Sunday, June 30, 2013

We are the Champions, my friends - Brazil

Image source: vendirect.allalla.com
And so here we are at the finals of the Confederations Cup 2013. In general, I don't care about soccer. In reality, I have to care. No matter what is going on in the country with protests against the expense of this cup and World Cup, Brazil cares. They are playing the current World Cup holders (Spain) at home at the newly renovated Maracanã stadium-- a national treasure. I would doubt that there will be a television in Brazil tuned to anything other than the game. And I imagine that not many cars will pass in the street and not many people will be out and about.

Except in Rio. The streets outside the stadium are likely to hold 1 million people protesting. Tomorrow's national strike starts early, and I can only hope that the home team will win, because if it doesn't, the crankiness level is going to rise a notch. And that's only talking about my husband who quite literally becomes crabby with a Brazil loss. This is sports like you have never seen it. It is part of the country's soul.

That is not to say that my husband celebrated Brazil's winning the bid to host the World Cup. He, as many others did, saw that this was going to be diversion of attention and money away from critical social services. He is one of many saying "I told you so." He has not taken to the streets with the protests (he does have two broken arms after all) but he is sympathetic.

Go Brazil! And I'm not just talking about the game...






Saturday, June 29, 2013

Where's Waldo? - São Paulo


This is the view coming over a viaduct near the Mercado Municipal da Lapa (the municipal market of Lapa neighborhood). It's always chock-a-block with cars here and usually pedestrians racing across with shopping bags and carts brimming with produce and other purchases. I try to keep pretty alert here...and that is how I noticed the church. Can you see it? Follow the line from the middle silver car (what IS it with Brazil and silver and black cars?)  and you can just see the top of the two spires behind a white building.

I feel sorry for this church. It's Nossa Senhora da Lapa and the poor building had a mess of ugliness built up beside it. If that's not enough, a fence has been put around it either to save people from falling whatever, or keep people away from its doors. Who knows, maybe it's even closed. It is not clear from the signage. São Paulo is filled with these beautiful churches and old buildings and they are slowly being ignored to death, built on top of, or they survive simply scratching out an existence as best they can. Building here is not well monitored or regulated--anything goes. Or stays.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Service here is for the dogs - São Paulo


This is my dog Caju. He is getting helped out of his limousine by one of his vets (he has three--rather a high-maintenance fellow) named Daniela who owns the clinic Pet Help. Caju is a 13-year old labrador who has terrible arthritis and possibly a partially-torn ligament in his leg. He is no longer a candidate for surgery but that does not mean he has given up. Not in the least. What it means is that he is no longer mobile enough to get in my high SUV and go for a bath after getting back from the fazenda--and yes he goes to the spa now since he can't get in a tub at home, and cold water doesn't feel so great on arthritic bones.

So every couple of weeks, Daniela comes by and picks up Caju and his adopted sister Haifa for a 5-minute ride to the clinic. There they hang out with the cat, get all beautified and get lots of attention. Then they get brought home. It is one of my favorite services in São Paulo--part doggie day care and part salon, and all for less than US$40 for the two dogs. The added benefit is that it is a vet clinic as well--Daniela has found things that I hadn't yet noticed on the dogs and we get things fixed up quickly.

I have gotten into many a discussion/argument with Brazilians and foreigners alike about whether or not service is good in Brazil. That is far too general an argument of course--in some places service is great and some places have terrible (or pessimo, one of my favorite Portuguese words--you can really exaggerate the PESS part and it comes out as a hiss...PESSSSSimo...) service. Same as the US. There are not too many government agencies in the US that have great service (okay, the service at the Illinois Dept. of Motor Vehicles is fantastic. Connecticut was, and possibly still is, pessimo. So it depends). There is one government-contracted agency in Brazil that has excellent service--Controlar, the pollution-checking guys. I have a blog post somewhere in here about my love for Controlar.

In the private sector, it also depends. The cell phone companies lead the complaints--not much different from the US. Banks are across-the-board hated. While I would rather stab myself than go into a bank branch in São Paulo (the easy joke would be that most likely I would be stabbed going out), I love it here in suburban Illinois. The bank branch in Hinsdale gives me lollipops. There's never any one in there. Not  one person. Except the branch manager and a single counter staff person. Who is not behind bullet-proof glass. There is no security guard with an Uzi. I feel like I should hang out and chat so the staff has something to do. No chance that bin of lollipops will run out. Who knew the power of Dum-Dums? I advise Bradesco to look into it.

On the other hand, there are many small luxuries of service in Brazil. My husband's bulletproof car is serviced by a lovely company that comes and picks up the car wherever you are, fixes it and then brings it back. No extra charge. Dry-cleaning comes to you. No extra charge. I get organic food delivery, seafood from the municipal market and x-rays from the hospital--all arrive by motoboy, which of course provides me with free delivery and also fodder for the next day's blog. Especially when said macho motoboy arrives wearing a pink helmet with a powerpuff girls sticker on it. True story.

