Saturday, August 30, 2008


When you're on a long-term travel adventure, you have to be prepared for a social life that is somewhat like an iPod on shuffle. Joe and Joanna's time in POA is up, and they are leaving us for Buenos Aires tomorrow.

I love this picture of Joanna, who has that glint her eyes indicating she's just about to start laughing. And if the time I've spent with them is any indication, she and Joe must laugh quite a bit in their own company. Just last night at dinner, Joanna entertained us with a story about a borderline pornographic exchange between a male trainer and female patron of their gym. As the trainer was (cough) assisting in some unusual flexibility exercises, he encouraged the lycra-clad cutie with a steady repetition of "isso"--something like "that's it, good, uh-huh, yeah." We were already laughing when Joe treated us to an impersonation of the bicep-centric clientele (and graciously agreed to let me record and post it)... video


We are really going to miss them. They have hosted us, fed us, let us stay too late, entertained and inspired us.

(mmm, brownies)For Joe & Joanna, I submit the following photos of our shared world, even if it was just three months, with which to reprogram the inner "isso!"

Boa viagem!

Can't wait to read the next chapter...

Loquinha Gauchinha (and the peeps)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Language Lessons

Although locals generally find my accent ceaselessly entertaining, I can quickly gauge my linguistic prowess from a taxi ride. I submit to you the following real-life example.

Driver: blá blá blá (in question form)

Me: Não. No.

Driver: Donde tu és? Where are you from?

No, I’m not exaggerating. It happened. And another time...

Me: Boa tarde! Queria ir a Santo Inácio, por favor. É perto de Doutor Vale e Hilário Ribeiro. Good afternoon! I’d like to go to (insert address).

Driver: Tá. És do Uruguai? Ok. Are you from Uruguay?

Me: (smile) Não. Sou dos Estados Unidos, de Chicago.

Driver: Aí? Fala bem em português! Really? You speak Portuguese very well!

This is entertaining to me because Brazilians are chronically polite, at least in the presence of strangers. And I understand, between the lines, that my Portuguese would be considered merely adequate if I was from neighboring Uruguay. However, being from the USA I reap the reward of shock value.

Clearly I make lots of mistakes, though fortunately they tend to be pretty funny. I don’t know why I confuse folga (slack) and pulga (flea). A couple weeks ago I announced that I was heading to a shop on Rua Senhor dos Passaros (rather than Passos), which meant I was heading to the harder-to-find “Birdman Street” rather than the more commonly known “Man of the Stairs Street.”

It works both ways though. Because the “i” is pronounced “ee” in Portuguese, I was forced to explain to a student why special care should be taken when pronouncing “wine”—as “Do you like weenie” innocently floated from her mouth. Likewise, “orange” should not be confused with “orgy.”

Lately (finally), I got serious about making progress with my stagnant communication skills. I re-started my Portuguese lessons, since I tend to perform better when some element of accountability is present. I have also responded to an advertisement for volunteers to see if I can ingratiate myself with another band of locals whilst contributing to society (as it was part of the original vision). I am reading books, albeit slowly, and watching some horrific television programs—understanding more each day. Too, it gives me pleasure to announce that I only know my cell phone number in Portuguese.

Before I get too functional in the language, though, I’ve been trying to savor those lucky moments that only a foreigner enjoys. Those moments when I’m walking down the street with the priceless ability to turn vendors, music, and traffic into white noise; when the loud talker on the cell phone on the bus doesn’t irritate me quite as badly as it used to when I regrettably understood the story of last night’s escapade; or when I’m excused from engaging in, or even listening to, some debate for lack of linguistic proficiency. So as I muddle through—even progress on—my goal to become multi-lingual, it’s lovely to live in a language-less world, sometimes.

Boa noite queridos,


Thursday, August 21, 2008

No, seriously

My days are melting away in 6-packs, and truthfully, I’ve been feeling rather introspective so I’ve been hesitant to write. I’m contemplating a piece for Galavanting about language that will be more lighthearted than this entry. Therefore, if my Grandma happens to ask you to show her my recent ramblings, please refer to that piece, as today’s stories are rated Not Fit For Grandmothers.

Obviously Brazil has a pretty strong reputation for being a dangerous place. Though I have not yet witnessed anything as nuts as I see in movies or read in the papers, I also know that it’s likely just a matter of time. I’m not sure of if it’s full-moon fever, sheer statistics, or what—but I think I've seen a prelude the last couple days.

day, taking a taxi home around 10pm, we went through a tunnel. Traffic was rather light, so when the driver rounded the blind curve to find two cars stopped in our lane, he easily managed to decelerate and change lanes without issue. Still, as we passed I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a really bad place to break down!” I looked back and saw one guy sitting (maybe?) kinda half in/half out of one car and another guy standing between the front car and the tunnel wall with a gun in his hand. (Pointed down at the ground, mind you.) Startled, I relayed to my driver what I’d seen, hoping for some reasonable explanation I suppose. It wasn’t the words he used in his response that were memorable but his tone—the standard mixture of embarrassment and detached candor.

