Monday, November 30, 2009

The Mystery Region and the Chickens

So the city recently built a new road. It connects our bairro to a previously mysterious region of the city. Hard to explain, but the point is, I decided to go for a walk yesterday to see what was in the mystery region.  I'd never been over there before, because, well, I didn't know it existed.  I didn't know it existed because (a) it doesn't have much more than houses and little bars and no one I know lives there and (b) there were few ways to get into it so it wasn't like, an area that I'd drive through while trying to go somewhere else.

So yes, while Alexandre went to watch the soccer game with his friends (borrrrriiinngg), I went for a walk in the mystery region.  It was only 15 minutes away, but it really felt like another world. I mean, I know I always complain that I live in a small country town, but I kind of exaggerate. I have a mall and internet and McDonald's and all that. This area REALLY felt like a small country town.

Most of the roads that went off of the new main road were just dirt roads. There were quite a few empty lots, but in the Brazilian sense of an empty lot, not the American (or at least Californian) sense.  In a Brazilian empty lot, the grasses are knee-high, there are wild banana trees, with fronds decomposing all over the ground, and there are disturbing bug sounds making their way out of the brush. Damn, I hate bugs.

And the funniest part? Many of the empty lots had been trimmed down and filled with chickens left to roam and graze. (Talk about free range!.... do chickens graze, Michelle? Do I use a different verb?) I imagine that the people in the houses around the empty lot let their chickens run loose in the lots. But I mean, they have value, right? I can't believe no one steals them. There were even big roosters, and some little baby chicks! *so cute!*

I'm not really sure if chickens are aggressive, especially if they have their babies with them. And the roosters were BIG.  So I kind of walked in the middle of the roads. 

Some of the lots had abandoned, rusting cars, but less trash than I would expect. 

People-wise, there was the typical Sunday afternoon porch lounging. Adults sat in their lawn chairs drinking beer while the kids played soccer or rode their bikes in the street.  Adults gave me polite olás and the kids gave me funny looks. (Yes, I know, I'm tall and white. Thanks for reminding me.) A couple of houses had some little portable radios out on the porch, playing the game or the ever-popular sertaneja music, but most were content with their own chit-chat and the ambient birds and bugs. Some people had their chickens roaming around on the porches around them.

What is it with the chickens? Do they kill them, or just use them for eggs? If they kill them, WHERE do they kill them? Only some of the houses seemed to have enough extra land around them to properly and sanitarily (not a word) kill a chicken.

I wandered around for about an hour, but didn't want to start seeming creepy, so I made my way home.

That's it. That's all there is to my story.  Nothing particularly profound or funny.  It was just interesting that such a different community exists only a few minutes away. Plus, I'm hoping someone can explain the chicken predicament to me. (I know it isn't really a predicament, per se, but say that out loud to yourself: chicken predicament.)

I'll try to go back this week and sneak in some pictures!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Curitiba!

So the in-laws decided to surprise us with an early Christmas present: a 3-day trip to Curitiba! It's an important, hustly-bustly city in Brazil. Kristin and I had a layover in the airport when we went to Iguaçu, but we didn't leave the terminal or anything. The in-laws are going for business reasons, and bought us some plane tickets to tag along and do touristy things with them in their off-time. So nice of them!

We get to stay in a hotel, and I love hotels. I would stay in hotels here in the city where we're living just for fun, if Alexandre would let me and not convince me otherwise every time I bring up the idea on a Friday night. (He always wins by playing the "what about the baby gatinha?!" card.) I love the big beds and bathtubs and fluffy blankets and aerial views and plethora of TV channels.

We're going next weekend. Not really sure what to expect, but it's a big city, and was voted "the best place to live in Brazil," so I'll probably love it.

Yay vacation! I'll put up pictures after, of course. On a related note, I really need to crack down and pay for a Flickr PRO account.

Hope you all had a nice thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bird Watching (My Soundtrack Here)

Alexandre had to work allll day on Sunday. I was going stir-crazy, so I went to the park/dam/lake place in town.  My intent was to get video of the different birds I hear around here. I don't know how much all of you care, but I enjoy them... the birds, I mean.


It was a beautiful day today. A bit humid, but I always prefer humid over stifling dry heat. So first I got some pictures of the scenery:


 
 
 

And now, the videos! I was having  so many problems uploading the videos onto blogger, so I put one onto youtube and embedded it, but the others froze. Then I put them into a site called One True Media, but it combined them into one video "montage" and it took so long to upload that you'll just watch them together.

The first part of the video is of a loud water bird called quero-quero (also very common). You'll hear me laugh nervously in the video. It's because I was filming 2 of the birds, and didn't see the third little guy to my left, lying down. I apparently ticked him off because he started screeching at the others suddenly, and startled me. But you can get a great idea of the sounds they make. These ones go around 24/7, unlike the other birds, which are usually only audible during the day

The second part of the video is of a common parrot here called the maritaca. I've told you about them before. They're beautiful but annoying, and always go around in pairs.  My guess is that hatching season was relatively recently, because the trees around the lake were FULL of little maritacas... old enough to be out of the nest, but significantly smaller than the adult birds that I see in my neighborhood:

they're the same green as the trees, so they're easy to hear but hard to see!

Here's the video: first, the quero queros, and then the maritaca. You can hear them, but it doesn't really do them justice. They are LOUD! It was quite a ruckus:


And this is the video of some young bem-ti-vis, which I've also told you about before. Bem-ti-vis are everywhere. These young ones make different (cuter) sounds than their parents. (If you didn't click the link in the last blog about the birds, you can hear the adults here.) I don't know if they were playing or hunting or courting or just gossiping, but they sure were cute:



I was so sad that I couldn't get sound for this last mystery bird:



Does anyone know what it is? It's so small, and it seems to have absorbed the color of the earth. But it makes a frantic tittering sound much bigger than its body. I followed a few around for a while, but they stayed quiet. I want to know its naaaame.

There is also a common little owl that I see at night, and once I heard while walking home from work. I actually heard it first and couldn't see it, so I wandered around the street until I found it on a telephone wire.  I've taken a picture of it before, but I have never been able to find out which owl it is. It has such a funny, whiny call.

Additionally, there's some kind of hawk that I hear a lot, especially at night. Haven't seen it and heard it at the same time, though.

I think it's only natural that a linguist, after tiring of human subjects, will move on to analyzing bird language counterparts. If I can find any kind of birdwatching class here (doutbtful), I'll totally sign up.

