Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In with the new - São Paulo

Photo credit: funlava.com

Today is New Year's Eve all across the world. It is my favorite Brazilian holiday as it is beautiful: filled with family and friends and food. It is the Brazilian Thanksgiving. No, not really. There should be no comparison--each one is my favorite in situ.

Last month I visited Boston and was invited to my niece's school to talk about the Brazilian traditions on New Year's Eve. It was fun, and my "research" reminded me of many of the best parts of the holiday. I must tell you that I don't love New Year's Eve in the US--it seems to be filled more with people behaving badly and crowded parties and dangerous roads as people drive home in less than ideal conditions (ice and snow plus drunks --ok, anything plus drunks--are ingredients for disaster). Many years ago, my brother and I went to Times Square and he got off at the wrong subway stop and I lost him for hours. I don't miss it.

Rio's New Year's Eve celebration
Brazil wins for New Year's just based on its Southern Hemisphere location. It's summer here, folks, and no layering for going out is necessary. In fact, less is more. Many people head to the beach, in particular to Rio de Janeiro, for the famous Reveillon party there. I admit I have never been to that celebration, but if you ask me, it's not necessary to get in the middle of the masses and in fact it is preferable to be on a quiet beach like Guaecá. Not that even small beaches are quiet--we did a quick estimate of the people who would flock to that 3 km beach on New Year's and it topped 6,000. That is one-third of the size of my home town. Yikes.

No matter where you celebrate the holiday, everyone puts on white clothing. Underneath it all, you have a choice--though it starts with new underwear. Everyone has on new underwear (no, no one will check). You can then wear different color underwear depending on your wishes in the new year--red for passion, green for money, etc. No, I did not mention this to the 5-year olds at my niece's school though I did say that they should wear new underwear. This provoked lots of giggling.

For New Year's Eve dinner, the most common dish is suckling pig. Leitoa. The way BH's family does it is on a slow cook for  hours, and the skin is crunchy (sorry for that, all you vegetarians out there). The pig is complete with nose and trotters. The reason for pork and not chicken or turkey is that theoretically a pig walks forward as it eats, while a chicken or turkey walks backwards. The idea is to walk forward into the New Year.

Other accompaniments are always champagne rice with almonds, lentils (a symbol of luck because they are shaped like coins) and pomegranate seeds. Dinner is at midnight, unless you've got small kids and then, well, it's still midnight but your kids are passed out somewhere in the corner. Kids are always at New Year's celebrations--this is not the night you get a babysitter. You enter the new year with your loved ones.

Lighting candles for Iemanjá
If you are at the beach, the tradition is to head down to the beach a little before midnight and to light small candles for Iemanjá and throw flowers for her into the sea. Iemanjá is the goddess of the sea and the guardian of fishermen. 

It is so unbelievably beautiful at these moments you are filled with happiness and excitement for the New Year. As the countdown happens, and it is always a mass decision on when exactly there are 20 seconds left to go, the fireworks go off (someone always has them, but in the bigger towns, it is a public-funded effort) in a spectacular lighting of the sky and beach. At Guaecá, the fireworks are small but we can see Ilha Bela's larger fireworks display and lights over the hill in Toque-Toque. They reflect on the waves.

After wishing each person in your group a "Feliz Ano Novo" and giving them a kiss on the cheek and a hug, you walk to the water and jump seven waves for luck. After that, it is time to head for home and the New Year's Eve dinner. 

I am at home in São Paulo this year with my parents, husband and kids. We won't be able to jump the seven waves, but we will enjoy many of the traditional treats. I've read now that I should walk around my house with an empty suitcase if I want to travel, and at midnight I should step down from a higher step to a lower step with my right foot so I can enter the New Year "on the right foot." We'll be wearing white. 

Wishing you a beautiful New Year's celebration with your loved ones.  Feliz Ano Novo!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Grinch did steal Christmas - São Paulo

Bad guy. Image credit: tribune.com.pk

Did your mom ever tell you that if you don't have anything positive to say you shouldn't say anything at all? Well, I'm having one of those mornings that I am reaching for the positive (fortunately my mom is sitting nearby so if I need help, she'll be here). And of course there is a lot of positive going on here in Brazil, but also lots of negative.

The main reason I am not so positive this morning is that BH's favorite cousin had her house robbed on December 26. Yes, while she was down at the beach with us in Guaecá, some bad guys hopped a wall, jimmied open a window and tossed the house. Literally tossed. It took her more than a day to clean up after reporting it to the police. What were they looking for? Cash. Somehow they had been convinced that this house contained cash in some drawer. They didn't find any, but stole the television, watches, everything they could carry. And in one of those Grinch-like moments, they even stole both pairs of soccer cleats of her 7-year old son. It is that last detail that makes me feel ill.

And before anyone gets on my case that house theft happens everywhere, I know that. I suffered it in Miami and lost my engagement and wedding rings, watches, cash and a necklace worth nothing except its special significance. It is a terrible feeling. Anywhere you are.

