Monday, September 27, 2010

Bank Account Confusion, but Free Money!

So you may remember that, a few months ago, I was finally able to open a savings account here in Brazil. I don't have enough documents to open a checking account, and I can't open one WITH Alexandre until next year when he isn't a student anymore and he officially has a salary. 

Anyway, my savings account has been working out pretty well. In Brazil, savings accounts come with debit cards, so in a lot of ways, it has the benefits of a checking account. Also, my translation clients can go directly to any branch of my bank and make a deposit into my account to pay me, which is much more convenient for them.

One problem with this piddly savings account is that I'm not allowed to use the bank's online banking system, and.... I don't receive statements, and.... I can't print out a statement that has data from more than the last 5 days, and... the guys at the desk can only print out a statement from my last 3 weeks. 

This isn't so bad. I mean, I just keep a written record of what I do with my account (how 1990s) and check it with the short bank statement printouts every few days (there's a branch of the bank right by our apartment, so I walk by it at least 3 times a week).

However -- and this is a good thing and a bad thing -- my savings account gives me a relatively large amount of money in interest. It's more of a good thing than a bad thing, this free money. And it's totally random. It kind of feels like the tooth fairy. Some days it's only 47 cents, and some days it's as much as 11 reais! 

So every day they deposit a little bit of "thanks for leaving your money with us" money.  If you want to know why, it's because Brazilian savings accounts offer much higher interest rates than American savings accounts (considering my American savings account gives me, well, nothing). 

It's just a little confusing because, with these little "presents", it's very hard to keep track of exactly how much money I have. Also, sometimes, when I make deposits or withdraws or I transfer money into Alexandre's account for something, the amount inexplicably gets divided up into 2 or 3 separate items on the bank printout list. (For example, if I make a deposit of 100 reais, sometimes it shows up as DEPOSIT: $45.36 and then another DEPOSIT: $54.64.)  AND, the bank printout list doesn't say where or who is involved in the amount of money. It just says "Debit card purchase" and "deposit". So it's kind of trial and error until I can figure out which amounts add up to things I bought or the money I moved around. 

Does anyone else experience things like this with their Brazilian savings accounts? Alexandre has the much sought-after (at least by me) checking account, and his deposits/withdraws show up normally, and he can access online banking, which shows exactly where the purchases were. He also gets monthly statements in the mail. Lucky!

If I don't have time to go to the bank every 5 days, it's very easy to lose track. But I guess it's worth it for a free account with such high interest payments. So far this month, I've earned over 40 reais!! That's a free sushi dinner, just for banking with them. 

So if any of you long-term foreign residents have been putting off opening an account, maybe the free money can motivate you, even with the confusing statement situation.

Rainy Weekend

So the dry season in the mata Atlántica is officially over! The real rain finally came into the region this weekend. We haven't had a real rain in months, and it's all anyone talks about when they're making small talk. So I'm not sure what people are going to talk about now, but I AM happy that it's finally raining again. (Maybe that's what people will say for a few weeks...)

We're in a short-lived and lovely time of the year when it's still a bit chilly and spring-y, so when it rains it ALMOST feels like a rainy winter day in California (as opposed to the heat-breaking humid rain we'll get starting some time next month, which is good in its own right).  The best part of this weather is that I was totally able to convince Alexandre to take a break from studying and just hang out with me all weekend. ("Wake up at 9:00am on a Sunday to study!? Come on! Can't you hear that rain outside?! Just stay in bed and cuddle with me and the kitty!")

Things like changes in seasons always make me fell all fuzzy and nostalgic. I always find my happy place when I can "be at one with nature" or whatever hippie thing you wanna call it, when I can focus on the natural world here and forget about how much "civilization" messes it up. I thought I'd share some pictures with you all from my walks to teach my class at the mall (since we're STILL car-less, but that's ok):

Not a bad walk, right? If it's raining when I walk to the class on Tuesday, it'll still be okay. I can bring an umbrella and get some different pictures. And all this brown space is gonna turn back to green. :)

This weekend was a little preview of how life is gonna go back to normal once Alexandre doesn't have to spend all his free time studying like a madman. We only have a few weeks left! I consider my return from my Argentina trip next month to be "The Beginning of the End of Our Time in Hicktown". I'll keep you all posted. Let's hope that the giant mutant moths take their sweet time in migrating back down south from Mexico. If I'm lucky, they'll get lost in Colombia or something.

