Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Carrie Lee and Lingerie Sizes

So today, my student-friend Ana invited me to the mall with her after class. (She was my last student of the evening.) So we went. She was looking for some special seamless undergarments to wear under a thin summer dress.

We went into one of those pretty and tiny lingerie boutiques that fill Brazilian malls (well, at least the one in our town... like... why does a small-town mall need 5 different lingerie stores, on top of the department stores??).

My student-friend Ana is not fat by any means. She's just not patricinha-spend-all-day-at-the-gym-and-only-eating-salads thin. (Disclaimer: I know that there are some women, maybe some of you, who are just naturally thin and want to gain weight. Please don't send whiny comments. That is not the case for 95% of us.) Anyway, for Ana, that means that there are no undergarments in her size at these little cutesy boutiques. In these stores in Brazil, I wear a Large, and even then, the bras are often too small for me! (And hello, you guys have seen my pictures. Or me.) If I had tried to buy clothes in these stores during my first few months in Brazil, it wouldn't have been possible.

There is one really nice lingerie boutique close to the in-laws' house that the mother-in-law took me to. It's the only place where I'll buy bras, at least until I find a better place. They're a little expensive, but no more than Victoria's Secret, and they are really good quality.  I'm sure that bigger cities (like where the in-laws live) have more options, but here in Hicktown, my very frustrated friend Ana only found one store that had one pair of seamless underwear in her size (no luck with the bra... she'll have to keep hunting around).  Two stores did, however, have special bras made for skinny women with fake breasts (padding in all the right places, the attendant explained). Didn't know those existed.

Sigh. I guess there is definitely much higher social pressure to be skinny in this town, I mean, if the largest size clothes that places carry is a 6-8.

My frustration on Ana's behalf, however, was alleviated by the hilarious salesgirl at one of the boutiques.  While Ana was trying on some clothes,  I was wandering around the closet-sized space, browsing the products, thankful that the girls weren't trying to sell me crap. Since I hadn't talked, they didn't know I was American. A male cover of that song "Without You" was playing on the radio. You know the one-- the wonderful Mariah Carey covered it. It goes, "I can't live... if living is without you... I can't live... I can't live anymore..."  Anyway. It got to a particularly emotional part of the song, and one of the two store employees started complaining. I have to tell you what she said in Portuguese first, and then I'll translate it:

Nossa, mas que CHATA esta música! Já estou cansada pra caramba, e esta música está me dando sono! E que é isso? O que que é esta Carrie Lee, Carrie Lee, hein?!  

And then she changed the track in a huff.

If you don't read Portuguese and aren't laughing yet, the girl said:

Jesus, this song is ANNOYING! I'm already tired as hell, and this music is putting me to sleep! And what the heck is this Carrie Lee, Carrie Lee, huh?! 

Ana was in the dressing room and could therefore not meet my eye and enjoy the moment with me. I certainly didn't want to seem like an arrogant foreigner by laughing or correcting her. I know there's no reason she has to know English. So I just bit my lip as hard as I could and forced myself not to say "It's CAN'T LIVE, not CARRIE LEE! Bahahaha!".

So funny! Come on, even if you're Brazilian, you have to admit that it's funny. And if you still don't think it's funny, I found this for you so that this entry doesn't feel Ameri-centric and unfair.

The moment totally made my night. I felt so lucky for almost having this happen to me in real life:

So even though Ana was frustrated with her lingerie searches, at least we got some entertainment (of course I told her about it as soon as we left the store).

The Christmas Tree

Last week was Thanksgiving. I was sad to not be celebrating it. I told Alexandre that I wanted to have people over on Sunday to cook Thanksgiving-type food and to say what we were grateful for. He hummed and hawed about hosting a party on one of his only days home this month. I whined about wanting to celebrate American holidays. So then he made a deal that he'd go shopping for Christmas decorations with me on Sunday if we could have a quiet Thanksgiving celebration (just us) instead of a big party.

I would've rather had a party, but fine. But it ended up working out because, when I woke up on Sunday morning, I totally didn't feel like cooking a big Thanksgiving meal, especially for just the two of us. So we worked together on lasagna rolls (ground beef instead of tofu, Hello...)  and chocolate chip cookies. It worked as a Thanksgiving lunch-dinner because we cooked it together, and ate it together, and said lots of things that we were thankful for.

So then we went to Lojas Americanas (Rachel compares it to Target, but sorry, my dear Rachel, I think that's a sort of blasphemy! I compare it more to the likes of an overpriced Big! Lots). Lojas Americanas was selling a bunch of cheesy and poorly made (read: Awesome) Christmas decorations. We decided on a fake mini-tree, a star topper, and a little picture frame ornament. Total? Only 30 reais!! haha, how my standards have changed...

Anyway, to pay him back for being anti-social, I told Alexandre that it's tradition in the US to decorate the tree as a family while singing "O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches...". Those were the only words to the song that I taught him, because those were the only ones I remembered. But I'm convinced that this is the video I saw as a child, because no other one uses those lyrics:

EDIT: That link doesn't always work. Try listening here.