The fact is that theft (and robbery) is a major problem in this city. Bigger than homicides, as I have explained in prior blogs. Now I think we would all rather be robbed than killed but do we really have to choose? This article from 2012 shows that there is a house robbed every hour in São Paulo. Too many. Mostly during the day, by the way, when the residents are not at home. Some robbers are confident enough that they park a moving truck in front and just cart everything out. Amazing.

One of the small details that came out in this case is that BH's cousin's house had been marked for break-in. A neighbor arriving home on December 26 noticed that a few houses on the street had dental floss tied to the gate. She removed the one on her gate but didn't think much about it until BHC's house was robbed that very night. This was not a crime of opportunity--the house had been targeted as being empty after the holiday. And poof! All the wonderful Christmas presents were gone. 

As is much of my understanding of what counts as right or wrong.

I am amused by much of the craziness of Brazil--after all, every country has its funny stuff. This is not amusing. But it also does not define Brazil--yes, there are robberies, theft, hold-ups but there is also joy, fun and beauty. I can't judge Brazil from this case, but the soccer shoes detail is what completely floors me.

We are on the eve of a very big year for Brazil. And for me. Let's hope this will be the last such post here.

I want to leave this with a positive note (I'm trying, mom!): on Christmas Day this year, my page passed 20,000 page views!! Thanks so much for reading, all.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Operations Uphill, Downhill and Convoy - São Paulo

Imigrantes Highway to the beach. Photo credit: globo.
I'm back in São Paulo after a truly relaxing and wonderful ten days at the beach. Okay, all of them were relaxing until the last one which involved of course packing, and also planning when to leave. The reality of visiting the coastline of São Paulo state during the week between Christmas and New Year's means strategizing on how best to get back to your home.

During the days after Christmas, almost 700,000 cars leave São Paulo, and head to the shoreline. There are four main highways that lead there, as I think I have covered in another post--Imigrates, Anchieta, Mogi-Bertioga and Tamoios. My favorite used to be Tamoios, which is a smaller highway that crosses from São Jose dos Campos to the shoreline. We used to be able to make the trip in 2 1/2 hours a decade ago. Now Tamoios is under construction (adding two lanes) and the trip has been more than four hours on the last attempt (some other poor souls spent 10 hours in traffic there during the November holiday). 
  Mogi-Bertioga is also an older smaller highway and we decided to bypass it. So that left us with Imigrantes or Anchieta. Anchieta is the oldest of the highways (built in the 1930s) and clings to the mountainside as it heads down through the Atlantic rain forest. Imigrantes is the superhighway built in 1974, and recently expanded with gorgeous high spans and huge tunnels, also connects Santos to São Paulo. Both are frequently stuffed full of cars as it is the most direct and easiest route to the beach. 

And here is where the fun begins--evaluating Operation Downhill. Wait...not yet. No fun. I must digress.

When I lived in Miami for six years (2002-2008), five hurricanes passed over South Florida including Katrina. It is one of the reasons I will never again live in South Florida, though I have good friends there and it's a nice place. When you live in any of the hurricane territory (Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, etc), you gain a whole vocabulary barely understood by those not in the know. You know about the clean side and the dirty side of a hurricane and which one you'd rather be on, you understand the "box" and you know the NOAA website like your own blog site.  That is hurricane savvy.

Here, you become Operation Downhill (or Uphill) savvy. Operação Descida is what the traffic police create when the majority of people are leaving São Paulo and descending the coast mountains to the beach. They reverse various lanes on Anchieta and Imigrantes (and Tamoios too but rarely). So, you come to know what is a 7 by 4, or a 6 by 3 or whatever. 

All you need to know about Uphill-Downhill. Folha de São Paulo.

Above is an illustration of the operation. On the top arrow-fest, you can see that Operation Downhill is at a 7x3 for the days after Christmas. This means seven lanes are heading down to the beach, and only three lanes are heading back to the capital. Anchieta highway has all lanes heading to the beach--you cannot get back to the city by Anchieta. Three of the lanes of Imigrantes are heading down and three are heading up. 

Which side would you rather be on? Yeah, me too.
 We took one of these three lanes yesterday--the trip wasn't too bad except for a fog situation at the top. Even with Operation Downhill, the traffic on the other side was terrible--because of the fog, the downhill run was also affected by Operation Convoy.

In Comboio (Convoy), the traffic is held right after the toll booth and cars from the traffic police lead each lane slowly through the fog. It is a giant parade, and not one in which you want to participate. I can imagine that the traffic to the beach was taking more than 3 hours on a normally hour-long ride. 

Operation Convoy. Photo credit: Estadão.

We got home in about 3 1/2 hours, which is a half-hour longer than the usual (now) three-hour ride. For those leaving the beach on Sunday, your Operation Uphill is 4 x 6. Good luck!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The chicken church, the ferry line and other charms - São Sebastião

Yesterday morning, my mom, one of my sons and I went "downtown." Downtown in this case is the center of São Sebastião (population 75,000) which is the oldest (and to me, the prettiest) town on the São Paulo coastline.