If you're getting rain in your neck of the rainforest, I hope you're enjoying it. :) Have a good week!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tales of Gym Girl

That's right. I've decided to give Gym Girl her very own post. I was just gonna leave you all with the last abridged description of her, but after today, I realized.... no. You need to know about Gym Girl in all her glory.

To get you up to speed, Gym Girl is the trainer/assistant person at my gym. She talks to everyone, but usually at the times I can go, I'm the only person or one of the only people, so I get extra special attention. I've already written about her a bit here and here. Allow me to point out two things about Gym Girl:

1. I don't think she represents any kind of stereotype or some common type of girl in Brazilian society. She's her own special case!

2. The poor thing is actually very nice and so friendly. She invites me out all the time and is very open and talks to me a lot. She's just.... well, you'll see.

So here is a catalog of experiences I've had with Gym Girl, stories she's told me, etc:

*Gym Girl is 28 years old. She lives at home with her parents. She has a degree in "physical education" from one of the small private universities in town. Her most favoritest favorite hobby is watching movies at the theater.  She goes almost every weekend.

*Her favorite movies of the moment are the Twilight series. She doesn't understand why I haven't read the books and why I don't really care about watching the movies.

* Gym Girl has a relatively new boyfriend, but she's still in love with her ex-boyfriend. He broke up with her over a year ago, and she's been with this new guy for a while, but the ex is "the love of her life." She still has pictures of her ex in her wallet and on her bedroom wall (yes, she's shown me the ones in the wallet). When I asked her how she hides that from her new boyfriend, she says that he never goes into her bedroom and he never sees her wallet.

*Gym Girl especially loves Twilight because she believes that her new boyfriend is like the werewolf guy, but her ex-boyfriend is her true love, like the British vampire guy.

* Gym Girl still writes emails to her ex-boyfriend about how much she loves him and misses him, even though he has never responded and even though he has a new girlfriend. She also stalks their Orkut profiles. Apparently, the new girlfriend has joined "Orkut Communities" (akin to those groups on Facebook that say things like "I stay awake for no reason") about her. The new girlfriend is in communities that say things like "my boyfriend's ex is crazy" and "he loves me, not you!".  But Gym Girl is very happy and hopeful because the new girlfriend is also in a community that says "I know you still think about your ex!".  So that means he must think about her!

*She went to a parapsicóloga for advice about her ex-boyfriend.  If you don't know what parapsicóloga means, bear with me for a minute, because I didn't either. At first, I thought she said "psychologist", but then she was saying how he used cards and candles to try to predict what would happen with her and her ex. So I was like, "your psychologist did this?!" and she said "No, my PARApsychologist!" Turns out it's like, a kind of psychic. And this guy told her that she and her ex are soul mates, and she should keep waiting for him. Lovely.

*Every time she has some kind of "anniversary" of something that happened with her ex, she tells me about it. "Today was the first time we kissed!" "Today would've been our 3-year anniversary!" "Today was the first day we had sex!"

* Her new boyfriend is a piece of work. He's very jealous and they fight because he's always convinced that other men are looking at her or that her clothes are too tight and are showing too many curves. His Portuguese is also apparently terrible, which is a pet peeve for Gym Girl. She shows me his text messages with his bad spelling (for "pensar" he wrote "pençar") and bad grammar (once he wrote "fazerei" instead of "farei" for "I will do", a mistake that I don't even make). She never has anything good to say about him.

*So I asked Gym Girl why she stays with her new boyfriend if she's so unhappy with him. And she said honestly, "well, what am I supposed to do? Be single? I'd rather be with him and be annoyed than be single." And then she said "besides, it's always best if the guy likes you more than you like him. Then you don't have to worry about trying not to upset him or doing something he won't like." Awesome logic.

*Gym Girl's boyfriend recently lost his job, and decided not to look for a new one for 6 months, because that's how long he can receive unemployment. He has received a couple of jobs that he's doing under the table so that he doesn't lose the unemployment checks.

*The boyfriend's parents are apparently divorced, but still live together because the mother has no education or job skills and has only ever been a housewife. So they live together and sleep in different rooms, and then the father brings other women home. And she's still his housewife, not dating anyone new, hoping that he'll take her back. Sounds like they set a great example of gender roles for the boyfriend.