The customer service I do not like but friends do: the salesgirls in stores. When I go into a store to look at clothes (a rarity in overpriced Brazil), I do not want the lady following two steps behind me and telling me that the shirt I picked up is also available in pink and there are trousers that go with it or just simply shadowing me.  I am likely to leave quickly. In the US, I browsed in a store yesterday for an hour and one sales person breezed by and asked if we needed anything, and then breezed onwards. Perfect for me.

But, and there is always a "but", my friend Brazilian friend Pri is a pro at the Brazilian store customer service. I am usually found in her wake, jaw dropped, as she gets the place scurrying. She usually sends the first girl scurrying to find some other color or size, then gets a second one involved in a mission to give her options of blouses in blue or in size 36 or whatever, and finally, the store owner starts offering her coffee or water, and a VIP card that involves frequent flier points and foot massages (okay, I exaggerate. Slightly.) Brazilian customer service is made for Pri. I am in awe.

My feeling is that the smaller the store or business, the better service you will get. That is true the world over (okay, yeah, there's always Target where I can return things I haven't even bought there, and a year later...I exaggerate again...90 days later).  In other words, this is a ringing endorsement of shopping at mom & pop shops, which are of course the majority of Brazilian stores. And give Dra. Daniela a call if you are in São Paulo. Service just doesn't get any better than the doggie van.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Galinhada do Bahia - or an Ode to an Ogre - São Paulo





As many of you know, I am married to a Brazilian. A Brazilian of Italian and Portuguese descent. Which is to say that he loves great food but he does not want to pay much money for it. Fortunately I am American of Dutch descent which means I eat anything but also hate to pay for any of it. Imagine my husband's delight when he found and bought a book called A Guia da Culinária Ogra (review here), which we refer to as Ogros. Ogros (or Ogres) are restaurants that are not necessarily pretty or chic but serve good simple food inexpensively. In fact there is a whole list of rules on who can be be an Ogre: if the restaurant has "Chez" or "Bistro" in the name, they are OUT. Preference for old crabby waiters and certainly no valet parking.

I am game. I have been now to a place that was covered every inch in Corinthians stickers, posters, banners and flags (Corinthians is the Oakland Raiders of Brazil--ha, can't wait for the comments from Corinthianos on that) with great food from the northeast region of Brazil. I have been to Dona Onça, a fabulous fun jaguar-themed restaurant in the Copan building. I have been to several no-name but only street address "establishments". And I have eaten well. And the places have been clean, though not necessarily beautifully kept--I cannot imagine my mom rolling with the linoleum floors and waxy table"cloths". Forget speaking English. Forget even thinking "Imagina na Copa". The World Cup will come and go and these folks simply won't care. Because they are here for the locals.

Hands down my favorite so far has been the Galinhada do Bahia. Before I talk about my love for the place, though, I must express my love for their website. The English website in particular. They have been "hit" since April 28, 1992. And just the description of the place would have made me sign up immediately: "The house has a special glamour, which has a unique decoration and criate [sic] a scenic playpen with typical stamples from several states;.." (all spelling unique to their website...).

We didn't get the benefit of this description before heading over. We were near the Carandiru area and my husband pulled out the book and we put the address in gps and we were off. The place turned out to be down a tiny alley right next to the Portuguesa soccer stadium. We had to park outside the alley then wander down between cars on blocks, neighbors chatting and clothes hanging out to dry farther down the alley. We turned a corner and there it was. Photo above. A visual cacophony of phrases, stickers, signs, etc.

I admit this photo was taken after 2 beers. Tilt your head, okay?

Inside, there were at least 20 long family-style tables. We had arrived early (1 pm) on a Saturday and found a table near the giant coolers of beer, the empty bottles, the cachaça tank and the buffet of side dishes. We were immediately greeted by a middle-aged waitress who asked if we had ever been there before. From our agog status, I think she already knew the answer and was simply amusing herself. We decided on the rodizio (hmmm, how to translate--a selection of) of galinhada ("Galinha" is a hen, and a "galinhada" means LOTS of it). It came with three different dishes of chicken, one was the molho pardo or blood sauce (don't knock it til you try it--okay, vegetarians, skip that but there's stuff for you!), then baião de dois (errr, rice and black-eyed peas dancing together) and vegetables of every sort, more rice, more mandioca, more FOOD. The four of us (our twin 6-year olds were there too) nearly exploded and I think we ate about half of the food on the table. Max.

 
A small selection of the side dishes.
Enormous vats of cachaça. And other stuff. It's all casual...and out of focus...
As we were waddling out, Bahia came over to say hello and shake our hands. Bahia is, of course, the owner of the Galinhada do Bahia Restaurant,  and an icon. His photo graces every menu, the website, posters on the wall, and he makes sure to greet every guest. I made every attempt to understand his northeast accent and just nodded and smiled. My husband mentioned later that I had agreed to give Bahia one of my kids, but that's okay. We made it out into the sunshine.