Anyway, he fell for it, so while we put a picture into our frame and put it on the tree (our only ornament) and then while we put the little star on top of the tree, we just sang that verse over and over, and Alexandre was very solemn and loving about it. And when we finished, I burst out laughing because he had just sung "O Christmas tree" 5 times in a row, as if it was some kind of religious ritual that he had to respect.

There's our tree, in all its awkward glory! And on the TV, CQC! (a hilarious Daily-Show-esque program)

I plan to keep that cheesy little picture frame ornament forever. It's our 4th Christmas as a couple (can you believe it?) but our first Christmas ornament together. When we're old and retired with our 10 dogs and 10 cats and 0 kids with a beach house in Recife and a winter house in California, using the seasons as verbs, that ornament will still be on our tree, with the picture permanently stuck to the clear plastic cover and its cheap Chinese glitter all chipped away from the wood.

That's right. The frame was imported. Probably from China to the US, and then the US to Brazil.

Thank you, my dear manual laborers in China. What would Christmas be without you?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Summertime and Air Conditioners

So the high here today was 99 degrees F (37C). It's almost 10pm, and it's still 95 outside. We don't have an air conditioner-- only ceiling fans in the living room and the bedroom, and then a little machine that I have dubbed "a portable swamp cooler" for lack of an English word:

You put water in it and plug it into the wall and then it has a little fan thing that sends out cool, humid air.  In Portuguese, it's called a "climatizador." It's no a/c, but it's much better than just the fan. It's also cheaper than the Brazilian type of residential air-conditioners, which are purchased per room and which are like electric swamp coolers:

The picture above is of a really fancy Brazilian air-conditioner. Most are just little boxes, like this: 

The cool air only comes out of the little grades on the right, not the big grades on the left. But I tell ya, I'd give a kidney for one of those things some nights.

So yes. It's HOT. I mean, I grew up in the Coachella Valley:

Average summer temperatures are never lower than 105 degrees F. So the heat isn't news for me... it's just harder to deal with when the only places in town that have central air are the mall and Wal-Mart.

But this blog entry is to be optimistic about the Brazilian "interior's" summer heat. Here are some of the benefits:

*There are even more excuses for milk shakes and ice cream from a kiosk

*When you exercise, your extra sweat gives you the illusion of having exercised more than you really did

*Clothes are dry on the line before the next load even finishes

*You can wash and dry clothes at night

*Your sexy husfriend spends more time in just his underwear (don't tell him I wrote that)

*It's the short time of the year when nothing molds

*It's where birds come "for the winter" (for the Brazilians, that's something North Americans always say... "Birds fly south for the winter"... when I suppose we should say something like "birds migrate in order to always be in someone's summer")

*The beach will be ideal once your summer (aka Christmas) vacation starts

*You can get a tan just by walking to the corner bakery and back

*"There are fewer cases of the flu!" (Dr. Alexandre's answer to my question "What are some benefits of the heat and the summer?")

and of course,

*There are beautiful thunderstorms that always cool things down a bit!
What an amazing sky, ?

Can you guys think of any other benefits of the tropical summer heat?

Our Feline Guest

So last week, one of our friends, who is also one of Alexandre's former classmates (so great to say that... FORMER classmate) was out of town for residency tests and asked us to take care of her cat for a few days. Since Alexandre was out of town too, she was really asking ME to take care of the cat, but I was cool with it.

The little kitty's name is Mel. It means both "honey" and "hazel" in Portuguese, but I think she was going for "honey". (In Brazil, the name "Mel" for pets is practically the equivalent of "Spot" or "Tabby" in the US in terms of popularity.)

Anyway. The little kitty was a darling. She is similar to Gatinha in coloring, but not fat and so about 1/4 of the size, and also with a wacked-out face, which made her look like Gatinha's deranged step-cousin.

See, here's Gatinha, irritated to have some other cat occupying "her throne" (aka "the apartment"):

And here's Mel, hiding out and paranoid in the closet:
Hahahaha! That face!  It kept me cracking up the whole week. 

Gatinha, however, was not amused. She was actually a very rude hostess and a bully to our guest. If she could talk, I think she would've told me, "Mamãe!!!" (because she's bilingual...) "How dare you bring this other stupid little cat here, forcing me to share my toys and your attention!" They spent most of the week growling at each other. But Mel was a scaredy-cat (har har) and didn't defend herself against Gatinha's hostile advances. She just scampered away to hide herself under the bed and in the closet.

In fact, Mel liked to hide so much that I actually lost her in the apartment a few times, and always found her after a few minutes of searching, tucked into some nook or cranny. But one night, I couldn't find her in any of her favorite hiding places, and I was starting to panic! But then I heard some little meows from the bathroom, and found this:

I envied her a bit. It's as hot as all hell here, and that porcelain must have been a welcome relief. She was so nice as to reward me with a little kiss for finding her:

Precious! I was sad when her mom came to pick her up. But I think she and Gatinha were pleased that they were being separated.