*Gym Girl hates working at the gym. The other trainer girls are apparently clique-y against her. She tells me, a client, all about their dramas and fights. Also, one of the girls is supposed to come in to the workout area to help her with stuff and give her her breaks and stuff, and never does. But she doesn't ask the girl and she doesn't remind her. And then at the meetings, the boss scolds Gym Girl for not having everything done right. I suggested that she ask the boss (in front of the other girl) if they can have designated times that the other girl comes in to help so that there's no confusion. But Gym Girl said "I don't have the courage to do that!" (A common Portuguese expression that I think usually translates to something like "I could never do that!"). So after getting sick of hearing her complain about this, I said "you must believe that the suffering from not getting a break and getting in trouble unfairly is worse than any possible suffering for giving an opinion or suggestion to your boss." The logic kind of went over her head.

*Gym Girl only makes 5 reais an hour at the gym. Five.

Background story: Recently, all of the medical residents in Brazil were on strike, demanding better pay. The national average is R$1,600 a month for residents working an average of 60 hours a week. The salary hasn't been raised for like, 15 years. They ended up getting a 25% increase, which is great news for Alexandre, who will be a resident next year.

Anyway, one of the residents from the hospital was working out at the gym, and we were talking about the strike. Gym Girl asked the resident, "well how much do you make?"

Obviously, the resident was uncomfortable to tell her exactly how much, so she said "well, not enough." I pointed out that they make only a little more than what I made working less than full time at an English school, and they have way more stress and liability at their jobs. But then Gym Girl said, "well, I'm sure it's a lot, because you're doctors! I only make 5 reais an hour! It's so unfair! I have a degree!"

So the resident asked her, "Well then why do you accept that? Why do you work here? Why don't you work as a personal trainer, like going to people's houses?"

And Gym Girl said, "UGh. It's so much work!!! It's such a pain!"
So that's why she makes 5 reais an hour, and she can't really complain about it.

*Gym Girl invited me to a pizzeria for her birthday. She said it'd be her, some friends, and her boyfriend. Alexandre couldn't go, and I thought "What the heck? Maybe I'll meet some new people." So I went. It ended up being only her and her boyfriend. And me. OMG. The boyfriend said nothing to me, and to her, like 10 words during the entire dinner, and they were things like "Who's that man? Why are you looking at him?" and "Those guys are checking you out. I'm gonna go beat their asses." Oh, but when I ordered a caipirinha, he actually acknowledged my presence to say, "wow, you drink? I don't drink. I'm evangelical." OKAY!!! I'm the immoral one for ordering a caipirinha with dinner?! The night was torture. It was the first and last time I went out with Gym Girl.

*I'd actually maybe consider just going out with HER, but her boyfriend doesn't allow her to go out without him. Doesn't "allow." And she accepts it.

So then today was the kicker. Gym Girl asked me, "have you heard of a place called Senegal?"

"The country?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said. "What language do they speak there?"

"French, I think." I didn't ask why, but she told me anyway.

"Well, because my boyfriend's father was talking to a woman online who was from there. She has the saddest story! She's living in exile. Her uncle took all of her money, and she has no way to leave the country! So she asked my boyfriend's father to open a bank account for her so that she could transfer her money into it."

I laughed. I couldn't help myself. "Have you never heard of this scam?" I asked.

"What?" she asked. "It's not a scam."

"Yes it is. I promise. It's fake."

"But she speaks English! We put it into a translator online. And she sent him a picture and everything!"

"The picture can be from anywhere on the internet. Also, how did she have a computer and learn English if she's a poor woman in Sengal? Her story doesn't even make sense. Exile means she gets sent to another country, so how is it that she can't leave? Also, if her uncle took her money, what will she transfer?"

"No, but it's not a scam, because she didn't ask for MONEY. She just asked for him to open an account! So how can she get to his money?"

I didn't know the exact details of the girl's scam, and I didn't know how to say "money order" in Portuguese, so I said "please believe me. It's a scam. Usually they say they're from Nigeria. You can search online. It's really common. I know you guys want to help, so donate money to the Red Cross or something."

She still seemed skeptical. So I just said, "I'd stop talking to her... good luck!"


Oh yes. Such fun stories that I come home with to entertain Alexandre. When I can, I try to go to the gym at night to avoid her, because she works mornings and afternoons.  I'd say that she'd make a good character on a sit-com or something but... no, she wouldn't.  It'd be too painful to watch!

Monday, September 20, 2010


So living with your significant other is hard enough as it is.  You're really bearing your all when you live together. There's no privacy, and no shame. And where are you supposed to make your grand exit to when you fight and you don't have a car? “That's it! I'm outta here! To... the corner store bakery...!...?”

