Friday, May 31, 2013

3 on 3 - São Paulo

This weekend we visited the Parque da Juventude (Youthfulness Park) in the north part of the city. We drove, but there is a metro station nearby. I highly recommend parking in the private lot just before the main entrance--the park is surrounded by some interesting neighbors including a women's prison.

Sunday was a gorgeous cool sunny day and the park was filled with people lying on the grass, walking their dogs, and waiting for the free concert later in the afternoon. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the park also hosts the Biblioteca de São Paulo, certainly one of the best libraries I have ever seen.

At the far end of the park were three concrete soccer "fields", two tennis courts and a volleyball court. All were in full use, with people on the sidelines patiently waiting for their turns. As we passed by the last soccer field, we heard the noise from the basketball courts--cheering, laughter, music and an announcer. As we walked closer, we could see that all four courts had sizable crowds, an ice cream man waiting for the right moment, and various teams waiting on the sidelines. It turned out to be a 3-on-3 tournament. One court had a women's game going on, the second, younger teenage girls, and the third was being used for free-throw training. But it was the fourth court that grabbed our attention. It was wheelchair basketball--we caught the end of one game and were just amazed by the skills of these athletes. In fact, these guys make it look easy. So of course, some of the non-wheelchair athletes accepted a challenge to try out wheelchair basketball.

Three tall young men were strapped into the chairs and the game was on. Within one minute, the tallest of them had gone over backwards in the chair and was lying like a beetle with all its legs in the air. They righted him and then the game continued. The wheelchair athletes (the real ones) scored countless points while the others zoomed around crashing into each other as they tried to figure out how to defend, shoot and maneuver the chair at the same time. At the end of the game, there was much laughter and back-slapping. What a lovely urban park scene.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Motorcycle Chicken Wire - Piracaia

I have seen motorcycle drivers carry all kinds of stuff. This is the first time I have seen the passenger carry an entire roll of chicken wire. It was so hard to see the driver in front of the guy with the wire that one of my kids asked how he could drive with one hand on the back of the motorcycle and one hand holding the chicken wire. But there are two on that bike.  It was leaning pretty far left when we passed it.

Two people on a motorcycle has a special term here. It is called "andando na garupa". I can't figure out how to translate this. When I ask google translate (ah, the horror!) for a suggestion, it says "going with the croup" which is undoubtedly wrong. And if I change the spelling to "andando na garoupa", you are making it into a grouper on the back of your motorcycle. Someone Brazilian please help me out.  Regardless of the reality now, I always picture "andando na garupa" as schools of groupers on motorbikes following me. In 7 pm traffic, it's not too far from the truth.

It used to be that I would get a little nervous when I saw a motorcycle with someone as a grouper in the back. There was a crime wave of the groupers banging guns on your car window as you stopped at a light and asking for your purse, cellular, watch, whatever. But now I have a bulletproof car. The grouper would hurt his fin if he banged on it...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cingapura - São Paulo

This is a photo of Conjunto Habitacional Cingapura Zaki Narchi in the Carandiru neighborhood. Directly translated it makes no sense. Indirectly translated this is a public housing facility. Public housing that replaces favelas (shanty towns) is called "Cingapura", which of course is Singapore in English. This confused me until I read a bit more about Cingapuras.

In 1993, the São Paulo city government developed a project to verticalize (sorry, license taken on English grammar) the cardboard/brick and metal shanties in São Paulo. The first favela to be razed and the residents moved to a Cingupura was a favela called "Boa Esperança" or Good Hope. It lay right along the stream that leads away from the former Carandiru prison. The motivation behind moving people from these precarious shanties to public housing was many-fold: security improved, basic sanitation needs would be met, and public services such as trash and electricity could be implemented. As an offshoot, the stream would also be cleaner as it no longer was needed as a large bathroom. 700 families were moved to the new housing.

In the report (with which I became fascinated--if you speak Portuguese, you can read it here: Projeto Cingapura), several issues came up with the new housing. While still a shanty town, the residents paid a minimum value for electricity. At the new buildings, electricity bills are shared and some residents refused to pay. Also, the playground had concrete "toys' and these deteriorated and had to be replaced twice. In the summary of the project it mentions that the kids now play on destroyed cars within the borders of the housing and that is working just fine (!!!)

There are many Cingapuras now in the city limits. By the way, it was never clear from the report but I guess the name Cingapura came from making vertical housing in small areas--what the country of Singapore must need to do to handle its population. If anyone knows for sure the origins of the name, I would be interested to know.  One of the "prettiest" Cingapuras has recently painted its buildings bright yellow, purple, pink and green. I will try to get that photo sometime. 


