dear to him gave it to him as a present in 1974 and he’s kept it close ever since. You never know when troubles or joys will present themselves, he says.

Later, my friend and I were trying to name all the Brazilian states but came up one short. Paulo, a sweet old friend of Al’s, disappeared for a short while and returned with an old atlas and a book on the history of the currency--bonus material he correctly assumed I’d find interesting. Tucked within were several crisp banknotes from various periods in Brazil’s somewhat tumultuous monetary history, as well as some random ones from Uruguay, Belgium, and other places he’s seen. I was particularly fond of the back of the cinqüenta cruzados novos note, with an illustration of the famous Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade beside his beautiful piece Canção Amiga. Despite Al’s playful jealousy, Paulo insisted I keep a few of the cruzados as a memento.

Today I visited with aforementioned New Zealander, Victoria. We had a lovely afternoon drinking coffee, talking about boys, books, and life in Brazil. She reluctantly agreed to be photographed so that you all would know for sure she wasn’t one of my imaginary friends.

Afterward I went to a new gym and had a session with a trainer. I liked the place and think I’ll return tomorrow to swim a few laps in their salinated (is it even a word in English?) pool. Sadly, making the switch to swimming means I’ll have to give dear Carlos the axe at the end of my prepaid pilates sessions. I really enjoy them, but I’ll get more frequent workouts at the gym.

En route to the gym I saw this, which prompted laughter.

I just learned that a funilaria is the guy that removes the dents from your car, but at the time I confused the word with funerária, or funeral parlor, making the robot advertisement quite strange indeed.

Speaking of funerárias, there seems to be a disconcerting abundance of them here. Even more alarming, they are frequently situated adjacent to restaurants. I must say I would take issue with eating at an establishment that shares a wall and probably a trash receptacle with a funeral home. Ick.

Moving on to this weeks Aventuras na Cozinha (Kitchen Adventures), this morning I prepared feijão (black beans). Being new to this, I emptied the entire contents of a 1kg (2.2lb) bag into my panela de pressão (pressure cooker), which naturally I have no idea how to use. Beans expand quite a bit. I am now the proud parent of a virtual “hill of beans,” so fortunately Victoria advised I can freeze them. Good black bean soup recipes are encouraged.

I'm not a big fan of touchpad technology, so I keep reaching for my wireless mouse to the right of the keyboard... which is no longer there since I accidentally broke the USB plug. Nuts! That’s irritating. Well, it’s time to wrap this up anyway.

Saúde, LG

P.S. The missing state was Piauí, which according to WikiTravel was also once forgotten by the federal government on a map of the country.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rain, Produce, Victory, and Loss

After suffering five straight months (yet again) in sub-freezing temperatures in Chicago, one month in the sun has turned me into a complete sissy. Fall weather brings wind and rain to Porto Alegre, and the brisk 66 degree average has me clinging to my turtleneck sweaters. I am ashamed of myself.

The rain is phenomenal here, though, absolute downpours. When you go walking in them, life becomes a game of Frogger—dodging puddles, curbside rivers, and the occasional loose sidewalk tile that floats on a secret geyser—one wrong step and water splashes 3 feet up the pant leg. Even when extreme caution allows one to avoid these pitfalls, one still must cross the street. There lies the median of death! You cross a few lanes of traffic and wait on the narrow median to cross the other few lanes, and Blamo, you get the spray from high-speed city buses on both sides. Trying to win this game is futile. Just get home and towel off. And make sure you have plenty of shoes to rotate stock, allowing the wet pair to dry (which, at the moment, I don’t).

I went to see Persepolis this week. Again I felt good that understood roughly half of the dialog in this French animated film about a saucy Iranian girl from the Portuguese subtitles. But I also felt a little dumb for learning a shred of Iranian history from, essentially, an adult cartoon that I probably never would have heard of in the States. If you can find it, it is well worth some time and effort.

