Friday, January 27, 2012

The Entry in Which I Get My Life Back


We moved today.
Yesterday was Alexandre’s last day in the military.

I spent the days before the move doing most of the packing, since Alexandre still had to work. Gatinha was a helpful assistant.

By “helpful,” I mean “often getting in the way because of her fascination with suitcases and boxes and being inside things but with a cute face that prevents anyone from getting annoyed with her.”

Thursday morning (today, though it feels like so long ago), we woke up very early to finish getting things ready for the movers. Then I walked up and down the 3 flights of stairs of our building, maybe 30 times or more, carrying the lighter boxes to help speed things along. Eventually, all the loading into the moving truck was done, and we said goodbye and good riddance to the crappy beach town.

Gatinha's hot pink cat carrier. Alexandre was not pleased when I came home with it. heheh

The new building has an elevator, so the move into the new apartment was significantly quicker. To be lazy and avoid helping with the move into the new place, I left to pick up some sandwiches from a restaurant nearby for me, Alexandre, and the movers, and once the guys left, Alexandre and I ate on desk chairs on the balcony, since we don’t have a dining room table yet. We enjoyed the smell of cookies and rain and mato and newness and we enjoyed the precious silence. Gatinha was spooked and hid in the closet, but I was finally safe and calm and at peace.

After much-needed showers in our gorgeous, white-tiled bathroom with the shower door made of glass, we went to copy keys at a super fancy mall. I spent a better part of the day negotiating over the phone with the boss of the English “school” I interviewed at. (Remember it’s not exactly a school, more like a broker between students and private teachers.) He has a few students that he’s trying to set me up with, and we were working out the details. One accepted all the terms, and I meet her tomorrow! My first student in our new city. :) Let’s hope the others get on board, too.

Alexandre and I also went to a great store like Sam’s Club that requires a membership and everything. We bought few things that we needed and lots of treats that we didn’t. We bought wine to celebrate but fell asleep before we could drink it. Moving is tiring.

My new bedroom is like a cave. It’s cool and small and dark. Last night was nice and chilly.  The cat curled up between us and we slept under a comforter. The rain pattered against the windows and it was the only sound around. Though the cat is still on Alexandre’s military time (get it? Military time? har har) and woke us up by crying for food at 6:30am on the dot, it was still the best night of sleep I’ve had in recent memory.


Today I had my first student from the school and a meeting with the boss guy at his office. Both went smoothly. The city is big but so gloriously organized. Every street I needed had a sign, which, as those of you living in Brazil know, is a rare gem in this country. The GPS worked flawlessly and the other drivers were civilized. The buses have their own lanes and no one almost killed me and I didn’t yell at a single passing car. This place is another world.

This city is richer, there’s a strong middle class, and in general, people are more educated. That means the employees at the supermarket and the lady selling the city bus cards could actually carry out proper, helpful conversations about the services they offered. It means sushi is reasonably priced. I think these factors may also explain the relative quality of the roads and transit. (Did I mention all the useful signs?)

I made a professional Facebook profile, and a guy studying at the local university already found me and asked for classes. He and a friend are coming to the apartment on Tuesday to meet me (and Alexandre, who will stay home to make sure they’re not weirdos) and hopefully sign contracts.

We drove to the in-laws’ house for dinner, because it’s close by and we could.

And now I’m back to being alive again, and the year of living in a dingy apartment under a dirty raincloud is finally over. I’d almost lost myself back there. I think the thing I’m most proud of is having resisted the ease and temptation of becoming an alcoholic. I’m in the clear now; there’s no more risk of that happening. It’s only been 2 days but it’s already evident that things are changing drastically, and for the better.

I’m ready for you, new city! Let’s do this.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Moving: the Fun Part

So this week, I've been been busy busy busy! We got our keys to the new apartment, cleaned it, moved the first round of stuff, and started the best part: furniture shopping!

Luckily, we will now live only about 20 minutes away from the in-laws. It's really going to be helpful to have their support and company. They have answers to everything! They already know things like where to find a good plumber, the best place to buy vegetables, and, ahem...a good place for dinner on nights that we don't feel like cooking. :) I've given up on getting anything more than passing cordiality out of Alexandre's brother and sister, but I think living so close will help me bond more with Alexandre's parents. I'm totally going to step up my Brazilian-ness this year, because we will be having weekly Sunday lunches at their house!

Anyway, the mother-in-law has been extra helpful with turning our new apartment into a home. She treats interior design and decorating as a hobby. She reads design blogs for fun. She subscribes to housing magazines and buys these kinds of magazines in other languages when she goes on vacation. So we asked if we could "hire" her on as our official interior designer. She was bowled over! I think she's designed the you-know-what out of her own house and is itching for a new project.

