Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Bit of Brazilian Music

So I have never blogged much about Brazilian music because I hardly ever listen to it. I hardly ever listen to it for 2 reasons:

1. I am a music snob in English and I only accept music with musical superiority and exceptionally grandiose lyrics, and because my Portuguese is not at grandiose levels, I can't receive that same pleasure from Brazilian music; and

2. This passion for said grandiose American music has rubbed off on Alexandre, which means that pretty much all he listens to is American indie music (go me, except he hardly introduces me to any Brazilian music).

Anyway anyway, thanks to the wonders of friends on Facebook, I discovered this really sweet YouTube sensation named Clarice Falcão. Here's one of her cute, satirical songs that can help you learn (or run away screaming from) the subjunctive mood:

And then there IS one Brazilian singer who Alexandre is really into. His name is Marcelo Camelo. Here's one of his songs:

I can't really vouch for the lyrics; it seems like lots of Clarice Falcão's lyrics are sarcastic and self-deprecating at the same time, while Marcelo Camelo seems to use lots of metonymy involving the ocean (though I may be reading into things too much).

In his personal life, Marcelo Camelo is a little stranger; he is dating a Brazilian singer who's like, half his age (Mallu Magalhães). I know you may be tempted to leave comments telling me to check out her music, but I'm way ahead of you, and my vote is a thumbs-down. All of her first songs were in English (come on), and most of them were Bob Dylan covers. Sorry sweetie, but I just can't accept a tiny Brazilian teenage girl singing about cocaine and American prisons.

So yes, that's all I've got for ya. I hope you like the songs!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Deco Expo and the MIL

So last week, Alexandre's mother asked me to go with her to this home decoration expo nearby. It's pretty much the last thing I would enjoy doing for fun, but I appreciated her effort to spend time with me, and she hinted at the fact that she didn't have anyone else to go with, so I agreed. (A friend of hers ended up coming along at the last minute, so my empathy was moot.)

The event was held at and around an old plantation in the region. Today it's just a giant house and piece of land that can be rented out for parties and weddings and stuff. (What a great place to get married -- in a mansion built by slaves!) For this event, the owners allowed the designers and architects involved to remodel and redecorate all of the rooms and outside areas. Each... competitor, if you will, created a theme or concept in the room that he or she was responsible for.

Sounds OK so far, right?

It was, except that it wasn't. The whole event was just snobby "see and be seen" bullshit, which didn't even seem very useful for people in the industry, and certainly not for us mere muggles hoping to get some good ideas for our own humble living spaces. It seems like the intended audience was Brazil's "new rich" of the region, the people (particularly women) who want to pretend that they are in the know about what's in style, especially in the world of home decor, who want to throw around lots of mispronounced English and French words to seem cultured, who want to pay 15 reais for someone to park their car on a dirt road within walking distance and 30 reais a pop to walk around the plantation and silently reminisce over "the good ol' days" when they didn't have to pay people to wait on them and could instead beat them with whips.

It was kind of like one of those froo froo-y modern art exhibits where nothing make sense, but everyone pretends like they understand it so they can feel superior.

I got a couple of pictures using my phone for you guys. There were actually some nice DIY and repurposing ideas, like this bookshelf made out of an old ladder:

And this floor lamp made out of plastic cups that were stapled together and a simple light bulb as a base:

But the rest of it was mostly ridiculous.

For example, none of the rooms were called, ya know, rooms (quartos or salas in Portuguese). Instead, each room was referred to as an ambiente (ambiance) or espaço (space). The master bedroom was referred to as the "espaço íntimo do casal" (the couple's intimate space). Ughhh.

There were a couple of nice/functional decorating ideas, but in general, most if it was impractical nonsense meant only to increase the "wow!" factor. For example, one bedroom had the shower NEXT to the bed, but the shower was just a big open space. It was a metal square on the floor with a single hole for the drain and a ceiling made of tiny fountains where the water came out (rather than, ya know, a shower head). There was no curtain or anything, of course, because when rich people take showers, all of the water goes straight onto their perfect bodies and then defies gravity by falling straight down into the tiny drain. The bathroom was instead used to house a statue of a horse.

In one of the outside patio areas, someone had painted a tree pink. I don't know about you, but I love killing trees that took longer than my lifetime to grow in order to have a few precious weeks of optical pleasure.

Not the painted tree; just a man-made lake for people who want to fish in their own backyards.

Speaking of trees, there was one ground floor bedroom with a tree in it. Yes, a full grown tree. It was probably already there when the room was constructed, and someone wanted to pretend he cared about the environment when he built the room. So he left the tree and built around it, except now there's a huge hole in the roof so the tree can go through. Sounds like a great idea in a tropical environment.

