Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"A Woman's Guide to Winning a Man's Heart"

I am on vacation with Alexandre's family.  Alexandre's older sister has brought along 4 friends for the week. Instead of shooting someone out of rage and frustration, I've decided to write about it to entertain all of you fine people, most of whom have probably had some interaction with the people I am about to describe. I doubt I will offend anyone reading this, because anyone who takes the time to read my blog (and in English, to boot) does not fit this description due to their bilingual/critical thinking skills.

The following text is my analysis of patricinhas, or upper-class Brazilian twenty-something women, who I have been unwillingly subjected to for the past week.

The women here under my observation are currently reading the Portuguese translation of a book called "Why Men Marry Bitches: A Woman's Guide to Winning a Man's Heart." One of the girls brought it (full of highlights), and they have been pouring over it and analyzing it poolside, taking breaks only to turn over on their lawn chairs or to instead pour over and analyze the latest issue of Cosmopolitan (called Nova in Portuguese) or Claudia (the Portuguese version of Jane).

The women here are all more or less single. Two of them have "paqueros", which I may be spelling wrong and which can mean either "love interest" or "casual boyfriend." But none of them are satisfied: with their relationships, specifically, or with their lives, in general. I think I have an idea of why. But first, let me help you get a sense of who an upper-class Brazilian twenty-something woman (UCBTSW) is. I've developed a profile, laid out below:


The UCBTSW:

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
This woman is frail-- usually physically, and always mentally. She is always on the verge of a tantrum or a breakdown. She can't lift boxes or operate heavy machinery. (That's why she has maids and drivers. Yes, drivers.) She pays for the most expensive gym in town, and the fanciest name-brand gym clothes, but her workouts are sparse because sweating is gross, and her physical endurance is low.

VIEWS ON THE WORLD
For the UCBTSW, the world is a Dangerous place, with a capital D! Every new situation should be faced with fear. Every challenge should be avoided. Everyone is trying to kill her or trick her into giving up her money. The question is never, ever "Why not?" but always "Why? What if I get hurt?"

VIEWS ON HERSELF
The UCBTSW was raised constantly hearing "You are a princess!", whether directly or indirectly. She was always given the best clothes and the newest toys. But most importantly, she was never asked to do anything in return. She was shown that she deserved the best of everything simply for existing. She was taught that, because she "is who she is" (i.e. from a rich family and probably white), she is better than everyone who is not those things, better than the poor dark maid who cleans her toilets and brings her more juice. Chores? That's for people in the favelas! She was also never required to do anything she didn't want to do. You don't want to finish your peas? No problem, sweetie. You don't want to do your homework? That's okay, minha filha, I'll tell your teacher you were sick. You don't want to do your required internship in college? That's fine, baby! Work is for poor people. I'll give you the money to pay some student on a scholarship to go for you and sign your name.

As a result of this treatment, the UCBTSW has a very high opinion of herself. She feigns modesty by complaining about her cellulite and under-eye circles, but her complaints and demands reveal her true thoughts. The phrase "Who do you think I am?" is not foreign on the tongue of a UCBTSW. It is a common reaction when being asked to sit in the backseat of the car, or to help load groceries from the cart onto the cashier's little conveyor belt at the grocery store. It would most certainly be her reaction if she were asked to do things that are unheard of in the life of a UCBTSW, such as sit at the same table as the maid, or clean her dishes off of the table after dinner, or buy clothes downtown.

Unfortunately, due to too much inbreeding and too much plastic surgery, the UCBTSW isn't exactly a looker (though this isn't what ultimately leaves her perpetually single). Of course, her friends make a point to tell her how sexy, hot, gostosa, and linda she is when they're around her, only to give each other "the poor thing" faces and click their tongues a bit when the subject of her lack of beauty comes up. However, not being a looker doesn't do much to dissuade the UCBTSW from using her Orkut profile to post entire albums of pictures of herself making "sexy" poses and come-hither looks into the camera. (It's important that it is only the UCBTSW in the Orkut photo album entitled "EU! rsrs :* :* ", even if that means cutting friends out of pictures in which she thinks she looks particularly cute.)

ROUTINE
The perpetual student, the UCBTSW is always enrolled in a "curso" of some kind. The ultimate goal of the UCBTSW's education is not to be educated (because studying is boring and she doesn't like conversations about nerdy things, especially politics-- she's "completamente fora disso!"), but to minimize the time between being provided for by her parents and being provided for by her husband. A "curso", of course, is also a good place to meet a guy!

The UCBTSW has few responsibilities, which leaves her plenty of time for the most important things in life: shopping, manicures, pedicures, waxes, naps, and baladas. (One vague translation of baladas is "nights on the town.") She quickly resorts to tantrums when asked to have any kind of responsibility of any kind, such as stopping by the post office for her mother or picking up some lettuce on the way home from the spa. Despite all of her free time, the UCBTSW always feels far too busy, overworked, and overwhelmed, and needs therapy and massages to help her deal with her stress.

LIKES AND DISLIKES
The UCBTSW's preferences never stray from the status quo. It is also unnecessary to distinguish "dislikes" from "fears" in her mind.

She has a fear of:

-the sun and heat (but also of air conditioners, which just make the air so dry!!)
-wrinkles
-cooking
-being dirty
-being tired
-insects and all wild creatures, including but not limited to:
spiders
frogs
flies
lizards
mosquitoes
cockroaches
ants
black people
poor people
people with tattoos
people without shoes


-and of course, the constant and frequently mentioned fear of being robbed, raped, and ravaged.
------------------
She is a fan of:
-sarongs
-American pop singers, esp. Avril Lavine, Colbie Caillat, and signing along even when she doesn't understand. You know, because English is "chique". And because her mother told her her whole life that she sings like an angel, even though she doesn't. At all.
-the phrases "No aguento mais!" ("I cant TAKE IT anymore!") and "gente!" ("Oh my god, you guys!")
-waxing
-beauty and fashion magazines
-gossip (even though she lists it as a dislike in her Orkut profile, along with "pessoas falsas" ("fake people")
-naps

-and of course, never-ending adolescence.