Now it's even harder for me, a frumpy American, to be surrounded by the Brazilian upper-middle-class standard of beauty...and then to live with my husfriend and have him see all the “wobbly bits,” as Bridget Jones would say.

Now, I went to Berkeley. Ya know how like, college is the time for less girly girls to learn about how to be more girly? Berkeley gave a great academic education, but my peers weren't exactly role models for beauty. Basically, I got away with looking like crap, because compared to the stinky shoe-less hippies, I was Miss California.

HOWEVER. Flash forward a bit. The Brazilian women we roll with do NOT do frumpy. They don't even do flip flops at the supermarket. They DO do plastic surgery like woah, weekly manicures and pedicures, waxings, peelings, “drenaigens linfáticas”, pilates, name-brand everything, and heels at the ice cream parlor on a Thursday night. So the standards are high, and I really do feel a lot of social pressure, just like, in my own mind.

Now, I've cleaned myself up a lot since moving here. I've lost almost 15 pounds. I invest a bit more in better quality products, like clothes, shoes, and makeup. I went to a dermatologist and got my face cleared up.  It's not like I did all of this just to like, compete with the patricinhas. Part of it is also the time of my life: I'm not a student working full time anymore, so I have more time and money to invest in my health and appearance.

But I'll admit that a small part of it is competing with the patricinhas. I mean, on top of looking like (and probably spending) a million bucks every day, you should hear the kind of biscate-ness that comes out of these girls' mouths, girls who work with him in the hospital who know full well that Alexandre is happy in a serious relationship.  These bitches flirt shamelessly. Two told Alexandre about how much they like anal sex. When he makes a point to mention me and how happy he is with me (in an attempt to shut them up), they get worse. One asked him, “wow, so what do YOU have that brought her all the way to Brazil, hmm?” Cadela! Most of them are nursing students, hoping to snag a rich doctor that can take care of them, just the way their daddies did. God, I am so critical and cynical.

I don't even know why Alexandre tells me about these exchanges.  Part of me wishes he'd just make some rude comment to them and then keep the story to himself.

But I do remember these kinds of girls when Alexandre and I find ourselves in embarrassing situations that only couples living together can experience.  Like when we go into bed and he gives me a kiss goodnight and then stops to ask, “Is that the Chinese food from dinner on your cheek?” Or when he comes home early from work and catches me eating leite condensado out of the can with a spoon. Or when you have pimples or hairs in all the wrong places.

When these things happen, I have fits of insecurity. I can't help but think, goddamn, those hoes at the hospital never show anyone these sides of themselves. They're prettied up 24/7. I worry that if Alexandre sees too much of my “wobbly bits” that it'll be easy for him to idealize these girls. I read an article once in Oprah by some woman who was cheating on her husband. She said that having an affair is like an endless second date; that you are past the formalities, but never get into the intimacies.

It's not that I think Alexandre's going to cheat. None of these fears or comparisons come from anything he says or does (except maybe telling me about these shameless sluts that hit on him). When I'm in one of my insecurity fits, I sometimes break down and tell him the kind of logic I've created in my mind. And he insists, “are you crazy? Why would I want a girl like that? I'm happy with you.” etc etc. He also points out that he's not exactly the cover of Men's Health Magazine, and that I'm exposed to plenty of his more embarrassing moments (I almost wrote “his wobbly bits”, but I decided against it). But his words don't do much because all of my psycho thoughts are completely internal.

I guess I try to feel better by remembering that you can't have true intimacy without showing some of your “wobbly bits”, whether they're physical or not. I mean, what's the alternative? To live apart so Alexandre never sees the raccoon eyes I get from my mascara? What kind of marriage is that?   And really, for most of these patricinhas in their 20s, they don't advance in their superficial relationships because dating is all about the image. Plus, they live with their parents and only see their boyfriends a few nights a week, so he only sees the best of them. They go out together on Thursday and Friday, so she waxes on Monday and does her nails Thursday morning. But I'm making the argument that, to really know and be close to your partner, you've gotta let them see the good and the bad. I have the argument. Now I just have to like, repeat it to myself in the mirror 50 times a night or something.

Until I truly believe it and get over my insecurity fits, I'll try not to slump my shoulders too much when I run into a beauty queen at the grocery store and I'm in an old T-shirt (sacrilege!).  Sigh.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fiona Came!