However, even though Mel was fun to have around, Gatinha is still my one and only. Alexandre and I went out to a birthday party tonight, and we came home to the remains of the first giant moth of the season to have entered in the house. Gatinha was so helpful as to hunt it down and eat (most of) it for us while we were gone. How many of you can say that your cat saves you from giant mutant moths? AND that your husfriend sweeps up the big pieces of dead bug for you after the cat is done with it?  I really do have it made.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Foreign language education in this country is abysmal. It makes me want to scratch my eyes out. These horrible, horrible "teachers" are ripping people off. I've always said that too many English teachers in Brazil think that teaching English means "reading the answers and phrases in the book in a formal voice." Oh, and it helps if you've got some American and British flags hanging up.

Here, have a gander at a program on Canal Cultura (like PBS in the US) called "Inglês com Música". This program was apparently started in 1969, and no one has thought to reexamine teaching theories since then.


Once you get past the singing part, which seems fun enough, the "cheecher" comes out you can see the program for what it really is.

The worst part is that the teachers I had to watch at the English schools I worked at used methods that were very, very similar: i.e., they talk out of their asses about nothing in particular, throw in some cutesy English phrases and immediately translate them into Portuguese, and the students stare silently and politely. Sometimes the teacher spontaneously pauses after saying an English phrase and expects the students to realize that they need to repeat it. Some figure it out and parrot the phrase back to her, with no idea of what they're saying. Hooray for rote memorization and the outdated audiolingual method!

Then the teacher hands out some useless and non-sequitur worksheet that they printed off of the first website that came up in their Google search for "English class activities", without explaining anything or letting the students speak in class. Then the students silently complete the worksheets while gossiping among themselves in Portuguese. Then the teacher corrects them with a bunch of Cs and Xs next to each answer (C for correct and X for incorrect) and hands them back the next day with no more practice or explanation.

And my students wonder why they've had a hard time speaking English.

OMG this video is depressing.

Are you a Brazilian who has studied English with better teachers and better methods?? Please, say so in the comments. Show me that English education here is not completely hopeless.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ray Adkins Has a Blog!

That's right folks, beloved commenter and unofficial historian on Brazil, "Ray Adkins" (not his real name, obviously) has finally come around and made his own blog. You can check it out here and here:



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is it Férias Yet??

I don't know about you guys, but I'm totally over work and ready for vacation. My awesome friend Jamie is coming to visit next month!! She'll be spending Christmas and New Year's with us and Alexandre's family. (HOORAY! Another girl to help combat / cancel out the gaggle of patricinhas that the SIL brings along.)

Also, Alexandre's currently in the testing phases of the residency process. He's applying to a lot of residencies across the state, so there's a good chance that we'll move out of Caipirópolis!! I'll certainly miss the nature-y stuff and all that, but I am SO SO SO omg SO ready for a change of scenery! We'll know some time around Christmas / New Year's, and of course, you'll all know when I know!!

But let's get back to the part about being sick of work. Who else reading this is teaching? Perhaps you'll feel my pain. I mean, I still enjoy teaching, for the most part. Just not at this particular time. I've had pretty much the same students since June. I use the same material with everyone (either my book or the Touchstone book series), which is helpful in terms of organizing and preparing supplemental activities, but which becomes tedious after explaining the same things and hearing the same answers for months on end. Seriously. Almost all of my students respond to questions in the exact same way. It's mind-boggling. (You may remember a very old entry about this.) My brain is bored.

Anyway. The other problem that I'm having with a surprisingly high number of students is their blatant refusal to SPEAK ENGLISH in English class!! I mean... wtf!! I give them conversation topics that I've written that correspond to the chapters in the books, and the questions are very controlled so that they don't get stuck trying to use grammar or vocab that they haven't learned. But students just respond in Portuguese! I interrupt them and say "English, English!" or I let them finish and then say "ok, now tell me in English!", and then they say "aww, teacher!!" as if I've just asked them to clean my cat's litterbox.

I really really don't understand. They have the words there in the chapter. I'm not asking basic students questions like "If you had a million dollars, what would you do?" with conditional grammar or anything like that. I think people just honestly get so excited to tell me their opinion and forget that I care less about their opinion than I do about hearing their English so that I can correct it.  So to recap, I think they're excited to say what they think and... some of them are a little bit lazy (speaking a foreign language is tiring). Any other theories? I mean, I don't want to completely ban Portuguese from class, the way some schools do. I think that's kind of hostile and a little unnecessary (the school where I used to work actually put up big signs that said NO ENGLISH with a circle and a red line through it, kind of missing the mark there with the unnecessary "NO"... anyway).

I mean, I want them to be able to ask questions about words they don't know. I want to be able to explain in Portuguese if they're basic or totally lost. But I want them to actually speak English when I ask them the questions in the chapter.