PS: Can I just rant really fast about one totally unrelated thing? I don't mean to offend any of you fellow bloggers, but I don't understand WHY people, when writing their blog ALL in English, write the name of the country as "Brasil", with an "s". In English, the name of the country is spelled Brazil. Writing and saying "Brazil" is not wrong or rude or politically incorrect. It's the word. When you're speaking Portuguese, do you say "Eu sou de the United States"? No. You say "dos estados unidos." Because you're speaking Portuguese, and "the United States" is English.  This annoys me the way it annoys me when, while speaking English, people say "méxico" in Spanish, with an [h] for the instead of a [ks].  Saying [meksikou] is not wrong. It's the word in English. 

If you're going to change just one or two words, you might as well just cut out xenonyms from your language all together. Learn how South Koreans say "South Korea" and say that when you're speaking English (PS: It's 대한민국, with being the root of anything related to the nation of Korea or the Korean language). Yup. From now on, anytime you want to say "my friend is from South Korea", you're going to say to your English-speaking friends, "My friend is from Daehan-minguk." If you think that's silly, then that means you agree with me, and you're going to stop writing "Brasil" and saying [méhiko], right? Great. Thank you.



/ rant. I hope you enjoy the bird videos!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Work Updates

So reader Elena B asked, "what's going on with work?" I realized that I'm too busy whining and not telling you guys about work stuff, even though most of you found my blog via my "Teaching English in Brazil" entry.

So before I update you on work, I'd like to ask what you guys like most to read about in this blog.

So tell me by leaving a comment: what do you like reading about most?
*teaching/working in Brazil
*food
*my personal life (...a little creepy? but I guess my family will choose this one), like activities with the boyfriend, or the cat
*pleasant cultural comparisons
*ranting cultural comparisons
*visa information and help with living in / moving to Brazil
*awesome linguistics stuff
*other

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

So my work week is divided like this:
*about 8 hours a week at the school

*about 10-15 hours a week with the American job (lately it's been more on the 10 side because I have a new partner who takes her sweet time in getting her part back to me, grah)

*about 20 hours a week of private classes at home (this can vary from 15-25)

*It depends on the month, but I average about 1 big translation a month (by big I mean 10-15 pages). But they tend to come in waves because I think my clients tell their friends things like "Oh I just got this great translation back from this American girl named Danielle!" and then their friends say "Oh, I've got an article that I've been meaning to get translated!" so I'll get 2 or 3 in a week, and then they drop off. It's just luck, I don't really do any marketing for myself. 

So basically I keep myself busy with a bunch of little things instead of just one 9-5 job. Every thing I do has its good points and bad points, and every time I get frustrated with one job I declare to Alexandre that I'm going to quit it and just focus on the other ones, and then I never do.

But I think my favorite overall is my private classes because.... I hate having bosses. And inferior colleagues, for that matter. Because I am such a damn arrogant know-it-all about teaching English. Seriously. I only make things harder for myself. Do you guys know that TV show called "Shear Genius" with the hair stylists that talk about cutting hair like it's the most important job in the world? The contestants are always like "THIS IS MY LIIIIIFE AND I AM THE BEST DAMN STYLIST IN THIS ROOM! I AM AN ARTIST! DON'T MESS WITH MY CLIENT!"

Yeah, that's how I am about teaching. In my head, at least. So I get very impatient with my boss at the school / the other teachers / my partner with the American job / my boss at the American job. But I don't get impatient with students because they're not supposed to know the stuff yet. And then I explain it and 99% of them get it. I am impatient with people who are supposed to know as much as or more than I do, and don't. Damn, I'm a snob.

But really the only downsides to private classes are:
1. People trying to barter for a lower price when I've already given them a good price (I know it's cultural but I HATE IT)

and 2. Flaky, flaky students that sign my contract in which really the only stipulation is that they need to give me 24 hours' notice if they want to cancel without paying, and say "yeah, of course, I totally understand, that's fair," but then argue and whine when they cancel class at the last minute and don't want to pay. And when I say, "well, you know, as you accepted with the contract, my only rule is that I need 24 hours if you want to make up the class," and then they insist, "no, but this is DIFFERENT!" and it never is. A couple of students have tried to insist "no, but it's a health situation! I'm sick / my son is sick / my dog is sick, so I shouldn't have to pay." and I have to explain "sir/ma'am, if I allowed people do cancel without paying if they were sick, do you know how often people would be 'sick'?'"

It puts me in a terrible situation and I don't have the personality to be like "NOPE. You're paying!" when they whine and moan, especially if they're people that usually don't cancel. So I try to be fair, because I don't want to mess up my rapport with someone in the long-term for such a relatively small amount of money. For example, if someone calls to cancel and their class is an hour and a half, I let them have 30 minutes on the next class (so they only lose an hour instead of an hour and a half).

The reason I have this 24-hour rule is threefold:
1. I need to guarantee that I can pay my bills at the end of the month
2. I need to know what times I have available for people who DO give me 24 hours' notice and want to make up a class
3. It's psychological: if students don't feel like English class is a commitment, they don't feel any pressure not to cancel. So they cancel all the time, on a whim. And then their English doesn't improve, because they're not practicing. And then they get frustrated and blame me/the class/the language, and quit.

Oh, and another common problem is that Brazilian women, especially those close to my age, are very, very very shy when they start their classes with me. I used to interpret it as arrogance, but after seeing it so often, I know they're just shy. So I just keep being nice and friendly and patient and they always open up after about a month or so.

Basically I love teaching but I hate the business side of it. Alexandre says that I need to eventually open a school here and hire his stoic, money-minded brother to deal with the accounting side of it. To be honest, he doesn't need to do ALL that. I'm good at managing money. I just want him to talk to people when they start whining and being cheapskates.

But yeah, the rest of private classes is great, now that I've built up a steady clientele. I have about 10 people that have signed contracts, and 2 that pay for hours per month but don't have set times because of their jobs (a flight attendant and an athlete), and a handful of friends/students from the school that just come randomly for extra review or help.  But everyone I have is actually really nice to work with. I end up learning a lot about people because, well, they have to talk about themselves in the classes. I get the occasional ditzy girl with no opinions, but most everyone is a pleasure to teach. I choose the schedule that works for me, I have the liberty to turn down people that call but send up red folgada flags:  they call and say things like "I won't drive to your house. I want you to come to my house on the other side of town and I don't want a set schedule because I'm so busy and I don't want to use a book because I want to learn specific things for my job and grammar is boring."  When I get people like that I just tell them I'm too busy for new students and give them the number of a fellow teacher whose English is good.  So basically with private classes, you've gotta suck it up and deal with the bad stuff for a while, but it's worth it in the long-run, in my opinion.

I'd love for fellow teachers reading to share and compare their experiences, and any new/potential teachers reading can ask questions. 

Oh, and don't forget about the survey above! :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Love Sundays

All right, guys, time for a happier post. You must all be tired of my bitching.