That's right, folks! Fellow blogger Fiona and I decided to meet up. It was kind of a last-minute thing. She and her partner Gustavo hopped on a bus (only a few hours! ha, good sports) and spent the weekend in our town and hung out with me and Alexandre.

We ate and drank and ate some more. And then we ate. (Did I mention that we ate a bit?) I think I sent them home with an extra 5 pounds between them.

They got to meet Gatinha and see the city. Fiona also got to see the infamous toucan napkin holder from all my food pictures:

We went to the represa and saw lots of birds, including a dove in her nest feeding her babies! We walked a LOT, but then our super generous friend/neighbor let us borrow his car today, so that gave us a chance to go to the monkey park!

One of the best parts was getting to speak unfiltered English with Fiona! I'm sure a lot of you guys do this, too, especially if you have non-native speaking partners and if you teach English: You have to think twice about using very good and specific English words, because you know your listener isn't going to understand.  In the case of your partners, it doesn't make you love them any less and it doesn't mean you can't communicate (and they have to do the same thing with us)-- but it sure was refreshing to have full range of my vocabulary.

Oh yes, and we also compared trying to speak a new language with native speakers to buying tampons in the store. If you remember that it's much stranger for the other person than it is for you, then you don't have to be embarassed! haha.

I'll let the much more articulate Fiona tell all the details when she updates her blog. (UPDATE: Here's her post!) But see? We're real people. We don't bite. Maybe others can come visit, too? I know it gave me a lot more oomph to go out and meet the rest of you fine people!

Kindred Spirits!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

BullS*%& Health and Beauty

So I'm convinced that every country in the whole world has its share of ridiculous products and procedures that people believe will help them lose weight or be attractive or stay healthy / prevent illness.  Most of these things have some kind of vaguely connected scientific basis, but this scientific benefit gets totally distorted in the interest of profit, and companies market them (and people believe them to be) miracle products.

In the United States, we have....

*The Shake Weight and the Power Plate. Basically people think that machines that shake and vibrate will do the work for them and give their muscles definition."ONLY 15 MINUTES A DAY! Vibration technology! Used by the stars!"

*Aloe Vera.  So many Americans think it's a skin cure-all. It's not.

* Airborne. People think that if you take this medicine it can boost your immune system and prevent you from catching colds in public places, like airplanes. This company has been sued under class-action lawsuits for lying in their marketing.

In Brazil, these are some fads that I've never seen in the US. People treat the following things like miracle products and procedures:

*Drenagem linfático: The literal translation is "lymphatic draining." All right. Alexandre had to explain this to me. It's basically a really aggressive massage that can help with swelling. Some swelling is caused by excess liquid in the lymph vessels throughout the body. This "drenagem linfático" can temporarily (as in... for 12-24 hours) relieve swelling for like, people with diabetes or pregnant women. But tons of salons in Brazil market this procedure to lose weight and remove toxins from your body. Here's a ridiculously ridiculous video that gives you an idea. If you don't speak Portuguese, you're losing out on what this woman is claiming. She says this "drenagem" can remove all impurities from your body; it should be done once a week or at least once a month, and your body becomes perfect and healthy! I just don't understand how it removes toxins if there is not even any puncturing of the skin. A little toilet plunger isn't gonna do the trick; it's just gonna give you a big red welt.

*Própolis: The translation of this is apparently just "propolis." It's essentially plant residue that bees collect and use in ways that are similar to the ways they use their own beeswax. But it's a cure-all remedy in Brazil. A lot of people think it can relieve all kinds of ailments.

*Fazer escova: This just means... pay someone to blow-dry and straighten your hair. That's the best translation I know. But a lot of women go to salons JUST to have their hair washed, blow-dried, and temporarily straightened by the hair stylist. My student told me that she was going after class to fazer escova and asked me how to say it in English. I was confused. "Brush your hair?" I asked.

"No no," she said. "At the salon." I was still confused, so I tried to be flexible in my understanding of the word escova.
"Like... to get your hair chemically straightened?"
"No no, just to fazer escova! The hair stylist washes my hair, then he dries it and straightens it. Then it's nice for the weekend."
I was still confused. "But what happens when YOU wash it at home? Does it just go back to normal?"
"So.... fazer escova... is like, after you cut your hair and the hair stylist styles it for you?"
"No no! You don't have to cut your hair first."
"Ok, so is it like getting your hair done before you go to a formal event? Are you going somewhere tonight?" I asked her.
She laughed, amused that I was so confused. "No, I just do this every few days! It's better than when I wash it."
"But how long does it last?" I asked. Her hair was thicker than mine, but not that much thicker.
"About 2 days," she responded.
"I don't think we have a word for this in English," I responded. "I"d just say like, "dry and straighten my hair at the salon."