VIEWS ON MEN
Similar to her views on life, the UCBTSW assumes the worst about all men. Men are dogs! They're liars! Cheaters! Womanizers! they only want the UCBTSW for sex. The UCBTSW starts every relationship on a basis of suspicion. The man is "guilty until proven innocent, which he can never prove, so he is always guilty." The UCBTSW constantly checks her boyfriend's phone and Orkut for messages from other girls. She drives by his house and stops by his work to see if he's there when he says he is. She constantly bad mouths him, to and in front of friends.

Her views on men are clear. However, her views on men's and women's roles in relationships are a mess of contradictions. On the one hand, the UCBTSW cannot be expected to "settle" for any man who is not "like her" or "of her caliber": he must be tall, handsome, rich, have a degree, a good job, a sense of humor, and most importantly, a nice car. He must take care of her and treat her like the princess that she is. On the other hand, he must respect her as a woman (she has a DEGREE, after all! Not to mention her family!) and treat her as his equal.... when it is convenient for her.


WHY THE UCBTSW CAN'T GET A GUY TO MARRY HER
This profile summary of the UCBTSW brings me to the point of my analysis and why a silly self-help book isn't going to do any good. And I'll give you a hint: it's not only because the book has the following advice:

The key word is admiration. The man must know and feel that you admire him. If he knows this, he will offer you the world!

The reason the UCBTSW can't get a man is because the gap between what she believes she has to offer in the relationship and what she actually has to offer is far, far far too wide. She believes that she can have women's rights and equality and all that good feminist stuff that the rest of us have worked so hard for WITHOUT giving anything in return and WHILE still being 100% taken care of.

The UCBTSW is single not because of her botched Botox but because she is too demanding and too boring. She has no hobbies or interests or passions. She has no domestic skills, which are required not as a wife but as a person. (She has likely never ironed a shirt or washed a load of laundry in her life.) She has an inflated sense of entitlement and holds backwards, racist, elitist, simplified views of her fellow citizens. She can't carry on a conversation and she can't take even a moment of discomfort. THIS IS ANNOYING FOR ANY MAN.

Which leads me to why the UCBTSW is unhappy in general: her definition of discomfort is VERY, VERY BROAD. Because she was raised to be given everything she could ever want or dream of, and never had to just "suck it up" in any way, her list of demands for comfort are high. Her pillowcases need to match her bedspread. She can't have less than 8 hours of sleep. Her onions must be chopped, not diced. She can't share a room. She can't be in a car with people who have ever gotten car sick, because vomiting disgusts her. She can't get rained on, she can't walk more than 2 blocks, she needs to always have a specific brand of hand soap because every other brand gives her a rash.

It is impossible for the UCBTSW to be satisfied, with men specifically and with life in general, and so she is never happy. And no equally superficial self-help book is going to change that.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bahia Part VI: The Islands!

So our last full day in Bahia was spent taking a boat out to two small, isolated, relatively unpopulated islands about 2 hours away from the coast.

Oh. man.

Remember those Club Med commercials?

This is from ClubMed. It was kind of like that.

Not much to tell about the islands except for the obvious: We spent the day on a boat visiting tropical islands. We swam in the sea and laid on lawn chairs and ate freshly fried cheese and drank cocktails and read books and rode on a boat. Of course it was fabulous. You are so jealous.  The end.
I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

 
The Marina (and Salvador behind it)





our entertainment on the boat




first sight of the first island




the first island, where men walk around selling freshly fried cheese and drinks. Mmm!
if you look very closely, you can see a guy who was so happy to be there that he did a cartwheel.




us on the boat, happy as clams



the view of the second island (do you see the horse?)


 
The second island had a little restaurant where we had lunch and then were allowed to use their beach chairs and leave our stuff while we swam. These are the beach chairs, and our view from them.




us on the boat, Titanic style (kind of)


So yeah. A-mazing!!!!!!

When we got back to the mainland, we met up with the family again for our last dinner together. MORE cousins showed up, and another aunt. And they were all just as great as the others.  They took us to the Mexican restaurant in Salvador, because they knew that I like to cook Mexican food. (Good intentions, right?) Of course it was not authentic, but it was good in its own right, and the cousins love it, so it was all good.  We stayed at the restaurant for like, 4 hours, just talking and laughing, and then went to the new aunt's house to continue the festivities.


Remember that we had woken up at like 6:30 to get the boat? Yeah, exhausted. But very much worth it.
I had to hold back tears when we finally said goodbye to everyone. I explained to Alexandre that, in terms of fun extended family connected-ness, our life back in São Paulo is like a fancy vegan restaurant with tiny portions and very breakable plates. I've only had that restaurant for almost 2 years now. And this trip to Bahia was like taking me to a huge delicious all-you-can-eat churrascaria and letting me pig out for one big meal, only to shut the doors on it and take it away! (I know that's kind of mean for the family here in Sao Paulo, but, well, aside from the very nice in-laws, they kind of suck... the siblings/cousins our age really have no interest in getting to know me or even being polite to me. But anyway.)  His Bahia family was so loving and open and interesting and nice to be around and, to continue the metaphor, I've really been starved for family-type relationships since I moved here. Too bad that Bahia's so far away! But everyone agreed that since we all know how cool we are now, we really have to make an effort to see each other more. They've already planned out our next trip with all the things we just didn't have time to do (like eat at Yemanja, which Greg recommended and which was, incidentally, next door to our hotel), and we're trying to convince them to come out to São Paulo.

So yes, Bahia was great, Family is great, Tropical Islands are great, and a summer Christmas wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

The end!