Since I've got another year here and I can't do anything about it (anything that would make me happier, at least), I've just got to focus on the things that I enjoy about the current state of things.

One benefit of living in a small town is that everything is a little slower and more relaxed. Yeah, I prefer fast-paced big city life, but this has its benefits, too. Like being able to be totally lazy on Sundays, and spend the afternoon hunting for/making up new lunch recipes. Because cooking (successfully) makes me happy. And seeing Alexandre eat my cooking and insist on how delicious it is makes me happy. And even cooking unsuccessfully makes me happy because it's an excuse to go out to eat instead.

I wanted to thank reader May for directing me Cinara's Place. It's a blog (apparently made by a woman named Cinara) who gives Brazilians tips on how to cook American food (and Mexican food!) in Brazil. FAB-U-LOUS.  But I sent her an email (Cinara, I mean) asking where she finds things like cheddar cheese (not in a plastic bag), sour cream, and margarita mix, because she includes them in her ingredients. I also offered to send her Auntie Lynn's wonderful guacamole recipe, because the one she's got on there now is kind of... lackluster.

Anyhoo, another recipe site I like is www.allrecipes.com.  Here, I found this Broccoli Pasta Bake that I made today. I modified it a bit (partly out of personal preference and partly as a result of not having the right ingredients), so I'm going to include my recipe below, Brazilian style (and with meat). I think mine makes less than the one from the website.


Danielle's version of Broccoli Pasta Bake

(the picture is mine, not from the recipe site)


You'll need:
* 2 "bifes" of contra-file steak (optional, for my (majority) vegetarian friends)
* 1/3 cup butter
* 2 1/2 cups milk
* 1/3 cup flour (farina de trigo)
* salt, pepper, garlic salt, whatever you want
* 2 cups pasta (I used penne, the recipe uses fusilli, I don't think it really matters)
* Some mozzarella cheese (the more the merrier... I used 1 and a half slices of sliced Brazilian mozarella, but I think shredded mozzarella cheese from a fresh block would be better)
* A little bag of grated Parmesan cheese
* a little bit of oil (preferably olive oil) for your pasta
* Fresh broccoli (FRESH, American friends!) (I used half of a head, but probably could've used more)
* 1 cube of caldo de legumes (the little vegetable bullion cubes)

1. Boil your pasta. Put olive oil and some salt in the water.
2. Steam your broccoli with half of a caldo de legume cube

If you listened to my advice and bought a rice cooker, you can do steps 1 and 2 in the rice cooker at the same time!

3. Cut your meat up in little pieces (cutting out the fat that lines contra-file), and then fry your meat with whatever seasonings you like (I just put a bit of caldo de carne (beef bullion) cubes, salt, and pepper)

4. While the meat is frying and the pasta is boiling, make your sauce, like this:
  a.) Melt the butter in a pot
  b.) Add the milk (the more milk you put, the less creamy and thick your sauce is. I started off with 2 cups  
       and then ended up adding another half cup at the end, but the original recipe recommends 3 cups.)
  c.) Mix
  d.) Add the flour slowly, mix some more
  e.) Add the Parmesan cheese, keep mixing! (I used about half of the little Brazilian bag, so about 20 grams, but I kind of have a addiction to problem with cheese. The more Parmesan you add, the stronger the taste of the sauce, but also the thicker the sauce becomes)
  f.)  Add in the salt/pepper/garlic salt that you want. I put a few shakes of the garlic/pepper/salt combination that I have, along with a drop of alho puro.

5. Your broccoli and meat should be done by now. Add them into the sauce and mix everything around.
6. Grease a big bowl or casserole dish. I used butter. Mmm... fat
7. Get the pasta that you already drained at some point and dump it into the casserole dish.
8. Pour your thick sauce all over the pasta in the casserole dish. Mix it up a bit with the pasta.
9. Add the mozarella cheese on top
10. Add a bit more Parmesan cheese on top to make it crunchy
11. Stick the casserole dish in the oven at 350F / 175C for 15-20 minutes.


I realized that the recipes I put on here never look very pretty, but they sure do taste good. Whatever. This isn't fine French cuisine.

Enjoy!

Friday, November 13, 2009

You Ain't from 'Round These Here Parts

So Alexandre has plantão tonight (for those of you who haven't picked up on the word plantão yet, it's his extra-long shifts at the hospital).

I had classes/meetings from 7:00am-4:00pm (with an hour break for lunch) so I'm kind of tired, and I have nothing to do tonight. (Boo Friday night plantões!)  I made a huge pot of Nanny's chicken stew for dinner last night. We had it for lunch today, too, and I'll be finishing it up for dinner. So going out to dinner's out. Besides, I hate eating out alone.

I dropped Alexandre off at the hospital, and then went over to the grocery store for some goodies. My fantastic Friday night supermarket basket included fresh bread (to go with the chicken stew), chocolate syrup (to go on the vanilla ice cream that's still (miraculously) in the freezer after my Wal-Mart trip last weekend), Malzbier, and some chocolate mousse, just for good measure. 

It wasn't my first time with the cashier who was ringing up my order. Let me backtrack with a story: The last time I went through her line, I tried to recharge my cell phone that I almost never use (a) because I have no friends and (b) because cell phone plans are atrociously expensive here and I won't use it on principle.  At that time, I'd only had the cell phone for a few months, and I had refilled it all of 2 times. Both times that I had refilled it, I went into the actual cell phone store in the mall. I gave them the cash, they printed out a code, I called the code using my cell phone, and voila-- cell phone minutes recharged!

Anyway, so yes, it was my first time trying to recharge my cell phone in the grocery store. I assumed it'd be the same. I told her I wanted to recharge the phone. She asked me which carrier I have. I told her. She asked me how much I wanted to put on it. I told her. Then she asked me to put my cell phone number into the credit card keypad.

....
My number? I know, it's ridiculous, but like I said, I never use the thing, so I didn't know the number by heart. When I had a prepaid cell phone in the US when I went home for Christmas, my number was automatically saved in the phone.  I assumed it was the same with this phone. It wasn't.

I told the cashier, "I'm sorry, I know this is ridiculous, but I don't know the number. I hardly ever use it. I'm sorry... forget it, I'll refill it later."

So yeah, pretty embarrassing.  Now back to today:

As she was ringing up my delicious treats, the cashier asked smugly,
"So, did you learn your cell phone number yet?"

And I said, "Oh... you remember that? How embarassing."

"Well, it's your accent that I remember. You're not from here, are you?"

"No, I'm not." (I know that she wanted me to say where I was from, but I thought I'd make her work for it a bit)

"So you're from... where, then?"

"The United States."

"Oh, wow! Are you going to live here?"

"I've lived here for almost 2 years now."            [side note: Can you believe it?]

