Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sebastian's Commendable Taste

Sebastian is a 21-year Columbian guy, living in Porto Alegre. He is wise beyond his years, and absolutely won my respect with his stellar knowledge of the best dives in Porto Alegre. I lived there for nearly two and a half years: how is it that I never found Papillon?

I only too badly wanted to photo-document this place. It was sleazy, dark, and bizarre. It was something like 6am. It was worse (which means "better" of course) than the fine establishments that line Mannheim Road in Stone Park, Illinois. By a long shot.

Almost immediately upon being seated in the back, a very odd fellow came and sat with us. He prattled on incessantly, even though Lisa and I pretended to not understand, in the hopes he would give up and leave us to our conversation. No dice. If he couldn't engage us in chatter, he could perform. Using the table as his baby grand, he embarked on his elaborate one-man show: "The Best of Chico Buarque (1966-present)."

At one point, Sebastian went to the bathroom, leaving Lisa and I to fend for ourselves with Elton John and the gathering whispers from the, apparently, anti-foreigner crowd that frequents the place. He returned a moment later, and shortly thereafter a waiter came by to collect Elton. Sebastian had, coolly and discretely, asked the staff to intervene.

I was impressed.

I pretended to photograph Sebastian and Lisa, hoping to capture more of the ambiance and crowd in the background. It didn't really work--although the blackness is appropriate.

Besides, I only managed to get two snaps before deciding that I was probably crossing some lines that could lead to physical danger. Sebastian, being more adept at distinguishing nearby banter from bar noise, let us in on some of the increasingly aggressive commentary from neighboring tables. We decided it was better that we made a speedy exit.

Then, since the hour was right, we went for breakfast.
Like a moth to a flame, though, I'll definitely go back.

Thanks for the night of great conversation and sightseeing, Sebastian!
Until next time...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The 1st (and only) Vegemite vs Marmite Competition

So the first night back in POA, we bought some appetizers, fixins for a gourmet salad, and some wine and headed to Lisa's place where Victoria and Bruno would meet us.

We never got around to the deluxe dinner salad.

Somehow (imagine!), the classic old Aussie/Kiwi debate over Vegemite vs. Marmite came up, and it was decided that we should do a blind-folded, nose-plugged (because they do smell quite different) taste test. Naturally, Bruno and I had to be the judges, for objectivity.

In case you have never tried the stuff, essentially it's a cross between congealed petroleum (texture) and beef bouillon cubes (taste) with a few extra cups of salt. The tiniest smear goes a long way.

Ha ha. Nice friends I have. You see that dosage?

I had a video of when they put the freaking spoonful in my mouth, but it wouldn't upload. Just as well because I would have to spend extra time and care bleeping out several seconds. In any case, this snapshot tells you everything you need to know.

In the end, I preferred Vegemite, while Bruno chose Marmite--but we agreed that it was splitting hairs really, as both options were quite literally the "lesser of two evils."


Monday, September 27, 2010

Farroupilha 2010

I told you I had mush for brains. I just remembered that I had pictures to upload from my camera. D'oh! The funniest (or, most predictable) part is that I had forgotten some of the week's, ahem, special moments.

Here are some images to give you an idea of what Semana Farroupilha is all about. First and foremost, it's about Gaúcho Pride.

Second, it's about churrasco.

Perhaps there's a knife duel to determine who wins the pleasure of eating the tail?

For the past couple years, the "Se for dirigir, não beba" (If you're going to drive, don't drink) campaign has been strong.

Yes, this gaúcho agrees: "Don't drink. If you drink, go by donkey."

And (the collective) we DO drink.

Sometimes, as you know, a bit too much.

Proud or ridiculous? You be the judge.

For Sale.

The next post will include some of the more... Jenny-like... moments of the trip.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Post-adventure mush for brains

What a week! Rather, I'm feeling: "what a couple of months!"

