Thursday, March 26, 2009

Happy Anniversary to me

One year ago today I landed in Porto Alegre with a great deal of excitement and curiosity, and a healthy dose of apprehension. I wanted to compose a brilliant, reflective piece to commemorate the day, and I have the ideas...but they are very fragmented. While I compose them, please take a moment to enjoy these less pivotal odds and ends.

First up, watch this video.


The video is of the rabo quente (ha-bow ken-schee, or "hot tail") in action. There's an electrical coil inside a plastic housing which you insert into water before plugging it into the wall. It is very important that you execute the steps in that order, as I learned the first time I used it, circumspectly. (That first, erroneous, use of the device generated a great deal of scary smoke, a horrific and lingering smell of fried plastic, and a string of expletives.) Eventually I shed my negative preconceptions and learned to appreciate the thing. It's rather efficient.

Futebol Arte is still dazzling me. Internacional is doing great and I've attended almost all of their home games this year. But next Wednesday's visit to Beira-Rio will be to watch the Brazilian national team take on Peru for the 2010 World Cup Eliminations.

The signs continue to amuse. It's a good thing few corners in the world are labeled thusly:

I love that just above the "huh?" street signs is an advertisement that reads "THIS IS BRAZIL"!
Unfortunately, so is this:

Wait! What's that logo up there in the corner? Is that...

Yes, that is a sperm in a bow tie.
Ahhh, the machismo. One of the few cultural nuances that I've had trouble adapting to. Luckily, I have super girlfriends to help me along.

Tonight, Eliana, me, and Adri swapped girl talk over beers. (Oh yeah, I drink beer now.)

Lastly, I am still appreciating the sunsets. This photo, captured a few days ago from my bedroom window, might only be a 7--but I've seen dozens of 10s during my year in a place famed for its breathtaking melts from tarde to noite.

Tomorrow is another year.

Friday, March 20, 2009


When Stacee and I took a bus tour of Porto Alegre in January, we passed the city’s newest megamall, Barra Shopping Sul, and I saw this loathsome sign:

McDonald’s? Too late to stop their world domination. Pizza Hut and Subway? Do we have to go there? Now Applebee’s is bringing the US to me? It’s probably arrogance on my part, but this felt like a further encroachment on my territory. I’m not a fan of malls anyway, so withholding my patronage is easy. (I know, I’m a little uppity at times.)

Fast forward to early March, when I ventured to Barra Shopping for the first time to do some aggressive cost comparing for a printer. First stop…

(entertainingly pronounced biggie in Portuguese, like the old Wendy’s value meal menu items)

…which is essentially a Super Target—electronics store, supermarket, home furnishings, pharmacy, clothing and toy store all rolled in to one massive warehouse. I confess, I actually felt impressed by it’s size when I walked in. There are 59 checkout lanes (gasp!), and the customer service staff is far more efficient than their USAmerican counterparts.

(oh, the liability!)

After scoping out the prices at about eight other shops in the mall, I did buy a printer. Once I'd spent all that savvy-shopper energy (and dinheiro), I needed a drink and a snack. Based on reasoning (i.e., the excuse) that I shouldn’t-knock-it-till-I-try-it, a short time later I was sipping a Bahama Mama and nibbling on Buffalo Wings at the Applebee’s bar. And you know what? I was surprisingly satisfied. In fact, I returned a week later with friends to celebrate USAmericana with predictable food and a night of bowling.

I dined on my own words.

Loquinha Gauchinha

P.S. Funny extras: 1) Applebee’s is three shades more posh here. We sat in a booth next to one of Grêmio’s star players, Souza. 2) Bowling alleys are uncommon outside the US, so this should have been something of a treat. I say "should have been" because we never managed to play due to our poor timing and one guy's inability to think outside the box--oh well. Maybe in a few months we'll try again--I heard the rooftop patio at Applebee's is pretty nice.

Out of Circulation

Many years ago I boarded a London-bound plane in Chicago. In spite of the excitement to be on the road again (which is usually all it takes to make me happy), I was in a foul mood. I don’t remember all the causes now; it was probably the result of a harried day—getting self and luggage where they needed to be at the appropriate time. In any case, I remember sitting on the plane before takeoff, trying to talk myself out of the funk. I happened to spot a British Pound coin on the floor by my feet. I picked it up and smiled. It was just a little token, but somehow it reminded me to Just Breathe. I gave a name to the coin—The Pound For Peace—and stuck it in my pocket, and have carried it with me ever since.

It’s not the only money I have taken out of circulation. Just the other day I added this poor little green treasure to my collection.

(click to enlarge--it's worth it!)

The um Real note will soon see its last minting since just about everyone seems to prefer the smaller, more convenient, one Real coin. I prefer the coin too, but when I was given this particularly haggard note by a taxi driver recently, again I smiled. It’s well-traveled, like me. We’ve both had difficult days. And despite the fact that it’s only worth about forty-five cents, someone, somewhere, lovingly applied a dollar’s worth of tape to send it on its way. I decided to keep it. It’s another nice reminder.

A friend recently wrote on his blog that if he didn’t post for a while, it was safe to surmise that he was either having a very good time or a very challenging time. Well stated, Nick. I've been going through a period of, mmm, let’s call it personal growth. Dear friends, near and far, have been applying the tape and I am surfacing again.

With wishes of peace and love,


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Order and Progress

I should be in bed, but since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to relay a little story from today. I successfully made my first joke in Portuguese.

So, I’m catching the lotação to Estádio Beira-Rio for this afternoons’ GreNal game. As I board I see only two open seats; one next to an intimidatingly handsome guy wearing an Inter jersey, and the other, next to the lone passenger in a Grêmio kit. Easy choice. So I sit next to César (as I would learn in the course of the traffic jam).

It struck me as odd that this Gremista is wearing his blue-black-and-white shirt while in the route to rival territory because I heard that the torcida (fans) for the visiting team always come in plain clothes and change once safely seated in the heavily-guarded and cordoned-off section. Well, anyway… A moment later the Gremista frantically starts asking around to see if anyone has thirty centavos (about $0.11) because he has just realized that the bus fare has increased (a few weeks ago, I gathered he doesn’t ride often). Naturally, most of the passengers bust out laughing—myself included—when César makes a cheeky remark about the Gremista being short on dough. Then I felt guilty and discreetly slipped the guy a coin.

A moment later, I turned to César and inquired about the guys’ shirt:

“Isn’t it kinda dangerous for him to wear that to the stadium?” I said in hushed Portuguese.

César replied, “It used to be, but over the last few years there’s been less of a problem with…” he trailed off as he worked on a delicate word for my North American ears.

“…violence?” I suggested.

“Yeah. But these days it’s less and less… well, it’s…”

“Ordem e Progresso?” I offered.

He smiled, looked out the window, looked back at me, and started laughing.

Order and Progress—the national motto, scrawled across the white banner on the Brazilian flag. I had successfully made my first witty interjection into everyday conversation. Man, I’ve missed being able to make strangers laugh.

Not only did my team win today (2x1 in a well-played game), but I received a delightful surprise in my email when I got home. I won third place in an expat writing contest for a big travel magazine. Details to follow in a few weeks when it’s published.

Doces sonhos todo mundo,

Sweet dreams everybody,