To add to the tackiness, lots of the decorations had price tags on them, and visitors were allowed to buy certain pieces. How about a cheap metal bicycle to stick on a bookshelf? Totally useless, and only a few hundred reais! Giant ceramic pots in the thousands, lamps made of wood that cost more than I make in a month.

this, too, can be yours, for only 6 months of your neighbor's minimum wage salary
My MIL made a comment in EVERY room ("gorgeous!" "innovative!" "What good taste!" and then made sure to ask a question that I was obligated to answer: "Isn't it great, Danielle?" "Don't you agree, Danielle?"). I could only say "Yes, beautiful" so many times. I started rotating responses: "yes, great idea;"  "uh huh, lindo mesmo;" or just repeating the verb as an answer in true Portuguese fashion. I tried to be extra patient with this, because I know she was just trying to include me.

But the kicker was the end of the event. Each visitor was given a paper on which we were supposed to rate our favorite designer or architect. Our information was requested in the following order:
Monthly Salary:

Favorite "Space" #1:
Favorite "Space" #2:
Favorite "Space" #3:

That's right. They made sure to ask for my salary first, I guess so they could decide whether my opinion was valid or not. When I politely refused to fill the paper out, my MIL insisted on filling out two for herself, because each paper would be entered into a drawing to win a shopping trip to MIAMI!!!!

Most everyone was filling it out while waiting for the valet men to bring their cars from around the corner (and everyone ignored the fact that it would've been about 10 minutes faster to just walk to their own damn cars and drive it to the front themselves). There was a girl about my age with two other women filling out her forms. She made a point to say, OUT LOUD, "10,000 a month each, right??" Tacky, tacky, tacky.

I think what most annoys me about events like this is the excess and the audacity. 
There was just so much waste. When we got into the place, a woman tried to give us each a big book with pictures of all the decorated areas, pricing info, stores, etc. When I denied one for myself, the lady insisted on giving me a CD version of it, and made some asinine comment about how "youngsters only want computer things these days." I said that I didn't want the CD, either, actually, but then the MIL told me to keep it so she could have it.

At each "ambiente," some disinterested teenage assistant handed out flyers, pamphlets, and/or business cards with details about the designer's/architect's "vision" (oh, and their contact information, too).

Then, some of the rooms were sponsored (or sometimes prepared) by companies and home decor stores. So at these areas, people tried to give us more catalogues and books. I always said "no, thanks." The MIL always said "yes, please!".

But I just never, ever feel comfortable at things like this. I understand that compared to some people in the world, even in Brazil, I myself am wasteful and selfish. But I think I at least try to live my own values, and my values go deeper than "pretty = better" and "the more expensive, the better." Brazil is a country in which the monthly minimum wage is currently R$622, or less than R$4 (about 2 US dollars) an hour. It's a country with one of the worst public education systems in the world, where students get abysmal scores on international tests, where gaps between the rich and the poor are truly mind-boggling. And yet these "new rich" people seem to have absolutely no qualms about prancing around this self-contained circle jerk of a subculture with their noses in the air and their hands deep in their pockets. I know Communism doesn't work, but that doesn't mean we, as humans, can't be mindful, and grateful, and minimalist when possible, and generous to our fellow citizens.

What bothers me more than anything, I think, isn't even about this home decor event in itself, but what it and my mother-in-law's enjoyment of it represented. My MIL grew up super poor in the Brazilian Northeast with her widowed father after her mother died during childbirth, eating lizards because money was tight and wearing only hand-me-downs from her 6 brothers and sisters. She worked her tail off to get where she is today, to go to a public medical school in the state of Bahia, to move, all by herself, to the state of Sao Paulo to try to find a better life, to build her own practice and everything; and yet, the way she responds to those experiences is to vehemently force herself into the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, to stick it to poor people whenever she can, to judge others who didn't "make it" rather than empathizing (since yes, that could've been her, working as a maid rather than as a gynecologist). For example, the plantation had a little café where visitors could buy drinks and snacks, and we decided to get something to eat. It was a little crowded when we got there. Since there were only 2 employees, everyone was ordering at the counter and waiting for their orders to be brought to them. But the MIL insisted that she be served, that the waiter come to her, bring her a menu, and take her order like the upper-class paying patron that she was. At another point, she knocked over a bucket of umbrellas, and instead of just quickly bending over to pick them up, she just stood next to it with an expectant look on her face until someone else came and cleaned it.

The whole thing was just a little bit pathetic.