Gente! From the fast pace of party nights and moving preparations in June and July, to the working/visiting tour of Chicago in August, to the newness of Sampa in the last month--interrupted by a visit to Porto Alegre last week--my life is in a blender once again. I have that (necessary, desired-even) feeling again: that feeling that everything is agitated, spun, pleasantly chaotic and wholly unpredictable.

Backing up for a moment, I spent 5 days in Porto Alegre, catching up with friends and retrieving some suitcases I had left behind. As it was Semana Farroupilha, I visited the acampamento on Sunday and Monday (thanks again, Fernando!) to people-watch from the fences of a piquete, eat a flame-grilled smorgasbord, and be a little grilled myself. You see, Lisa and I were introduced to some pre-teens who were fascinated by our foreign-ness. I was equally amused by them, with the rapid-fire and diverse questioning that ensued in order to satiate their curiosity.

"Have you ever seen a hurricane?"
"Have you seen snow?"
"Have you ever seen Big Ben?" "The Eiffel Tower?"
"Have you ever talked to Justin Bieber?"

Kids are flipping honest too: "I understand her (pointing at Aussie Lisa, and referring to her Portuguese) much more than you." Ha! Thanks, kid.

After a whirlwind of fun I returned to a whirlwind of business in São Paulo on Wednesday. I taught a few demo classes for a company I might start working with last Thursday. Every day since I have been spending hours, but hours, on the big translation project I mentioned in my last post. I am working with a publisher, Narrativa Um, to translate a book into English. The project is for a very large NGO here in São Paulo that is commemorating its 95th anniversary. The book presents the history of Jewish immigration to São Paulo, and the formation of numerous charitable organizations, from 1915 to present.

This is a fantastic development for me, not only for the pay and experience, but because I am learning so much--both linguistically and about local history and my new city. I am also, however, quite consumed by the project at the moment, and at the end of each day, left feeling a little numb. I really haven't had the time, the energy, the resources to get out and explore, socialize. It's brewing though...

Hang on.

P.S. Além do monte de palavras novas que estou aprendendo com os traduções, as minhas companheiras de apê estão me enchendo com muitas coisas bem praticais, tais como "dedo podre"...risos!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Unexpected diversions

I mean "diversions" in both senses of the word. Yesterday I went out of my 'hood, which I haven't had a chance to do since those first few days here in Sampa. My friend Juliana was doing a book signing at some fair out near the Tietê Metrô stop, that's all I knew. Well, that, and that my calendar isn't so full at the moment to prevent an excursion based on minimal facts.

When I arrived an Anhembi Parque I was delighted to find a massive hotel and restaurant convention in progress--specifically, the Equipotel 2010. Even though I am not in any way professionally tied to the hospitality industry, I managed to get an entry pass, and had no trouble entertaining myself for an hour while I waited for Ju to arrive.

There were fun things... watermelon carvers...

...and distinguished gentlemen talkin' ravioli...

...and loopy two-person chaise lounges!

I think my friend Thiera has just added this hot little item to her Christmas list. (The motel industry was well-represented. By "motel," I mean the special hotels where lovers meet. It's a massive industry here in Brazil for a handful of cultural reasons that I won't delve into here, but suffice it to say that I'm sure motels outnumber hotels in this country.)

Of course you are familiar with my quirky fascination for little-things-made-big.




Giant washing machines!

And, ok, I know this is just a regular walk-in freezer, but it does qualify as big. Really, though, I just took the picture so I could tell you how I thought it would be funny if they had stuffed a frozen dummy in there... they've got the font right for it.

I learned the reason that I ended up at this strange and unlikely event. Juliana's book signing was at the ARCO booth, a signage manufacturer and accessory distributor that specializes in accessibility.

I figured I would stay an hour or so and chat with Ju, just because. In the end, though, I met Frederico, the head of ARCO; Daniel, a friend of Ju's who was born blind; Sonia, the personable, multi-lingual, Italian ex-professor that now travels the world marketing the Profilo product (a sleek track system to kit-out or retrofit home or hotel to create a disability-friendly environment); some reporters; and hoteliers and moteliers galore. What an interesting day! Imagine the diversity of the conversation that took place over the six hours I spent in the booth. And that was before dinner...