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No Helmets Allowed - São Paulo

This is my favorite local gas station--they know me and they know I never can remember where to pop the hood of my husband's car. Or how many psi go into the tires. Yes, gas stations in Brazil are all still full-serve (eat your hearts out, USA!)

The top sign on this gas station divider is to tell motorcycle riders that they must remove helmets on their way up to the pump. The good news is that there is indeed a helmet law in Brazil--all motorcyclists must wear helmets. In fact this particular Brazilian law works--I have never seen someone in São Paulo without a helmet. In the countryside I have, but only on dirt roads. When my husband had to vote while on vacation in Bahia (voting is mandatory in Brazil), he went by moto-taxi to the post office to justify his non-vote (you also have to vote from your home polling location--no such thing as absentee. If you can't be there on vote day, you must justify your absence). As he got on the motorcycle, the taxi driver handed him his extra helmet.  And if your friend only has a pink helmet because usually his wife is riding with him, then you wear a pink helmet. Take that, easy rider.

The bad news is that the sign requesting the removal of helmet is required for security, of course. With a number of armed robberies at the pump, taking off the helmet has become necessary to identify the bad guys. More and more establishments put in video monitoring, and in fact most private houses now have it too. One of the least wonderful things about living here in the big city.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Greatest Pleasure: Reading at the Biblioteca de São Paulo - São Paulo

Those who know me will know that I have complained bitterly about the quality of libraries here in São Paulo. I may be able to keep complaining about the city libraries--but today I went to the jewel in the crown of the state libraries.  The Biblioteca de São Paulo in the Zona Norte (north side of the city) is jaw-dropping.

I only knew that there was a dividing line between city and state libraries when I got to the reception desk. All visitors must have photo ID and they must also be photographed for security. When I showed the receptionist my city library card (which is essentially a yellow card with my name on it, handwritten), he wrinkled up his nose and said in a snooty manner..."this is a STATE library and you have to do a separate registration."  My my.

The Biblioteca de São Paulo is built on the site of the infamous Carandiru prison, which was demolished in 2002. Carandiru was South America's largest prison--at one point it housed 8,000 prisoners. In 1992, it was the site of a massacre of prisoners by the military police. There is a well-known and scary movie about the place. The site should be sad--perhaps filled by 111 massacred prisoners ghosts--but it is anything but. The Parque de Juventude (Youthfulness Park) takes the major portion of the new site, then there is the library, and in front of the library (and its skate-board infested central pavement) is a technical college for the arts. It is walkable from the metro.

The glass building of the Biblioteca is light and airy, open, yet not at all noisy. The bottom floor has the extensive and impressive children's section. Books are organized by age and have color-coded labels on their binders, and there are smaller "rooms" (open, and wheeled, as in above photo) with bean bags and enticing books laid out on the shelves. This photo is of an area for 7-12 year olds. All of the bookshelves are wheeled and mobile--and the books are mostly set facing the reader. You don't have to puzzle out by the binding whether or not you wish to read the book.

Another area is filled with comfy seating for storytelling, another with kid-sized tables and chairs with crayons sitting in a recycled softener bottle. Coloring pages and puzzles sit ready for little hands. And then there are computer stations set up by age group as well. No adults can take them over for homework--no, here the kids watch kid movies with headsets, play kid games, enjoy what they like. It was orderly, fairly empty and all new.

Hanging from the ceiling are super-sized paper airplanes. Upstairs is the small adult section and more huge banks of desks and computers. Groups of people were working on projects, watching movies on the computer screens, doing research. Outside there are two upper verandas with tables and lounge chairs--one side overlooking the set up for a free outdoor concert later that day. Downstairs is a small cafe with comfortable chairs and tables to take a break from your studies.

One of the most impressive, comfortable and bright libraries I have ever been in. And reachable by metro. I'll be back...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

One for the Road - São Paulo

Try as hard as I can, I am unable to get a good photo of this one. Here I am in the Wal-mart parking lot after an adventure that involves a runaway cockroach on the checkout belt (no, I was not trying to purchase it for lunch) and being told by the security guard that I could not take a photo of my son eating a piece of bread. Apparently you are not allowed to take pictures in any Wal-mart--who knew?

So, I was a bit shy on taking this photo as the security guard is around the back of this yellow wall. The yellow wall is actually a little concrete room with a pull up steel rolling door. It is your drive-through Skol beer pick-up spot.  Don't have time to go through the whole store in order to get your Skol? Well, stop right in here and they'll even load it up for you.

Not sure they're open on Sundays.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My two cents worth - or one - or none - São Paulo

Today I went to the pharmacy where my bill came to R$4.09.  That is 4 reais and 9 centavos. The Brazilian currency is the 'real" (pronounced "Hay-ALL") and the "little money" is called centavos. There is no "real" bill, only a coin, much like the English pound coin (see photo below). But what seems to have disappeared is the one centavo coin. I haven't had one in my wallet for months, and possibly years.