She took our request very seriously. This weekend, she and I sat down and she showed me a million blogs and websites with pictures of apartments. She asked me what I liked and didn't like about the different pictures until she could establish a name for my "style" (clean and contemporary, she called it). Then she showed me a bunch of color pallets with color themes, and I picked the one I liked the best (earth tones: bright green, dark brown, charcoal, and white). The next morning, we went over to the new apartment and measured a bunch of stuff to get an idea of what sizes furniture pieces we needed.

Overall, she's been more helpful than anything. Of course, she has a slightly distorted idea of how much furniture should cost ("Etna is a cheap store!"), and then I had to give her a rule that we're not going to buy anything just for the sake of decoration: everything needs to have a function (that means no vases and no puffs, which is the Portuguese semantic shift word for footstool. She thinks these footstools, which are all the rage right now, are a great way to add color to a room...? Nah). But in general she's really giving us direction and good ideas.

The three of us went to the mall in the new city to try furniture shopping, except everything was crazy expensive and I'm suffering from a bit of sticker shock. I mean, I know prices in Brazil are high, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. But still! I think Alexandre and I will end up avoiding these big mall stores and trying the independent furniture makers (carpenters and ironmasters) in the interior.

Our first success with that was for our new couch. The living room in the new apartment is small, which means it needs a smaller-than-average couch. (The owners/previous residents had a big couch, but it blocked part of the door to the balcony and the TV was right in the sun. We're using another space.) Anyway, Alexandre's mom knew about this store that only makes and sells its own brand of couches. It's family-owned and operated, and everything's local. The best part is that they offer customized couches! The super knowledgeable salesman showed us a whole bunch of couches they had around the showroom. We told him which elements we liked and didn't like. He helped us choose the best cat-proof material. Then we got to design our own couch based on all the things we liked! The couch is perfectly tailored to our preferences and needs, and it was still cheaper than the crap we saw in the mall stores. Yay!

I'm hoping we can take the same route for the dining room table, because there's no way I'm paying upwards of 1,000 reais for a base and a piece of glass. 

But have I mentioned that our new apartment is infinitely and immeasurably better than where we're living now? Some highlights:

*Civilized neighbors!
*Relatively few neighbors with healthy amounts of space between apartments and buildings.
*Our own parking spot- no more sharing a spot with 3am phone calls to move the car.
*A 24-hour doorman service (that means no wierdos or gas salesmen calling on the intercom...or friends of people in other apartments whose friends won't answer and clearly aren't home, or the mailman calling for other apartments because he doesn't want to come back, or private delivery men (think FedEx) delivering something at 6am)
*A cookie factory close by that periodically fills the air with the sweet smell of cookies!
*Strict sound and cleanliness rules!
*An on-site admin office, like a sort of HOA office (a.k.a. a place for me to tattle on neighbors behaving badly)
*A pool and party area
*A big, gorgeous balcony with its own built-in barbecue (I know I told you that before, but just thought I'd remind you because it's so awesomely awesome)
*Big doors and windows that let in lots of sunlight
*An elevator <3
*Ample guest parking
*Hardwood floors (except for the bathroom and the kitchen, which have nice sleek tile)
*And, most importantly, peace and quiet.

And remember I told you that there's a big supermarket close by? We also discovered that this group of buildings within walking distance is actually a sort of open-air mall/business center. It has restaurants, a convenience store (minus the gas, though I think the supermarket sells gas), a branch of our bank, a lotérica to pay bills (woot), and best of all, a super amazing gym! All within walking distance. We went into the gym and they offer discounts for people who live in our apartment complex. It's super fancy and I can't want to start there.

I also had a job interview over Skype last week. It's a company in the new city that offers English classes at people's businesses. I go to people's jobs and have the option of offering that people come to my apartment. The school provides most of the material. I think it's better than a traditional school because I'll be out around town, meeting my students' colleagues (a.k.a. potential new students). The interview went well, so I'll be going in to meet the boss guy in person and see the material this week. Some of the students are Korean businesspeople and their families who are working in the new city. I've really missed having Korean students! It should be nice to talk crap about Brazil with them. hahaha.

So, hooray! Big changes! Oh, and I totally haven't mentioned in the blog that we're going to the US in February. (How lucky am I?) Soon after the move is squared away, we'll be on a plane to Californ-i-a.

That rhymed and this blog entry is annoyingly written. I'll stop now. Lots more cleaning and packing to do, anyway!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Caught Being Good: Supermarket Justice

Good news! It's been a while since I've posted a Caught Being Good award for anyone, and since we're moving in 6 days (SIX! Yeah, it got moved up a bit), I had just about given up on this crap town.