Me, Sonia, and Ju: Some seriously unflattering lighting, but the afternoon was lovely and special nevertheless.

Much later, Ju, Sonia, Frederico and I met some architects out in Jardins for filet mignon. Now I'm a Wedding Crasher and a Conference Crasher. Nice. Unexpected diversions are so...divertido!

When I arrived home at midnight, I found wonderful and (thank the baby Cheesus) timely news in my inbox. I got my first official, paid book translation! More on that later.

I'm off to Porto Alegre for some hi-jinx.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday numbers

I have learned that my personal average for leaflets distributed in front of office towers is 100 per hour. And, on average, two people out of a hundred will stop to chat with me about classes. One will pause to flirt.

I handed out 300 flyers between yesterday and today. I received one email, asking for help in translating a business letter. (Done.)

I jogged 5k on each of the last three days, and I've got one hour of swimming scheduled per week. Next week I'll start yoga, twice a week.

Still, low and cash and contacts, Friday night brings with it one bottle of wine per, uhh, person, for entertainment.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mama said there'd be days like this... (Timing is Everything)

Last week was a disaster. Ok, that's a tad dramatic, but it did leave me feeling down and drained by Friday. Early in the week I had been buoyed by my approval as a writer for a internet-content studio, only to be deflated to find that none of the thousands of titles I could select were within my expertise and/or interest. Later, after a great deal of time invested in training with the language consultant company I had been so excited about joining, I decided that, for a myriad of reasons, it wasn't what I wanted to create here. Finally, the one student I would have had (through a separate language school) cancelled, which they failed to alert me. It was a week of time, money, and energy wasted.

Just then, I stopped into a little café for an espresso duplo and a chocolate eclair.

Thanks, Mr. Baker, for that beautifully-timed reminder.

I went home and stayed in all weekend: I read books and watched TV (which is very uncharacteristic of me), and oscillated between fight and flight strategies. I came up with good plans and supporting reasons for both staying strong in Sampa during this volatile test of will and patience, and for crawling back to the comfort [yeah, right, I know] and predictability of the Chicago cubicle.

I decided not to make any decisions while I wasn't sleeping well. Bless my super-cool roommates who invited me to stay here in their fully-furnished apartment--but I just don't sleep well on a foam mattress and wood slat bed frame. I have been waking up progressively crankier and pained, spending the first few hours of each day walking like an 80-year-old with severe spinal curvature until I could manage to warm up and straighten up.

I dismantled the frame and tried the old foam-mattress-on-the-floor trick. Nope.
I tried the futon in the living room. Nope.
I went to the mall and bought an inflatable camping mattress.

Ahhhhhhh. (Last night was Night 1, better.)

While I was at the mall yesterday, I stopped in at Claro, my cell phone provider. After a week of unsuccessful in-person and telephone attempts to get a São Paulo phone number, on this visit I just intended to unblock my phone so that when I eventually did get a new number, it could be with another service provider. Success in bureaucratic procedures frequently depends on luck of the draw, that is, who you talk to and whether they are in a helpful mood. I walked out of there with my phone unblocked and a new number, without proof-of-address or dropping a dime. Huh. (Self: Don't question it. Just say "Obrigada, Rafael.")

The timing was convenient. Now I can list it, alongside the São Paulo Skype number I just bought (in a moment of creative problem-solving), on the business cards I designed between sitcoms and will have printed this week. I hope they will be as attention-generating as I expect, when I hand them out to the strangers I'll be chatting up at nearby office towers in the coming weeks. (Marketing plan: check.)

So maybe things are looking up a little. Tomorrow I will join a new gym. It is a simple facility but it's clean and suitable. It's freaking expensive but very close to home. I figure it's a great way to minimize the stress and maximize the downtime of these uncertain weeks.

Flight is a last resort. First, I fight.