, heading out of my apartment at lunchtime to find a quiet study nook at a café, I walked past a very unusual traffic accident. Normally I try not to gawk at such things—but in this case, I couldn’t even deduce what happened. There were at least 75 people standing on the four corners of an intersection where a woman was laying in the road. (She was talking to the medics.) Another person was already in the only ambulance at the scene. There was one policeman taking photos with a cell phone, several witnesses arguing, and a man in a suit wandering around, apparently in shock. The weirdest part was the cars involved. Three of them were lined up on the side of the street as if they had been parallel parked, except too closely and with too much force. But there was a fourth car, a small pickup truck, on the sidewalk, perfectly wedged between one of the “parked” cars and the wall of a crowded restaurant.

of these experiences felt outside-the-standard- deviation-of-weird, you know? It would be unfair to suggest that it has something to do with Brazil, especially since I once had a stalker appear at my door in the middle of the night in Chicago, and then got hit by a car later the same day! Of course strange things just happen, everywhere, and sometimes they happen in clusters. But part of me can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of my initiation to the notoriously peculiar, even frightening, aspects of Brazilian life.

I’m being all somber…I was saddened to learn that Randy Pausch passed away a few weeks ago. Randy, I want to be a Tigger.

such, I’ll be getting cheerful at an Irish pub tomorrow night with the international tribe. I’ll try to post something lighter, something safe for Grandma's, before the weekend is out.

cuida o pessoal,
ke care people,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

si la vida te da más de cinco razones para seguir...

se fuerza la máquina de noche y de día

I absolutely adore Manu Chao. I have been looking for a recording of Cinco Razones, a song he wrote for the excellent film Princesas, for about two years. The ultra-bacana (cool) world musician recently added the song as a free download on his site. Happiness.

Manu Chao was born in Paris though you wouldn’t know it from his songs in Spanish, unlike his songs in Portuguese, English, or Arabic, when you can detect an accent. His albums are creative and unusual, and the upbeat melodies and rhythm contrast powerful, socially conscious lyrics. Yes, I hold Manu, the stranger, in high regard. I like to imagine that he is (if I were to meet him) like the enigmatic Cedric Moalito.

Thiera and I met Cedric last fall at the Tupiniquim Hostel in Rio de Janeiro. Cedric is French too, from the island of Corsica. Beyond his mother tongue he speaks Spanish and English (that I know of). He said he was a journalist, which I assume would require a certain level of seriousness that I never witnessed. The Cedric I saw those few days was utterly carefree—careless basically—an enviably free spirit. I’ve kept loose tabs on Cedric since our meeting. I’ve followed his travels—from his tour of Central and South America, to his excursions in India, Nepal, and Thailand—vicariously through his excellent photography. I’ve added a link to Le Blog Moalito on the left. He usually writes in French, but even if you don’t know anything beyond s’il vous plait, it’s worth a visit for the photos. I encourage you to check out the Best of Latin America gallery on the lower left. Enjoy.

I have been doing some pretty heaving thinking lately about where I’ve been the last few years and where I want to go. The last time I felt so pensive—but also so free—was in Budapest. Then, as now, I felt a hyper-sensitivity to the vastness of possibility that lay ahead.


So, along with all this reflection, I'm standing (sideways, mind you) in my kitchen cooking black beans for tomorrow, drinking chimarrão, and filing my nails over the sink. And I realize… I am my own Brazilian wife. "So what do I need a guy for?"

Oh yeah, massage. I had my first shiatsu massage today, with Eduardo. Oh. Yeah.

There’s (always) more…

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Warning: NSFW, err, V

[Not safe for work vegetarians]

First, I’m cheating. I just submitted this piece to Galavanting – but I did edit it for you, at least.
But, second, if you keep scrolling down you’ll find a bonus post. I have been quite busy, as you can see.