But today, I need to give an award to the last establishment that I'd ever expect to give it to (well, second-to-last; we can't forget evil, evil Telefónica). Today's Caught Being Good award goes to...

An employee at Extra Supermarket!

I know, right? Extra?! I'd actually decided to boycott the one closest to my apartment, partly because of the clientele but mostly because every single time I went there, something ridiculous happened. 

But then todaaaay I caved in. I was in the middle of making this AND this for dinner (not a traditional combo in theory, but it worked deliciously), and I realized that my lentils had bugs in them! Ugh. But it happens, am I right, Jim? So I decided to just suck it up and run over to Extra and buy some lentils and hope the employees didn't close their registers with 4 people waiting or let their friends cut in line again.

I quickly found the lentils (above some other product's price tag and without their own price tag in sight, but I digress) and headed over to the quick checkout line, which in this store is for 20 items or less. 

When I got in line, I realized that the guy in front of me clearly had more than 20 items in his cart. I decided to count (I was in line; what else was I gonna do?) and he actually had more like 35 items. It wasn't even a "ehhh....let's ring up all those beers as 1 and let you slide" kinda deal that the 20 items or less cashiers allow for.  It was just a blatant disregard for order or respect. The guy was about 30, and was dressed in overpriced jeans and a overpriced and overly-thin polo shirt that had some nonsense English babbling about Australia on the back (the back, not the front, because that makes him cooler, right?) He clearly had this attitude of "I'm richer than all of you and I make sure you all know so that you'll be pressured to agree that rules don't apply to me."

I considered saying something. I wanted to say, "It's surprising that someone with enough money to waste on clothes like that still hasn't learned how to read," and then point at the giant "20 ITEMS OR LESS" signs above his head. But I was worried that my sarcasm wouldn't work in Portuguese (it never does) and that he'd scoff at me and my accent. Then I remembered this little story I read on the internet once about some woman who tried cutting in an American 10 items or less line. The cashier said to that woman, "OK, so which 10 items would you like me to ring up today?". I fantasized about the Brazilian belp cashiers having that kind of snark. The man caught my eye, and I mustered a disapproving glare, glancing back from him to the cart and back to him again. He quickly looked away. Douche.

Eventually, it was the man's turn. The cashier called out próximo! (all you really hear is the ó) and the man sauntered up with his cart full of groceries. The cashier was bent over fixing something on her register and didn't immediately see the man. He quickly started loading his stuff onto the conveyor belt, hoping to pressure her into ringing him up, or maybe betting that she didn't know how to count (not an unreasonable assumption). But. Get this: 

The other cashier next to him TURNED AROUND, tapped Mr. Playboy on the shoulder, shook her head and gave him a firm NO.

"You've got too much stuff. This is the 20 items or less line. You're gonna have to go wait in the regular line." She pointed up at the signs, then pointed over at the regular lines.

The man tried to play dumb. "Oh, really?" he said, in way too high of a voice. "Oh, wow. I didn't know. Oh, I've already put my stuff up and everything." He tried giving her the puppy dog eyes that he must use on his mother and dumb girls at the bar.

The woman just stared at him menacingly until he took his things off the conveyor belt, put them back into his cart, and walked sheepishly away.

Whooo hooo!! 

In my mind, I was dancing in place, and shouting, "haha! In your FACE, caralho!" And pointing at the yuppie guy with glee and both index fingers. But instead I just smiled at him sweetly in the off chance that he caught my eye again. He didn't.

At that moment, the Caught Being Good winner called out for the next customer, too, so I went to her line and the lady behind me went to Mr. Douchebag's line. I was happy I got to talk to her. 

"Congratulations!" I said. She gave me a small smile. I wanted to say, "You're so going to get a Caught Being Good award on my blog!" but of course I didn't. 

My words were not necessary today. The Extra employee gets a Caught Being Good award for being awesome and bringing justice to the checkout line and, ya know, for doing her job.

I still consider this a fluke on the part of one lone Extra employee with some sense, and I don't plan on ever shopping there regularly, but I've got to give credit where credit is due!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rio de Janeiro, Again!

Yay! So Alexandre and I went to Rio this weekend! It was a totally spontaneous thing. I was cleaning and found one of the tickets that Alexandre never used from July, when he was going to go to the blogger meetup and he got pneumonia. I'd totally forgotten about it! I used one of his two tickets when I went to Rio the second time, but I hadn't been able to use the other one because it was already in Alexandre's name and the manager wasn't there to sign off on a name change.

Anyway anyway. I called Lindsey up to suggest a visit! It would be our last chance to use the ticket before the move. Lindsey approved and the trip was a go! It was Alexandre's first visit to a new place, just for fun and not for work, in more than 2 years. His first real vacation in a while!