Bahia! (Part V:The Beach)

After our very busy full first day, full Day 2 was spent on the beach. Like, all day. FABULOUS. The beaches here have little huts that sell drinks and appetizers. If you buy from them, you get to sit at their tables and use their lawn chairs and giant beach umbrellas and basically be waited on all day. I got drunk on 2 caipirinhas and laid in the sand and read and listened to music and tried (unsuccessfully) to get a tan. Pretty much the most relaxing day ever.

Yes, Danette, I still have the dress


Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes-- I wore sunblock. Please do not tell me to be sure to wear sunblock. If one more person tells me to wear sunblock, I might squirt the stuff into their eyes. I mean, seriously. Some people here (here Brazil, not only here Salvador) seem to think that, just because I'm white, I must have grown up in the Arctic Circle and never been somewhere with sun before. How did I live with such white skin all my life?!?! What would I do without them telling me to put on sunblock?! Seriously, after like the 15th person telling me, "Oh, you're going to Bahia? Be sure to wear sunblock! Você é bem branquinha! (You are really white!)" I said, "Oh my god?! I'm white?! REALLY!? Holy crap!" At least Alexandre laughed.


we are so fabulous! As Auntie Tammy would say

Anyway, back to relaxing beach day. For a late lunch, we had... surprise: Sushi. Then we came back to the hotel to sleep (read: to recover from our day of gluttonous eating and drinking.) The family people were busy today, so we just spent the evening relaxing in the hotel and actually, ya know, being on vacation.

Tomorrow morning we have THE BOAT. I don't know much about it except that it's a boat that will take us to some islands, where we'll get lunch and a tour. And that we have to be ready to go at 7:30am. And that tomorrow's supposed to be a sunny day at like 90 degrees. I'll be sure to take pictures!

By the way, Merry Christmas! You can give me a present by leaving me a comment. :D

Read Part VI here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bahia! (Part IV: The First Full Day)


On our first full day, Daniela and Ana Maria picked us up at 9:00 in the morning (9:25 BrazilTime) and took us to Pelorinho, which is the historical downtown area of the city. We were already lucky enough to have such wonderful company to show us around, and to make things even better, Ana Maria is a high school history teacher who loves giving her students units on local history. So she gave us all kinds of interesting tidbits about the things we were seeing. Oh, and I saw more Americans in the morning that we spent in the Pelorinho than I have seen in my entire time in Brazil, but I didn't talk to anyone. I don't know. I mean, what would I say? I doubt that the rest of them have been living in the Brazilian countryside for almost 2 years with little-to-no contact with their fellow citizens. So they would just think I was weird.

the youngins at a vista point, and me looking like I'm 12


Alexandre the Rastafarian, his aunt Ana Maria, and some fellow tourists

I'm going to kind of rush through the rest of the day, because it was a lot of driving and sightseeing and more driving and more sightseeing, and my reactions to it are those listed above. At one point, Daniela had to go to work, and we met up with Aunt Julia. I got to know Julia better during the second half of the day. She lacks the bleeding heart that her sisters share, and has a certain hardness to the problems of the world that is less indifference and more realism and that I could really appreciate.


I will have to say that there is something distinct about Bahian culture that just does not mesh well with me. It is the complete and utter lack of planning and communication about what is going to happen during the day. Like, when I left my hotel in the morning, I knew only of the Pelorinho trip, and I assumed lunch would be involved. So I figured after lunch we'd be back in our hotel or something. I can keep up with a long day if I know it's going to be a long day, but it gets harder and harder to be awake and peppy when you keep thinking you're going to get a chance to rest and the day just never seems to end.

We'd do some touristy thing, and then the aunts would say, "oh, ok! Now we're gonna go do THIS!" and they'd whisk us off to some other place. And I'd think that that was the last place. But then they'd start driving to what I thought was the hotel, but it wasn't. And Alexandre would ask, "where are we going?" And they'd say "oh, now we're going to THIS place." And it was not the hotel.

At one point, I asked, "What is the plan for the rest of the day?" to kind of mentally prepare myself for however longer I had to be awake and focusing to understand the conversation. The Aunts mentioned two more things, but we ended up making a couple of extra pit stops.

9pm rolled around. I was exhausted, hungry (we'd eaten like birds at some vegan restaurant for lunch, at Julia's recommendation), and frustrated over being left out of the loop all day. Our "schema" (Bahia word) was entirely opposite from the way vacation days go in the US: When we went home in August and spent the day with everyone, it was like ...wake up in the morning, then "what do you want to do today?" and then throw around some ideas, set up a tentative itinerary, and keep everyone informed about it. If someone wanted to change plans along the way, everyone else was included, and the "schema" of the day was reorganized. THIS IS NOT THE BAHIA WAY.

"The Bahia Way" is more like... "Oh! You haven't eaten for 9 hours, but that's okay. We just decided right now that we want to stop by your mother's cousin's ex-wife's house to see if she's home. She'd probably like to see you. And we're not gonna call her first, even though we all have cell phones. We're just gonna suffer through Salvador traffic for 45 minutes to get to her house, only to have her not be home. And we're not gonna tell you that we're going there until we're halfway there."

None of that is an exaggeration.

We waited in the car while the aunts rang the mother's cousin's ex-wife's doorbell 500 times, and THEN called her cell phone to see where she was. And I complained to Alexandre that they were being very generous to take us around and everything, but I just needed some goddamned food at least, and a shower at best. So when the aunts came back in the car, Alexandre asked about the plans for dinner.

"Oh, you're going to eat at your Aunt Ana Maria's house. Daniela is preparing something now." I was tempted to ask to just go back to the hotel. In fact, I was mumbling it to Alexandre in English in the backseat: "Just ask them to take us back to the hotel."

