Friday, July 31, 2009

Cold hands, warm heart

I have to get a teapot that whistles. On a disturbing number of occasions recently, I’ve forgotten that I set some water on the stove to boil and become absorbed in another task, only to have one of those “D’oh!” moments some time later. Sheesh.

It’s Friday night and I am tucked nicely in my bed with mint and honey tea, some junk food, and my laptop. Ahhh, that’s nice. Porto Alegre has had quite a chilly spell, as we end our second straight week with brisk nights in the 30s/40s. I know that one of these days I’ll wake up to one of those random 80-degree days that usually break up the winter here, but for now, I’ll just have to appreciate waking up to another sunny—if chilly—day.

On one of the last gorgeous Sundays, a couple weeks ago, I took a long, lovely stroll by the riverfront and documented it for you. I started at Usina do Gasômetro, a dis-used thermo-electric power plant that has been renovated into a cultural space; it now houses art expos, plays and movies, concerts, a café, a bookshop, and even a wine cellar.

Vendors are sprinkled along the miles of pedestrian path. I thought this man had an endearing smile—and his espetinhos de bife, frango, ou coração (beef, chicken, or chicken heart kebabs) smelled great—so I bought a frango and cup of quentão (mulled wine) from him and asked if I could take his picture.

There are popcorn, cotton candy, and peanut vendors; you can grab a coconut water, beer, or soda if you like. And if you misplaced your pinwheel…

On Sundays, the road adjacent to the path is closed to vehicles to accommodate all the city-dwellers that flock to the riverfront to meander its green space…

(Notice the “Tree of Love” in the foreground!)

...get some exercise in the skate park or the various sports courts…

…or just sit sipping chimarrão

…and awaiting another picturesque sunset.

If I had been fifteen seconds faster on the draw, I would have snapped the perfect shot of the five Brigada Militar officers taking sunset pics with their cell phones.

Aww, those old softies!


Loquinha Gauchinha

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Growing up

Last Saturday, while enjoying an afternoon coffee with Victoria, Alfredo overheard our English and initiated a conversation. A Puerto Rican-born Miami resident, he had been in Porto Alegre about a week and was mid-way through his two-month Brazilian exploration. As we chatted, his adventurousness, good humor, and exuberant personality made us fast friends. In fact, Victoria, Fredo and I ended up walking around Centro and Cidade Baixa for a few hours before joining some other friends for happy hour. I snapped his photo when we first met, thinking it would just make an interesting story: the stranger we encountered at that strange little place, Café do Bingo. (Well, that, and I thought he looked remarkably like a Latino John Travolta!) Over the next 48 hours, though, Fredo became one of us.

Sunday morning, I had invited a few friends to wake up extraordinarily early and meet me for a special birthday breakfast (too early to call it “brunch”!) at the chic Sheraton hotel. I had never been there for breakfast, on account of it’s hour and price, but I heard they had scrambled eggs and bacon, tipo americano, and I thought it would be a refreshing way to celebrate. I made a reservation the day before, explaining that I had saudades for USAmerican style breakfast.

The Sheraton offers a buffet with the typical café da manha stuff (bread, fruit, cold cuts, cheeses), as well as scrambled eggs and sausage (ok, actually the sausage in this case was cut-up hot dogs, but they try). I was positively delighted, though, when the staff had taken it upon themselves to treat this foreigner-birthday-girl to a stack of pancakes and homestyle potatoes!

They also served a delicious chocolate mousse cake with raspberry sauce, with “Happy Birthday” in English on the plate. It was accompanied by the staff and my friends singing two rounds, in Portuguese and English! (I think Marianna and Roberto were behind some of the Royal Treatment, having called to pre-arrange a gift certificate... Thank you!)

Fully aware that I’d be outnumbered, I also asked my friends to wear their team colors because Sunday was also the 100th Anniversary GreNal game—this time it literally was "the grudge match of the century!" I knew I could take some funny pictures for you, and clearly the other diners at the Sheraton enjoyed our little spectacle too. (The mimosas didn’t hurt, we sure were feeling clever for ten in the morning!)