Yes, so everything worked out and on Friday afternoon, we were on our way.

 views from the drive up the serra

We got to Lindsey and Ro's apartment late Friday night, where they had wonderful Domino's Pizza and beer waiting for us! Yum yum. Lots of chatting and catching up ensued.

Saturday morning, we joined Lindsey on her weekly trip to the local farmer's market. Alex and I ate some tapioca (Flavors of Brazil explains tapioca here). More yum.

Lindsey buys her greens from the greens guy
After the feira, we braved the 100-degree sun and the three of us went to Pão de Açucar: the famous Sugarloaf! (I use that word begrudgingly; I still think it's weird.). I finally got to experience this Brazilian icon. Before going up the actual mountain, we explored the base area, with its hiking trails and pristine beaches.

The water looked so wonderful and inviting, and Lindsey and I couldn't resist going to put our feet in it. However, we foolishly failed to anticipate the 100-degree sand:
ouch ouch! hot hot!
Luckily the water was ice cold (as in, it really felt like it had ice in it!). Totally worth it.

Did I mention it was hot outside? It was. The water looked so refreshing from our place on the hiking trail. Too bad we were too high up to jump in:

Yes, so then we went into the actual entrance area of the monument so we could get in line for the cable car that goes up Pão de Açucar.

HALT! haha I love his "O" face

After less waiting than I expected, we got into the first cable car and made our way up the mountain! We got off at the first level/lookout area, explored the terrain and took some pictures, then got into the second cable car and went to the top! Wow! Amazing views of A Cidade Maravilhosa. See if you can spot the Christ statue in the pictures:

har har

new friends 

Poor Alexandre is scared of heights, but he was a good sport about everything. We were going to eat a late lunch up there, but things were insanely overpriced (6 reais for a coxinha! What is this, Disneyland?). But yes, I'm so happy I finally went to Pão de Açucar! Famous image around the world, and all that.

We'd planned to go up to the Christ statue AFTER Pão de Açucar, but with the heat and the lack of a proper lunch, we decided to ditch Jesus (he's with us in spirit, right?) and drink on the beach instead. WIN. 

Lindsey, Alexandre and I walked to the famous Copacabana beach, and while Alexandre slept on the sand, Lindsey and I braved the frigid waters, again a wonderful contrast to the oppressive sun. Can any oceanographers explain how the sea is so cold during such a hot, tropical summer? I often ditched my earth systems science class in college.

The sun started to go down, so we made our way back to Lindsey's place and got ready to go to dinner at Lindsey's husband's restaurant. We were planning on making it a quick meal so we could go over to Lapa, a famous nightlife neighborhood in Rio, for late-night drinks and samba dancing. But after a caipirinha each and a ton of food, we all gave up on our hopes of being able to stay up late enough to go out drinking and dancing and decided to go home and play video games instead. I'm getting old. What I mean by that is that I'm so happy that, as I get older, it's getting more and more socially acceptable for me to prefer drinking at home and playing video games to bar hopping and paying too much for alcohol. 

Needless to say, we had a great time staying in! I (accidentally) beat Lindsey (the Canadian!) in an ice hockey video game, and she and Alexandre battled it out in some gladiator game. Ro even joined in for a while after work, and we went to sleep at a reasonable hour.
Focus! Determination!

Sunday meant a trip to a famous open-air market called the Feira de São Cristovão, which is held in a sort of stadium and which is home to booths and restaurants celebrating and selling the culture of the Brazilian northeast. 
Lindsey was ready for action!
the giant decorations at the entrance

The feira was a lot bigger than I expected and I was a little overwhelmed at first, what with the drunk crowds and the loud music and a power outage and the rain, but we met up with some of Lindsey's nice fellow ex-pat friends and we ate and then I felt better. (However, the feel-better benefits of this food were temporary...) 

Inside the restaurant
A big attraction of this market is the forró bands and spaces for dancing. (You may remember when I tried to learn forró and the teacher quit on me.) Anyway, being a spectator of older, experienced forró dancers is much more fun than trying to learn it, in my opinion. The feira was such an interesting experience. It really felt like a different Brazil, an unassuming subculture that adds to Brazil's colorful identity.
Everyone was so good, and they were having such a good time!
Some people had more fun than others...

Getting to and from the Feira de São Cristovão took a while, so we didn't have much time for anything else before our bus ride home. Oh, we stopped at KFC so Alexandre could buy a disgusting chicken and bacon "sandwich" that was advertised all over town. (I use scare quotes because they use pieces of fried chicken as the bread.)

Gross. I don't miss this part of American culture. And by that I mean I totally do sometimes.

We were so sad to leave after having such a good weekend! But little did I know what was in store for me...
About an hour into the bus ride, I started feeling really queasy. I got food poisoning earlier this year, so I knew what was coming. Oh no, oh no!