"Come on, let's go to her house!" he insisted. "You'll feel better after you eat. Do it for me!" So I did, and he was right. Ana Maria's house was full of warmth and calm, happy energy. I don't know how else to explain it except in that hippie way. It was a modest apartment about 1/5 of the size of Julia's, and about 5 times more comfortable. We were greeted by Daniela, her older brother (Alexandre's other cousin), and Ana Maria's husband. Daniela had made pizza and soup for us, and we all crowded around the tiny kitchen table and ate and laughed. I felt 100% to be out of the car, eating, and in such good company.

After the dinner, we showed each other pictures (theirs from their vacations, mine of my family, via Facebook) and talked about our day. And we left exhausted but happy.

When we got back to the hotel, I took a shower and I think I may have actually been asleep before I got into the bed. Not sure. Things started to get fuzzy while we were walking up the stairs to the room.

Stay tuned for the second full day!
Read Part V here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bahia! (Part III: Our First Night)

Here's the first entry about what we actually did.

Alexandre's mother grew up in a small town in the Bahia interior, and she and her two sisters moved to Salvador as soon as they were old enough. (His mother then made her way south for her residency, and the sisters stayed behind.) So the sisters are here now, with their own husbands and kids. They are as different as night and day, but each is wonderful in her own right. (The whole thing feels very "In the Time of the Butterflies" by Julia Alvarez, in more ways than the obvious.)

When we got here on Thursday night, we got settled in at the hotel and then called Alexandre's aunt Ana Maria, and her daughter (Alexandre's cousin) Daniela. They came to pick us up. They pulled up into the hotel's drop-off area and practically fell out of the car in excitement. They were dancing around in the parking lot and hugging us and shouting.

"YOU'RE SO BEAUTIFUL!" exclaimed Daniela when she saw me. I was a bit taken aback. "Oh! Well, thank you! You are too!" I said. I figured that was the appropriate response, and it wasn't a lie: she IS beautiful.

"We have to take pictures!" exclaimed Ana Maria. The first time in my case that anyone has ever wanted to document a reunion/introduction. So we took a bunch of pictures there in the hotel drop off/loading area. It was a good moment to do it, I realized. Everyone was so smiley and giddy. Their giddiness was contagious.


Here I channel Patty with my facial expression


 Alexandre is slightly addicted to shrimp, and his favorite way to get a hit is through acarajé, a traditional fried snack that calls Bahia its home. So the first place we went to was the Farol de Barra, which is a big lighthouse-turned-museum. It was night and the museum was closed, but the acarajé stands were still up and bustling. We enjoyed the acarajé (mine, no shrimp, extra peppers) and chatted with Daniela and Ana Maria, and took a bunch more pictures. Then we walked up and down the boardwalk around the lighthouse and dipped our feet in the Atlantic. (Only the second time in my life seeing the Atlantic Ocean: the first time was the beaches in São Paulo. California born and raised and not well-traveled.)

After our little walk, Ana Maria and Daniela took us to the other aunt's apartment. The other aunt's name is Julia. I'd like to point out here that Julia's apartment was staggeringly big. The whole place just screamed excess. There were also low ceilings and no balconies, so it felt kind of suffocating. Julia's husband (Alexandre's uncle by marriage) has some high position in PetroBras, and Julia is quite the trophy wife.


Anyway, Julia was having a Spiritualismo meeting and after, celebrating her husband's birthday with some friends (most of whom were at the Spiritualismo meeting). Ana Julia has a son named Hugo who is my and Alexandre's age. We got there right when the meeting was finishing up, and the apartment was quiet in prayer. So Hugo took us all into his room to chat.

Hugo is finishing up his degree in architecture, and is an exceptional artist. His room was packed with books along one wall and paintings and pictures along the other. Each boy the other's only male cousin in the same age group, so Alexandre and Hugo were so happy to see each other after literally years of communicating only over phone and Orkut. They got to talking at Hugo's desk, while Daniela and I talked on the bed, and she filled me in on the fact that, behind the perfect apartment's perfect design and matching furniture and glass tables was a mess of family secrets that very quickly explained the tense suffocation that I mentioned earlier.  Every family has its own drama!

Over the next hour, the religious meeting ended, Daniela had to leave, and some of Hugo's friends showed up, and we all sang happy birthday to the uncle. I'll have to admit here that the night got progressively less fun. Hugo and his friends were cool at first because they like good music and were playing guitar and using YouTube to show each other music that I also like. The girl sang a bit, and sounded like Jolie Holland, and I wanted to tell her who Jolie Holland is, but the friends were acting too weird. Alexandre then informed me that they had shown up on something and that his slightly sheltered cousin hadn't figured it out. ("How do you know?" I asked. "Because I know drug slang in Portuguese and you don't," he said.) Hugo kept asking them, "Are you guys drunk?" and they just laughed breathily and avoided answering. So then they seemed less cool.

Hugo was very friendly and open and talked to us, but then after, when another handful of his friends showed up, it was understandably difficult for him to keep us in the conversation. Plus, we were really, really tired. So we asked Aunt Julia if someone could take us home or if she could call us a cab or something. Of course she said no to the cab, and her husband ran us back to the hotel.

Meh.
Stay tuned for the first full day!

Read Part IV here.

Bahia! (Part II)

To encourage you to actually read about the trip, I've divided the entries into a few different ones that I've scheduled to be published over the course of a few days. CAN YOU STAND THE SUSPENSE?! Ha. Right.

So here are my observations about Salvador so far (the residents reading can tell me if I'm close):

Salvador is a pulsing microcosm with its own kind of flow in the days and the speech of its residents. You really feel the "happy, slow Brazilian way of life" that fills the travel tales that make it outward and across Brazilian borders.

There is so much history here. Salvador was one of the first cities colonized in Brazil, and some of the stuff here is OLD, and amazing. Churches from 1570. Piers and houses on the marina with just as many years. With all this history, there is a grand sense of consequence. You see people begging in front of the old museums, people drinking in plastic chairs in the cobblestone plazas, and men trying to run simple internet cafés out of 400-year-old buildings, and you can't help but think to yourself, "is this what the Portuguese conquistadors had in mind?" However, it's clear that few people who contributed to Salvador's development cared what "the conquistadors had in mind." There were a variety of cultures brought together in a very short time, and everyone added in a little something, from Carnaval to candomblé. The result is a mixed bag that, with a little patience, open-mindedness, and alegria, works.