São Sebastião was named for the saint day of St. Sebastian-- the explorer Amerigo Vespucci passed by the port on this day. Resident here already were Tupinambá and Tupiniquin "indians."  From these languages, we get "Guaecá" and "Barequeçaba" and "Boiçucanga." Also known as how to weed out the gringos in pronunciation which is difficult to say the least.

In its time, São Sebastião was rich from agriculture--sugar cane and coffee--and it shows. The buildings, most recently renovated and restored in the last decade are beautiful old Portuguese houses. Now the town is newly rich from tourism and as the port city for Petrobras.

We strolled about the quiet streets (it was 8:30 in the morning), entering one enormous fabric store, and then the village cafe-bookstore. Then we went to the restored church called Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião, aka the "chicken church". On its steeple top is a chicken. I once knew why but I don't anymore and I found wikipedia singularly unhelpful.

Ooops, cut off the chicken from the top of the steeple

94 year old Nonna used to attend service here on Christmas Eve and it is still referred to by the family as the chicken service.  

Hmmm, hard to see but I swear that is a chicken on top.
The renovation was paid for in large part by Petrobras, the major occupier of the port city. I can almost forgive the views of the tankers off the shoreline for this gesture to the city. Almost.

The day was fast heating up and we decided to return to quiet little Guaecá with its lack of commerce, cars and asphalt. On our way, we briefly got stuck in the line of cars waiting for the Ilhabela ferry--a wait that was topping 2 1/2 hours at 9 am.  Later in the day, the line was a mile and a half long and the wait 6 hours (I read this all from the safety of our beach house). 

Finally we got free, wound our way through 20 minutes of small beaches, native Atlantic forest, and back to Guaecá for one more day.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Getting the alligator - São Sebastião

Photo credit: https://www.esporte.hsw.uol.com.br%25252Fcomo-pegar-jacare.htm
I am reading a novel by a Brazilian writer named Daniel Galera called "Barba Ensopada de Sangue" (Beard dripping with blood) which sounds pretty grim, but is actually a moving portrait of a young man searching for the reason why his grandfather disappeared in the south of Brazil.  It was a finalist for the Jabuti, a literary prize.

I am learning a whole new vocabulary of beach town slang with "guris" and "gurias" as the young men and women, and I'm really enjoying the characters who are appearing. My favorite is a crazy inn-owner who drives his VW Beetle completely drunk, just retrieving an eye patch from his glove compartment so he won't "see double." I'll write more about this book later.

One of the recent chapters is the narrator heading to the beach to "pegar uns jacarés." This literally translated means "getting some alligators," but in reality is a way of referring to bodysurfing. I suppose the idea is that you make your body flat and long to ride the waves--just like an alligator would...if an alligator bodysurfed.

It's our second to last day at the beach and the ocean is pretty calm to be an alligator...but I plan to try this afternoon...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The evil enemy...and it's a small one - São Sebastião

This little bug is the bane of the beachfront existence. It's a borrachudo, possibly known as a "no see'um" in English. Once upon a time, they were only present in Ilha Bela, the large heavily wooded island off the coastline here, but now they have made their way to lovely Guaecá. 

According to my friends at wikipedia, these guys can fly over 20 kilometers a day so the channel crossing was easy times. Now every day at dawn and dusk we are slapping our ankles which they absolutely love and dealing with the painful, then itchy bite. The bug seems to just scoff at ordinary OFF so this year I brought the big guns of REI Jungle Juice from the US. They still seem to find a way through. 

Not my ankle. Photo credit to www.comofas.com.

You can usually tell the visitors to the São Paulo coastline by looking at their ankles--the photo above illustrates one unlucky and possibly un-OFFed tourist. It is by far my least favorite part of beachfront living.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

On Christmas Day in the Morning - São Sebastião

I am sitting here in the delightful wreckage of presents and wrapping, coffee and panettone. It really doesn't matter where you spend Christmas; it is the same. The arguments last night over how much longer the suckling pig should be roasted, the overeating, the lighting of candles, the kids falling asleep on couches while waiting for Santa to appear.

Appear he did and stuffed the two huge stockings made for the boys by one of their godmothers (we call her GM Susan) with books and chocolate and games and frisbees. The cookies were half eaten, the reindeer had scarfed up the lettuce. 

I know that this is their last year of believing in Santa--already their older brother is threatening to spill the beans today. And that is okay because truly it may be time for them to know how people not an imaginary man try their best to fulfill their wishes. And of course they have their 9-month old cousin to convince of the chubby white-bearded delivery man.

Half a cookie and a bit of lettuce left over from Santa and Rudolph

Shadowing ("asombrando" in Portuguese) the delights is the other passage of time. 94-year old Nonna had an episode last night at the dinner table where she blacked out briefly and needed help to get to the bathroom and to leave the table. She is the much-loved matriarch here but the slow decline has more than begun. It has accelerated. We may be without more than Santa next year.