Oh yeah, and we had a shoe coincidence.

After breakfast we met some others, including Fredo, for a walk in the park. Then we headed to a bar for the big GreNal game.

My team lost.

But really, in this case, I didn’t care that much. My day was too perfect to internalize any feeling of defeat!

This is the bar tab. All those blue X's are beers. So, naturally, we decided to go out dancing at eleven on a Sunday night.

Me an Fredo, my newest amigo, dancing into the madrugada at Zelig

I rolled in around three in the morning, feeling so satisfied with my day of celebration—but also, feeling more comfortable in my age and my life than I’ve ever been. So much has happened in the past three weeks, it's almost intimidating. Last week I opened a bank account and filed the papers to obtain my work permit. Yesterday I met my new accountant (never had one of those before!) to educate myself on the Brazilian tax laws and the benefits/drawbacks to starting a company; on Monday I'll have a meeting with a potential client...

Woah, am I growing up? A little, maybe. No complaints. The mid-30s age bracket is wonderful so far!

A sentimental Thank You, in general, to everybody -


Coisinha charmosa #11

I received this great birthday care package from Stacee a couple weeks ago. I was forced to immediately eliminate the temptation of the chocolate by consuming it.

Coisinha charmosa #12

The big France exhibit opened at MARGS (the art museum) with a fireworks show I watched from my window.

Coisinha charmosa #13

One night about a month ago, Ivan and I talked about relationships over some chocolate fondue and wine. “I have to be more evil,” he stated plainly, to my amusement. We determined, quite mathematically, that the odds of finding someone you have a real spark with are about .33%, and then you have to factor in the issue of “timing.” Game over - Wah wah wah wah! From that conversation, Ivan created a computer game (and Facebook application) called “Ditch’em All”. A virtual card game of chance, the objective is to reach 30 and still be single. Funny.

Coisinha charmosa #14

In South America, even the pineapples are left-leaning. I call this one “AbacaTche!”, which, trust me, is very funny if you’re from Rio Grande do Sul.

Coisinha charmosa #15

I had lunch with Debra, from the US Consulate Junior, last week. She took me to a Chinese lunch buffet. I enjoyed getting to know her, of course, but I was also thrilled to find some decent Chinese food!

Coisinha charmosa #16

Seen on TV: A Public Service Announcement from “The People of the United States of America,” featuring Harrison Ford pleading with viewers to stop buying items resulting from the poaching of animals on the endangered list. I just never saw that before--here, in the US, or anywhere. Frankly, I thought the message delivery was slightly condescending, but it gets a mention for being so… unexpected.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Almost famous

I made the local paper today in Porto Alegre. No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was.

I went to a café that I frequently visit between classes, though I haven’t been there for several weeks. Me being me, of course, I have made friends with the staff. Today, one of the young waiters approached me and asked me if I take taxis. I was so puzzled by his question that I doubted my Portuguese comprehension for a moment—frozen in a flash of confusion which, still, often happens to me in day-to-day conversations. He carried on for a minute before I caught up and began to understand that he suspected I was the subject of a crônica (a column, a repository for vignettes, if you will, about daily life) in the Diário Gaúcho.

Me: Zuuuhhh?

Him: (paraphrasing and translating here) There’s a story about you and a conversation you had with a taxi driver. You told him all Brazilian men were “muito safado”?!

Me: (turning beet red and beginning to panic) What? When? Where is it? Oh, please, no!

Him: Ha ha ha! It is you! I thought so! My friend saw it and called me this morning! Ha ha ha!

Me: Zuuuhhh? (thinking [all at once]: No this can’t be happening! & Where is the paper?! & Your friend? I came up in a conversation with your friend and it was memorable enough that he pinpointed me from a piece in a tabloid? & But, But….!)

He retrieves the paper and turns to the inside of the back page.

Me: (working on my Portuguese speed-reading skills while feeling mortified.) Ooohhhh nooooo! That’s not what I said!