So yeah. Those are my two gripes du jour. I'm just kind of getting burnt out on teaching in this way (back-to-back private classes and small groups, at my house, day in and day out). I've been thinking a lot about what I'm going to do if we end up in a bigger city next year. For example, if we're in Campinas or São Paulo (two possibilities), it's not really viable to rent a two-bedroom apt and ask people to come to me. The rent is really expensive, and the cities are more spread out. However, it's also not really profitable to travel around to people's houses, because I'd lose so much teaching time in traffic. If I do keep teaching in a big city, I'd probably modify my little book to be "English for Doctors" or something, and then just focus on teaching the doctors in the neighborhood, maybe even in small groups at the hospital. (But that would get pretty tedious, too! Only one book!)

I've thought about applying at some translation companies (I had gotten hooked up with one in São Paulo once that wanted to hire me, but all translations were in-house, so the guy told me to call him if I ever moved). However, I had a really bad experience working as a translating team at that old evil school where I used to work (because I am a linguistic snob but... more because the other people were stupid), and I've also read Nancy's annoyed stories, and they scare me off a bit. I also don't know how well I'd do going back to having a boss and an inflexible work schedule after proving to myself that I can be successful and happier and even richer without those two things.

Dear Buddy Bruna has been encouraging me to go around to universities in São Paulo and hand out flyers offering translation and correction services and try to just increase my clientele on the freelance translation side instead of the teaching side. Do any of you do that? How do you guarantee that people pay you? As of right now, I only do translations for people in the public university in town, and it's already a pain in the butt to get some of them to pay in a timely manner. (And they know that I could go to them and be difficult if I really needed to.)

I guess those are all of my ideas for now. The theme of the night is "burnt out and over it, and other metaphors". Alexandre comes home tomorrow after being gone for tests for 5 days, and I'm gonna cook him a big welcome home lunch. That should wake up my brain a bit.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Serenaded Hourly

I tell ya, some days I feel like I live inside a Crayola box. It's that bright and beautiful here.

I went over to the local represa (lake/dam/park place) just after it rained yesterday. (Click on this collage to see all the pics)

I figure since I've identified all of the birds that live there, it's time to move on to the flowers. I actually don't really care about identifying the flowers, but I do like to take pictures of them. Here are some of my favorites:

I took that! A moment of good luck with my camera's zoom feature

my happy place

the end of the afternoon

Just gorgeous. I feel gluttonous, taking in so much beauty. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Rest of the Formatura

Sorry I've taken so long to put up the last details about Alexandre's formatura! This week was kind of chaotic. But the last two things I have to tell you about are the actual graduation ceremony and the final dance!

It feels like they were a hundred years ago, so I'm gonna be briefer than I would've been had I written this entry in timely fashion.

The night after the formal dinner was the collação de grão colação de grau (I can't spell), which is the part of the formatura that is most similar to an American graduation ceremony. The graduates were paraded toward the stage again, except this time people were (slightly) calmer, and the graduate's clothes were much more entertaining:


Their caps and gowns totally put American caps and gowns to shame (or, depending on how you look at it, put Brazilians to shame, what with the bib and all).  You can also see a bit of dress #4 in this picture. That night was kind of crazy (the place was way too small for the number of people that came) so we never got around to taking any more pictures together.

But anyway, this ceremony was just lovely. I was expecting it to be drawn-out and redundant (after the relatively similar ceremony on the first night). However, it was actually really powerful and emotional and it made me (and everyone else) cry and then want to hug everyone. A professor gave a speech that I didn't understand, but that made everyone cry and give him a standing ovation! It was something about sitting on his father's knee and learning life lessons, I don't know. I got lost. Too bad.

But the other speeches were from fellow students: one speech honoring parents who had passed away (tear jerker), one honoring living parents (during which graduates were so inspired that the emcee gave them permission to leave the stage to go down and hug their parents), and one student giving a big "thanks for the memories" to her fellow students. There was even a small live orchestra accompanying the ceremony and the speeches. And then the graduates gave their "do no harm" oaths and Alexandre became Dr. Alexandre!!! OMG WATERWORKS. (However, they received their title only after taking a picture with a borla (aka tea-cozy-turned-hat) on their heads, which just made me continue crying, except this time, it was out of laughter):
This is a picture of the borla thing  from the internet. Unfortunately, I was sitting too far away to get a picture of Alexandre in this situation.

The lighting was pretty bad for picture taking, so this was one of the only good pictures I got of Alexandre, but at least it was right during the moment when he was receiving his degree (if you look really closely, you can see the borla on the table):
So yes. What a wonderful night! So proud of my husfriend!

The last night was the baile, or the farewell dance. It didn't start until 11pm!  It was held at the same place as the dinner. What can I say? Small town.

However! Same place, but new dress! Alexandre's in a tux! And I'm in Dress #5, in all its glory:

Yeah, sorry, you guys saw that one in the dressing room pic. Anyway. It looks like it's photoshopped, but it's just my camera's weird night setting.