My cousin Amy made the most delicious dessert for me during a pre-journey dinner. (Amy, it’s important that I get that recipe from you, even though I don’t know the Portuguese word for mascarpone!) You see, gente, Amy’s dessert was pear-dependent. I have never been crazy about pears. That’s not to say I dislike them, I suppose I just gave up on them. I must have had one too many unripened pear frustrations in my adolescence because I quit them and never looked back. (I’ve come dangerously close to that edge with peaches too, but generally get suckered in about once a year by that one perfectly succulent peach, only to be let down again by the next dozen I try.) Sorry pear, you deserve the limelight. I’m having a pear renaissance y’all! Passed over at first for the more glamorous mangos and pineapple, I bought a few pears a couple weeks ago. You know, they were so delicious—not dry, mealy or boring at all—that suddenly I can’t get enough. Mmmm. The pears are so good that I won’t even ask where the blueberries are for the next few months.

Olha só. I realize that my re-telling of the latest futebol game might not be quite as exciting for you as it is for me, given that I love the game more than most Americans, coupled with the fact that I have the privilege of watching it in arguably the world’s best futebol nation with fans that make paixão (passion) feel palpable. So I have graciously saved my recap for the end of today’s post.

These last few years, I’ve had “virtual thrills” seeing photos on the internet of the madness when Inter won an important game, but this is the first time I’ve been in the city to experience it firsthand. Granted it’s just the state championship—so not as big as, say, the final for the Campeonato Brasileiro or Copa Libertadores. Still, the fireworks and honking cars began Sunday at noon. The kickoff was at four.

Tickets to the state championship final were sold out to socios (club members) before the scheduled time for the public sale. During the week I didn’t bother trying to find a cambista because I learned that the game would, despite aforementioned broadcasting guidelines, be aired on open TV. Normally I would head to my neighborhood lancheria to watch—but being a championship, I chucked my personal preference for intimate surroundings in favor of the high-energy, pseudo-chaotic vicinity of Avenida Goethe. I’m not certain why, but Goethe is the epicenter of Inter fans that don’t have tickets to any given game, and when the team wins something notable, it’s a hotspot of celebration. So my cocktail and I found a table at Tri-Bar on Goethe amidst a sea of red and white.

As I mentioned, to claim their 38th victory in this tournament Inter needed to win by two goals. I should also note for non-followers still reading that any game with a scoring total over 4 goals is fairly unlikely, and one with say, 9 goals (ahem) I’ve never even heard of before. The first half started quietly enough, scoreless until the 25th minute when Morais scored the first for Inter. Good stuff. There’s a certain sense of ease that comes when your team opens the scoring. Plus, statistically, I’ve read that whenever a goal is scored, a second goal by the same side is far more likely within five minutes. And such was the case when team caption (officially) and number one eye-candy player (unofficially) Fernandão scored at 29 minutes and 31 minutes. So Alex’s goal in the 37th minute put the team in a pretty comfortable 4-0 lead at half time. Even if Juventude came back fighting and scored 2, and we didn’t score any more, we’d have won.

Segundo tempo: Fernandão (whom I obviously adore since I named one box of my only earthly possessions after him) scored *again* less than five minutes in, followed by Nilmar in the 9th minute, bringing the score to 6-0. Ufff! Adding insult to injury, Juve’s first goal was actually an accident, when Inter’s Índio tipped in a shot he was trying to block. That’s when Juve’s fans started leaving—just 12 minutes into the second half. Índio redeemed himself in the 32nd minute with a shot on the correct goal—but my favorite moment of the game was the 45th minute, the very end. I’m not sure why Juve fouled Inter in the penalty box long after rebound attempts were clearly futile, but they did. And in a moment that was both just and poetic, the longest-standing player on Inter’s roster—goalkeeper Clemer–ran forward to take the kick. Absolutamente beleeeeeeza! An unbelievable, almost ridiculous, 8-1 victory. I stayed on Goethe a couple hours just to breathe in my first experience celebrating “my team’s” victory where the magic happens.

Nearly one am on Tuesday, and I can still hear the occasional celebratory honk on the street. And that was just the appetizer—the Campeonato Brasileiro begins next week. Bring it on!

I'm off to learn some Inter songs.


(After I wrote that anecdotal piece about the rain, I read about the devastating effects of the recent storms on some of the poorer neighborhoods and I feel like a jerk. I feel a little helpless but I'll look into ways to contribute tomorrow. If nothing else, it deserves mentioning.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Betting is closed.