I try really really hard to make peace with Alexandre's mother in my mind. Deep down, I don't think she's a bad person. Far from it. In the general sense, she donates money to charity, pays for some of her maids to go to college (!), and every Christmas, she helps out a women's shelter. As for our relationship, she has been very welcoming since I moved here and has always treated me like family. She makes far too many comments about my appearance, the quality of my clothing, my manicure (or lack of it), etc, but I have to really try to remember that her criticism is coming out of (a) love (b) her slightly outdated upbringing with values that are totally different from mine and (c) her own insecurities and (sadly) unresolved issues. I think, honestly, that I hurt her brain a bit. I'm not like the women she grew up with, or the woman she raised her daughter to be. So I see that she's trying.

Then, just the other day when we were at the in-laws' house for lunch, she asked me to help her make some dessert. While we were in the kitchen, Alexandre and his father were in the dining room, talking medicine. The MIL led with that.

She gave me a little speech. I'll paraphrase what she said here. It was something like, "I know how happy both Alexandre and his father are now that they're sharing the same career. I also know that you're wary of moving out here so Alexandre can take over his father's practice. I know you're probably sick of losing all your students and having to start over in your career every time Alexandre makes a change to his. So I just wanted to let you know that you don't have to start from scratch here, that you can do something permanent. If you guys end up moving here, I'll be retired by the time you do. So I just wanted to make myself available to help you start an English school or English services center. I'll be available to help you with whatever you need. We can find a space; we can hire a lawyer to help with the business aspect; we can do proper marketing; you just tell me what your goals are and what services you want to offer, and I'll be committed to helping you make it happen."

I was touched. I didn't realize that she took me and my career so seriously. I couldn't believe how much thought she'd already put into the idea. I think I'll be able to deal with her better if I avoid being put in consumerist and superficial situations like this home decor expo and instead focus on doing things with her that we have in common, like talking about cooking, or, now, planning this school idea.

Now that I think about it...ya know what? Her awareness of, and tolerance for, and "in" in upper-middle-class Brazilian culture would really help me start a business in her town. And, of course, the building would have some mighty fine decorations.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

American Awkwardness

All right. Here in our new town of Springfieldee, I occasionally run into a dilemma. You see, there are actually other Americans here. It's my first time living in a Brazilian city that has other foreigners besides me. The first time I ran into Americans in Caipirópolis, I was so excited to encounter some of my fellow citizens after a YEAR AND A HALF without human contact with them in Brazil that it was a no-brainer that I'd try to talk to them. (You may remember that it didn't work out so well.)

However, there aren't enough of them/us here in Springfieldee to where I'm like, psychologically flooded and the foreigners and I become desensitized to running into each other (the way I think some immigrant communities may feel in the US). There are just enough Americans to make talking to them feel so. incredibly. awkward.

Here's the thing: I usually hear them speaking English to each other. They're often in groups of two (a couple) or three (businesspeople, students, etc). So I know they're American, but they don't know I am. So it's really up to me to speak up and be like, "hey, hi, excuse me -- Are you American? I am, too!" And smile a lot.

But I don't! Here's why: I envision the rest of the conversation in my head. It goes something like this:

Me: Hey, hi, excuse me -- Are you (guys) American?
Them: Yes, we are.
Me: Me too!
Them: Cool, I'm so and so.
Them: And I'm so and so.
Me: Hi So and Sos. I'm Danielle.
Them: So are you here on vacation?
Me: No, I live here. I'm an English teacher. My husband is Brazilian. [I don't use husfriend with strangers. I think I'll seem retarded as opposed to charming.]
Them: Oh, wow. Cool.
Me: Are you guys here on vacation / for work / studying abroad? (it's always obvious)
Them: Yup.

Fellow Americans and I all shift and look at each other awkwardly, smiling politely, eager to get back to our walking to work / grocery shopping / stroll around the lake with people we actually know

Me: Ok, well... nice to meet you! Have a good day!
Them: Thanks. You too. Bye!

I can't think of anything else that we would logically say to each other. I mean, it's not like I can follow "nice to meet you" with, "damn, that exchange rate is really going to make it a bitch to go home again this year, am I right?" Or "So how about those customer service drones? They've really been getting to me lately" or even "So how did we LIVE without Catupiry? Eh? Eh?"

So then I just pretend to be Brazilian by ignoring them (and no American has even given me a second glance or questioned it! But on second thought, they should be even more suspicious, because many Brazilians get all wacko about hearing English spoken in public and have no shame in approaching you as if you were a celebrity), so we don't talk to each other, and then we go our separate ways, and I feel so inhuman!! Ack! I can't win in my mind.

So I thought I'd write about it here to see what you guys do. Are any of you in the "I only run into Americans once a year so of course I talk to them" camp?  Or maybe you're in the "I see at least one fellow native English speaker a day; we just kind of give each other a nod each." Or maybe you're in a city like mine. If so, what do YOU do? The whole thing is just so uncomfortable, any way it plays out!
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