Anyway, I was a doofus and when I took out my camera's memory card to upload pics for the last blog, I forgot to put it back in! My camera alone can only hold 7 pictures, so that's how many pictures I took on the last night. Here's one more, after about 6 hours of dancing and debauchery at a dance hall with an open bar:
I think that picture is a pretty good metonymy of how the night went. Oh. I'll add in here that it was shortly after this picture that I was drunk enough to take off my Dr. Rey girdle in the bathroom and leave it on our reserved table. No one stole it, obviously.

We got home at about 9am, and the formatura was over, the end! And the best part is that my husfriend isn't a student anymore (thank you Jesus), and that I'm married to a doctor, and that even though it was an end, it's only the beginning for us. Ok, that's three best parts. But that's what Brazilian formaturas are all about: countless best parts!

Congratulations, Alexandre!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Formatura: The Mass and The Dinner

Moving on to the second day of the formatura!!

After our very late dinner on Thursday night, we had to wake up early on Friday morning and go to a special Catholic mass ceremony for the graduates and their families. Alexandre totally didn't want to go but he went for his mom.

About the mass? It was mass, and I'm not Catholic. Or religious at all. So it was pretty, but boring. The worst part was that the families had to sit really far from the graduates (who were all sitting together in the front), which meant that I couldn't sit with Alexandre during the ceremony to snicker and make offensive jokes about religion. He went to Catholic school as a little boy. He has quite the arsenal of wisecracks saved up. 

It always amazes me the way that Catholic people memorize all these little phrases and rituals. Like someone (usually the priest) will say something, and then everyone knows that when he says that, they're supposed to say something else. Super interesting.  

The majority of the speeches were bible readings that were foundations for people to say thank you to God, to their families, to their teachers, and to their patients. I just kept thinking the whole time how a Catholic mass as part of a graduation would NEVER fly at an American public university. 

I really like my dress! 
same exact spot as the last picture

My shoes, however, were another story. They were probably the most painful shoes I've ever worn. Seriously ridiculous. If you want to put me into a bad mood and get me started on feminist rants about machismo culture in the world, the most efficient way to do it is to put me in a pair of cheap and uncomfortable heels. During part of my ranting to Alexandre on the car ride home to get new shoes before going to lunch, I said, "Water boarding be damned! If you really want to torture political prisoners, make them walk in these goddamned heels!"

We had a nice lunch with Alexandre's family at a fancy Italian restaurant that we had never gone to before because we would've had to pay for it. Haha. 

In a perfect world, we would've gone home to sleep after lunch and before the formal dinner, which started at 10pm. But Alexandre had a bunch of errands to run, so I kept him company. I had made an appointment for my and my MIL's hair at 7pm, so we didn't have much time anyway. Had to get prettied up for the formal dinner!!

Alexandre's mother is from Bahia, and so is my hair dresser. They're also close in age and very religious. So just as I imagined, they hit it off and spent all of both hair appointments chatting it up. I had been prepared, and I brought a book. Haha. 

Oh, and I got to see the process of fazer escova in action!! Alexandre's mom's hair came out so nice. BUT. It's not something I'd ever pay for. Her hair is super thick and she can go 3 days without washing it. That is not my case. But I see the appeal for someone with thick hair.

After the hair appointments, I rushed back to the apartment to do my makeup. Then we had to go! 

look at handsome Alexandre in his suit!

Yay! I think it was the most dressed up I've ever been. As my awesome friend Natasha put it, I looked like a "prom princess." Hahaha. 

The dress was Alex's sister's, and it was a little too small. A lot too small. I had on my trusty knockoff  Dr. 90210 girdle, which made it possible to close the thing, but I wasn't able to go to the bathroom by myself, because I needed someone to help me get it on and off. But I sure did look skinny! 

I was the designated driver on Friday night - Saturday, so it was a pretty calm night for me. Lots of dancing around like a dork with Alexandre and dear buddy Bruna. I also made friends with a graduate's sister because she had lived in Canada for a while and was tipsy and wanted to speak English with me. She was fun. 
dear buddy Bruna and me!

Oh also the dance hall where the dinner was held was super fancy. It had a little lake and everything. There was a sort of bleacher/stage thing set up facing the lake that had comfy couches and armchairs on it. It was easy to miss, so there was always seating available. We took lots of breaks from dancing up there, and stayed until 5am! Woot. 

I'm not sure what the problem is, but the quality of these pictures seems really bad. Ya know, I think it's because I usually write blog entries on our laptop, but now I'm on the desktop, and it has a massive screen. Do the pictures seem "pixelated" to you guys?

Anyway, the next entry will be about the beautiful diploma ceremony and the dance!

Oh, we have a new and not-so-secret reader. One of the graduates, also named Daniele, drunkenly admitted to reading my blog. (I think she found a link to it on Facebook.) Hi, Daniele! Feel free to leave a comment! :D

Read about the rest of the formatura here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Formatura: The First Night!