"2 years?!" said the cashier incredulously. "And you still have an accent?!" 

My career background made me scoff instinctively at her ignorance. Those of you who know me in person know how hard it is for me to not have "you are a total retard" written all over my face when I think that someone is being a total retard.

But I said, "Yup, it takes a while when you learn a language as an adult."

"Wow, but you really have an accent. Well, it's your Rs. Your Rs are really forced."

"Yes, that they are. They are forced. That is the way that I talk." Sometimes I'm glad that my sarcasm doesn't portray well in Portuguese.  I wanted to say, "that's the way you talk too, caipira", but it wouldn't have been worth it. Besides, I know mine are a bit stronger. If they weren't, she wouldn't have noticed and so eloquently commented on them.

We were finishing up the transaction at this point, so I mumbled a quick "boa noite" before she could make any more inappropriate comments.
*******
Why does this constant "Where are you from?" shtick bother me so much, exactly?  I know that, when people ask me things like "where are you from?" even when they ask it by saying "Você é que?" ("You are... what?"), and even when people make comments like this, like blatantly criticizing my Portuguese, or saying asinine things about the US, they're not necessarily trying to be rude. They just don't know any better. But that's just it. It's hard feeling like the only one in the community who "knows better." It's not enough that people don't have bad intentions. I grew up in California, the Land of The Whole World Meeting in One Place, where relativity abounds, and respect ensues. I went to Berkeley, for Christ's sake. In California in general, and in Berkeley especially, people are just people, and everyone is so different and everyone has so much of their own shit going on that when you talk to other people, you focus on what you have in common. (Or you argue about Veganism, sei lá.)

So that's the first reason why I get frustrated having to explain my life literally every day.  I have a new definition of success: My day is considered a success if I am getting ready for bed and realize that I didn't have to say "I'm American" or "I'm from the US" or "I"m here because my husband is Brazilian" or "Yes, I 'am liking' Brazil" for THE WHOLE DAY. (Oh, also, added to that list of successes is if no one hung up on me on the phone. Those of you who subscribe to my blog using Google Reader got a glimpse of my rant that I later deleted. Yes, people actually hang up on me when I call places trying to get information, like what time the restaurant closes, or why my portable air conditioner hasn't been delivered yet. Talk about social rejection. See below.)

The second reason is something I've mentioned before... that 19 months is a long time to feel like a social outsider. I'm like, indirectly rejected. I'm hoping Ginny or Michelle can back me up here with psychological data/statistics/terms so I stop feeling like a lunatic. The Malzibeir's starting to kick in, but let me explain: the minute I open my mouth and my English allophones come out, people stop seeing me as "one of them." People here don't ask me things that they ask each other, like "Wow, crazy weather we're having, hein?" or "Can you believe [xyz current event on the news]?"  They're just so bowled over by having a real-life AMERICAN in front of them that they forget all social norms. I work in this city, too, with its relatively low wages when compared to Sao Paulo. I drive on these streets with all their potholes (something that people here love to complain about as a form of small talk). I go to the same gym.  I shop in the same stores and pay the same high prices for [insert inflated priced product here]. I use the same annoying internet/cable company that has its monopoly on the region.

My day-to-day life is the same, but I don't have anyone to relate to, because my being Not Brazilian overrides and overshadows everything we could possibly have in common.

And like, Jesus Christ. My Portuguese is not that bad. I'm always going to have an accent, and most of Brazil doesn't care, I imagine. Not a single person in Sao Paulo (a big city with lots of tourism and immigration) asked me where I was from. People on the metro complained about the heat to me, and then we talked about our days, and the employee in the bookstore sold me English books without enchendo saco (no idea how to spell that) and he only smiled a little when I said that I didn't want to give my CPF on my receipt.

I'm trying not to be like 'hicktown is the worst place and Sao Paulo is the best place" but I can't help it.

I'll leave you with a song that's getting me through this evening. It's by The Mountain Goats. It's called "This Year."   There will be feasting, and dancing, in Jerusalem this year! The day we drive away in Alexandre's Peugeot behind the moving van taking us to another city for his residency, or, better yet, taking all our furniture to his parent's house because we're on our way to the USA, I am going to blast this song and probably cry a lot.

If you think I'm being melodramatic, or if you know some more optimistic way to view my current lot, please, tell me. I won't be offended. I am usually a pretty optimistic person, but I'm losing it, and I'd welcome a new perspective.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Healthcare Should Be (More or Less)

Dear Ginny wrote a rant on America's healthcare system, and I started to respond, but my comment got way too long, so I just brought it over here. I thought I'd explain the Brazilian healthcare system.... or at least my understanding of it.  

DISCLAIMER: This is what Dr. Alexandre has explained to me and what I've gleaned from my own experience. Some details are probably wrong, and what I see here in my region may not be the same in other parts of the country. Feel free to comment to correct me. I'm going to try to convince Alexandre to come on here and explain it better (guest post! guest post!). But for now, this is how (I think) the Brazilian healthcare system works:


Seeing the Brazilian healthcare system always makes me really embarrassed about the system that we Americans accept in the US.

First, Brazil has public healthcare. Of course it's not perfect. Here are some of the most common problems:

1. Higher income taxes
2. Long waits for an appointment
3. Multiple people in hospital rooms
4. When a surgery is not something that has a high risk of infection, multiple surgeries in the same room
5. Hypochondriacs (think about it... if you don't have to pay to go to the doctor, you don't think twice about it, especially if you are a lonely old woman with no one to complain to and nothing better to do...or an overconcerned mother who takes her child in for every sneeze)
6. Immigrants coming from poorer surrounding countries just to use the system (however, this is a much smaller problem than in the US)

But here are some things that never happen in Brazil:

1. People's lives being ruined over healthcare debts
2. Healthcare debts.
3. People going to work even when they're sick because they are afraid of losing their jobs or they need to pay for their medications
4. People waiting to go to the doctor because of the cost/bureaucracy and then something treatable becomes untreatable
5. People not calling an ambulance because it's too expensive and then dying at home or on the way to the hospital
6. Kids without health insurance
7. People don't get a transplant just because of money (all transplant situations are automatically covered by the public healthcare option. Whether or not the organs are available is another story, but money is not an issue for the patients).

And there are some problems that DO occur here, but would very likely not happen in the US, just because of the differences between Brazil and the US:

1. People live in the rainforest or tiny village and are hours away from any hospital
2. People live far away from a hospital, but not too far to get there. But the only way to get there is a single dirt road. And then it rains and floods the road and now there is no way to get there.
3. People try witchcraft, Indian medicine, and old wive's tales as healthcare that can make them worse. For example, I think I mentioned on here once about the fact that (too) many Brazilian women believe that, if they put raw meat up there you-know-whats, leave it for a day, and then cook it for their poor unknowing husbands, he will be somehow spiritually bound to them and will never cheat. The result? Women get infections after having raw meat shoved up their wazoos for a day.