Last month I wagered that Fernandão and Girassol would arrive today, May 2nd. I erred on the side of optimism (a topic for another post).

We have action people! The Fastway Moving site revealed today:
Em rota - Data embarque: 02/05/2008 - Prazo entrega: 6 dias
…thereby skipping three steps of the process, but I’ll take it! Six days precisely would give Amy & Paul a victory—which I think is very appropriate because they actually read my garbage, willfully and frequently. However, that doesn’t account for weekends. Jackie might give them a run for the money.

Now it’s getting exciting, like a horse race, no? Vai Seabiscuit! Vai! Embora!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Found: Odds and Ends

Bricks and shelves (i.e. functional kitchen) - Found. Yesterday the neighborhood hardware store man delivered the 21 tijolos (bricks) I bought Tuesday, gratis (for free).

Microwave - found. Thankfully, the microwave I left in the lobby last week was repaired and returned yesterday, gratis. It’s almost cheaper for a single person to skip the hassle and eat at restaurants here, and judging by a quality vs. cost analysis of the turkey stroganoff I just made, I think I’ll stick to reheating leftover pizza or rice and beans.

Mailbox key - found. Ênio called yesterday with some instructions which were (more or less): "Jean (pronounced sghee-AHH) will be at the apartment soon with your mailbox key. Yes, you can swap the sofa for the chairs you wanted (from Adam and Fabricia’s old apartment), and he’ll also change the refrigerator to open from the other side." Beleza. That man is so good to me. It’s not enough to just get him the Chicago Bulls hat he wanted. I think I have to find something more… to repay him for his wonderful help and generosity.

LOST - found. Thanks to Marcelo, I watched episode 9, twice. If you’re not a follower of the show, or if you haven’t yet experienced the kind of shock that accompanies moving to another country, it’s hard to explain the sensation. Suffice it to say that, watching the show last night, I felt like I had a close friend again. It was enormously comforting.

Did you ever see Eddie Izzard’s Dress To Kill video? He does a bit about people ferociously stuffing their faces with popcorn during big-budget Hollywood action flicks, which I remembered last night. LOST was totally made for snackin’ so I grabbed my emergency bag of Cheetos. Imagine my surprise when the first bite, unseen due to utter focus on show, rendered not the expected Cheetos crunch, but the puffy taste of Planter’s Cheese Balls. Strange, but whatever. Sawyer just called Hurley “chicken little!”

Upon landing on South American soil, it seems Fernandão and Girassol have found their revolutionary spirit. I read a few paragraphs of an article in Veja a few days ago about some big transportation strike in Santos. Supposedly there are 50,000 shipping containers stalled at the port, though subsequent internet searches yielded no confirmation of this. Well, I suspect the boxes are participating in a giant labor protest somewhere, Tchê.

The other day, I found an old barber playing a clarinet in his barbershop to pass the time. I smiled.
I also enjoyed a moment looking at this home. Situated on an interesting street that is actually just a giant staircase, the exterior is entirely painted with notable sites throughout the city (including the sunset).

I received a really nice email from Silvia today. I met her just a few months ago at Brazil In Chicago (shameless plug for Marcelo!) during my not-so-intermediate-Portuguese lesson. I believe we were in the midst of reading “See… Sput… no, Spot…Run…” when she arrived. At her turn to read, it was like she was channeling Érico Verrísimo as perfect Portuguese rolled from her tongue. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Anyhow, she wrote a nice message about the site and helped solve the mystery of the magenta fruit. It’s called (Red) Pitaya, at least in English- and Spanish-speaking countries. Just as the shocking color indicated, I’ve learned it’s loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. I must go back to Mercado Publico for another since I accidentally let that one spoil in the refrigerator after photographing it. When (if) I get my absolutely fierce Breville juicer back, watch out crazy fruits!

In closing, here's a photo I liked but haven’t yet worked into a storyline (probably a good thing). Say it like this: cah-ho sh-hockey. You can see it better if you click on it.

Bom fim de semana,