Salvador is the beautiful land of opposites. There are slums across the street from country clubs, cactus growing on the beach, nuns wearing Havaianas (giving life to the company's slogan "todo o mundo usa"), and the very very rich smashed up against the very very poor. The land is even physically divided into the Cidade Baixa (Low City) and Cidade Alta (High City), bringing to life the "more is up" metaphor from my linguistics classes.

The poorer of the residents descend one of the many endless and steep concrete staircases that line the favela-filled hills (they all look to be on the verge of a landslide) and go to work performing manual labor or service jobs for the richer of the residents. (The hillside favelas remind me of the first scene in "Sula" by Toni Morrison when she talks about "The Bottom", a slum at the top of the mountain in the American South where the rich people banished the poor people after Jim Crow laws went into effect but the rich didn't want them mixing too much. The rich tried to make the slum more appealing, and called it "the Bottom" because it was so high up that it was practically "The bottom of heaven".)

Anyway, these Salvador poor silently bring drinks to the rich, while the rich talk about their daughter's plastic surgery on her ears ("the other kids in the housing complex called her Dumbo! She just couldn't take it") and how the maid is like family ("24 years she's been with us! She charges more now, but who can blame her? We have 5 bathrooms between the 4 of us"). (I'd like to point out here that I've always thought that statements like "the maid is like family" are so patronizing; you don't pay family to clean your toilets. Someone who is "family" cannot be inherently inferior. But I hear that statement frequently here in Brazil.)

Anyway. It feels like there is only a tiny sliver of a middle class here, and it's constantly treading water to stay afloat. So the gap between the poor and the rich is striking.

So that's the first round of thoughts from the Bahia trip. My observations are pretty heavy and serious, but that's just how my brain works. Our activities of our days here have been much lighter and more flow-y, in the Bahia family way. Tomorrow, you can read about Day 1 with The Family!

Read Part III here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bahia!

Bahia is such an interesting place.


I love street food. Anthony Bordain is my idol.

I've been writing notes on paper while wandering around the city. I wrote this after our first night, though my opinions and observations have since been remolded a bit and become more complex:

First Thoughts on Bahia
It's a beautiful city with happy, beautiful (albeit sometimes strangely dressed) people. There have been quite a few instances of strikingly beautiful women with atrociously tacky dresses.QUITE A FEW.

The terrain and the history of this city really lend itself to art. I'd write a lot more if I had enough time to breathe here. I'll try to get in some breathing time this week, but...
...It looks like most of our time this week is going to be spent not on the beach drinking cocktails, but exploring the city with Alexandre's cousins. But that's A-Okay. These cousins are way cooler (and by cooler, I mean less closed off and snooty and instead open and friendly and inclusive) than the southern side of the extended family. They've already filled me in on a ton of family gossip, and they have bookshelves in their rooms and they draw and play instruments for fun and when we're watching movies and or listening to music, they ask me what I think instead of just asking me, "Are you understanding?" and then going back to whispering amongst themselves. Like, literally whispering and making the room so awkward that I just leave. No, none of these comparisons are from experience....
The ocean is clear and sparkly here, even at night, but the boardwalk smells like pee. But that's cool, I don't plan to spend much time on the boardwalk.
We're gonna take a boat to some islands sometime this week. It'll probably as cool as the train ride.



More later!


Read Part II of our Bahia trip here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

T-5 Days and Counting

On Sunday, we are going to the fabulous...


Salvador, Bahia!

It's one of the poorest regions of Brazil, but also one of the most beautiful. It's 30 degrees south of the equator. Alexandre has a lot of family there, but we didn't want to impose, so... we got a beachfront hotel.

I. am. so. excited.

When we're not doing family things (Alexandre has a cousin who is our age and is also named Danielle, should be awesome), I plan to sip caipirinhas on the beach and sleep in and be all around lazy. I'm even thinking about leaving my computer at home, but.... I probably won't.

I know a lot of you LIVE in Bahia. If you have any recommendations for beaches/restaurants/tourist-y things, I'd love to hear it! (I know this is kind of sacreligious in Bahia, but I'm not a big fan of fried fish or shellfish. I know, but I like sushi. I know, that's weird. Get over it.)

I also know I'm white, I'm American, I'll get hounded and heckled and overcharged and maybe mugged, yadayada. At least that's what Paulistas love to tell me. But I refuse to live my life thinking everyone's out to get me. So I plan to just let Alexandre do the talking to avoid any shibboleths, and to not do anything stupid (like go to an ATM at 2 in the morning and things like that), and spend the rest of the time relaxing and enjoying myself.

Ok, back to work. 5 more days! Tropical beach, here we come!


FYI on the shibboleth reference: I'm not that smart, I just watch a lot of West Wing.


Monday, December 14, 2009

My Scar

So you may remember a couple of months ago when I fainted while taking blood and whacked my head on some tile and got 5 stitches.

If not, that's what happened.

I now have a big scar on my forehead:



Brazilian women love to point it out to me, as if I don't know that I have a long neuron-shaped dash on my face. I don't get too offended, necessarily: I chalk it up to another case of Latin American Honesty, which is a term I made up. Is anybody with me on this? Does anyone else agree that Latin American women, and especially middle-aged Latin American women, lack the tact and PC commentary that we have in the United States?

I mean, I just remember growing up with all of the Mexican mothers of my friends telling me things like, "here, honey, I brought you this soap back from Tijuana... you know, to help with your bad skin," and "wow, you've really gained some weight, m'ija." And I remember thinking, "dude, these are not appropriate things to say to a kid."