I spent the rest of the 8-hour overnight bus ride throwing up and, well, you can imagine what else, in the tiny, dirty, plastic port-o-potty box that is a bus bathroom. It. was. horrible. Dare I say...wretched? Har har. No, but seriously, it lasted the whole trip. I learned helpful information, like the fact that bus bathrooms must have some kind of reserve of water for flushing, because there is a limit to how many times you can successfully flush the toilet before it stops working. When we got into town at about 6am, I had to push past people who were trying to get off the bus so I could puke in the street. I really can't think of a worse time or place to be sick. There was no escape, no access to medicine, no cool tile to lay my face on, and no way to lie down or sleep properly.

Once we got home, I was able to take a shower and brush my teeth (relief) and also take some medicine, which eased the stomach pains enough to let me sleep for a couple of hours. I spent Monday with only enough energy to migrate from the couch to the bathroom to the bed, and to whine a lot. It was a sucky end to such a fun trip, that's for sure! But I will still recommend the food at the São Cristovão restaurants. Why not? It was delicious, and I was the only one from the group who got sick. Besides, my last food poisoning episode was the result of a 70-real sushi dinner, so it's a crap shoot. (Get it, crap shoot? I'm on a roll today.)

But hooray for visiting Lindsey and Ro! Hooray for Rio de Janeiro! Alexandre fell in love with the city. You know how most Brazilians get a month of paid vacation for work? Well Alexandre decided that we should spend one of those months subletting an apartment in Rio and really getting to know the city. One day, one day...

Thanks again, Lindsey, for being such a fantastic hostess. :D

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Old Ladies on the Bus

So even though we have a car, there have been a few cases in which it's been necessary or easier for me to take a bus around town, both here at the beach and back in Caipirópolis. I've also taken city buses in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro/Niteroi.

Let's talk about a phenomenon on Brazilian buses: chatty old women.

(Disclaimer: I love my grandma. I love you, Nanny! This blog post does not apply to you. I had to have learned my preference for anti-socialism in crowds or public places from someone.)

So today gave me a perfect example of this phenomenon. I had to take the city bus, and when I climbed up the stairs, I was relieved to see that there weren't many people riding it. There were plenty of seats for me to choose from, and that's when I made my first mistake: there were two seats empty next to each other, and I took the window seat and left the aisle seat open. Let's explain this seating situation first. While leaving the aisle seat open is bus etiquette in the US (and therefore a hard habit to break), it's much more common for Brazilian people (especially women) to take the aisle seat and leave the window seat empty when faced with this decision. A fellow bus rider explained to me once that women do this to make it harder for either a creep-o guy or a thief to sit next to them and trap them in the window seat. I'm not sure how frequent silent bus robberies are, but they're apparently common enough for do-gooders not to be offended when they have to ask some woman to stick her legs out so they can squeeze into the window seat.

Anyway anyway. My erroneous decision to sit in the window seat also left me vulnerable to another bus "threat," one which that helpful passenger had failed to mention: the needy senior citizen. You see, Brazilian buses have a percentage of female riders over sixty-five that seems to be disproportionate to their percentage in the population. It's either that, or they just stand out more because they're so damn talkative. In any case, they, too, can hold you hostage in the window seat.

I just want to add in one mini-rant here: my generation gets a bad rap for sharing every fleeting thought, emotion, or action with the world, whether it's via Facebook or Twitter or text message, but I would like to argue that old Brazilian women are ONE MILLION times worse. They cannot seem to just keep things to themselves. They are compelled by some strong, almost Biblical force to say every damn thing that comes to mind.
"My, is it hot/cold/windy/stuffy in here."
"Mmm, mm. Now, that really was a nice sandwich."
"Oh, would you look at that? That store on the corner is having a sale."
"Ugh, my knee is acting up again." etc, etc.
THEY DO NOT STOP TALKING, especially about Jesus, and especially if there are two of them sitting together.

Right, so back to my bad luck bus ride. Soon after I got on the bus, an elderly woman made her way up the big yellow steps and waved her ID card at the driver, which apparently waived her bus fare (you liked that homophone, didn'tcha? ;).  And even though there were SIX empty seats in the front reserved just for her, she decided to pass them all, to pass the pair of empty seats in front of me, and to sit

After my previous bus riding lesson, I imagined that she chose to sit next to me, in part, to prevent any wackos from sitting next to her (I guess she saw my angelic face and thought I'd be a safe bet), but I really do think that she also sat next to me because... she just wanted someone to talk to. That's been my previous experience with older women sitting next to me, anyway. So this time, I was prepared. I already had my book out, so I tried to hold it in such a way as to look thoroughly absorbed in it while hiding the English text. (If she'd seen that the book was in another language, then she'd have found what would be, in her mind, a perfect excuse to start talking to me.) I let my hair fall into my face a little. I made a point not to so much as glance toward her each time she fidgeted and sighed.