And we await news of my uncle James, the artist uncle, the best friend of one of my sons this summer. He was hospitalized three days ago with a weak heart. It is at these times that I deeply feel how far away Brazil is from the US (and California is six hours time change away as well). We get news in bits from my aunts, late at night, waiting up.

Soon we'll head to the beach and sit and watch the waves come in and the waves go out. 

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one 

Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The road is so long. 


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Silent Night - São Sebastião

Our rental house...no chimney for Santa!

Today is Christmas Eve. It is the big celebration of Christmas on the Eve, and not on the Day as is traditional in the US. While I'll never get used to a tropical Christmas where I have to wash the sand off my feet, I do enjoy the beautiful simplicity of the holiday here. In fact, at the beach, it is a day much like any other, spent with family--and a whole lot of cooking later in the day.

Presents are opened on the Eve. If there are kids around who still believe in Papai Noel (Daddy Christmas), a relative might race through the house in a Santa suit. Two years ago this was Great Aunt Mara with a beard (after all the lights had been doused by an accomplice). She almost got caught. It gets pretty tough to keep this mystery going--much easier in the US when you can just wait until the kiddies go to sleep. 

The meal is sometimes suckling pig (more common New Year's Eve), turkey, and lots of fixings. And we even forgot a Christmas tree this year so we'll have to hang some ribbons off the sideboard. I think we have a small felt hanging tree somewhere. Much like my feelings about importing Halloween here (I am opposed), I am somewhat happy we don't try to copy a northern Christmas. We can't, so why bother. While I miss it, the northern Christmas doesn't allow me to still my toes in the surf and toast Iemanjá (the sea goddess) with my glass of wine.  Cheers!

And merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

If we build it, they will come - Sao Sebastiao

Barbecue, beach style.

The house we are renting has no barbecue, and as any Brazilian knows, no house can be a happy place without one. So BH, son of BH (soBH?) and brother of BH (boBH?) set about building one.

First they borrowed cement blocks from the construction workers next door. I wish I had been there for that conversation--"would you mind...?" Then again, it might not have been the weirdest story the workers have ever heard. 

Then they went to the local Home Depot (hahaahahahaa, no, that's a joke--HD does not exist here. More like a small construction supply store) and bought bricks for 10 cents a piece and built the rest for a total cost of US $8.

Before the big barbecue day was set, the barbecue was tested with a sausage or two. It passed muster. We had a great feast for 14 the day after.

You cannot stop Brazilians from barbecuing. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Urubu - São Sebastião

An urubu to the left, about the size of a kid!

This is the first year that my kids are really independent at the beach. They are good swimmers, entertain each other, and are feeling great after their last day of school on December 18.  Just today they jumped waves, made sandcastles, climbed the oceanside trees, caught bugs and ants to fight one another, collected shells, ate three popsicles and took two beach showers. They are nonstop.

This afternoon they even had a chance to chase some vultures who were moving in on a dead fish on the beach. One of the twins defended (?) the (dead) fish while the other chased the six large black vultures away—they winged away for a while then returned when the kids tired of the chase. In Portuguese, the word for vulture is “urubu” and one of my favorites…it just makes those guys sound bad-***, which of course they are.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Good morning and good night - São Sebastião

This holiday week we are staying in a six-bedroom rental house with my American parents, BH’s parents, his 94-year old grandmother, his brother and wife and infant daughter, and BH’s older kids (21 and 18) and the twins (age 7). It is a fun and funny mess of languages, customs, food and beach time.  The older kids stay up late, the younger kids get up early and the house has a nonstop revolving door of people wandering in and out at all times.

One of the customs that Brazilians have is that they say “good morning” or “bom dia” to every single person when they get up. It’s individual. While Americans do a general announcement style “good morning”, Brazilians will say good morning (and good night, by the way) to each person. This is a lovely habit.

I am not as fond of the custom of saying goodnight to every single person when leaving a party. This often takes so long that you have to start saying good night to people when you first arrive or you will simply never succeed in leaving. When I’m tired at the end of a night, the last thing I feel like doing is going up to each person and saying goodnight, kiss on the cheek, and of course, the promises to set up lunch or oops I forgot to tell you something and all of a sudden you are there for 2 hours more.  When it’s time to go, it’s time to go!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Fast food - São Paulo

Here’s the roadside snack and water vendor on our way to the beach on Thursday. These vendors appear on all exit roads from Sao Paulo on the big travel days leading to holiday or summer weekends. They seem to always know where to wait for hot hungry drivers. They pass through the stopped cars while carefully avoiding the motorcycles between the lanes.

Most sold are the plastic bottles of water and the puffy salty snacks called biscoito de povilho. Roadside fast food.

Brazil Style - São Sebastião

Yesterday, after a three and a half hour drive down the sea-front mountains, we arrived in Guaecá. I know I have posted about this beach before so I won't bore you all with it again, but this place is magic. 

This year we have done particularly well on our house rental and our house is oceanfront. This means that two seven-year old boys were immediately through the back door then out the front door and in the sand. Sand castles, capoeira, judo, and handsprings followed shortly. 

