Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Idiosyncrasies (Part 1)

Oi pessoal!

I am seated in my new chair! I finally cracked and bought a wheelie desk chair so that I would no longer get a stiff neck while working on the laptop in bed. Ahhh, that’s better. Only I need to build a little footrest to get the ergonomics working for me. To this end, I drew a little sketch and calculated some measurements. This morning, I stopped at a nearby hardware store to buy a few bits of wood and learned that it is illegal for ferragens in Centro to sell wood. Como? Apparently the purpose of the rule is to lessen fire risk in the city center and protect the abundance of historical buildings.

Ok, but, umm… have they experienced the same, ahem, curious electrical arrangement that I have? Stacee and I accidentally blew up my brand new hair dryer in Florianópolis. And, thankfully, my apartment is equipped with the less common gas-heated shower, since I never managed to get comfortable with the oft-exposed wiring of the electrical type. My new friend Ivan (a Catalan electrical engineer/software developer) snickered as he relayed a tip imparted by his Brazilian colleagues upon arrival: wear your Havaianas in the shower and then you can use the rubbery flip-flop to turn off the water and avoid getting shocked.

I’ll try another neighborhood for the wood. Nearly every day I gain a little more insight.

I am proud to say that I am becoming savvier in avoiding robbers. (Bate na madeira! Knock on wood!) Students Ulisses and Luciana congratulated me on “becoming mais Brasileira” yesterday when I told them the story of being followed by a suspicious guy while walking with Stacee last week. It was about eleven on a sunny Monday morning. We were leaving Gasômetro en route to Mercado Publico when I caught a split-second glance from a middle-aged man standing beside us as we waited to cross a street. The glance, something of the "ahhhh, foreigner goldmine” variety, set off an alarm bell in my mind. He had heard us speaking English and identified us as a target, I figured. I showed no reaction, but was quickly devising a strategy in my mind. I considered that perhaps he spoke English and merely wanted to chat with us—a situation I have so frequently encountered here—so I set off across the street.

I sped up. So did Chico the Would-Be Bandit. I cut to the right and he followed. We crossed to the other side of the street and he slowed to keep in step. I yanked Stacee into a café, but when we emerged minutes later he was stopped on the sidewalk, quite blatantly pretending to check his watch as he scanned the crowd for us. We actually hid behind a fruit stand until he gave up and walked away. It was creepy, but a little comical too. I was on to him the whole time and felt victorious—this time.

It was that ever-so-brief expression I noticed on his face that had made me wary. When I described the guy to Ulisses and Lu, they said a middle-aged guy using a backpack is always a red flag. For that matter, they warned; use caution when anyone is using a backpack… or if someone is wearing a hat and layered t-shirts. Good. To. Know.

On a lighter note: Ulisses, Lu, and I also discussed the wonders of animal behavior. You know how dogs always circle, trampling a nice soft nest, before they collapse for a rest? We wondered if dogs in the southern hemisphere instinctively do this in a counter-clockwise fashion. After some analysis we determined that, no, dogs are not like toilets.

Tread carefully and always to the right, apparently,