But, unfortunately, I let my guard down for just an instant. There was a bit of a commotion when a woman was trying to get off the bus with her toddler (who was resisting), and the bus driver didn't see them, and he started to drive away from the stop. The woman and a couple of other passengers started to call out to the driver, and that's when I looked up. MISTAKE. The old woman next to me saw her chance.

"Cute little kid, wasn't he?" She turned to me and asked with a smile.

Blast! Should I just pretend I don't speak Portuguese?
"Mmm." I smiled politely. I decided not to say explicitly that I didn't speak Portuguese (a trick I've begun to use with the obnoxious muamba-peddlers on the beach), but to only give off the impression that I may not be understanding. It wasn't enough.

"Whoo. It sure is hot today." The woman tried again.

No elderly woman has ever said that on the bus before.
"Mm-hmm."  I quickly turned back to my book. I even made a dramatic show of turning the page.
I'm focusing on this interesting book, and not on you. I will not be pulled in!

"Yes it is," the old woman responded to her own statement. "Hot and raining. Makes the bus so uncomfortable."

You'd be a lot more comfortable if you'd sat in your own seat and given us both some space. This is a battle of wills, and I WILL PREVAIL.
I smiled half-heartedly through my hair but continued to keep my eyes on my book. I felt the woman staring at me, looking me over, waiting expectantly for me to humor her, to say at least a few words, enough to give her what she would deem the green light to tell me about everything else she'd been thinking that day.

Then, by some miracle, she correctly read my social cues and gave up. She harrumphed a little to herself, ever so quietly, and kept her fidgeting to a minimum until she pushed the "stop requested" button and got off the bus.

I won!

You may be thinking at this point that I'm some cruel and heartless "ageist" who doesn't respect the wisdom of our elders. That's just not true. It's simple: I don't think that, just because I'm younger, I should be forced to listen to these women's disjointed and self-absorbed conversations about their children and their physical ailments.

You may be thinking, "that's terrible! These women are probably lonely!" which is also unfair. Um, hello! This is Brazil, a country whose citizens do not send their senior citizens to retirement homes if they can help it. Most of these women live with their adult children, and even if they don't actually live with them, they talk to them on the phone all the time and probably have lunch with them at least once a week. These beach towns also have a high percentage of senior citizens, which results in way more social activities for them than for my age group. There are social clubs that have little kiosks on the beach where the terceira-idades can meet up to play cards and gossip; there are morning workout clubs both downtown and at the lifeguard stations (retired people can choose between tai-chi and aerobics); there are way more street corner butecos than there are bars for young people; there are elderly volunteer groups that wear matching shirts around town and serve at government day care centers as one of their activities... and those are just the things that I, as a young foreigner, know about.  There's nothing like that for twenty-somethings! Plus, my friends and family all live far away. So if anything, I'm the one who should be starved for attention, keeping some defenseless retiree trapped in her window seat while I complain about my sad, pathetic life.

We're also forgetting one important factor: it's really hard to understand old people when they talk in general, and it's even harder when they're speaking your second third language.

Then, of course, there's the fact that, as soon as the woman realizes I have an accent (it takes the elderly a bit longer to pick up on it), she'll immediately start interrogating me about my seemingly inexplicable existence in Brazil, and we all know that my daily goal is to blend in and avoid telling my life story as much as possible. Am I a terrible person for wanting to be able to enjoy a book on a bus ride in peace? Maybe only a little. But at least, today, I got what I wanted. I also learned to sit in the aisle seat.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gorgeous Pictures of Brazil

Fellow blogger and Californian Tiffany put up some of her pictures from her stays in Brazil with her Brazilian husband. They're amazing! She deserves an award, or money, or something.

Check out her beautiful pictures here. While you're there at her blog, you'll also find a lot of cheap, easy, and healthy recipes.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Karine's Visit and New Year's Eve

So I know I mentioned that Alexandre and I were going to try to go on a little trip between Christmas and New Year's. That didn't work out for a number of reasons: since he wasn't going to the US, he couldn't get the days off at the military; the friends we wanted to visit with were busy; my friend Karine wanted to come to the beach for a few days after Christmas; and we had to run around to collect paperwork and turn it in at the leasing office for our new apartment before they closed for the new year.

But things worked out okay; I got a little at-home vacation with Karine, and and Alexandre and I will save the money to extend our US trip a bit.

Karine and I got back to the beach town on Sunday night (Christmas day), and I got to enjoy her company until late Tuesday night, when she got a bus back to Caipirópolis.