Where did it go? At the current exchange rate, one centavo is worth about half of one American cent. It's essentially worthless. Which is what explains the fact that you never see it (unless the government plain old took it out of circulation, which is possible). When your bill comes to R$4.09 like mine above (or as Brazilians write it with a comma:  4,09), don't bother looking for the bowl with the "need a penny, take a penny. Have a penny, leave a penny" sign like in the US. You just round up or round down. I gave the cashier $4 reais and ten centavos, and she did not offer change. I didn't ask for it.  If the bill had come to $4,06, I would have given her $4,05 (four reais and a five centavo coin) and she would not have asked for the missing centavo.

So I got curious this morning about whether or not the Central Bank here still even makes pennies. It does. There are almost 3.9 billion of them in circulation. Each centavo coin costs 16 centavos to make. Why are they still around? This article (Canada starts to eliminate one-cent coins)seems to claim that because a great part of the population works only in cash, a centavo makes a difference in daily payments.

Australia, Denmark, France and Great Britain have done away with their respective one cent coins. Canada is currently studying it. In the US, the cent coin costs 2 cents to make though Illinois, Land of Lincoln, is attached to the penny. Not sure if this is still true, but until a few years ago, you could use pennies in Illinois tolls to pay your 80 cent toll. 80 1-cent coins. Took a while to get that counted in the bin. But it can't be long until the American penny also meets its end.  Makes life simpler.

Brazilian coins

Friday, May 24, 2013

Megacities and the Mayor - São Paulo

Here's the view from my seat at the Administrando Megacidades (Managing Megacities) event yesterday. Led by two local think tanks as well as Harvard University, there were a number of panels about the challenges of mega-cities (I particularly liked the "Demons of Density" term used by one Harvard professor) which include education, public transportation and security. The large auditorium was about 2/3 full and many of the attendees were students of the host university. There should have been many more than 250 people that found this topic of interest--remember that São Paulo has 11 million residents in the city and 19 million in the metro area. So many people complain about this city but so few actually want to learn how to take action. Much easier to complain.

The seminar was well-run though I would have appreciated more interaction between the speakers. The opening speech from a Harvard professor about the 12 learnings of big cities ("bus is good, train is bad") merit a post another day. The four-person panels were essentially a way to put four people in easy chairs--and then call each one up individually to give a speech. Most panels with which I am familiar have the panelists interacting and also include extensive question and answer periods. It would have been interesting to have more debate.

The keynote speaker was Fernando Haddad, the mayor of São Paulo since January 2013. I have seen him present before at another conference when he was the Minister of Education. He is clearly a very smart guy with an immense job. Why anyone would want it is completely beyond me. He gave about a half-hour talk, cut down from an hour, as he was clearly suffering from a cold or flu which was affecting his voice.

While Haddad spoke, I thought about a couple of things (besides what he was saying about moving the population of Uruguay 10 km twice a day. Seriously that is why traffic is bad. So you don't have to look it up, the population of Uruguay is 3.3 million. That is the number of people who have to get to work and back every day).

First thought after wondering about the population of Uruguay: no one ever calls the mayor "Fernando". In spite of Brazilians calling the former president by his nickname/now-legal name "Lula" and Dilma, the current president, by her first name,  Haddad is "Haddad." And in Portuguese you say "Ah-Dah-GEE". It's kind of cute.

Second of all, in spite of coming in with a posse of around 8 people, there was not a single security guard watching the audience. They watched him, they checked email; they did not watch the audience. There was no security machine entering the auditorium--most people had large bags, backpacks, briefcases or purses. No one checked them. I don't know this for sure, but doesn't the mayor of the largest cities in the US have security that involved bag checks, xray machines and secret service scanning the audience? This event was free and advertised on the internet. Almost anyone could have gotten in under an assumed name (they did not check documents, either). Just struck me that security was really lax for guarding the mayor of a large city with many many issues. And that, of course, is spoken by a citizen of a country where there are terrorist attacks. Here, there are none.

An excellent event...expect more about Ah-Dah-Gee in the future. Me likey.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Running a Megacity event - Harvard -Insper

Today's experience: how to run a mega-city. Our mayor is expected later...

Iron this! - São Paulo

I love these recycled door and gate shops that line the road on the way to Raposo Tavares, a major highway here. The one pictured has some of my favorite cast iron gates and doorways. I like to imagine where they were used before being "rescued" by this store. If I were a talented artist (even untalented, or even an artist) I would create some kind of sculpture out of all of this.

São Paulo does well at recycling many things--these old cast-iron gates, and wood and old doorways frequently become furniture renewed by carefully distressed paint jobs. One of my favorite artisan studios here takes old windows and makes them into beautiful picture frames and mirrors.