But it happens here in Brazil, too. There are so, so many women in my social networks named Ana Carolina. But people distinguish them by saying things like, "you know, the Carolina gordinha." (If you didn't figure that out, it means "the chubby Carolina".) I refuse to do that, and refer to them as like "blonde-haired Carol" or "the one with the cats."

So with my scar, it's no different. I get comments like, "wow, that ended up being pretty ugly!" and "Jesus, your scar is big!"

But here's the thing about politeness: It's relative. Americans don't bow to greet older people, but does that mean we're rude? No. That's why my term is Latin American Honesty and not Latin American Rudeness. I really just don't think it's considered rude here for people (especially if it's a fellow woman old enough to be your mother) to say things like "you have acne" or "you're kind of fat" or "your scar sucks."

But more importantly, I care much less about my scar than anyone else does. I guess because I saw how horrible it was when it happened, so for me, this line is like, nothing compared to the original gaping bone-revealing hole and black eye that it started out as. Also, when the whole thing happened, I hurt my neck, and the doctors were all paranoid that I'd messed up some nerves, and they made me do CTs and wear an uncomfortable neck brace and I was totally freaked out that I'd become paralyzed or blind or something (just because Alexandre knows about medicine doesn't mean I do). So I'm just happy that all I have is this scar and I'm not like, a quadriplegic.

But no matter how much zen I feel about my scar, women here will continue to tell me, "nossa mas fica feia, hein?". To which I respond with "então!..." in that snooty Brazilian woman way. (If you speak Portuguese, you know exactly which "então!..." I'm talking about.)

Oh well.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pictures!

All of the pictures from the trip are up!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielleinbrazil/

They are in the 2 sets on the right called "Curitiba" and "The train ride." Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Magical Weekend in Paraná

All right, so I'm gonna try to hurry up and get through the story of our first day in Curitiba, because I'm SUPER excited to tell you about the train ride omg omg

Curitiba is an interesting and advanced metropolis. What with everything in the list I gave you the other day, plus its Sam's Club, Blockbuster, fast food chains, and openly gay couples, I really felt right at home. We stayed in a decent hotel downtown, and took a shuttle that goes from the airport to major points in the city in order to get there.

Alexandre's parents had been in Curitiba since Thursday, and his dad was in meetings, so his mom met us at the bus stop. After dropping off our stuff in the room and all that, Alexandre, The Mother-in-Law and I walked around the downtown area for a couple hours, checking out all the sites (like the historical plazas, the giant cathedral, and all the little stores. Oh, and a delicious candy/dessert shop. Yum). We had lunch at a sushi buffet where we paid by weight (a common style of restaurants in Brazil, but the first time I'd seen it in a sushi place. Fabulous idea!).

Then we went up to our rooms to take a nap before the city tour Alexandre's mom had scheduled. (She organized the entire weekend. Great things just kept happening.) We were the only people to sign up for our specific group time, so it was like our own private tour! Our guide drove us around to the city's famous tourist spots, like the botanical garden (with its greenhouse and perfectly symmetrical labyrinth shrubs), the big museum / cultural center, the beautiful open-air opera house, and this civic center monument place. I don't remember all the exact names of everything, because the tour was in Portuguese. But I'm sure you can find everything online. I wanna hurry up and get to the part about the train.


Alexandre, his mom and I at the botanical garden



The guide also took us to a little historical village area. It was originally a Polish settlement, where Polish colonizers built wood houses Lincoln Log-style and maintained the cultures and traditions of the old country. There was a small church with a shrine to the pope and prayers written on the walls in Polish. There were cabins that had their original furniture and decorations on display.... you know, "to see how life was like" and all that (San Diego residents, think Old Town).



After the Polish colony, we went to.... I don't know what to call it. It said "University of Environmental Science," but it wasn't a university, but more like a natural preserve. Our tour guide decided to take us around sunset, which is the creepiest time. We had to walk through these shrubby trails where we could hear lots of creatures but couldn't see them. This video is the sound of frogs.... yes, frogs. I thought they were birds, or bugs. But the guide said nope, frogs:

















The preserve had a big pond and a building for meetings and luncheons and things, I imagine. The building was a circle and a staircase went around it, up to the top. At the top were views of the preserve and the city. So beautiful! The preserve was the last stop on our tour.

After the tiring but exciting tour, we met up with Alexandre's father at the hotel, who had since finished his stuff and rested there. We had about 15 minutes to sit down before Alexandre's mother insisted that we go watch the Christmas show being held in/on the HSBC building. (HSBC Brazil's headquarters are in an enormous beautiful building in downtown Curitiba, about 6 blocks from where our hotel was.) When Alexandre's mom said that she wanted to go to the Christmas show, Alexandre's dad said, "We already went last night. You two go with her. I can't take that thing for another night."

Oh, Yes. The Christmas show. The theme was "Christmas Around the World," and it was local children in the windows of the HSBC building calling upon the spirit of Christmas to come to Curitiba to teach them the Christmas songs from around the world...Oh boy!

It was a great thing for the city to provide for kids to watch. If I had children, I would've thought it was just lovely. But I don't have children, and the entire thing was made up of kids singing, which most women of child-bearing age find adorable, but which I seriously consider to be one of the most annoying sounds on earth, right up there with car alarms and alarm clocks and pirated R&B ringtones. But Alexandre's mother was just so darn excited, and we didn't want to let her down by leaving 5 minutes into the thing. So I told her she could be in charge of my camera, and she insisted on pushing her way up to the front to try to get video. And then we "lost her" (and by "lost her," I mean "walked back to the hotel as soon as she was out of sight and went to the room to watch Parks and Recreation on my laptop"). When she got back to the hotel and came to our room, we said things like, "oh, gee! We must've lost you! But wasn't it great? We just got here." But she knows when her own son is lying, so she scowled a bit and gave me my camera and mumbled that we missed a really great show.

Oh well.