Unfortunately, we were rained off the beach all day on Monday. So we used the day to walk around downtown and explore the mall (Karine bought some clothes). We went to the grocery store. We ate some açai. I took my broken watch to a jewelry store and we made friends with the aging watch repair man, because he perked up at my mispronunciation of relógio and informed us that he had immigrated to Brazil from Spain long ago.

We went home and made an early and extravagant enchilada dinner (I typed up the recipe for the neglected cooking blog; check it out here!). Then, we did the only sensible thing there was to do on a rainy evening on the beach: sat at one of the covered beach kiosks and got piss drunk in the rain. It was great fun. We gushed about how happy we are to have each other as friends. Karine tried to speak English with the guy in front of us at the store, where we stopped to buy ice cream and more alcohol. We came home and pestered Alexandre, then quickly passed out on the pullout couch-bed before we even ate the ice cream. And good times were had by all!

We woke up hungover, but there was no time to waste! The sun was finally peeking through the clouds a bit, and we needed to make the most of it. Down to the beach we went!

We saw a little egret catching a fish:

We enjoyed coconut juice/water:

That's right. I censored my own picture. The angle was way too revealing. Have a gander at the nice piece of ass behind me instead. Yum yum!

We went home and ate leftover enchiladas for lunch, then we went for a looooonnng walk on the beach, one that rivaled our marathon walks back in Caipirópolis:

We went out and had sushi for dinner, and just like that, Karine's trip was over! So sad! :( At least we'll live closer together again once I move back inland.

Even though it felt like I'd just gotten home, on Thursday we had to go to deal with new apartment bureaucracy, and then we just continued on to the in-laws' house and stayed there until New Year's day. (That meant I spent 4 out of the last 5 weekends at the in-laws' house, for better or for worse!) We got all the apartment stuff squared away, and now we're just waiting for the keys. :D (The military is dragging their feet a bit [surprise] about giving Alexandre word on when his last day will be, but it's probably going to be around the 20th.)

We did almost nothing the whole weekend at the in-laws' house, and I was going a little crazy with boredom. I did manage to read the ENTIRE book World Without End this week. (In case you don't know, it's over 1000 pages. Beautiful sequel to the Pillars of the Earth!). Alexandre and I also went for a run one day and for a walk the next. But other than that, we just lay around the house like the spoiled slobs we are.

We did, however, manage to get ourselves all dolled up for New Year's Eve. We just stayed at home with the immediate family (so nice -- no maids or weird aunts), but we made ourselves pretty to please Alexandre's mom. She even helped "decorate" me with a colorful necklace, and then insisted on taking a bunch of pictures (OK, I kind of insisted, too).

the birds and I match (the MIL bought some of those paintings for our new apt, too, by the way. I'm excited!)

Guess who was sick of taking pictures?

The food and company were pleasant as always, but the highlight of the evening was DEFINITELY getting Alexandre's mother drunk on wine and champagne and watching her dance around the house, trying to translate and sing her own English rendition of Michel Teló's "Ai Se Eu Te Pego":
For God's sake, those girls! Quite possibly one of the worst songs ever produced, in English or in Portuguese. I don't even know why I'm embedding it.

Then, once the (Globo TV) clock announced the new year, the MIL ran around the house shouting "Happy 2012!" in Portuguese and insisting that she, Alexandre, his sister, and I make a sort of dancing conga line train down the halls in order to announce the new year to the sleeping relatives. PRICELESS. I really wanted to record her, because I think her getting drunk is a once-in-a-decade event, but I was too worried I'd break the spell.

So now it's 2012, and while 2011 had its good points and gave me a lot of learning experiences, it kind of sucked for me in general (mostly because my grandpa died and I had to live in this shitty town for Alex's military job). I guess that means things can only get better, right?

Happy New Year!

Christmas in Brazil - 2011

So as most of you know, problems with my visa (now seemingly resolved, at least) kept Alexandre and me in Brazil for the holidays this year. It turned out to be nice (but I'm still really ready for a visit to California in February!).

Alexandre had to work on Christmas (sad), so I went to his parents' house alone.  I went to their house on the 23rd so that Alexandre's parents wouldn't have to find time to come pick me up from the bus station during the hustle and bustle of preparations on the 24th (when Alexandre's family celebrates Christmas).