I try not to think of the statistic I've read that of the items that wind up in the official recycling bins in this city, only 30% is actually recycled. I'm talking about cans, glass, plastic, cardboard and newspapers.  I still dutifully pull out my recycle bins every Friday in the hopes that the majority of it gets recycled.  But the reality is that most of it is going to wind up in the common waste.

Some of the best recyclers are the "cardboard guys" as I call them--a guy with a two-wheeled hand cart--he picks out the best from your garbage can and carts it away.  You can see them in the slow lanes of many roads (some of them major roads) with huge towers of items--you begin to wonder how they can pull all of that weight. More on the cardboard guys another day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Post Office Roulette - São Paulo

Here is possibly the most beautiful piece of mail I have ever received. And to be fair, it was my husband who received it, but I thieved the envelope. This is a manila folder sized piece that contained a document of some importance--it was shipped SedEx, which is the Brazilian equivalent of the US Priority Mail from the post office. The photo on front and back of this envelope is from the botanical gardens of Curitiba, Brazil.

I have a love-hate relationship with the mail service here. Mostly hate. A dear friend sent me two boxes of Samoas (Girl Scout cookies) from Maine and they arrived three months late and crushed into tiny crumbs (I ate every last one, by the way). I usually get my last Christmas card in April (and yes, the date stamp says December 15 so it's not just folks as late as I am). My college alum magazine routinely arrives three months after shipping from the US. And some stuff just plain old doesn't arrive--the latest one that I mourn that didn't arrive is a treasured hat from a good friend. Why would a hat not make it through the customs guys? I have no idea. Maybe a bald one had a head cold. Four months after it was shipped from Alabama, I know I will never see this item.

A friend's family sent a Barbie dream house as a present for her daughter. Customs got a hold of it and asked her for one and a half times the price of the item in order to "liberate it" from customs. And if they hadn't gotten that money from her, they might have gone after the sender in the US. Items of any value higher than US$50 are in danger of never making it, or having a customs tax added.

Why all the taxing? The theory is to protect Brazilian manufacturing. But the reality of it is that Brazil does not manufacture any item that competes even remotely with various foreign-made products--Barbie dream house, even well-made clothes are scarce here. Some other time I will talk about the imported car situation--we paid three times US prices for our Honda. All taxes and "penalties" for not buying Brazilian.

I cannot ship anything from the US and I discourage my friends or family from sending anything. I just can't bear the thought of things disappearing forever. Irreplaceable things. If they just taxed or took the Dream House, that would be okay (not sure what the Dream House would be doing here anyway considering I have two boys). But not the friend's hat: used, with no value other than sentimental. The only chance there is to get through is to declare a value under US$50 and play the roulette of whether customs will open it or not. And be prepared to wait for those girl scout cookies--apparently they are stomped on for three months before delivered. Still, the crumbs are good...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Health Food It's Not - São Paulo

Here's the view from my seat at the bar at the local padaria. This is where I spend a half-hour while my kids do capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, at an academy across the street. There is absolutely nothing like the local padaria, which is roughly translated to bakery, but is really so much more.

At a smaller padaria like this one, breakfast is whatever can be grilled up--including my favorite pão na chapa (grilled French bread and butter)--as well as assorted baked goods. Some of the bigger ones have breakfast and lunch buffets with fruit and salads. In this picture you can see some coxinhas in the warmer in front of me--these are hot chicken-filled pyramids of fatty goodness. And you can't eat one without the spicy sauce.

And the coffee, ah the coffee. All of them have the giant espresso machines that serve up strong espresso, frothy cappuccinos (which include LOTS of chocolate here in Brazil) and any variation you want. Now if you want a plain old American type coffee with milk, you have a bit of a problem in how to describe it. Some say it is a "carioca" (coffee from Rio) or "americano" (that's a bit obvious) but in the end, you will probably have to describe it to your server and they will ask you about what kind of milk, frothy or hot. Possibly the best-kept secret of Brazil, though, is the fresh orange juice. Fresh squeezed from a speedy machine--I can hear the sound of its grinder now. Zip, zip, zip and a huge glass of orange juice sits in front of you. Delicious.

A padaria is probably most closely related to the old American diners. Quick, no-frills service, good basic food, and reasonable prices. Maybe a diner mixed with a convenience store since all padarias have a small section where you can buy milk, and a few necessities for your pantry, as well as a full baked good section with elaborate cakes and fresh bread.