Barring the meat-filled wazoos, benefits obviously outweigh the costs. Also, Brazil has set up different ways to avoid the problems listed above, particularly the long waits.

The centers themselves are basically "triaged", like this:

a) There's the emergency room, obviously. 

b) Then there's 24-hour the urgent care place, for things that are less serious than the ER but too serious to wait for an appointment. (Alexandre does many of his 12-hour overnight shifts (plantões) here.)

c) Then there are these, like... "medical stations" scattered around the city. They're for small problems and questions, like "does this cut need a stitch?" or "can you refill my dandruff shampoo prescription?" or "this rash hasn't gone away for a couple of weeks." Some are specifically for the elderly or for children. (Alexandre gets put on rotation at these places during the day for a couple of weeks every few months.)

d) Finally, there's the "ambulatory" right by the hospital. It's appointment only. (Alexandre works here in the afternoons.) Usually, you go to either (c) or (d) above, and they help you / advise you to make an appointment at the "ambulatory." Or you can just call yourself. This is the place for normal doctor's appointments. Yeah, it has long waits, but the country tries to offset the wait by offering (a) (b) and (c).

I would like to point out that mental health is more or less treated the same way as physical health, so psychological and psychiatric problems follow the same rules listed above. Brazil seems to be less socially accepting than the US of respecting mental health as well, a health issue, but the US is arguably the most advanced socially in its acceptance of mental health problems as diseases and not moral/will/religious afflictions. The result in Brazil? You can go to a psychologist for free, but you may have to wait a while to get an appointment, and you can't tell your friends about it.

The main reason this system doesn't always work is because people are impatient and/or unaware and they go to the wrong place. But with proper education and enough PSAs, it'll eventually work better.

Did I mention all of this part is free? Oh, and medication for any chronic illness is free (AIDS medication, diabetes medication, etc). And most other medications are subsidized. This may be overshare, but we're all adults here: Birth control is 54 cents a month with a prescription, and 4 reais without. That's another thing: a lot of medicines don't need a prescription, but they're more expensive without one in order to motivate people to go to the doctor to get him to put it in writing that it's the one that they need.

-----
Then there's the private option: it's like American insurance, but better. 
You pay a flat monthly rate-- no hidden fees. The price depends almost completely on your age, and there are no ideas of "preexisting conditions" or any of that crap (because the private insurance companies know that if they get too picky or expensive, their customers can just use the public option... amazing concept!). Because I'm 24, I pay 80 reais a month.  Alexandre's grandfather, however, had to pay 400 reais a month while he was still living. So most elderly people use the public option, unless, like in Alexandre's case, the elderly person's 5 kids pitch in to pay for it.

The private insurance companies have their own hospitals, but also a wing in the public hospital in case you are closer to that when you have a life-threatening accident. For example, when I fainted while giving blood and had to get stitches, I asked to go to the public hospital, because it's in walking distance of our house. But they said that, since it wasn't a life-threatening emergency, they'd take me to the hospital that is connected to my private insurance.

For normal, day-to-day appointments under private insurance, you get a big book with a list of doctors' names in your region, just like in the US. A really nice difference is that you don't have to go to a general practitioner to get a referral. Come on. That system is such a waste of time. If you've got a rash, you know you need a dermatologist. If you can't see as well in your old age, you know you need an ophthalmologist. You choose a doctor from the book and call to make an appointment. You have to give an explanation of why you're going in, obviously. If you say something completely different, they'll tell you what kind of doctor to call.

And from the doctor's side, if you have a private practice, you can choose whether to be part of the private insurance lists or not. You make less per consult under the private insurance, but you have a lot more clients. (Yes, there are quite a few Brazilians who just pay the doctors directly and avoid the insurance all together. I'm not sure how legal all this is, tax-wise.) As a licensed doctor, it's also easier to open your own practice here in Brazil than it is for a doctor to open one in the US. There's more of a free-market economy feel to it. You base your price on the price that other doctors in the region are charging. And most importantly, you become successful by good old-fashioned word of mouth.

Frequently, doctors group together with other doctor friends to open a private practice. This saves on building costs, receptionists/marketing costs, and also, if the doctor friends are the same kind of doctor, on the cost of machines/surgical equipment. Doctors can perform surgical procedures in their own buildings if they have enough of the equipment. If not, it is my understanding that they can pay to use equipment in the hospitals. Usually, things that require anesthesia are done in the actual hospital.

Yes, Brazil's surgical equipment is usually not as advanced as it is in the US. They don't have all of the latest -scopy suffixed procedures available. But the life expectancies in industrialized regions here in Brazil are roughly the same as in the US.

The private insurance has some stipulations in your first months as a member to prevent people from paying for one month, doing a bunch of really expensive stuff, and canceling. But any serious problems or long-term hospital stays are never decided in terms of cost.

So yeah. That's the main stuff. Alexandre comes home from work complaining about annoying mothers in pediatrics, or really sad cancer cases, or snobby attendings, but never about bureaucracy or unfair or incorrect medical decisions that were made solely for money.

Despite its problems, Brazil should be really proud of itself for its healthcare system.

Blecaute!

Hahaha.... say it to yourself to figure out what this entry is about:

Blecaute

If you guessed a power outage, you're right! Portuguese borrowed the English word "blackout" and changed the spelling. Entertaining! I was reading the news headline out loud to Alexandre and automatically and ironically stumbled upon "blecuate". For variety, they're also calling it "apagão".  You learn new words when you live them! You learn "pia" when your sink breaks. You learn "testa" when you have to get 5 stitches in it. etc.

Anyway, Blackout! What happened?

No one knows yet. All I knew at first was that I was enjoying a new episode of Law and Order and talking to my sister online late last night when all the power went out. That happens relatively frequently (as in once or twice a month), but usually for not more than 30 minutes or so. So I just waited, typed up some stuff from work, assuaged tired grouchy Alexandre who was suddenly left without a fan (and was trying to sleep after being awake for like, 30 hours, poor guy).

But the light didn't come back on. And when I looked outside from our fourth floor balcony, it seemed like the whole neighborhood's power was out, maybe the whole city-- as far as I could see. When it turned back on for an instant, I saw the city come back to life. But then it went out again. I thought to myself, Wow, I wonder if the whole CITY lost power! How wrong I was...