And the sunset...there is nothing like the Guaecá sunset. And a little boy silhouetted as he cartwheels down the beach. Christmas week in Brazil. LOVE it!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Walled city - São Paulo

My parents arrived yesterday to spend a warm six weeks here in Brazil. They live in Chicago most of the time, though they travel quite a bit. It's been a couple of years since they have visited and they are definitely some of my favorite visitors. They are thoughtful, interested and easy guests--I truly enjoy their entire time here.

Of course they are two of the most avid readers of my blog. Mostly complimentary, they will also tell me where they think I can do better or write better. My dad sent me a long email a couple of months ago about topics that he would find of interest. It will take me a while to get through them all.

One of the best things about guests is getting to see Brazil through Their Eyes. While some of life here strikes me as different or funny or wonderful or sad, it strikes them even more how different it is from the country they left two days ago. 

One of the wonders that I sometimes forget is the São Paulo wall. The São Paulo residence wall. In the photo above you can see my dad walking by the enormous wall built by my next-door neighbor. Not content with the stone part which is more than 10 feet tall, he extended on top to at least 25 feet tall. It's a little hard to gauge in this photo, as my dad is walking slightly uphill.

Walls are everywhere and around everything. Around each house, around many neighborhoods. It is a walled city. Good fences make good neighbors, says Robert Frost, but in this case the walls are simply to keep city life and city crime out. It's a terrible way to have to grow up, if you ask me. No need to compare with prior generations or another part of the world--no child should have to grow up surrounded by such walls. 

I attended a talk some months ago by an urbanist who claimed that crime worsened in places where there were no public spaces in each city block. With no place to sit and contemplate, and to be a neighbor (sharing a bench, or kicking a ball), there is no interaction, no trust and no neighborhood. It was an interesting argument and one I need to research more.

Tomorrow I leave the high walls for a few days at the beach, where there are no walls. Yes, another sandy Christmas. I will continue to post while away, but I'm guessing things will get a little later in the day. Bye bye, walled city.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wally - Boston and São Paulo

So I had one of those goofy moments when I visited Boston last week where I hugged a random fluffy mascot. I'm not sure why being in the US provokes such wackiness in me (I would not consider hugging the Palmeiras toucan, or what is that bird again? Help, I am a terrible card-carrying fan). Yes, that is me with Wally and the three World Series trophies (my brother, Sox fan that he is, explained to me later that the Sox won in 2004, 2007 and 2013. I was happy I knew who the Red Sox were, baseball fan that I am not). 

Wally is the Green Monster, and not in fact a Green Elmo as I originally thought. What a disappointment to find that out once I had reached the front of the line. Oh well, one muppet is as good as the next and I enjoyed facebooking this photo over to my bro. And I began to think about my random brushes with famous people in Brazil. Here I must remind you that I have only been in Brazil for a few years so "famous" people have to be pointed out to me by Brazilians. Not my husband since he wouldn't know Gisele from Fernanda Lima. Okay, I exaggerate. He would know that.

In summary then. I saw Caroline Dieckmann at the Mercado Municipal in Pinheiros. I don't know who she is but she seemed nice enough in taking photos with lots of people. I saw Pele once at Antiquarius, a once favorite restaurant, now closed. He seemed nice too. Turns out he is not American--who knew? I thought all Cosmos players were American. Ummm, I stayed at the same hotel as some of the E o Tchan girls fifteen years ago when someone cared about them. I beaned one of the richest CEOs in Brazil with a tennis ball in a misplaced net shot during a tennis game at a corporate event. I've never seen my husband turn whiter than at that moment. He was okay. The CEO and my husband. 

Yeah, that's it. Oh, I saw Senator Suplicy walking back from the gym. And my husband pointed out the dude who illustrates Monica one time on a plane, and then there was a large basketball guy but I can't remember his name. 

Not one of them had a trophy. Or three. And not one of them gave me such a nice green hug.I have a new mission. Find a mascot in a public area and hug it.  One can only hope I find the Uruguay team in time.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Munchie time - São Paulo

For the last few days, I have been traveling in and around Boston. It seems that Boston will be my next home after our São Paulo days draw to a close sometime after the World Cup next year.  I spent a few days enjoying (hahaha) the New England December weather and visiting my brother and friends from high school and college.

As an aside (sorry dad, here I go), I have to say I can anticipate fully my blog next year which will deal with "This is Not What I Expected" or an expatriate's return to her home country. All kinds of things strike me as funny now in the US--waiters who introduce themselves, staying in a converted fire house where the elevator certificate had expired, taxi drivers from Ethiopia, Morocco and Framingham, a place where there is an app for literally everything. It's good times in New England.

But back to Brazil. I had a hellish return flight here which included a delay of four hours from Toronto, as well as an hour to get our bags from the plane. I have never waited so long for luggage. I wonder if they were sorting through it for Furbys. Anyway, I am now home and have the munchies. So I ate first some Caramel DeLites (I once knew them as Samoas) sold to me by hard-core girl scouts at 9 pm at night on Harvard Square, where it was roughly 30 degrees Fahrenheit. I love cookies. And girl scouts.