It's also a great place to hang out if you are eating alone. It usually has a bar (where I am seated at this photo) and then lots of casual tables where you can linger for long periods of time, reading your paper or letting your kids spread jelly on the walls (that NEVER happened. Never. Okay, once).  Padarias are mostly open from early morning until early evening--we have the largest one in São Paulo near our house and it is open 24 hours. At lunch or dinner time you can get a great steak, eggs and french fries to soothe your arteries. Salads need not apply (okay, yes, they do usually have some, but it's not the specialty).

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Saddest Pleasure (SP Zoo) - São Paulo

Yesterday we took the kids to the São Paulo Zoo. It's been several years since I have been there--last time the kids were in a double stroller. It is a huge place with many open areas for the animals and beautiful large trees and a wide lake. As zoos go, it's a pretty one.

The entrance was chaos (see photo below). Hundreds of people, cash only lines and a confusion about student ticket prices. We went over to an Itau Bank client line to get a 50% discount off the cardholder's price. But they would not give us the 50% discount for my stepson, who is a medical student. By Brazilian law, students must be offered a "meia-entrada" or half-price ticket as long as they have ID. My husband got more than a little upset with the ticket seller and they sent over someone to resolve the situation. It was unresolved in the end.  Imagina na Copa!! Imagine how this would be during the World Cup--more people, no English, no credit cards. Good luck with that.

We walked around to see the tiger (sleeping), bear (sleeping), giraffes (eating) and rhinos (standing around like rhinos do). And then I saw the elephant. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am crazy about elephants. It's a matriarchal society where the elephants care deeply for their families and are intensely social animals. With all the ivory poaching now, it is common to hear of elephants, young and old, mourning their families for days, weeks, years. Young elephants will actually die of sadness. Yet this one elephant was alone. Alone in an open pen. No trees for shade, just red dust. Did you know that elephants get sunburned? They do. They throw dust on themselves for sunscreen. At least there was a lot of dust. We passed the elephant three times: every time he/she was at the far end of the pen rubbing and rubbing his/her trunk on the wall. Driven crazy by loneliness, I think.

I said to my husband that I don't know when zoos became sad places for me. I look into the eyes of my 6 year old kids and they see only the pleasure of enormous animals seen in "real life". They scream with delight at the caged macaws, the blanketed orangutan, the gazelles on the tiny plain. One told me that he didn't think we need to go to Africa any more in October, because we had already seen "all" of the animals. These dusty, lonely, caged animals. The lioness who paced back and force the 10 meters of her mountain pen. This is how my kids will think of African animals? I think not.

What to do about the zoo? How can kids understand the size and importance of these animals without them?  How can I help a lonely elephant? I can only hope it is male--they are much less social than the females. I am not going to try to find out--I don't want to know.

Will it be my last visit to the zoo? No. And I will try to play along with my kids' happy wonder. We go to the zoo in the US, too, by the way, and my feelings are similar though I understand many zoos are working with conservation and education and doing their best for the animals rescued or born in captivity.

Imagina na Copa! 

Lonely elephant

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Born to Run - São Paulo

This morning I competed in my tenth 5K race. Most of them have been here in São Paulo. SP people love to run. Thousands and thousands show up for even the most uninteresting of race courses. This race is a series called Circuito Athenas (Athena Series) which starts with 5K/10K then has the next one in July with 5K/8K/16K distances and then finally ends in November with 5K/10K/21K distances.

This particular race is one of my favorites because it takes place on the express lanes of the Marginal, the nine-lane highway that runs from north to south, then east to west looping the city.  Along one side (the left in this photo) runs the train line and along the other are the local lanes of the highway. It somehow gives me a boost to feel that I've stopped cars so that I can run (well, me and 10,000 other people have stopped the cars...and then there's the police, and the transit folks...but the power is still there). For the second year in a row, my personal best has come during this race (shaved a whole second off this year!)

What drives me crazy in road races here is that you are supposed to line up and start according to your pace. In this shot you can see blue flags to the side that announce which group starts where. If you run under a five-minute kilometer, you are more towards the front. If you run 7-8 minute kilometers, you should start near the back. But inevitably, shortly after crossing the starting line (it took me 3 minutes to get there today), there is some group of folks walking (WALKING!!) five across having a nice chat. Usually, it's women. I have no problems with people walking a race. Just start at the back. The last time I did a women-only race I had to divert around (and ultimately crashed through) a gaggle of women talking about where they had bought inexpensive purses. This has never happened to me in US races. Today I even passed a supposedly "Top 300" runner (she had a special shirt) who must have finished at least 4 minutes behind me. Either she is confused or I need a new shirt.

Road races are fun but mostly oversubscribed here. In 2011 I ran a relay marathon with two friends in Bar Harbor, Maine. There were 1,000 participants. That was a great size--leading to an almost camaraderie as we passed each other (one person who passed me there asked me if I were from Team Brazil--I was--and that she had heard about our participation from the waitress the night before. The waitress is a friend of a friend). Here you would never ever find your friends. Except for meeting at the team tent before or after the race.