After class, I looked up fazer escova on YouTube. It seems to be exactly what I understood.  I mean, I understand people going to the salon to get their hair permanently straightened, or to get their hair done for a party, but this popular (and witty) video of fazer escova is basically what I do at home in my own bathroom.  So I don't understand why women go to the salon to do it, unless they have really thick hair that can go a long time without washing (and even then, it's not a difficult process, so....?). I mean, salons are cheaper than in the US sometimes, but not that much cheaper. And hair straighteners are more expensive, but not that much more expensive. Like 5 visits to the salon would pay for your hair dryer and hair straightener in Brazil. Does anyone have any insight into this? I'm white and have baby thin hair, so maybe there are some ethnicities and hair types that require this treatment???

There are also diseases and ailments that so many people seem to have in Brazil: They are gastrite (gastritis) and labirintite (labyrinthitis, or inner ear infection). What confuses me is that Wikipedia explains "labirintite" as usually being caused by a virus or bacteria, yet so many Brazilians (esp. Brazilian women) say they suffer from it chronically. 

So these widespread ailments beg the question: Are they genetic? Environmental?  Or is it just the idea that you've heard about so many other people that have the problem that you start to read your symptoms as this problem, too? Are these problems akin to like, restless leg syndrome in the US? (I know it's real, Patty, just like gastritis and inner ear infections!). I'm suggesting that they're problems that are commonly discussed and publicized, and this causes people to attribute other symptoms to these problems. 

So.... discuss! Every society is guilty of these miracle products and all-too-common but culturally-specific diseases. What other examples have you thought of, from any country? Can you explain any of my mysterious observations in Brazil? Do share!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

1-Week Roundup

Not much to update here-- I'm just tired of looking at that last post.

It was just your average week of working and housewifery. Last Tuesday was a holiday, which, in BrazilTime, means that the Friday before that, the Monday before, and the Wednesday after were also treated like holidays. So I didn't have many students, but I did have 2 translation projects that filled up my time.

We're still without a car, but it's not so bad. We walk where we need to go. It's pleasant! It also keeps us from spending money on extra things at the grocery store and also on restaurants.

Alexandre's graduation and residency tests start in less than 60 days. The house is only mildly tense and nerve-racking.  I told Alexandre that he gets a "Get Out of Jail Free" card (in terms of both cleaning and irritability) until he gets though all this and we know where we're moving and start moving there. He appreciated the comment once I explained what a "Get Out of Jail Free" card was. (Fun fact: In Brazil, "Monopoly" is called "Banco Imobiliário", or "Real Estate Bank".)

Oh, of course I can't  have a post that doesn't involve some kind of rant, even if it's a little one. It's regarding that sent-up-from-Hell, godforsaken Katy Perry song, "California Girls".

If one more person tells me, "I thought of you yesterday while watching MTV! Do you like the new song about California?! California girls! Eh? Eh? Hahahaaha!" I just might have to write to Brazilian MTV and request that they stop playing it (or break into their offices and delete the file and steal whatever physical evidence they have of its existence).

If you haven't heard the song, look it up on Youtube. I'm not going to give it the honor of an embedded link on the blog.  While it's super nice that Snoop Dog mentions Palm Springs, and while I agree that "nothing comes close to The Golden Coast", this song is really doing me a disservice here in Hicktown, especially the video of the half-naked girls with candy on their tits.

The best response so far has been from the girl who works at the gym. I know I've mentioned her a few times. She's so outrageous in her ignorance that I just might give her her own post one of these days. But anyway, she was the first person to tell me about the song and video, the first person to say, "Lembrei de você ontem!". Then she explained that the song talks about how California girls are the sexiest in the world and how the girls all wear candy instead of bathing suits.  It would've been only a little bit silly if she had stopped there, but THEN SHE ASKED, "Is it true? Are the girls really like that?"

I stared at her and blinked a bit. Then I said in a very serious voice, "Yes. All of us are. In fact, that was my job, before I moved to Brazil. I danced in music videos."

She looked at me incredulously, and then squinted a little. She wasn't sure if I was joking. "Really???" She asked.

"No. Of course not."