I learned shortly thereafter that the author of this crônica is a rather well-known and frequently-published taxi driver here in Porto Alegre by the name of Mauro Castro. He also published the story today on his blog, a collection of tales he’s acquired in his career as a driver, here.

There are a few problems with Mr. Castro’s version of events.

1. Perguntou se eu conhecia. Eu disse que “ainda” não. Ela achou graça.

She asked me if I had been [to Chicago]. I said no, “not yet”. She thought it was funny [in the sense of "charming", I suppose he meant].

Actually, he responded to my question “no”, and I interjected (as I always do and with humorous intent) “not yet!” Apparently, Mr. Castro thought it was funny enough to turn the joke around in his favor.

2. At the end of a paragraph in which Mr. Castro pretty accurately recounts our conversation, lies the sentence which is both the crux of his crônica and the biggest misrepresentation of our chatand, more importantly, me personally.

É como ela define o homem brasileiro: “Muito safado!”.

Let me explain. He asked me whether I had found a Brazilian boyfriend, wanted to get married here, have kids, etc. I responded with laughter in my voice that the first two words I learned in Portuguese were “muito safado”. Muito means very and safado means (more or less and quite subject to context), mischievous, rogue, shameless, or as I was originally taught, untrustworthy (in relationships).

That’s how she defines Brazilian men: “Muito safado!”.

Loyal readers, I presume you are beginning to sympathize with my irritation and frustration at this column.

3. Perguntei se não estaria generalizando. Ela não entendeu a pergunta. Expliquei que “generalizar” seria como dizer que todo americano é alienado. Ela, então, quis saber o que significa “alienado”.

I asked [her] if that wouldn’t be [considered over-generalizing]. She didn’t understand the question. I explained [to her] that “to generalize” would be like saying that all Americans are alienated. She then wanted to know what “alienated” means.

Once I get past being insulted by this part, I find it humorous on two levels. First, that generalizar and alienado are cognates—friends of the foreign language student—that are essentially the same in each language. So if I didn’t understand his question, certainly it wasn’t due to limited vocabulary, but rather my difficulties in understanding the fast pace and truncated syllables so prevalent in southern Brazilian Portuguese. Admittedly, listening comprehension is my worst skill in the language. Second, I don’t sense from the article that Mr. Castro intended the irony of highlighting what he perceived as my generalization of Brazilian men, whilst painting a picture of me as the “friendly but foolish American.” Fortunately, some of the comments posted in response on his site have already pointed this out.

I could simply read the crônica as it was likely intended—as a humorous anecdote—if he didn’t go so far in identifying me. If he left the identifiers out and simply couched his tale as an exchange with a USAmerican, or better still, with a foreigner, I, as a writer myself, might not be so annoyed. But to include those clues while taking some pretty big leaps in the name of artistic license is irresponsible at best. Porto Alegre is small and doesn’t receive a lot of foreigners. I stand out. He included specific details with regards to my identity, and already, a waiter at a café knew I was the subject. Moreover, the re-telling wasn’t accurate. Writer to writer, Mr. Castro, that was a big faux-pas. (It’s French.)

And his last bit…

Fiquei observando quando minha passageira desembarcou e correu, protegendo-se da chuva fina que caía sobre Porto Alegre. É uma gringa voluptuosa. Eu não disse isso a ela, claro. Primeiro, porque me acharia mais um brasileiro safado, segundo, porque eu teria de lhe explicar o significado da palavra “voluptuosa”.

I sat watching as my passenger disembarked and ran, protecting herself from the fine rain that fell over Porto Alegre. She’s a voluptuous gringa. I didn’t tell her this, of course. First, because she would think I’m one more safado Brazilian, and second, because I would’ve had to explain to her what “voluptuous” means.

…truly solidifies my reaction to his crônica as one of dueling emotionsentertainment and insult.

“Voluptuous” is also a cognate. But this gringa knows enough about Brazilian culture to understand that here, and particularly in men of Mr. Castro’s age, it’s considered a desirable trait. I enjoy the compliment, Mr. Castro.

Moving on! Soon a post about my incredible birthday celebration yesterday, among other things...