I run as a member of a team. There were 25 of us at this race and I happened to be the second to arrive back at the tent set up just for us in the parking lot. The top place finisher for our team was a guy named Antonio, 26 years old and one of the elite runners of São Paulo. He came in sixth place overall--yes, he was one of those guys that I see zooming to the finish line while I am on kilometer two. Turns out he lives in the "community" (a euphemism I have learned for an established favela or slum) where I taught English. So I gave him a ride home. One of the many coincidences of life--in this city of  13 or 17 or 20 million (depending on who you believe).

My favorite way to spend a half-hour on the Marginal--running! See you in July, Circuito Athenas!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

It's a Dog Eat Car World - São Paulo

I grew up near New York City and during trips into the city on the train, we would see scrawling writing, ugly words on the sides of tenement buildings. I have been conditioned to think of graffiti as ugly and illegal.

Street art, the "hip" name for graffiti, is everywhere in São Paulo. And many times, it is beautifully rendered--sometimes political in nature, often striking. While it is technically illegal to spray paint buildings and walls, there are several places where it is encouraged and frankly, a huge improvement on the ugly grey concrete. The shot above would be "legal" graffiti as it was most likely commissioned by the owner of the building. In an effort to keep ugly graffiti from the walls of a local cemetery, the local government actually painted individual "canvases" and "gave" one to the well-known graffiti artists in the city. They self-police those walls--putting only beautiful paintings, cleaning up the unauthorized stuff.

I will definitely include other shots of street art in this blog. I am struck constantly by the colorful fun of it. I try to imagine what the artist is "saying." Like the dog eating the car above. Is this an owner who is tired of the line of the cars taking this street to avoid the main thoroughfare? My husband and I wound up on this street in the so-called Baixa Madalena (Vila Madalena is a chic neighborhood--this "lower" Madalena is hanging onto its skirts). This particular road seemed to be a cut-off to the traffic-filled main street.

Also, note the Caribbean restaurant next door. I would never have noticed it if I weren't snapping photos on the phone. Tiny, unknown--I wonder how it survives. And on the other side there are a couple of shops that are not yet open (commerce opens at 10 am--this was around 9:30). I love the small individual specialist shops here--while it takes longer to get all of your shopping done, there is nothing like the expertise you get from the owner of the shop.

This photo below is from the corner of the street next to my son's music class. Maybe they would like the kids to stop singing? ;)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pollution, Rodizio and the World's Saddest River - São Paulo

The panoramas of São Paulo surprise me still. I will turn down a road while escaping the endless traffic and the vista will open up. I forget sometimes how hilly São Paulo is, even as my poor underpowered car struggles to get up and down the streets. But along with the (electric-wire-infested) views, comes the reality of a layer of brown-grey yuck. Pollution that one pretends not to see becomes too obvious to ignore.

São Paulo has one of the worst air qualities in the world. Hardly surprising when the metro area is comprised of 25 million people, more or less. Three million cars are on the roadways every day, a number that doesn't include the trucks that belch out fumes along the main highways. At this time of year, many people especially children have breathing difficulties and sinusitis;  upper respiratory infections are prevalent. The emergency rooms fill with people seeking relief. If we didn't have a country house to escape to on weekends, I am sure we would all suffer more than we already do--one of my sons had three bouts of sinusitis last year, and had pneumonia the year before. The pollution, more than any other single reason, is why my family will ultimately leave São Paulo.

Various efforts are made to ease pollution here. Rodizio is the most well-known (and cheapest!) One day a week, your car may not be on the street from 7 am to 10 am, nor from 5 pm to 8 pm, the two major rush hours. You know your day by the last number on your license plate. My car has a final number of "5" which means it has restricted hours on Wednesdays. The idea of limited hours is that there will be 3 million divided by 5 (weekdays) fewer cars on the street on each day. The reality is that many people bought second cars for rodizio days. And of course, instead of dividing up evenly between the five days of the week, many more cars have rodizio license plates for the middle of the week. No one wants Monday or Friday rodizio, which cuts into early escapes from the city and late returns.

Pollution extends to the two rivers which border the central districts of São Paulo city. Once upon a time, people swam and rowed on the Tiete (which was called "agua boa" or good water by the native population here...obviously many years ago). Now a fall in that water would kill you. A program launched in 1992 spent 1.6 billion reais (0.8 billion dollars, more or less) on cleaning it up. Two years ago, it was declared a failure. Sewage dumps into the water from countless favelas (slums). Flooding on city streets fill it with garbage, dead animals and worse (yes, there is worse! Don't think about it.)