We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant that everyone had insisted was so delicious and fabulous but that was honestly kind of blah. During dinner, Alexandre's mom asked me to teach her the words of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (How do you explain the word "tidings"? I'm not even sure what it means, exactly. I guessed that it's like blessings and gifts. I just looked it up and it turns out it means "news or information."). For the rest of the night, Alexandre's father teased his wife by singing his non-English-speaking rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" over and over. (I do not need to wonder where Alexandre gets his teasing gene from.)


Us at the just-okay Italian restaurant (now you know the name; sorry if I've offended any Curitiba residents!)

After dinner, we went back to the hotel to sleep. We needed our rest for the big day on the train!

------------------------------------------
Yes, okay, is it train time now? Yes! So we took a train called the Serra Verde Express from Curitiba to a small riverside town called Morretes. This train ride today is made specifically for tourists. On our train, there were Spaniards sitting behind us (we became buddies with the mother-son duo, my Spanish is still destroyed) Italians sitting directly in front of us (they spoke English with the guides but were kind of anti-social), me, and a train car full of rowdy Brazilians, completely fulfilling the "loud Brazilian" stereotype. (In Brazil's defense, it was the first time I'd ever experienced that-- a group of rambunctious Brazilians, yelling and talking over each other instead of quietly enjoying the thing. Alexandre apologized to the Spanish family.)

It's not the town of Morretes that has anything particularly interesting-- it's the spectacular 3-hour train ride through the Mata Atlántica that makes the day trip.

I mean, I've been trying to think of how to describe the train ride to really give you an idea of how it was. But no words are enough, and the pictures I took don't do it justice, either. So I decided to give you a generational-specific list of American references that will perhaps give you all (or maybe just Danette) an idea of what it was like:

To picture the train ride, think Land Before Time meets Wild Wild West meets Ferngully meets Dr. Seuss meets The Jungle Cruise meets Thunder Mountain meets Level 9 of Sonic the Hedgehog 2.


(the one with all the vines)


If you can imagine that, then you are correctly picturing the Brazilian rain forest railroad.


If you can't, just know that it was pretty much one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my entire life, for less than the price of a sushi dinner.


Sometimes the train track route was so thick with greenery that we couldn't even put any limbs out the window to take a picture or enjoy the breeze, because they'd get sucked into the wall of flora. Or at least scratched, for sure.












Sometimes we rode over rickety bridges that were so precarious that everyone gasped and "Oh my God!" could be heard in four different languages at the same time.



And at some points it looked like we were running at ground level but then there'd be a gap in the canopy-- (remember when you learned the cool word "canopy" in elementary school science when you learned about the rain forest? But then it slowly changed its semantics to refer to like, blue plastic tarps?) anyway, there'd be a gap in the canopy and we'd realize it was a canopy and not a forest floor and that we were actually possibly hundreds of feet above ground looking down into some of the world's oldest trees and the force of a rushing river making its way south to the sea.



The ride wasn't all rosas de banana and waterfalls. We passed tiny towns that can't even be called towns because they are almost all nameless, just small gatherings of humans trying to live off the land and their shoeless children running up to the train tracks to beg for food. The guide told us not to throw our complementary snack boxes out the window, as heartbreaking as the sight was, because it encouraged the kids to continue their risky business of running around the train tracks. She promised that, if we gave the train company any leftover food, they would donate it to the church in Morretes. But the bleeding hearts aboard (Alexandre's mother included) ignored the advisory and threw the snack boxes out the window. I was conflicted, but... at least it wasn't getting wasted, I guess.



Morretes is a city of 18,000 that sits along a huge wide river. (Can someone tell me the name? Because I can't figure it out.) The region produces ginger, mandioca, soy, and some fish, but depends largely on train tourism. We ate lunch on the second story of a restaurant on the river. Our lunch was typical food from the region: a meat dish called barreado that was apparently invented by slaves (not unlike the country's famous feijoada dish). Barreado is slow-cooked beef stew mixed with fresh farinha de mandioca and banana.... yes, meat and banana. Bananas grow abundant and out of control in Morretes and have found their way into almost every meal there. The restaurant even had banana-flavored cachaça. I've never been a huge fan of bananas (the texture kind of bothers me)-- my sister has always been the banana fan-- but I've learned to eat them when they're offered to me or when they're all we have in the fridge for breakfast. So yeah, the beef/banana combo actually wasn't bad. The meat was really salty, and the banana balanced it out.


After the stew, we had a dessert based on... you guessed it, banana. Fried banana with banana-flavored ice cream and chocolate:


After our fattening and delicious lunch, we walked around the tiny town, exploring the street fairs and the churches and the little tourist shops. We didn't have much time before we had to meet back up with our tour group to take a van back to Curitiba. (I was sad to learn that the train ride was only one-way for us.) The tour guides were boasting that the van ride would be not only faster, but just as fun, because we'd take one of the first highways in the state. This is less fun than it sounds. A big part of the highway has been left in its original cobblestone condition. Let's just say that I'm glad I'm not someone who gets carsick.


Along the highway were more small towns that were almost all founded by Portuguese missionaries-- each had old crumbling churches; the one in this picture was built in 1715! Most were founded on or close to the river. We also passed the source of the Iguaçu River... yes, the one that goes all the way to Iguaçu falls!


The ride back was similar to the train ride in its greenery and dangerous curves. I was trying my hardest to stay awake to make sure to take in every minute of it. As soon as we made it back to the hotel, we all fell asleep for like 4 hours. We had a small dinner back in Curitiba (nothing to write home about) and got up at 5am to get ourselves back to the airport this morning.


And now we're back in Caipirópolis (the new word I made up this weekend to heretofore refer to where we live... funny? Haha?). I have one class tonight, so I'm getting right back into the swing of things. This fabulous trip should tide me over until our beach trip to Bahia in 2 weeks! Yes, we're quite the travelers this month. Chalk it up to generous in-laws and the ratio between my cost of living and my American job salary. The Bahia trip is just me and Alexandre, and we've got a beachfront hotel and I plan to spend the week trying (read: failing) to get a tan and drinking caipirinhas and trying not to get ripped off or food poisoning.