Poor Alexandre was so hot and miserable and just wanted to sleep. It was like 90 degrees in the apartment. (Irony alert: I bought us a little portable air conditioner the other day, and it got delivered today, and we couldn't even use it!) He moved the extra twin mattress that we have out to the balcony to try to rest there. He is much braver than I am-- blackouts don't bode well for people who have had traumatizing events with moths during previous blackouts and other late nights. I laid down on the couch and read by the light of my laptop (how quaint) and tried not to freak myself out.  Things are quieter when there's no power, leaving just you, the blackest wilderness, and....
-the cigarras
-the bats
-the other nameless invisible insects and their ticking clicking clucking buzzing knocking sounds that mix in with those of the bats and the giant black crickets
-the quero queros (go down on the page to click to hear them)

The worst part? The moths don't make any noise! That is, until they're batting their wings against the walls and ceiling of your apartment and your cat is knocking everything over trying to jump at them. Shudder.

Eventually, my fatigue won out over my fear, and I dozed off. Since I the power had gone out with the TV on, I woke up because it came back on. I woke up Alexandre out on the balcony, inspected the bedroom for moths (with the help of Gatinha, the expert hunter), and went to bed, finally able to enjoy the new little portable air conditioner. (It's actually this. You put cold water in it to get cold air to come out.) (I just realized how many phrasal verbs were in this paragraph. Impressive.)

Today is Alexandre's birthday. When he woke up, I gave him his new shoes (success!) and we turned on the news to get the details of the power outage. Turns out it was almost the whole country, and parts of Paraguay!  The only logical explanation is Itaipú, the world's largest hydroelectric dam, which gives energy to Paraguay and most of Brazil (Kristin and I went there!). Itaipu's insisting it wasn't them, except it was.

So yeah, a pretty crazy night! I'm going back to sleep for a bit.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Homesick Cookies

I was feeling a bit homesick today.  So I decided to go to the store to buy things to make chocolate chip cookies. I realized that I've never tried to make cookies here. Cakes, yes. Pancakes, yes. But cookies, no. I remembered last week when one student was talking about how she had American cookies (Mrs. Field's, I believe) and how they were so soft and amazing and how Brazilian cookies just don't compare, anywhere. And I was like, "You're RIGHT!"

All Brazilian cookies taste like the shitty Wal-Mart versions of Oreos. Dry and small and depressing. Brazilians have other fantastic desserts, like mousse and bombas, and most of the time, their desserts take the cake (pun intended) because they're all the deliciousness of American desserts without all the fat... but their cookies just don't cut it. So I dug out a chocolate chip cookie recipe that my mom gave me and decided to try it out.

That required going to the store on a Sunday night. Sunday night is apparently the worst time ever in the history of the world to go to the store.

Let me point out that I went to the mall to get Alexandre's birthday present first.  The mall was worse than the grocery store. The parking lot was packed, and Brazilians don't know how to follow laws in general, especially when it inconveniences them in the stort-term. So people were parking illegally in the handicapped spots and inventing spots in the driving lanes (forcing everyone else to awkwardly reverse out of the suddenly blocked lane... DEAR BRAZIL, WHERE IS YOUR SENSE OF COMMUNITY!?).  I don't do well in situations like this. My personality suggests and my genetics support low-level anxiety disorders. I tried to just breathe a lot, park in the first legal place that I could find, and repeat Ghandi's "be the change you wish to see in the world" over and over in my head.

Alexandre never reads my blog, so I can tell you all here, 2 days before his birthday and without worry, that I bought him Converse for his birthday, and the mall is the only place in the city that sells them. It turns out the mall was so crowded because today was the first day of the Christmas --I don't know what to call it. Christmas display? Christmas show?  Let's call it Christmas marketing mess -- in the mall. You think Christmas Creep is bad in the US? It's November 8th, and Brazilians have a freaking 30-foot-tall Noah's Ark boat set up in the mall.  And Santa's already here (in front of the ark?!), and there are little mechanical animals set up in the fake snow all around the Ark. Everyone came to check it out and take pictures with their own cameras instead of paying the Santa company.

DEAR BRAZIL, GET YOUR OWN HOLIDAY TRADITIONS. IT DOESN'T SNOW IN BRAZIL. SANTA STORIES DON'T MAKE ANY SENSE HERE.

But in case you were feeling pity for the poor Brazilians having American Christmas shoved down their throats, don't worry. All of the "elves" were women (probably a mandatory prerequisite for hiring, worker's rights be damned), and they were all dressed in slutty elf costumes. Ya know, for the kids.

I survived the Christmas Marketing Mess Masses and found the shoe store, bought the shoes without any hiccups, and decided to buy myself a milkshake at the delicious milkshake stand on my way out. But then this caipira family cut in front of me in line and the mother was telling her 12-year-old to get the cashier's attention before they even knew what they wanted, so as the tween was yelling "Moça! Moça!"  (like "lady! hey lady!") the mother was arguing with her sister and the other 4 kids between them about which ice creams they wanted and how the kids had to get one that was less than 2.50 (or should I say 2,50), and then I decided that I didn't need a milkshake that bad.

After the chaos of the mall, I went to the grocery store. I tried going to the little local grocery store, but it closes on the weekends (along with half of the city, so I guess that makes it okay). Come on.  I try to support The Little Guy, but they wonder why they have no business when they're not open on the most important supermarket days. I had to go to Wal-Mart. The lines were absolutely insane. It was the first and last time I'll go grocery shopping on a Sunday night here. I just wish the owner of The Little Guy grocery store would stop by there on a Sunday night to see how much business he's missing out on.

Remember that I went to the store for the cookie stuff, right? Well, chocolate chips were not to be found. Nothing even has chocolate chips in them, I realized. I didn't know how to say "chocolate chips" in Portuguese, so I was looking for something that had chocolate chips as an ingredient so I could show an employee.  I eventually found some American cereal bars, and took them to an employee. I pointed to the picture on the box and I was like "do you sell these chocolate pieces? You know, just the pieces? For cooking?" and he looked at me like I was crazy and said no.  Then I asked him for "sodio bicarbonato" (baking soda), to which he also said no.

DEAR BRAZIL, THIS IS WHY YOUR COOKIES SUCK.

I wandered around some more, chateada, racking my brain for resourcefulness. I passed by Wal-Mart's own Christmas Creep section, saw Hershey's Kisses, and the lightbulb turned on. (Hello! Hershey's Kisses cookies!) So I got a bag of those, and also a chocolate bar, which I decided to break up into tiny pieces (get it? like chips).

Then I waited in line for 30 minutes. Literally. I should have left. Having wandered around the store was a sunk cost. But Alexandre was at plantão, and I had nothing better to do. My line at the cashier was so long that it wandered into the alcohol aisle, so I added a couple of pinga wine coolers to the cart (hence this blog entry).