Then I smiled, and she laughed nervously, and then I went home. I know it was kind of grouchy of me. But this girl makes me crazy. She's not my friend. She's the trainer/assistant at the gym. But she talks during my entire workout and 99% of it is about herself and her problems and how she's fighting with the other employees or how her boyfriend's so jealous about everything or how, at 5'6 and 120 pounds, she's so fat (way to be professional).

This is the same girl who gives me "Oh my god! I can't believe it!" speeches when I don't know the words to old Brazilian songs that they play in their gym trivia games, and the same girl who asked, after a conversation about my lunch and American lunches, "Well what do Americans eat if they don't eat beans and rice?", and the same girl who asks me, "Your boyfriend lets you go out alone, without him? With just your girl friends? Why?! Mine doesn't." She's also the same girl who asked if she could borrow my credit card to buy plane tickets to Salvador for New Year's. No joke. You know, because I'm American and I have a fancy American credit card...?  I didn't think she was trying to be sneaky or enganar me or anything. She's just really, really, really ignorant, and honestly thought my credit card was better and she could just pay me back or something. I told her a Brazilian credit card works just like an American credit card, and to use her own. She said, "but I don't have one." and I said, "then ask your family." So I didn't feel too bad about the music video joke.

Grah! Let's end on a happy note. Alexandre and I walked to the fancy grocery store last night (Pão de Açúcar) and bought ingredients to make a delicious chicken and stuffing recipe that I was inspired to make after watching this video.  Because I had a really hard time finding stuffing recipes in English that didn't involve Stovetop or Cambell's canned soup, we sort of invented our own stuffing, mostly because we wanted fresh ingredients. We used ricotta, mushrooms, olive oil, and garlic.

It was deliciousssssss!  I forgot to take a picture before we started eating, so here's half of the dinner, ha:

I'll put the recipe up on the cooking blog later this week.

Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making Peace with Where We Live

Here you go, dear readers, because it's finally raining in the state of São Paulo and it's the véspera do feriado and I'm a little drunk:


In the future when we look back, these years will be the waiting ones, the time of Quiet
when only the storms spoke amongst themselves along the squall line, plotting, arguing,
and the quero-queros listened in and screeched of every impending midnight.

and I could rarely read or speak,
could only find obscurities along the dinner party walls:
Look there, darling, just there, a nest--

It will be the time when the future filled the present, and the definition of things became small.

It will be the time when our love grew wild and unconfined
Watered sometimes rushingly, sometimes drippingly, but far too south for drought,
and grew slowly tangled within itself, the way only time and tempests allow for.

And in the future, in moments of a world moving too quickly, I just may ask for you to return me here,
Where the sky is blue like dark denim and the storms stay on in the trees.  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Charles Darwin in Brazil

“This was the first of many delightful days never to be forgotten.” 
                                                                 - Charles Darwin

So I downloaded an eBook by Charles Darwin called "The Voyage of the Beagle". The key words were "South America" and "Brazil" and "Terra del Fuego", so I thought he was talking about the Beagle Canal, which is in Ushuaia, where Kristin and I are going in just over a month!  I was excited to read it because I thought it was going to be only about Brazil and Ushuaia, but I misunderstood a bit. In this case, the Beagle refers to the name of the explorers' ship, and Darwin and the other explorers take the ship all around the world (not only in South America). Here's their map:

So they DID go to Brazil and Ushuaia. They just went to some other places, too.

But I have to say that it was such a joy to read Charles Darwin's accounts of Brazil and South America. The guy was just so happy to be here. He was still pretty Euro-centric in his definitions of "civilized" and "uncivilized", but was ahead of his time in his opinions on slavery and humanity.  I've saved you guys the trouble of having to read it if you're not interested (though you can download it here if you are), and extracted all of his fun and nice quotes.

Darwin's thoughts on seeing Salvador, Bahia for the first time:

The day has passed delightfully. Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest.  

Darwin's thoughts on Rio de Janeiro: 

After passing through some cultivated country, we entered a forest, which in the grandeur of all its parts could not be exceeded.

It was impossible to wish for anything more delightful than thus to spend some weeks in so magnificent a country. In England any person fond of natural history enjoys in his walks a great advantage, by always having something to attract his attention; but in these fertile climates, teeming with life, the attractions are so numerous, that he is scarcely able to walk at all.

I thought Jim would like this one: 
As long as the idea of slavery could be banished, there was something exceedingly fascinating in this simple and patriarchal style of living: it was such a perfect retirement and independence from the rest of the world.