Munchies continue and then I spy the yellow Bauducco panettone box behind the bread. I love panettone. It is one of my favorite traditional foods in Brazil, and I rarely get tired of it, even after being given 4000 of them during the Christmas season.  It is delicious stuff. The most traditional form is a sweet bread that is filled with dried fruit, but it can also be made with chocolate or other yummies (dulce de leche being one unapproved (by me) variety).

Panettone has its origins here from the Italian immigrants in the early 20th century.  There is a fun way and a boring way to how it got its name. Who wants to vote? Okay, the boring way is that "pane" is bread and "tone" is large. Boring. The fun way is that some Friar Antonio liked the stuff and he wore a hat that resembles a panettone (tall, with a puffy top) and so it was "pane di Tony" or Tony's bread. Unfortunately the fun one does not hold water.

If you don't know what to bring to a Christmastime party, bring a panettone! If you don't know what to give to the street guard who watches your house, give him a panettone! Ditto teachers, security guards, neighbors, family... And of course there are all different levels of panettone, from cheap $10 US loaves to $100 fancy chocolate store varieties. Me, my favorite is Bauducco. Brazilian since the 1950s, delicious since forever.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pinheiros Muncipal Market - São Paulo

Here's a slightly fuzzy shot of one of my favorite places in São Paulo. It is the Municipal Market of Pinheiros. This neighborhood market is much smaller than the main municipal market but it is also much closer to me--around 10 minutes from my place. You can find everything and anything here: the best prices on fresh vegetables and fruits as well as several butchers, a fantastic fresh seafood store filled with fish you have never heard of, and a wine store. There are also various dried goods "booths" with barrels or tubs of rices and beans and spices and all kinds of wondrous things.

One of the workers at our favorite "everything" shop on the bottom floor is a tall young man who speaks English, German, Portuguese and Turkish. Yes, Turkish. Unfortunately he was not there on this day--I will add a post about him another day. It is a very friendly place--many of the sellers recognize us and ask where we've been recently (they ask the same question if we have been there a week ago or a month ago). 

The market is officially titled Mercado Municipal Engenheiro João Pedro de Carvalho Neto, and dates back to 1910. It was in a different location than it is now--closer to the Largo da Batata (see another one of my posts for that area) and was known as the  “Mercado dos Caipiras”, or (very loosely translated) "Red-Neck Market". Oh all right, "Caipira" is really someone from the countryside. The old building was knocked down and this one dates from 1971. Don't miss the "pastel" or fried yummies for sale outside.

Open Monday - Saturday 8 am - 6 pm at Rua Pedro Cristi, 89. See you there!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Any given Sunday - São Paulo

This is where I like to spend my Sunday mornings. On a lounge chair under the giant trees, poolside in our club. The kids run off to play ball, to eat ice cream and to cannonball. One of the true delights of my city life.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shoe! ...and suitcase...and keys maybe too - São Paulo

This is our local shoe repair shop. On this day it also had three kids, age 5-12, clearly already on school vacations and fighting over the old computer in the corner. Here I got new heels put on two pairs of shoes, replaced two suitcase zippers and got an extra key made. All for US$20. Not bad.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Postcards from a taxi - Sao Paulo and Boston...

So I am in Boston for a few days this week for personal and business reasons. I went to college around here and grew up in the next state over so it almost feels like home even though I haven't lived here in 20 years. Yes, it is cold but it's sunny and I've been in a whirlwind of visits with college and high school friends and a soul-strengthening morning at my alma mater. 

Yesterday as I was leaving the alma mater which sits about 12 miles from Boston, I had to call a taxi because my next visit was to a school remote from public transportation. I had taken a metro-commuter rail combination to the college, and that will be another post because I loooooooved it. Anyway, it took a while for the suburban taxi to come and when it did, there was a woman driver who reminds me very much of an actress that I am forgetting the name of for the moment. Someone who play gritty characters with hard lives. 

And of course, I started chatting with the driver because I have never entered a taxi in any country where I speak the language without having a chat with the driver. I always do this in Sao Paulo -- especially in Sao Paulo, where unlike the  US, there is no plastic barrier between you and the driver. I can't NOT talk to the driver in Brazil.

Back to JFK Taxi of suburbia. We talk about where she grew up (Framingham), how nice but weirdly Stepford Wive-y is the town where my alma mater sits is, and then of course, we talk about our kids. She mentions two small ones, and then after I say I have twin boys she says "me too! Mine are 15 years old." And it turns out that the kids are identical except for a small mole on one's cheek. 

I had been talking about how I would love to send my kids to public school if I move back to the US, and with so many great public schools around, why anyone would send theirs to private. She glances in the rear view mirror at me and says "my older boys go to private school." And I ask why she decided to send them there and she says "they're blind." It turns out her boys are at Perkins School for the Blind and are paid for entirely by the Massachussetts Public School System. If you are not familiar with Perkins, it is arguably the best and certainly the first school for the blind in the US and is in Watertown, MA. Helen Keller is one famous alum. 