I was a little arrogant in the planning stages as I fancied myself surrounded by Portuguese-speaking friends within four to six weeks of my relocation. Yeah, that hasn’t happened. A social-butterfly by nature, I was off to a slow start here in POA. You can imagine my gratitude for the social networking site Facebook, which is helping heaps as I try to construct my new life. My friend Victoria set up a page for foreigners in Porto Alegre a few weeks back. Since then, a great community of expats has surfaced and we decided to have a get together at Galpão Crioulo last Sunday. Given that four months ago I was sweeping my floor on Friday nights, you can imagine the delight I took in making the reservation: “Yes, I’d like meat kebabs for 30, please.”
Most of the attendees had never met in person and the reservation was in my name, so I was in a hurry to appear and facilitate introductions. Having been out late the night before, I scurried into the restaurant a few minutes later than anticipated. I spotted a few recognizable faces already at a table several hundred feet away, but my trajectory was interrupted by a shiny object. Several shiny bombas actually. Naturally, I had to pause for a conversation with Fritz The Chimarrão Guy. He occupies a booth in the shopping section of the vast building, educating visitors on tradition and method, and selling the (necessary and unnecessary) accoutrements used to prepare the tea. Just looking at his display I could see that Fritz was a master, and I wanted to be his Grasshopper so I could impress my friends at parties, but I reminded myself that I was already late for one.

While churrascarias offer great big salad bars, they are a carnivores’ paradise. Galpão Crioulo is the most touristy of the city’s churrascarias. Men dressed in traditional gaúcho garb walk around with espetos (skewers) loaded with dozens of different cuts of beef, lamb, pork, and chicken—and Crocodile-Dundee-style knives—and shave a piece onto your plate at the faintest hint of interest. The picanha, simply seasoned with salt, is succulent. There are several types of sausage. Try the chicken hearts, they’re delicious.

Galpão Crioulo also entertains you while you dine. The regional music and dancing were pretty good but the highlights were the Lord-of-the-Dance-style boot-stomping number (with spurs on their boots—take that Michael Flatley!), and the crazy numchuck-lasso-nonsense. Ok, they were neither numchucks nor lassos, but the performers were definitely whipping around these ropes that had small baseballs on either end at a dangerous speed. It was very exciting—like Cirque do Cowboy.

The 1st International Churrasco Sunday had a great turnout—close to the predicted thirty—representing Columbia, Germany, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, England, the U.S., Canada, and of course, Brazil. Nearly four hours later the last of us rolled out the front door and along the riverfront, trying to aid the digestion process with blood flow. The plan is to orchestrate a churrasco free-for-all the first Sunday of each month, choosing a new restaurant each time, though I’m not sure if I’ll be hungry by then.


Mixing: Friends, Cocktails, Meat

The first matter of business is sending a big smooch to Thiera. She sent a birthday/care package that I had so much fun unwrapping. Among its contents were Jiffy pancake mix and Aunt Jemima syrup, which I will play with one of the coming Sundays, while mixing Bloody Marys with my Lea & Perrins worchestershire sauce. Mmm. Thanks for taking care of me, girl.I have been busy for days. In addition to the Sunday feeding frenzy (above), I attended not one but two parties on Saturday. First was a small family affair to celebrate Carlos’ birthday. It was another “first” for me—having a homemade churrasco with Carlos’ mother, brother, and cousin. Now, Carlos emigrated to Holland when he was just 18, so he’s having a bit of a renaissance now, learning the techniques of a good gaúcho.

After lighting the coals in the
churrasqueira on the balcony, you skewer the meat. Leonardo speared the chicken…

…and Carlos arranged the coração de frango (chicken hearts, which were, incidentally, the best I’ve ever had).

While Carlos and Leonardo tended to the churrasco, I felt proud to, under the supervision of his mother, prepare the

THIS is the real thing, people, and I hope someday I have a balcony with my very own churrasqueira.

It’s such a nice part of the gaúcho culture—having close friends and family over on a Sunday to enjoy a leisurely afternoon, some drinks, great conversation, and a fantastic spread. I got by with my broken Portuguese, learned how to make fresh mayonnaise (not that I ever will), and learned the best brand of
farofa to dip the meat in. It was really nice of Carlos and Clair to invite me and I had a great time.

I had to run out, though, just after dinner to get to Stephanie’s apartment for Jennifer’s birthday party. It’s a good thing Stephanie’s place is huge because there were forty or fifty people there—not bad for a couple of “new girls!” It's no wonder, Jennifer has personality to spare...

area de serviço (the laundry room) made an excellent bar, where Aussie Lisa and I made ourselves quite...comfortable.

Our gracious hostess Stephanie (left), a name I forgot, Adriane, and Adam (right—a North Carolina native who is, interestingly, working here as a soccer talent scout. He’s like Jerry Maguire, but way more likable than Tom Cruise.)

Stephanie’s super cool pooch, Jackie, on vacuum duty.

I left my apartment at 8:15 Saturday morning (after getting home late from Friday Happy Hour, mind you) and didn’t get back until 3:30am Sunday. Add to that the Sunday protein festival and you can see why I was wrecked last night. But I had a lot of fun.

Lots of stuff on the calendar this week – stay tuned…