Sunday, May 31, 2009

Climate Change

I am hiding out indoors on a chilly Sunday. Chilly is a relative term, of course. When I arrived here in late March last year, I had just survived a particularly long and brutal Chicago winter. I enjoyed a couple months of summery temps before experiencing my first Porto Alegre winter. I remember the first cold day in May when a balmy 65-degree high sent me running for my turtlenecks. However, I still managed to laugh at the locals who were dressed like Eskimos in parkas and scarves.

Who’s laughing now? If they could see me, that would be my friends and family in Sweet Home Chicago. Winter is on its way. It’s gray and gusty. I’m wearing my thickest socks, a turtleneck and sweater (and contemplating the addition of a sweatshirt), and wishing someone was in the kitchen preparing a feast of meatloaf and mashed potatoes*. It’s 54 degrees.

I just added the sweatshirt. And, not needing more coffee or chimarrão, I have switched to drinking hot water. Sheesh. I’m a joke.

On a related note, something strange has happened. Until recently, I felt a little disjointed with regard to seasons. It was weird to feel cold on my July birthday and weird to be sweating on Christmas. I was always relating, converting temperatures and seasons—commuting in my mind, if you will—to the appropriate equivalent “back home.” In this respect, being in the southern hemisphere still felt like some sort of extended holiday. A few weeks ago, though, I got an email from my Dad about the summer schedule for the family beach house. And suddenly, I realized, my internal clock had joined my physical body in Porto Alegre. For a flash, I thought to myself, “Summer schedule? But it’s almost winter!” How peculiar. The change must have happened when I was sleeping.

Tomorrow is June 1st. Ok, it’s still a little strange.


* In reality, rather than homestyle comfort foods, I shall dine on Ramen noodles tonight. Hmph.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Baby Steps

Yikes, I'm late for a party. But before I rush out, I wanted to share this: I am making progress! I have signed on with a volunteer organization here in Porto Alegre and am gaining bits of exposure as a writer. They are just two small steps, but in the right direction--creating the life I envisioned for myself when I began this journey.

Time to celebrate (again)!

Friday, May 29, 2009


Remember how Ivan makes me laugh? Well I just found his personal blog (one of several sites he's maintaining), and excerpted this:

Anybody going to live in a different country has the problem of looking a bit out of place.
At the beginning it is because you are marvelled for everything you see: "Oh, a weird bird ... oh, a strange tree ... oh, a dodgy vagrant, ..."
You look lost even with a map: "Excuse me, could you tell me where is the north?"
And you get into the wrong toilets: "HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII"
So funny because it's so true. But he forgot one thing... being outsmarted by doors. The Portuguese word for pull is puxe, which is pronounced dangerously close to PUSH; the word for push is empurre (engh-poo-hay, kinda). Ahhh, if I had a dollar for every door I've smacked into...

As my Irish mates would say, "ya look like an ejit"!

You can find Ivan's blog at the link on the left, under "Friends On The Road." Happy reading!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sálvio Spinola Fagundes Filho, FDP

My neglect in posting is almost criminal. I haven't abandoned you. I've just been out doing...lots of stuff...I guess. I'll slot a day soon for writing, I promise myself, because not only do I have some little bits to share here, but I owe Galavanting a piece or two, as well as two other sites that have requested contributions, and an expat interview in Portuguese! (Yay and Yikes in the same breath!)

Today was soccer day. After fulfilling a few obligations in the morning, I was free to enjoy Barcelona's victory over Manchester United whilst alternating between coffee and beer at four in the afternoon. Tonight I had a cadeira (chair) at Inter's stadium to watch the Copa do Brasil semi-final against Coritiba [Thank you, Bruno!]. The enemy scored first, but we managed to tie shortly thereafter. Then it was a tense and aggravating battle.