The taxi driver told me that the school system where she lived first tried to include her sons in regular classes but even with an assistant, it was not possible. So, in a country where education truly is the responsibility of the state, they are now sponsored at Perkins. They will graduate with the technical skills to become DJs which is what they want.

Later yesterday I was returning from my brother's apartment in Boston to Cambridge where I am staying. The taxi driver was Ethiopian, had been in Boston for 2 years and loved everything about it but the cold. We talked about World Cup soccer and the fact that Ethiopia had been knocked out of contention by Nigeria and had not qualified this year. The taxi driver had been saving money for two years to see his team play in Brazil and now, that particular dream was over. I asked him if I should cheer for Nigeria then as cheering for Africa, and he said yes, they could all be friends now. 

When we reached the hotel, I asked how much I owed him and he said, no, that my brother had already pre-paid the taxi. Yep, taxi apps in the US are still better than in Brazil--this one was called "uber" which my German friends should enjoy. And I asked him if the tip would be included and he said he thought so, and not to worry about it. He helped me get out with all my bags and boxes and he drove off into the dark Cambridge night.

Snapshots of a taxi life. Love it in Brazil. Love it here.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Let the Gringo hunting begin! - São Paulo

I noticed this sign up in the lobby of the South Africa consulate. It is the Brazilian Uncle Sam (just kidding, no such thing here) saying he wants the "Gringos of São Paulo" to represent your own country in the First World Cup of Foreigners in São Paulo. 32 countries, March-June 2014 (when the actual World Cup begins). 

Now there are many cracks I can make about this. Like how this is definitely where I would head if I were a bad guy and needed dollars. Or how in the world are they going to find 11 Iranians in São Paulo (I may have to eat my words because I know one, but I don't think she plays soccer). Or 11 Nigerians, or Cameroonians (Camerites? Camericans?). 

For now, I shall let it ride.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Buemba! Buemba! - São Paulo

José Simão - "In the country of the easy joke"

When I moved here for the second time, more than five years ago, we started received the Folha de São Paulo, the largest circulating daily in Brazil. In general I would flip through the first section (world) but mostly skipped it because I got most international news from US newspapers, read the business section, get shocked by metro life in the local section, peruse sports and then breeze through Illustrada (Arts & Entertainment, I suppose). I would never stop to read a daily column by José Simão which is always filled with exclamation points and inside (Brazilian) jokes about politics or sports or daily events. I couldn't understand the jokes and I really thought the guy was borderline nuts.

José Simão is now my favorite Brazilian columnist. By far. The BH has a preference for a man named Helio, but he's far too serious. And correct, by the way. Helio, not the BH. Anyway. I won't be able to show well most of why I love José Simão because of course he writes in Portuguese, the jokes are about Brazil and heck, it's taken me five years of living here to understand roughly 70% of his jokes.  Okay, 50% if I have to be honest. But let me share what I can.

He always starts his columns with "BUEMBA! BUEMBA! Macaco Simão Urgente!" Buemba must be jungle drums because a macaco simão is a Simian Monkey, and of course a play on his last name.  And he always ends his column with "Nóis sofre, mas nóis goza! Que eu vou pingar o meu colírio alucinógeno!" which I translate as "We suffer but we enjoy it. I am going to go take my hallucinogenic medicine." I can't help more with this but that's where it is.

He also ends many of his paragraphs with Rarará which is "ha ha ha" in English (the "r" in Portuguese is pronounced as an "h"). There is something about this Rarará that makes me laugh every time.

Here's a column of his from 22 November 2013 where he spends 2 paragraphs making fun of the huge Mensalão corruption scandal. What made me spit out my coffee were his comments on house arrest for the bad guys. He says he too would like house arrest as long as it was in Maluf's house, where everyone is rich and no one gets sent to prison. Maluf is one of the most corrupt politicians ever to "grace" São Paulo streets, yet lives out his later years in complete freedom and huge wealth. 

Then he goes on to talk about the São Paulo vs Ponte Preta soccer game where SP lost to Ponte Preta. Apparently Ponte Preta's nickname is the Macaca, or female monkey, and Bambi is the nickname of São Paulo. Now if I read the title without knowing Brazilian slang, I would have thought that a monkey had eaten a deer. But that is not exactly right. At all. You don't want to know what the title of the whole thing means but needless to say, it is more than a little racy.  

If you are one for political correctness, this is not going to be the columnist for you. And yes, I do think he goes over the line more than once in a while. Fortunately for his lawyer bill (incidentally he was a law student at USP before dropping out), he attacks everyone and anyone so it's hard to say you are singled out.

One of my favorite things about being fluent in Portuguese: understanding José Simão. Oh, you can run him through google translate if you'd like but I'm guessing that's not going to get you anywhere...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rainbow nation and Collor - São Paulo

Okay, bonus post today and so ironic since it competes with Mr. Mandela below. I was flipping through the paper, and stopped to glance at the front page...ah, here is the obligatory photo of past presidents of Brazil going to South Africa for the Mandela memorial...seems just like the US photo except with a woman in the middle here. 