When I lived here the first time (1998-2001), I suggested to Brazilians that they just fill in the river and make a few more lanes on the highways that border the rivers. Or float pontoons where people could have floating parks. Universally, Brazilians were offended and answered that the rivers could be saved--apparently 145 kilometers from the capital, the Tiete river flows clean and filled with beasties like capivara (this does not impress me--those things are essentially large rats). I am no engineer but I don't think those rivers are salvageable--make them into sewage tunnels and build a park on top. More trees, less pollution.

While I was looking for some of the numbers here, I noted that there is now a video game called "Clean Tiete River" ( It makes me laugh, especially because you are supposed to clean up the garbage without fishing the fish. There are no fish. None. And if there were, they would have four heads and be really really ticked off. They would eat the boat. Now if we could all get serious about cleaning this up instead of playing the video games...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Train station Piano - São Paulo

Here's one of my favorite sights in São Paulo: The juxtaposition of old wealth, current middle class and in the middle of it all, something that doesn't quite fit. This photo is taken at the Estação da Luz (Station of Light), a beautiful old train station in the center of São Paulo. You can see from the detailing how rich this place was at the time it was built. This is a truly lovely building now also housing the Museum of Portuguese Language.

On the other side of this reception hall, the train tracks lie below a wrought-iron pedestrian walkway.  Here people rush by on their way to the train or on the way to work or home. Some busily checking their smartphones avoid without even looking up the dark piano in the middle of the entrance hall. Some pause and look at it. The very few sit down for a minute or two and play. And the extremely rare ones can really play.

The piano is always there (well, not sure about the middle of the night). If the mood takes you, you can sit down and tickle the ivories a bit, no charge. I don't visit often but I have once seen a backpack-wearing college student sit down and play around a bit. Not bad. A few people stopped to have a listen then moved on. I wonder how many people in this country can play piano--I'm guessing not many. But if I could, I know I would head over to Luz on a quiet afternoon and play at this one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Imagine the World Cup - São Paulo

Last night I went to a soccer (yes, yes, futebol) game with my husband, who is a lifelong fan of Palmeiras, one of four São Paulo teams. Three of the SP teams hate each other--when they play each other, it is called a "Classico" or "classic" game. I call it "Not-a-chance-I-am-going." Fights, major police presence, ugliness.

So last night was not a classic. It was the oitavo (ummm, it's not quarter-finals, what is it? Eighths?) finais of Libertadores. I can't even go into that or my post will run to 10 pages. It was a very important game. Tijuana was the visiting team; they had possibly, rounding up, four fans in the stadium. I only went to the game because my husband bleeds green for Palmeiras, and because it was in Pacaembu Stadium which is possibly my very favorite in the world after Wrigley Field (that's baseball for you non-Americans).

Anyhow, the game started at 10 pm. It starts so late so it doesn't compete with the evening novela (soap opera). The 8 o'clock novela, that is, which actually starts at 9 pm. Do not attempt to figure that out. I can see why they don't want the competition--soccer is actually a 1.5 hour novela complete with crying, acting, faking, good guys and villains, and lots and lots of drama. The Tijuana team was writhing on the ground more than it was actually on its feet. But I get ahead of myself.

We arrived around 9 pm in the neighborhood of the stadium. There is no official parking around the stadium, but you park in the winding streets of Perdizes/Pompeia/Pacaembu. We parked on a small side street, gave a thumbs up to the "guarda" of the street who looks out for your car (more on this another day) and hoofed it about 10 minutes to the stadium, gathering more and more green-shirted friends along the way.

When we got to the stadium, it was not clear where to get our tickets. My husband had just joined Avanti, their fan club, and his official card hadn't arrived. So we waited in one line as instructed for fifteen minutes before being told it was another line on the other side of the stadium and then had to go back to the original line for another 30 minutes. As the folks in front of us and behind us and all around us said: "Imagina na Copa" (Imagine during the world cup, due next year in Brazil). We all laugh about the incompetence--bonding moment.

The line was very strictly kept--surprisingly no line jumpers--though there were a few men hopping in and out to use the tree bathrooms in the close-by woods. The smell of all sports stadiums of the world: pee. Ah, that reminds me--a huge difference between US and Brazil sports games: I didn't see a single drunken fan. During the whole night. They don't serve beer in the stadium--well of course with soccer there is no "time-out" or replay so how would you find a moment to get your hot dog and beer?

At the door, there are military police in riot gear (okay, they put their little shields aside) who pat you down. Since there was no female military police there, I got to miss the patting. Last time I went to a game, about four weeks ago, the MP practically smacked me on the chest and on the thighs hard enough to have set off any fireworks hidden. I didn't have any. Then the fancy digital ticket machine did not work and I got waved in anyway. Excellent security. Imagina na Copa!