I know a bit about the game by now but, certainly, am no expert--so I maintain that when even I spot a bad call, it's an egregiously bad call! Tonight's ref was bar-none the worst I've ever seen. I have never bothered to learn the name of a game's referee before, but in this case I felt compelled to research: Sálvio Spinola Fagundes Filho
, FDP. (FDP is an abbreviation for a phrase that would lend itself to a bar of soap in my mouth were I still a teen.) His calls were so appalling that I wondered if we were watching the same game. Has he ever been involved in a betting scam? Can we give him a red card? Despite his best attempts to seemingly throw the game to Coritiba, my darlings fought bravely, persistently, and patiently. They scored again 14 minutes into the second half, and again 2 minutes later. Phew. 3x1 Inter. Next step: the second half of the semi-final round on their turf.

Please let there be a different referee.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sampa’s Second Chance

Finally. Time to relay the Sampa (São Paulo) Adventure! It’s gonna be a long one, people.

I must confess that the first time I visited the city, for five days in 2007, I basically hated it. This time around, with a better understanding of a vida brasileira as a whole, I figured I would enjoy the sojourn to Sampa as a needed-break from the routine, but still expected to come back and kiss the southern soil afterwards. I was armed with a list of must-see neighborhoods and an open mind.

I arrived weary from a 17-hour bus journey at about four in the afternoon on Sexta-feira Santa (Good Friday). I was issued a bunk-bed, sheets, and padlock for my cubby at the Casa Club Hostel, and advised that a Good Friday BBQ (ha!) was just beginning on the rooftop deck. Well, alright then! I showered and headed upstairs so fast my hair was still wet as I sipped my first beer.

I met loads of people that night—lots of Paulistas (São Paulo residents), as well as travelers. Among them were: French Jérémie, who mans the reception desk and reads a lot; Sávio, one of the hostel’s three, under-30, owners, who also owns a few companies in his other life as an environmental engineer; Corey, the classic Canadian party animal who (at times) works in the oil business in Nigeria; and the dynamic duo Irish Tony and Scottish Paul, on an extended break from their Dublin lives as ophthalmologists for some South American merrymaking. That first night, I also enjoyed a stimulating and lengthy chat on international politics with a handsome Brazilian with an electrifying kiss. (Smirk.) I don’t remember his name though, oops.

Nearly 12 hours later, I headed for some Z’s. As luck would have it, 4am would be the earliest I’d call it a night over the next 10 days.

On day two, I headed for José Paulino at the recommendation of a friend here in Porto Alegre. The mile-long street is cluttered with shops—clothes, shoes, jewelry—that offer sweet bargains. To any reader that needs a new look: put $300 in an empty suitcase and catch the next plane! Frankly, I am not much of a shopper and couldn’t really justify copious purchases. Still, I couldn’t resist the trendy zipper-front sweatshirt and some sassy, but modest, little black heels that I picked up for a steal. (My Brazilian girlfriends here in Porto Alegre are trying to spruce up my image What-Not-to-Wear-style. I’m going along with it—wearing more fitted clothing, accessories, and no scrunchies!—and am pleased to report that compliments on the updated-me have been flowing in.)

The other days, I rambled along side streets hunting for treasures in a handful of Sampa’s exquisitely diverse bairros. I enjoyed the Sunday street market, a delightful plate of frango agridoce (sweet and sour chicken), and a mini-massage in Sampa’s answer to Chinatown, Liberdade. I bought plums, mangos, and lima-de-pérsia (something in between a lime and an orange) at the giant fruit market in front of the hostel in Vila Madalena—a neighborhood I would liken to San Francisco for its artsy, bohemian feel. I indulged in a rich pasta dish and a nice Valpolicella in Bela Vista, which will fool you into believing you’re in a cute Italian village rather than a South American megalopolis. I discovered the St. Etienne Bagueteria in Cerqueira César. The latter is, incidentally, my first choice among neighborhoods, should I eventually decide to move to Sampa, although Pinheiros and Bela Vista ranked highly too.