Hope you like the pictures! I'll try to upload the rest to Flickr tomorrow.



Monday, December 7, 2009

Again, I am not from the government (aka playing in the mud)

I'm thinking about turning off the comments section. People are ridiculous. Some snotty-ass folgada reader is like, pissed at ME because her visa process didn't work out. Check out her comment on my entry about my Brazilian visa process (I published it):

Hi Danielle,

I wish I'd never read this. You've skipped a lot of other documents that you need and that need to have a year's existence, such as a shared bank account or life insurance. You also should have mentioned that the criminal record document has a validity period of only 90 days from the day it was issued... I think you should update this information or take it off the site to avoid misleading anyone else.



Wow. I mean.... she was unlucky in writing this on the night of a holiday. I've had 2 caipirinhas and I'm feeling brazen. This  is my published response:

Hey Lindsay, with the blocked profile,

Guess what? I'm not your personal visa assistant. I don't work for the Brazilian visa department, and I never claimed to. Does my website say .gov.br? I wrote about the experiences I had and the information that I wish I had received. I didn't have to prove anything about a bank account. I didn't need anything about life insurance. I did my paperwork on time so my document didn't expire in 90 days.

Also I told you the exact name of the document that I got from the government. It's not my fault if you didn't get or couldn't read it.

Has anyone taught you the word "folgada" in Portuguese? If not, look it up.

So...Suck it. I hope your visa process failed, you whiny bitch.



Yeah. I'd turn off the comments if I wasn't so vain. But I mean, almost all of my comments are positive. I just get these sour apples once in a while. 

But, apparently it's necessary for me to put a disclaimer for especially dumb people (like people who need disclaimers not to use their hair dryers in the bathtub and things like that):

I don't work for the Brazilian government. The information I have is just from my experience. I hope it helps you, but you've still gotta deal with the policia federal yourself, okay??

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Curitiiiiiba!

We are in Curitiba!
It's so great! 

We're in the hotel room. I thought I'd give you a quick update before going to bed.

The following is a list of things that Curitiba has that I have missed about my life in the US (to also give you an indirect idea of what I've been living without):

-city planning
-bike lanes
-cafes (so many cafes! and many of them are attached to museums! That's right, I said museums!)
-reasonable drivers: example: when a light is green but there is traffic, and there is no space for a car in the lane after the intersection, the drivers WAIT at the light so as to not block the intersection. Isn't that AMAZING?
-clearly demarcated bus stops
-immigration
-stores that are open on Saturdays
-houses made of wood and not shitty shit bricks that disintegrate and make it impossible to hang anything on your walls and that chip when you bump into them ok /rant
-almost no J-walkers
-recycling

The more Brazil reveals herself to me, the more I feel comfortable with the idea of a long-term relationship with her.

Someone just left a comment on an earlier entry saying that I make too many negative generalizations about Brazil. And then smug boyfriend, after seeing the comment, said, "está vendo?" Annoying.

In my defense, I'd like to say that (a) only in the last couple of months have I been anywhere in Brazil that was not the tiny country town where we live and the even smaller suburb where Alexandre's family lives. Well, that's not entirely true. We went on a road trip to Serra da Canastra last year, but it was the same interior culture that I experience every day.  I blame the lack of traveling on 2 things: (1) not having a lot of money for my first year here, what with the expensive dollar and me building my teaching career and having to save every extra penny to go home to visit, and (2) a boyfriend who I love very much but who is a total homebody. The other thing I'd like to say, or (b), is that I think I've been pretty clear to point out that I realize that my frustration may be limited to the place where I live and maybe even the specific social groups that I'm forced to interact with, but since I'd never had any opportunity to know otherwise, my bad experiences were what Brazil was to me.  Also, just because you understand that people are the way they are sometimes by circumstance, that it's not necessarily the fault of some people that they're so ignorant, it doesn't make it any less frustrating.  I don't think I'm inherently better than people just because I happened to have grown up somewhere else. But I think I've had different experiences, and being the odd one out gets old. My goal was never to offend Brazilians, so I hope I haven't.

My thesis, I guess, is that it's not that the things that upset me most about our small town are inherently wrong-- it's that they're wrong for ME. Some Americans that have been here in Brazil in these small towns have loved their experiences. Some people sincerely enjoy a slow, easygoing life, and enjoy the attention of being special and different, or whatever else. I need efficiency in my life, and efficiency doesn't exist in small towns in Brazil OR the US. I need diversity. I need a strong culture of art and literature and music that encourages creativity and individuality. I need public transportation. I need to be accepted for who I am without being asked to define and explain myself daily, literally. I need to be around other people who see relativity in the world and who have more of a world view in general, who read books and newspapers and who don't believe everything they see on TV and who know more about other countries than what they see on Sessão da Tarde

And the things in the list above don't hurt, either.

So am I clear now? Are we all on the same page? (Get it, page? like webpage? har har) There are good and bad things about Brazil, just like every other place in the world. I'm not going to defend myself by making the conclusion that "I like Brazilian people," because I certainly don't like ALL Brazilian people, in the same way that I don't like all American people. The majority of people, even when they're ignorant, don't necessarily treat me BADLY. But I'm allowed to rant, because it's my blog, and because I'm certainly not going to complain to the few sort-of friends I have about how annoying and frustrating their city is. 

It's getting late, and this entry is starting not to reflect what a joyful day I had today. I'll sleep now. We've got a train to catch in 7 hours. Yes, an old-fashioned train that's going to take us through the Paraná countryside to... I don't know where. (The in-laws planned it all.) I'll tell you tomorrow when I know, and I'll put up pictures.

Goodnight. I hope you all are well.

Read about the rest of our wonderful Curitiba trip here.
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