Ok! The formatura's almost over, and this is the first time I've had more than a few minutes to myself. So of course I'm using this time to inform all you dear and anxious readers about the event!

We've had 4 of the 5 events, so I might break the entries up a little bit (there's so much I want to tell you, and I've been taking notes! No, really. I literally have. I've been keeping a pen and little papers in my clutch purse, just to remember the stuff to write here). A short version is: sleep a little, wake up, shower, pile on makeup, dress up, funfunfun, go home, sleep a little, repeat. But my blog is all about the long versions!

So, here we go: The first night!

The first night was a sort of kick-off ceremony. Each graduate was called to the stage one by one, and had to cross a sort of fashion show runway through the cheering audience to get there. This was when Alexandre's chosen song was played. He ended up going with Frank Sinatra, but after hearing other people's choices (things like the Ghostbusters theme song, the song from House (get it?), and that song by Usher that goes “do-do, DO do! Yeah yeah!”), I was a little sad that we didn't go with the bedroom rapist rapper. As the Brazilian commenters predicted, this part of the festivities was totally joyous and entertaining and not formal (even though we were all in formal clothes). People made funny signs for their graduating family members. Some were wearing colorful clown wigs and throwing confetti as their family members crossed the runway. Most people had noisemakers. Dear buddy Bruna is graduating, too, and her friends and family all made matching bright green shirts with her picture on it. Haha.

Alexandre crossing the runway...Look what a rockstar he is!!

This first event was held on a soccer field that had been covered with a temporary tent and converted into a sort of hall. It was stiflingly hot. (We're in summer now, remember?) And of course, because we were operating on Brazil time, we had to sit and wait for the thing to start for over an hour later than the scheduled starting time. So everyone was sweating and complaining, EXCEPT ME. Why, you ask? Because I was wearing a girdle. That's right. All of the Dr. Rey infomercials convinced me to buy one. (Joking, I freaking hate that guy. My own insecurity was enough to convince me. I love how the commercial says “don't be embarassed or the victim of mean comments!”) Anyway anyway. The girdle was as uncomfortable as all hell, but it hid my pansita AND my sweat. More about it later.

The whole event was just a happy night. As each graduate crossed the runway, I realized that I didn't dislike EVERYONE. There were a lot of people who I was happy to see. And I was even happy to see the ones I don't like, because this graduation means I don't have to see them being rude and drunk and stupid at any more parties ever again! Whoo hoo. Oh yeah, and the runway part was also an opportunity for me to learn a lot of people's real names. In case you don't know, medical school upperclassmen are notorious for giving embarrassing nicknames to incoming freshmen. They're used so much that I don't know what to call some of these people now that they're not using the nicknames anymore. (By the way, Alexandre's nickname is “feio”! (It means “ugly”.) Isn't that horrible?!!? He's not ugly. That's just mean. Another reason I'm happy that he's graduating and leaving his med school turma-cult. I did my best to change it to “bonitão”, but my efforts were in vain.)

Anyway anyway. I was left to chat with the sister-in-law in the audience, because the younger brother-in-law is so shy that he's practically mute, and the parents sit at the front in graduation ceremonies. But we bonded over gossip about the graduates: her love for it, and my wealth of knowledge on the subject.

But yes, back to Alexandre!! Awww, he was so happy and looked so handsome up there on the stage. I saw that he spent most of the ceremony making wisecracks to the people next to him, forcing them to cover their faces and stifle their laughter. (I couldn't hear him from my seat, but I know all too well his “har har, I'm being a smart ass” face.)

The rest of the ceremony was comprised of award-giving and speeches in formal Portuguese. Most of the details were lost on me, but I got the general clichêd jist. Alexandre got a little plaque for his involvement in student council during his first years of college, and I was reminded that ordinal numbers in Portuguese are hard! (I remembered this because, while American universities refer to graduating classes by the year that they graduate (ex, class of 2010), Brazilian universities refer to them by the ordinal number of classes that have graduated from that school, (for example, the 45th graduating class, or the 28th graduating class). So I heard a lot of ordinal numbers during the speeches.

Oh yes, and I saw my first giant black moth of the season, there in the makeshift auditorium! It was flying around by the stage, then it landed on the state flag, and then flew into the front of the audience, probably scaring the bejeezus out of someone's poor mother. Luckily, we were seated too far away for it to attack me!

But all in all, it was a very happy night, and a great start to the formatura.

Here's our first dress-up pic of the formautra! (To answer Nancy's question, I rented one dress, bought 3, and borrowed one from Alexandre's sister.) I call this green dress my fish dress:

Later:  The Mass and The Dinner!!

Keep reading about the formatura here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Last-Minute Formatura Diet

What's the best way to lose weight quickly before having to fit into your fancy formatura dresses?

A couple of days before, try unknowingly picking up a parasite or stomach virus that makes you throw up everything you eat!

It started kind of suddenly during one of my classes. I had to send the students home. How embarrassing!

I'm pretty much better now. I'm still pretty nauseous, but I'm keeping my dinner down so far.