On the 23rd, alone in Alexandre's room while his slightly antisocial family members were each locked away in their own "wings" of the giant house, I read Lindsey's post about maintaining some traditions in Brazil. I had my moment to pout a little over how it was the third holiday season in a row that I was missing with my California family, and how Alexandre's family just wasn't interested in the least in trying any of my American traditions. ("Why would we bake cookies? The maid is making the desserts." etc.) I realized how Alexandre's family is very good to me, but what I was missing from the season was the idea that we worked on something together for the holiday, as a family, whether it be making the food, or buying and wrapping presents, or even cleaning up. On the holidays, my California family and I have intimate time together (we can wear pajamas to the table, and there's no one standing around the table serving us and listening to our conversations) and we share common goals, even if they're simple ones. Lots of you in the blog world wrote about how your Brazilian family does a secret Santa exchange. The irony is that my California family does that, but my Brazilian family isn't very interested in the present part of the holiday. (Alexandre's mom just buys something generic, like soap, for all of the guests.) In one way, it's kind of refreshing that the focus isn't on consumption, but it's disappointing when that focus isn't necessarily replaced by some other quality-time tradition. Alexandre's mother puts on a beautiful show, and everything in the house (decoration-wise) is just right. The result, however, is that things can feel a little stiff and stuffy.

So yeah, I used the night of the 23rd to feel sorry for myself a little bit and get that out of my system so I could be ready to make the most of things on the 24th and 25th. I talked to Alexandre about it, asked him what his family would be interested in doing in terms of bonding over the holidays. He told me that his sister usually bought presents for their parents, and to ask if I could go with her, and that his mom actually buys gifts and food for a women's shelter in town and delivers them every Christmas Eve. He said she's been doing it since he was a kid, but she never mentions it to anyone anymore because she assumed no one felt like being a part of it (!!). Well. That just wouldn't do.

So on the morning of the 24th, I talked to the sister-in-law about her present shopping. She said she was planning on going but had no idea what to get, that she was just going to walk around the mall and would probably settle on perfume/cologne or something. I offered to go with her and even supplied some successful gift ideas. (A history book for the FIL -- I'd heard him talking about it with Alexandre -- and shoes for the MIL -- I'd gone with her to a shoe store a couple of weeks before, and there was a pair of shoes she'd wanted that was sold out in her size. We went back to the store and they had gotten an order in!) So we got to do that together, and I felt a little better.

Then my friend Karine from Caipirópolis showed up in town! I was so happy to have her there with us for Christmas. Alexandre's brother drove me to go meet her at the bus station.

After picking up Karine and getting the OK from her, I offered Alexandre's mom our afternoon to help with her gifts for the women's shelter. She seemed quietly pleased that other people had taken an interest. (My guess is that she'd tried to get her kids involved when they were tweens and had gotten such negative responses that she'd just accepted it as her own, almost secret project.) She'd bought some little gifts, like toiletries and hair products, and Karine and I wrapped them. She'd asked the maid to bake a cake, so Karine and I helped decorate it. Then we went with the MIL to the shelter. It's a really good place. It's a different idea from the traditional American women's shelters that are kept in a secret location and all that. (Those must exist here, but this wasn't one of them.) The idea of the place is to help pregnant women and new mothers get on their feet so they don't feel obligated to give up their babies for adoption or try to find some shoddy, illegal abortion. The women can live there with their kids. The shelter helps them find jobs (usually as maids) and offers daycare while the women are at work.

There weren't a lot of women there when we got there (Christmas eve day is a busy time for maids, so most of the moms were working), but apparently the ones there were expecting us. The gifts from the MIL have turned into a tradition for the shelter, and they were excited to see what she brought (the kids were especially eager to eat the cake). Alexandre's mom is an OBGYN, so while Karine and I entertained the kids, she sat down with the two mothers who were there to ask them about their babies' births, their breastfeeding, and general health issues, and to answer any of their health questions. Help like that is invaluable, in my opinion. I'm terrible with babies, so I let Karine handle the youngest ones and I chatted up the kids with more developed frontal lobes. They tried to convince us to stay for their Christmas party that night, but heartbreakingly, I had to deny them. All in all, it was a really important experience.

I was long over the pouting phase by dinnertime, and I really enjoyed myself. There was some silly family drama, and Alexandre's parents offered holiday sanctuary for Alexandre's cousin, who was in the right in the dispute. She and her boyfriend came to dinner, and the person in the wrong didn't. The result was a beautiful night with engaging conversation, lots of laughs, delicious food and drinks, and -- wouldn't you know it -- good, quality time together. I give it a 9, because we needed Alexandre there to make it a 10!

The tree and the plates, ready for guests and dinner

me and the buffet (we became very close that night)

the present my family sent to Alexandre's mom 

Karine and me, all dressed up!

Enjoying Sergio's story

Candid smiles

fancy fruit: cape gooseberries from Colombia and American-style blueberries (from the South of Brazil). Sorry, but I'd take a mango over these any day!

Chocolate-covered cherry we're talkin'!

So it took a little extra effort on my part, but all in all, I'd call the holiday a success. :)
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