I came home, drank the pinga wine coolers (pinga coolers?) and made the cookies and listened to Joanna Newsom and Mariee Sioux and Alela Diane. The cookies are all right. They don't have baking soda, which Patty says is important. And the only brown sugar I could find was this healthy imported organic stuff (DEAR BRAZIL, BROWN SUGAR IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HEALTHY). But Alex will love them because he doesn't know any different. And I survived SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY! of shopping. Everybody wins!

(PS: Does anyone reading this know a Portuguese equivalent of the English expression "Everybody wins!"? I always say "todo o mundo ganha!" and no one understands me.)

/FIM

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Conquistando The Grandmother

You may remember last year when I met Alexandre's grandmother for the first time. She wasn't keen on the idea of me (as my British grandmother would say), but slowly, over the last year, she's been warming up to me.  I usually see her at Sunday lunches when we visit Alexandre's parents. When Alexandre goes to his parents' house alone (like if I have to work or something), he always makes a point to visit her.

Let me note here that The Grandmother is the sole living possessor of the family's perfect coxinha recipe. Her mother devised and perfected it, and taught it to her 3 daughters (one of whom is The Grandmother). The other 2 daughters have since passed on, leaving the information with only Vovó (that's what Alexandre calls his grandmother).


If you don't know what a coxinha is, it's this, and you're missing out. The Wikipedia page puts too much focus on the fact that it used to have a whole chicken thigh in it, a tradition which survives only in the name and is kind of irrelevant today. It's just a little fried dough ball with chicken and cheese inside (sometimes it has ground beef or weird vegetable combination, but I'm partial to the original).

After trying and falling in love with The Grandmother's coxinhas, I asked her for the recipe. I thought it would be a good bonding thing for us, because grandmothers love to cook and teach people how to cook, right? I'm usually good with grandmothers (Hi, Nanny!), but this one has been hard to crack. The first time I asked her to teach me, she said no. The second time I asked her to teach me, she said no.

When we saw her again in October, she tried to slip us some money, as grandmothers are wont to do. But her living situation is modest at best. We went back and forth with us denying the money and her insisting. Then I had an idea.

"You know, instead of money, maybe you could teach us how to make the coxinhas! Alexandre and I would love to learn." (I made sure to mention Alexandre too, making a sort of genetic appeal.)

She squinted at me, and was quiet while she pondered the idea. Alexandre made some comments to support it.

"... Ok. Call me the next time you come to visit. Perhaps you can come to my house and I can show you."

YESSSSSSSS!

Obviously, we took her up on the offer. The day after our wonderful trip to Sao Paulo, Alexandre called his grandmother to see if we could come over. She accepted the idea, so in the afternoon, Alexandre, his father, and I piled in the car and drove to her house.

When we got there, she gave me a little tour of the house. She made a point to show me the guest room, and to say "I have this for any time grandchildren want to visit!"  And then we got down to business: coxinha business.

Alexandre was helping in the beginning, but then his father called him in to the other room to show him an article on ophthalmology in the newspaper, and ended up staying in there for a while to talk about it.  That left me and The Grandmother alone for the whole of the cooking lesson. Her Portuguese is relatively easy to understand, because, since she's so old, she didn't even adopt some of the changes that separated Portuguese and Spanish. So she still rolls her [r]s instead of making the [h] sound (so "roupa" (clothes) is pronounced "rrrropa," just like Spanish). She doesn't do the spirantization thing, so "tirar" is just that ti-rarrrr, and not "chi-rar." For anyone learning Portuguese that already speaks Spanish, these small changes are what make or break your difference in understanding. Lesson learned: talk to more old people.

Anyway, I got her to tell me about her sisters, and told her about mine. She complimented me on being a clean cook (hooray! The CA food safety card test paid off!), and complained that Alexandre is the only grandkid that visits her (she actually said "my other grandchildren abandoned me!"). She did give credit to one other grandson (Alexandre's cousin) who makes a point to call her, though.

Alexandre came back in to check on us periodically. At one point, The Grandmother went to the next room where they were sitting and said, "She is nice. I like her. Soon, she'll make the coxinhas better than I do!"  I was literally 5 feet away, so I just pretended not to hear.

So yes. I now know the ultimate coxinha recipe (and I have a big bag of ready-to-fry coxinhas in my freezer to boot!). And I think maybe, just maybe, I taught The Grandmother something too: that it's okay to share and be a little open with me (maybe she just didn't know what to do, since her 2 granddaughters aren't exactly close to her). I'm still deciding if I'm going to put the recipe on the blog... it took me a lot of ass-kissing and biting of my tongue to get it.  But I also believe that knowledge should be free and shared so... you'll probably get it tomorrow. Or... you could come visit me, and I could show you....

Success!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I Left My Heart in Sampa Querida

It's a 3-day weekend here in Brazil (maybe just in Sao Paulo, who knows?).  Anyhoo, I had really wanted to spend the weekend in the city of Sao Paulo, but since Alexandre has had to work almost every single weekend since we got back from the US in September, and since he's going to have to work every weekend until the end of the year, this was one of the only weekends we could visit his parents.

So we compromised. The in-laws live about 3 hours from Sao Paulo, so on Friday afternoon, we took a bus to their house. We ate dinner with them on Friday night, chatted, caught up, etc. Then we woke up early on Saturday morning and took a bus into Sao Paulo.

WHAT A WONDERFUL DAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY!

My only time in Sao Paulo before this trip was the day that Kristin got to Brazil and we walked a thousand miles doing nothing in particular, and then hung out at Alexandre's sister's apartment. It was a pleasant day, and gave me an idea of Sao Paulo, but yesterday was much more.... involved.

We started off at The Mercadão (literally: The Big Market).



It's a two-story indoor farmers market with dozens of stands selling produce, meats, nuts, spices, and also restaurant-type booths (the upper level has full-fledged restaurants, with seating and waiters).

We got to the Mercadão Saturday at lunchtime, and it was PACKED with people. It was insane! We found a booth selling delicious nuts, candies, and dried fruit by weight, so we stocked up on some of those to enjoy during the film festival showing planned for later in the day. 

As featured on No Reservations with Anthony Bordain, the Mercadão is famous for fresh cod, bologna sandwiches, and pasteis. I know the bologna sandwiches are super well-known and supposedly delicious, and I know that the cod is fresh, but I just lack the bologna-loving gene that my sister has, and I also don't like fried fish, so I decided to go with the ground beef pastel.  We had to wait about 20 minutes to get our pasteis, but we were on our little day trip and weren't in a hurry. I used the time in line to take some pictures:
This is the view of the second floor from the first floor
I call it "man and meat"


 
 
Unfortunately, I don't get my stitches out until Tuesday, so I've still got the bandage on my head. Plus, the black eye isn't completely gone, but luckily it isn't very visible in the picture.