At least the dresses will look better...! ...?

In other news, the in-laws are in town and actually liked the apartment and the restaurant that I took them to. (Yay! My housewifery skills have been approved. I was nervous.) Apparently the apartment (and its state of cleanliness) are a far cry from the last time they came to visit, which was years ago, when Alexandre was in a tiny apartment and living a lone bachelor's (messy) life.

Tomorrow's the first dress-up night! So it's the first night of the formatura, AND, it's Alexandre's birthday! I bought him a new fancy briefcase for his residency, and also wrote him a poem in Portuguese (with Bruna's help). I'm pretty proud of myself.

Dress-up pics to come!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Bugs are Coming!

Yes, that's right. Summertime is slowly making its way around the latitudinal corner, and in our neck of the rainforest, that means: INSECT SEASON.

Gatinha is having a field day. When I came back from São Paulo on Sunday night, I was greeted with the successes of Gatinha's nightly hunting adventures strewn about the apartment: moth wings, big green grasshopper legs, and a giant, intact (and luckily dead) cicada. I'm not sure if they were presents ("welcome home, Mommy!") or punishments ("This is what happens when you leave me alone for two nights!").

So far (because it's only November 8th), I haven't had to face anything big and living yet. Most of what is coming into the apartment is annoying little beetles and these small green and transparent things. And so far, all of the moths have been small and manageable. I think these little moths are like, the scouts sent in by the big guys to scope out the perimeter. I'm hoping that the fact that so few of them make it back to base alive will discourage the evil mutant moths from seeking out refuge in our apartment. If that doesn't work, may the mutant moths lose their way while coming down from Mexico! I'm thinking about partnering up with Gatinha to make a commercial trying to convince them to go to Colombia instead (akin to those silly Colombian tourism commercials that play on CNN International all the time... "Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay!").

But even if Gatinha doesn't feel like directing a video for the moths, she is still my partner in crime. When a moth comes into the apartment, she kindly alerts me by mewing and crying like a lunatic:


I then turn off the ceiling light of whatever room the moth (and Gatinha) are in, and turn on my little desk lamp. (If the desk lamp isn't in the correct room, I bring it there.) If necessary, I swat at the moth with the broom, and it invariably heads toward the desk lamp, unwittingly making itself accessible to Gatinha's deadly claws. Now that the moth is conveniently off of the ceiling and within reach, Gatinha happily attacks it (chasing it around the room if necessary) and, if I'm lucky, eats it right up. (In the cases that I'm not so lucky, she leaves all or part of the moth dead for me to clean up. But I guess beggars can't be choosers.)

So we have a pretty good system in place for when Alexandre is not home. When he IS home, I cry and whine as much as Gatinha does for him to get the moth off of the ceiling and out of the apartment.

A couple of months ago, one of my students gave me a flyer that he stumbled upon that was advertising custom-made screens. (He said he saw the flyer and remembered me and my moth stories, haha!) But when I called and asked for an estimate, they were kind of expensive. So we decided to wait to see if we'll actually end up living here past January (in which case the screens would be a sound investment).

I didn't always hate bugs with such fervor. I didn't always dread turning on the kitchen light in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. I think I was traumatized by all the big bugs from the last two seasons. I don't think I feared bugs as much when I was living in the US because I didn't know their potential. I thought bugs of such terrifying proportions were confined to bad sci-fi movies and like, the Cambodian jungle.

Here's hoping that we're out of Caipiriópolis before the big guys settle into town for the season!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

São Paulo Adventure Weekend

So I've met up with Alexandre in the marvelous fantastic São Paulo for the weekend! (Remember that he's here for residency reviews.) I moved my afternoon classes to earlier days in the week in order to get the late-morning bus to The City. I decided to dress up a bit, since it would've been a whole week since Alexandre saw me. (I cheated and wore flip flops on the bus ride and brought heels in my bag.)

So my bus dropped me off smack in the middle of Friday night rush hour in Barra Funda, one of the biggest bus terminals in the second biggest city in the world. Alexandre, ever helpful, shouted into his cell phone, “I'm at the entrance to the metro station! Meet me here.” Thank you, Alexandre. Barra Funda is nothing more than a long-distance bus station, a municipal bus station, a long-distance train, and a metro station all packed into one crazy crowded place. But after a quick (paid) potty break and shoe change and only a couple of turn-arounds, I started seeing signs with arrows that said “Metrô," and I figured it out and found Alexandre (yay!).

My first lesson of the evening? São Paulo public transit at rush hour is not for the faint of heart. Or for people wearing heels and carrying a duffel bag. (The heels lasted exactly one metro ride before I switched back to the flip flops. Cute outfits be damned!)

We had to take the red line (the worst one) and transfer twice and THEN take a bus for about 40 minutes to Alex's sister's apartment. The wait for the red line was a cattle-crowd mess. Pushy and stinky and everyone complaining. I felt overdressed. Things got progressively better as we got away from that first stop and toward the sister's house. But when all was said and done, the commute took 3 hours!!! (At least the sister leaves for the weekends and we didn't have to come back here and deal with her.)