We arrived just as the National Hymn was going (I mean no offense to Brazil here but I find your national hymn totally out of keeping with the upbeat music I know here. I always expect Napoleon to show up on a horse or something). After a brief confusion with seats, we sat down at the opening kick. Great seats at midfield. There are no bad seats at Pacaembu.

What a scene! A stadium awash in green, singing and chanting and bouncing. First we sang "Olé, Olé, Porco Porco!" which is roughly translated "Olé, olé, pig, pig." That is the unofficial mascot of Palmeiras--apparently they were called piggish fans many years ago so they now live the dream. Once in a while someone smuggles in an actual baby pig and lets it go on the field. More drama.

I won't go into the game. First of all because I don't understand most of it. Like when someone said that the goalie had made a "frango" or chicken. Apparently he missed the ball badly. What does the chicken have to do with it? Also, I learned some new swear words, which after five years here, I thought I had learned them all. No. I asked my husband several times what one or the other comment meant (usually these swears were directed at the referee) and he would pause each time and answer "ummm, go f* yourself, ref!" There are apparently 400 synonyms for this phrase. My husband was pretty well behaved--he never criticized the other team, but did give some serious shouted counseling to the Palmeiras players. Him and 35, 000 other fans.

There are no cheerleaders in Brazil. Or are there? Half of the cheap seats were taken by "Mancha Verde" (umm, "Green Stain"?), Palmeiras' official cheering squad. The photo above is of that section--you can only see the Mancha sign at the bottom--not easy to take a photo with the stadium's bright lights. They jumped up and down the entire game singing. They rolled out a huge banner that covered them, they rolled down enormous ribbons, they blew up and let go 100 huge green white and red balloons (Palmeiras has a lot of Italian-descent fans) and sang and sang. And beat drums. And whistled LOUDLY when they didn't like a call or a play. That is a huge difference here and I love it. There is no booing, only whistling when they think a call or play is bad. Ear-splitting whistling. They especially whistled the really weird Tijuana goalie for delay of game several times--he would take forever to kick out of goal, and then he would take these silly mincing steps. I was cracking up.

In spite of all the loud and gesticulated prayers to God, Palmeiras lost. 2-1. Possibly had a goal nullified that was good, had a really bad goalie mistake that won it for the Mexicans, generally played defense instead of offense for the entire game. All I know is that the Palmeiras fans were not so happy with their team. For a short while in the second half, I thought all the Palmeiras players were brothers with the last name of "filhodaputa" but then I realized that no....that was just the most popular nickname for them. They played badly. One of the guys named Souza will want to change his home address.

Okay, that's it. Long one today, no?  Lots of fun. Think I'll go again but not for a "classico"! And of course, Imagina na Copa!!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Little Yellow School Bus - São Paulo

This is an intersection close to my house. I took this photo for two reasons: one for the electric wire chaos (for which I need a whole other blog to explore this ugliness)  and the other for the yellow school bus. See it? Yes, it's that dark van with the yellow stripe that says "Escolar" (Scholastic).

At around 7-9 am, 11 am - 1 pm and 5 pm - 6 pm, this city is awash with these dark vans with the yellow stripes. There are small ones for 7 or so kids and bigger ones that must fit 15. These are the only school buses there are here (unless you are on the sports teams for some of the richer private schools). Beware the school bus driver as well; they are universally aggressive about getting into your lane and in getting those kids where they need to be on time. Many of them have a driver and a chaperone who pops out with the kids at the apartment buildings and houses where they live. Many also have child seats for younger children--something you don't find on the USA's big yellow school buses.

Regarding the wires, they make me dizzy. There are some intersections that are so spider-webbed that I pity any bird who makes the mistake of trying to find a spot to land and sing a little. In just about any photo of the city that you will see on this page, you will notice the chaos of the wires. Imagine how endless and beautiful the sky would be without them. Nope, I can't even imagine.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Motorcycle Cheese - Piracaia

We've been renting a house at a friend's large tree farm for five years now. It's about three hours from São Paulo, the last stretch being tough on the nerves and the tush--dirt road with exposed rock and careening trucks full of cut eucalyptus trees.

For the last couple of years we've notice a little sign by the side of the road that reads "Verduras" or Greens. We finally stopped a few weeks ago and found this little shack (pictured) with crates full of fresh vegetables and greens.  Escarole, lettuce, okra, tomatoes, wonderful fresh veggies.

This time a motorcycle with a cooler on the back pulled up as we were completing our purchases. The biker opened up the cooler and showed us several fresh cheeses that he was selling. No labels, no ingredients, just the freshest cheese. We bought several.

As we left the dirt driveway to drive on to the farm, there was a man just coming out of the vegetable rows opposite...with a wheelbarrow full of  lettuce. It doesn't get any closer to the farm than that (unless of course you own one!)