Wait a second...who is the guy on the far right? Can it be? Yes, it IS. It's Fernando Collor de Mello, the president famous for resigning his presidential office before being impeached for corruption. Which he was, anyway. 

Who invited him? What is the protocol on that? Invite your worst president ever to pay homage to one of the world's great leaders? Huh?  If I were South Africa, I would have sent him home.  I am afraid to find out that he was actually invited by South Africa. Maybe I won't ask. I think he should have declined, anyway.

Does he travel on a diplomatic passport still? Wait...he's a senator. Yep, he got re-elected. I sure do hope his home state is footing the bill cause I don't want to think my taxes went to his trip.

Weird, Brazil. Very weird.

Love Itself Has Rest - São Paulo

Photo credit: www.brazilafrica.com

Yesterday, I decided that I had to sign the condolence book for Nelson Mandela. In the middle of a massive heatwave, terrible traffic and a to-do list that spans two pages, I had to go to Avenida Paulista and the South Africa consulate.  

Why is it important to me? Because I have no other way of expressing how important Nelson Mandela's life was to me and how I try to think differently because of who he was. A man who could forgive 27 years of imprisonment in order to avoid a certain civil war. A man who said that revenge would not help the country, and that black and white must work together.  

Personally I think we can all learn lessons from him. Acceptance, forgiveness, color-blindness, hope. Politicians can learn, parents can learn, everyone can learn. Last night I read the children's version of A Long Walk to Freedom to one of my kids, and I realized with happiness that the idea of separation by color was confusing and bizarre to him. As I've said, he's in classes with South Africans every day. He sees color but only as a descriptor, not as a classifier. 

I took the metro from Vila Madalena to Avenida Paulista. I popped up from the underground in front of the MASP art museum and its accompanying hippie jewelry sellers and their accompanying Military Police watchmen. I strolled towards the enormous Christmas decorations where I imagined Santa sweating it out in his big red suit, and into a non-descript office building which houses the South Africa consulate as well as Switzerland's (I know this only because I ran into the consul-general at a party).  

In the lobby, a small sign, candle and photo announce that the condolences book is up on the 12th floor. As I stood there, a group came by and looked at it and exclaimed "wow, the South Africa consulate is here?" No concrete barriers, US style.

A quick security check (NOTHING like the US consulate where I swear they would cavity search if they could, and forget taking your phone in) and the ancient elevator swept me up to the 12th floor.

It was a quiet place. I rang the bell and was let in to the reception area where a young man was inquiring about whether or not he needed a visa to visit South Africa. The receptionist seemed confused about my visit and asked which embassy I represented. And I said "none" and he said "just a minute." I mentioned that a friend of mine had told me about the book, and that this friend happened to be married to one of the South Africa consulate employees. And this employee came to the door, very friendly and asked if I would like to sign the diplomatic book (there is a separate one) and I said no, I would sign the book of the common man.

So I opened the condolences book and I was shocked to see that there was only one letter there. One. Written by a Brazilian on December 6.  Folks, this is Nelson Mandela, quite possibly the most loved politician to ever walk the earth. I was surprised. I had been fearing a line at the signing--one that would delay my return to my to-do list. No worries. I just hope some more people show up.

As I was writing, the consul-general came out to say hello. I admit that I know her, not only because our kids are in the same class, but because I am a regular at South Africa events.  She gave me two kisses and thanked me for coming. We chatted a bit then I got back to my letter as she had to ring to get someone to let her back into the inner offices. Makes me laugh when I think about how the poor consul-general of the US has to live compared to this-- drivers, security guards, planning. 

So I sat and I told Mr. Mandela that I learned more about forgiveness and love from him than any other leader of people. And I told him that it was time to rest, and I admit that I even quoted my favorite Lord Byron poem. Sure hope Lord Byron didn't pillage Africa two hundred years ago or something--forgot to do my research on that.

Then I closed the book and put down my pen. I buzzed myself out of the South Africa consulate, took the elevator down, and walked out into the hot sunshine. 

For the sword outwears its sheath
And the soul wears out the breast
And the heart must pause to breathe
And love itself have rest

Lord Byron

Monday, December 9, 2013

Party rice - São Paulo

One of my favorite expressions here is "arroz da festa" or "party rice." It's what you call people who never miss a party (whether they are invited or not). Many of the socialites of São Paulo who litter the inside page of Folha's Illustrada section would be example (I am careful to not name names, no?)

The origin of the expression is somewhat unclear. It could be the custom of throwing rice at the newly-married. But most likely it comes from the colonizers. In Portuguese traditional family parties and celebrations, there were always desserts made with rice and sugar (sweet rice)--and these were known as "arroz da festa" or party rice.

I would suggest using this phrase only with people who you know well because it could be taken the wrong way if you accuse someone of being party rice. I have never once been accused of being party rice, as I am mostly asleep by 10 pm these days.

Source: http://www.brasilescola.com/curiosidades/arroz-festa.htm