And, like us, after spending a few weeks in Brazil, Darwin was totally cool with throwing Portuguese words into his conversation: 

Mandioca is likewise cultivated in great quantity. Every part of this plant is useful; the leaves and stalks are eaten by the horses, and the roots are ground into a pulp, which, when pressed dry and baked, forms the farinha, the principal article of sustenance in the Brazils. It is a curious, though well-known fact, that the juice of this most nutritious plant is highly poisonous. A few years ago a cow died at this Fazenda, in consequence of having drunk some of it.

Not all of Darwin's comments were so happy-go-lucky. I can't decide if I'm comforted or disturbed that he complained about the exact same things that we bloggers complain about in Brazil today! If Darwin had had the option of blogging, I'll bet his blogs would have looked a lot like ours. 

Darwin complained about the lack of organization from a punctual British perspective, offended that a host told him that the food "[would] be ready when it's ready" (hahaha), and also complained that the roads were bad and that "all distances [were] inaccurately known".

He also complained about the corruption, which is just ingrained in Brazil's foundations. He told some appalling stories that he saw and heard of corruption on so many levels, and then wrote:

"With this entire want of principle in many of the leading men, with the country full of ill-paid turbulent officers, the people yet hope that a democratic form of government can succeed!"

While Darwin understood and celebrated animals' methods of survival, he seemed to have a strong disdain for humans who acted the same. After seeing the effects of both slavery and rampant corruption in 19th-century Brazil, he wrote, "It may be said there exists no limit to the blindness of interest and selfish habit."  

His comments on Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego were limited to complaints about the cold and his curiosities about the native cultures, so most of that visit is still left to my imagination. But it's too bad that Darwin isn't around in our time. He seems like a fun guy. He would totally be invited to one of our meet-ups.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Life without Road Rage

So our car's been in the shop for about a week now, and I gotta tell ya, this week has been much less stressful without it.

Granted, I need to plan my days a bit better: wake up a little earlier, give myself more time to get places, etc. But about 90% of the places I was driving to were less than 2 miles away, and I'm just lazy. The walk I was least looking forward to was my classes for the managers of the mall. It's at 8am and the walk takes about 30 minutes (no one likes waking up any earlier for an 8am class than they have to!). But even that turned out to be really nice!

So here are all the benefits of walking around town and not having a car:

1. I don't have to deal with the crazy drivers or spend money on gas (alcoól);

2. I get more exercise;

3. I can listen to my MP3 player (we don't have a radio in the car);

4. We're in the middle of Brazilian "spring"; i.e. very very dry weather (my poor respiratory system!) but the temperature is just right, Goldi-Locks style.  I can enjoy the breeze, the fresh air, the flowers, the birds...and in this town, there are 2 rivers that run close to the main streets, and there are a lot of random fields and open land, and sometimes people use them to tie up their horses... it's all very pristine when you take the time to look at it!

5. I think twice about how much crap I'm carrying around in my purse, and realize how much of it I don't actually need to be carrying around;

6. I have time to think, ponder life, plan out the rest of my day... etc

7. We are much more motivated to cook at home instead of going to a restaurant (the restaurants in walking distance are pretty limited). We cooked every meal this week except for last night (Friday night). This is kind of a miracle, in case you were wondering.

We weren't that hungry, so we just walked down to the little Middle Eastern "restaurant" (remember I told you guys that it's more like a front yard café than a restaurant) and just ordered some coalhada and some hummus, and some guaraná soda. Yum! (By the way, the home-made coalhada recipes in Brazil are so fantastic. My next cooking project is to learn how to make it!)

8. On our walk to and from the restaurant, Alexandre and I held hands, laughed, enjoyed a nice chat about life... so pleasant!

The only problem is carrying groceries around. BUT, we solved that problem by going on a huge supermarket run the day before turning in the car. We stocked up on all the heavy, non-perishable things, like laundry detergent and "bleach" (agua sanitaria) and pasta and tomato sauce and, because it's Brazil, milk. We also got a bunch of meat and froze it!

We can get fruits and veggies at the farmer's markets around the neighborhood, and we have a little bakery on the corner that doubles as a sort of convenience store for any last-minute things we've forgotten.

When we get the car back, I hope these ideas win out over my laziness. We're lucky to live somewhere where it's safe enough to walk in most places day or night, and where most everything we need is within walking distance.  I'm lucky to have a schedule that gives me enough time to walk where I need to go. I'm lucky to be in good health to walk everywhere.

If the car's gone long enough (they estimate at least 3 more weeks), it just might become habit!
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