Don't worry, minha Sampa querida. I still love you. But your second lesson has been learned: If we end up moving here next year, we will live within walking distance of a metro stop and Alexandre's hospital, and then I'll either continue to teach from home or find something that is equally easy to get to. None of this 3-hour commute nonsense.

We walked to a sushi restaurant on Friday night (yay!), slept in on Saturday (today), and then proceeded to spend most of the day doing what I always do in São Paulo: losing myself in bookstores. I splurged a bit, like on a new Barbara Kingsolver book and on Ingrid Bentancourt's memoirs (and some others). FYI, Paulistanos: The bookstore Fnac is having a sale on English books!

Great things we saw in São Paulo this weekend:
  • a man in a favela flying a kite
  • an older woman wearing super tight pink pants, a white tube top, and with her hair dyed blonde with pink tips
  • lots of openly gay couples (so refreshing!)
  • a guy playing the saxophone on the street
  • A bank with a cultural center inside
  • A mall with a little museum inside (though I'd seen that before; it's on Avenida Paulista)
  • an old lady watching a novela episode on her cell phone in a cafe
  • other foreigners!

But super exciting was meeting up with fellow blogger Bruno and his lovely lady, Ellen, for dinner and dessert! What great company. Our blogs don't do us justice! We are just too cool for our own words. The four of us had a great time swapping cultural stories. A real United Nations. Ok, more like the Breakfast Club of the United Nations, which makes us even cooler.

Tomorrow is a mysterious mountain expedition with Bruno and Ellen, a possible meet-up with dear buddy Bruna, and then my long bus ride back to Caipirópolis. Pictures to come pending better internet connection speeds.

I'm ready to live here noooowwwwww –  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Final Thoughts on Buenos Aires and Argentina

I was writing all this out as a comment on Rachel's blog, but then I decided to just post it here instead. They are my final thoughts (words of warning) if you're traveling to Buenos Aires:

(1) If you go in with an American passport, you're gonna have to pay 150 DOLLARS just to get into the country. Do you have a Brazilian passport? If so, lucky you. Use it, and speak only Portuguese.

(2) Don't let the currency exchange fool you. I was super excited when I saw the exchange rate, too. But Argentina has a lot of inflation, so crap ends up costing the same. So if something costs 5 reais in Brazil, it's gonna cost 10 or 11 pesos in Argentina. So not cheaper. :( :(

(3) Change your money at the "banco nacional de Argentina" in the airport. You won't see it until you get out of customs and after you pick up your bags and leave all that area. But it's the national bank so the exchange rate is actually 2.3 pesos to the real as I type this. (The little private companies next to baggage claim were offering only 1.7 pesos to the real!) So be patient, my young sparrow. And yes, you can exchange reais. You don't need dollars.

(4) People from Buenos Aires were kind of anti-gringo in general. At least that was the vibe I got. I've never felt like that in Sao Paulo, but my students say it's like that in Rio. (Thoughts?) Anyway, public (government-run) places (national parks, some museums, etc) are more expensive (like, try up to 4 times the price) for foreigners. Also, expect sudden "special charges" on almost all of your restaurant bills that they'll explain in really fast Spanish so it makes it next to impossible for you to argue with them. A big problem we had was that 3 restaurants gave us bills that were totally different from what we ordered (and more expensive), and they all tried to explain some BS about why it was necessary. Like we'd have 2 entrees and 2 drinks, but the bill would have 6 things of all different prices. They'd try to say things like "oh no, we have to charge that entree as 2 separate things!" yeah.

(5) The same thing goes for taxis. As soon as they hear your accent, a lot of them are ready to do you in. One driver told me halfway into the drive, "oh, today, the taxi rates are actually higher, but I didn't have time to buy a new machine. So the total is gonna be 10 pesos more than what it says on the meter. If you don't believe me, we can stop and buy a newspaper." Right. Oh, and a nice taxi driver showed us that even the "radio taxis", which are supposed to be more honest, aren't. The drivers have these little remote controls that they keep in their left hands that they use to add 10 cents repeatedly while they're driving. So the total just gradually goes up faster than it should, but most people don't realize it. So walk... or watch out for the controllers.

(6) Mugging is a huge problem. I'd heard that quite a few times, but I figured it'd be the same as any other big city. But then some teenagers tried to mug me. Luckily, my purse strap was made of metal, so when they yanked on it, it didn't break. Don't wear a watch and try to avoid a purse in general.

Does it sound like I didn't like Buenos Aires that much? In these aspects, I didn't. One of my students also went there this month, and he put it best. He said: "they have everything Sao Paulo has, but the people in Sao Paulo are nicer and the trip is way cheaper."  But I think if you go in expecting these things, you'll be less caught off-guard and can just enjoy the good stuff (and it's mostly good stuff, as you saw in my previous posts).
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