The other nights, I partied like a rock star with the fantastic mix of personalities I found at Casa Club. We had an impromptu arm wrestling competition and a multinational sing-along. We learned new card games and shared travel memories. We visited Irish pubs and swinger’s clubs—wait…what’s that? Well, just one swinger’s club. My evening was tame—I just learned how to dance forro. But one traveler in our group (who shall remain unidentified) had an experience that was, to me, the funniest story of the trip. You see, Guy X (a rather good-humored fella, but with a severe case of homophobia) and about 10 other members of the exploratory committee, headed upstairs to scope out the, umm, encounter rooms. The rooms lined both sides of various corridors and had windows in them. With the lights out but shades open in the windows, you couldn’t see much but could hear…stuff. Guy X, not one to miss an opportunity to crack a joke, bellowed into the windows of an occupied room, “Hey! You need a third?” This was met with an unexpected reply from two men, “Hell yeah!”, at which point Guy X freaked out and, literally, cartoonishly, ran into the walls repeatedly while trying to high-tail-it outta there!

Believe it or not, that club wasn’t the strangest sighting in São Paulo. No, that trophy goes to Marathon Man. He was a middle-aged and incredibly toned runner with whom I shared a commute. I figured he was headed to the giant Ibirapuera park for his workout—but no. He was just running (in a rather attention-seeking way) on the Metro. Then, he jogged up and down the platform while awaiting another line, and subsequently, on the next ride. Very strange indeed.

The most pleasantly-surprising diversion was a trip to Mercado Municipal. I was escorting two more-intimidated Israeli girls to José Paulino, via Estação da Luz (the dodgiest place I went, but beautiful nevertheless). We stopped at the market along the way to have some lunch and meet up with GB (aka Grande Bundão, or Big Butt [which it wasn’t]), a Paulista sports marketer we met at Casa Club's bar the night before. I am, as you’ve noticed, a big fan of Porto Alegre’s Mercado Público, but the Paulista version blew it out of the water. Bigger, better, faster, more.

The most fascinating incident was the night a handful of the hostel guests were robbed (I was, thankfully, not among them). And the worst-tourist award goes to The Bavarian Guy. Essentially, heedless of my non-verbal cues inviting him to excuse himself, he tried desperately to convince me that all USAmericans are worthless idiots based on his vast knowledge (gained during his Spring Break partython in Cancun), while, without any notion of irony, relaying his pet peeve at being called German rather than Bavarian, because “Bavaraians are so different and so much better” than those pesky northerners. [“Really?!?! What did you say?!?!”] You’ll be pleased (or maybe not) to know that I resisted the overwhelming urge to pop him in the face. And he was joyfully outnumbered by the others—the inimitable Norwegian Stina, Colombian Felipe, Recifan Nelson, and Paulistas Leo and Jacob—with whom I forged bonds and laughed my head off.

Sofia, Marc, Leo, and Romi

me and Corey

Stina and Nelson

cool hostel guy and Nick



All in all, this time around, I adored São Paulo. I connected with it. It was pleasantly greener than I expected it to be...

trees as big as cars

...though not quite as lush as Porto Alegre. The air pollution might quickly get on one's nerves, but the lack of mental-noise pollution is refreshing: the city, in a rather forward-thinking move, banned almost all outdoor advertising a little over a year ago. Now walls are frequently covered in an interesting panorama of street art.

I am torn…completely on the fence…about which city reflects my personality better. Time will tell.

Thanks Casa Club! Beijos!

Loquinha Gauchinha Paulista

P.S. I added one more stadium visit to my list. Leo took a group of us to Estádio Palestra Itália to watch the Palmeiras x Santos game.


Anthony and Paul

There was some nutty red-card action featuring Diego Souza—watch it here. Back home, Internacional won the Gauchão (State Championship) the same night. Today is the kickoff of the Campeonato Brasileiro—yay!


"Really?!?! What did you say?!?!"