After our tasty lunch, we made our way back to the metro in order to get to Avenida Paulista (the famous rich main avenue). But to get the metro, we had to take Avenida 25 de Março (the famous poor main avenue). This road has a makeshift street fair every day that sells cheap imported stuff from Paraguay, like plastic jewelry and crappy "Peruvian" scarves (probably made in China, not Peru) and knock-off Sony flash cards and memory sticks. Walking along 25 de Março was kind of an important moment for me. When I met Alexandre, one of the first books I bought to learn about Brazil was the textbook called "Brazil Since 1980", and it has 25 de Março on the cover. So to finally see it in person was.... I don't know, hard to explain. A sense of coming full circle. I had to take my own pictures, of course:





















So we made it through the throngs of people and found our way onto the metro. Going from 25 de Março to Avenida Paulista was like going from one world to another. Even the subway line that goes to the richer area is better-- air conditioned, with vending machines that sell books in the stations, cleaner, etc. Some of those differences are the result of the people using the different lines, but others (like the air-conditioned train cars) definitely show a bias on the part of the city. We went to Avenida Paulista to go watch a movie, because this weekend, there was an international film festival in Sao Paulo.

The movie was in a theatre that was inside a little mall/cultural center place. I'll get to that later. First, the movie. It was an American movie called The Nature of Existence. Alexandre chose it, of course. When he read me the description the night before (something like "a man explores life's big questions: Why are we here? What is morality? Does God exist?"), I was worried it was going to be fluffy and new-age-y.  But he has a much higher tolerance for that kind of stuff, and I knew he'd like it, so I agreed to go. Anyway, it ended up being really nice. It's thought-provoking without being tiring, broad without being too general, critical without being disrespectful.  Basically, the director of the documentary interviewed dozens of people from different religious backgrounds and asked the same questions, similar to those listed above, and collaged all the clips to compare their answers.  One of my favorite lines was from an artist named Durga Jasraj, who said, "It's nice to be important, but it's far more important to be nice."  I won't ruin the ending for you, but he made some good and appropriate conclusions. I recommend it if you can catch it somewhere near you.

It turned out that the director was there for the viewing, and he was hanging out in the lobby of the theatre after the screening.  (I found it ironic that my only 2 encounters with Americans in Brazil thus far have been 1. Missionaries and 2. A religious critic.) Anyway. Quite a few people stayed around to chat with him. Everyone was Brazilian except for me and one other American man. But all of the Brazilians who stayed to talk spoke English. And they asked him deep questions about the movie, how his beliefs changed, etc. And no one asked him things like "Were you friends with Michael Jackson?" or "Do you live in Beverly Hills?" or "Why don't you know any actors from Brazilian soap operas?" And nobody recorded him talking with their cell phones without his permission because it was their first time hearing English in real life (No, none of these comparisons are from experience...and by none of them I mean all of them). I love Sao Paulo. We stuck around for the discussion for a bit, and then the director invited his newfound fans to go to a restaurant to chat more. At this point, Alexandre and I congratulated him on a job well done, and went on our way. While it would've been nice to continue the discussion, we had other plans for dinner.

So yes, now, back to the mall/cultural center that held the small movie theatre. It also had a small modern art museum-- this month's feature was on the way Brazilian indians incorporate birds and feathers into their art and clothes.  It was beautiful. There were also statues scattered around, including a giant cigarette made of cigarette butts that the artist collected from streets.  Next to the statue was a sign with statistics about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

But the best part of the mall place was.... bum bum bum....



The three-story bookstore!

About 35% of the books were in English. And it was full of people, buying and reading books in both languages. I had never been so happy to wait in line at a bookstore before. I seriously almost cried when I realized the weight of the place, and how much I missed the pure joy of wandering around a bookstore, and crouching down to scan the bottom shelves to find a specific author, and seeing titles or authors that you've read and remembering the pleasure and memories and lessons from those books, and being among the literate masses (quite a change from the Barretos masses). I was in the second biggest city in the world, but would have been perfectly content spending the rest of the afternoon in that relatively small space of happiness. After about an hour, we had to drag ourselves out of there, because we had our itinerary for the rest of the evening.  I was also SO strong and only bought 2 books: the new J.M. Coetzee (not sure how new it is... it's new to me!), and, happily, Brazil by John Updike.  In general, I'm not one to re-read books (why waste time on that when there are so many other books to be read?!), but I read this book in the weeks before moving to Brazil. It was beautiful then, even without the cultural awareness that I have now. I'd been wanting to re-read it for a while, with my new, Brazil-influenced eyes. I already started re-reading it, and it's just wonderful.  His take on the culture and the social interactions is exact and perfectly articulated. I will never bother writing a book set in Brazil because this one already exists and I will never be able to top it. (But if Leo from The Lion's Den blog decides to do so after all, he may have a better chance!)

Yes, so, we finally left the bookstore, finding our way back out to the Avenue and the sunlight. We'd been in there so long that the sun was starting to set. It's summer here, so our day was deliciously warm, and long. Sunset meant dinnertime. Destination: Indian food. Alexandre wanted to try it, and so, from a friend, we had gotten the name and address of a restaurant off of Avenida Paulista, within walking distance of the magical mall/cultural center.

Indian food in Brazil is different from Indian food in the US. I'm not sure which one is more authentic, but both are good in their own right. Alexandre said it was one of the weirdest things he'd ever eaten, but not in a bad way-- it's just different and hard to compare to anything. I got some pictures, of course:


After our yummy dinner, we decided to try some ice cream at a little dessert shop that we had passed. But the ice cream was way overpriced, and we'd already spent enough money during the day, so we decided against it, and made our way back to the metro, which would take us to the bus station, where we would get the bus to take us back to Alexandre's parents' house. During the ride home, Alexandre slept, and I read.

If I lived in Sao Paulo, I would be broke and fat, but fulfilled.  It's something we've talked about. Alexandre's going to apply for residencies there, as well as in some other big cities. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Yeah, I know it's dangerous. But I'll take the risk of getting mugged over the living dead and overwhelming ignorance that is the city where we live now.

All in all, I had a fabulous day. Sampa, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, because you turned my brain on again and, however briefly it may turn out to be, took me out of my small-town depression.
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, for having a conscience.
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, for accepting people from every walk of life, and for not asking me where I'm from, because you just don't give a shit. And for meaning that in the nicest way possible.
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, for reading books and watching thoughtful movies and talking about them afterwards.
<3 I love you, Sao Paulo, for talking the talk and walking the walk, and not being only a shadow of social modernity (ou seja, for being The Real Thing).
<3 I love you Sao Paulo, for reminding me how much I love to live in big cities and to stare out the windows of the metro in the moments when it's above ground and feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself.

 look how happyyyyyyyy
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...