Highly recommended. Skip the tourist restaurants of Jardins and head on over to Bahia's place. You'll feel right at home!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Security Briefings Briefly - São Paulo



This morning I got emailed a security message for US Citizens living or traveling in Brazil. It is advising that there are more strikes and protests planned for today in many cities in Brazil. It advises US citizens to avoid the protests and large gatherings. It seems to imply that we will be targets of violence, though perhaps I am reading too much into this one.

I am registered with the US Consulate in São Paulo and from time to time these alerts come out. The last one I can remember was a day late on mentioning protests, but the one before that was a handy mentioning that there had been some assaults on motorists taking the bridge that leads to the US Consulate. While I wouldn't count the general ones about protests particularly valuable (I read Portuguese and the daily papers so I know what's going on), I do appreciate the reminders.

I can honestly say that I have never felt myself, as an American, to be a target of violence in Brazil. And I'm not talking only about the recent protests, I mean over the eight years total I have lived here. While I have talked about house security and alarms and bulletproof cars, these are in place for me as a Brazil resident, not as an American ex-patriate. In fact, I think more about terrorism and violence in my own country--look at the targeted killings of Boston, New York and other mass murders. That is not common in Brazil.

I thought about this the week before the protests as I went with my husband to the social security offices in São Paulo. I had driven him there as he was suffering from two broken arms and is substantially not so mobile. To get into these government offices, we had to pass through a metal detector. The guard told us to put our cell phones and car keys in the little dish and then pass through the detector. I showed him I was carrying a purse; Vlad was carrying a backpack. No problem, said the guard, just carry them through. The metal detector beeped for both of us, of course, but he just waved us on after handing back our keys and cell phones.

Not every place is this casual with security. At all bank branches now, one has to leave everything except your card, your checks or whatever business you have in the bank and your ID in a locker in a small lobby. No purses, no backpacks, no cell phones, nothing. I believe this to be because the bad guys were taking photos of people who were withdrawing large amounts of cash and sending it to accomplices outside the bank. I don't know but I would rather stick a fork in my eye than go to a bank branch these days--the last time I went, I forgot my ID in my purse in the locker and had to leave the line, get to the locker, get out the stuff, and go back in. I wish someone would protest by stripping down to his/her grundies to get inside--don't worry, I leave the protesting to the Brazilians...

In the days before 9/11 and the air security nuttiness, many small airports in Brazil had no security machines. None. Not for people, not for bags. You simply walked on the plane. You still do not have to remove shoes or take off jackets or dump everything resembling yogurt (I am not bitter) while going through the security machines at the international airport in São Paulo.

Regardless of what is going on in Brazil now with change and protests and street violence, a Brazilian has a different view on terrorism. In general, bad guys don't blow up innocent folks for attention (yes, I do realize the military dictatorship did this--and that is a post for another day). Brazilians are generally loved around the world, unlike the Americans. Several people have tried to convince me to apply for Brazilian citizenship and passport because it is safer to have a non-American passport at certain times. That is not enough for me to become a Brazilian citizen--even if the process wouldn't take the better part of a lifetime. And I am guessing that the Brazilian consulate in the US does not have to send out warnings to its citizens about protests and gatherings--a Brazilian does not have to worry about being in a place with large gatherings of people. In fact, I think they would call that "Carnaval."

Americans are not targets. Foreigners are not targets. A system that is broken is the target.




Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What's in a Name? - São Paulo

Image from google images...

This image is of one of Brazil's greatest soccer heroes. I won't say "hero" without qualification-- he made a major blunder recently by suggesting that stadiums are more important than hospitals in Brazil (he is a FIFA spokesman after all) and has had some interesting "company" at hotels. Never mind. This is not my point. My point is that his name is Ronaldo. I have no idea what his last name is. When he is spoken of by Brazilians, he is normally mentioned as "Ronaldo Fenomeno" or the Phenomenon. This separates him from Ronaldo Gaucho (Ronaldo from the South? Or is Gaucho really his last name? I don't know) and from a Portuguese player named Cristiano Ronaldo who favors tight swimsuits and yachts.

Brazilians are unlikely to use a person's last name. Ever. The president is "Dilma"--my father was just referring to Rousseff and I was thinking "who is this Russian with the same issues as Brazil has?" No, that's not true, I do know her last name and I think most Brazilians do. They simply dispense with it.  On the other hand, the vice president is referred to by his whole name of "Michel Temer" but since "Temer" means "to fear", it really does go pretty well. I definitely fear he ever becomes president.

If you don't know someone's name at all, you refer to them by a physical or cultural or imagined trait. My white-blond haired son is "Alemão" or "German." This tends to make my Dutch-background family a little crazy. At the club we belong to in São Paulo, I am "the gringa." Basically there are no others. At least none as nutty as I am. My husband who attended the air force academy for college in Brazil has no idea what the last names are of most of his classmates. I think he believes one of the last name's is "Jacaré" which means alligator and I have my doubts.

While some of the nicknames and first name calling can make me uncomfortable--calling the president by her first name seems a bit lacking in respect, and I never could call one of my coworkers "Cabeção" or "big head" as the local boss did--it is a cultural norm. It is not meant to be insulting or disrespectful. It is a way of showing closeness or friendliness. I have grown used to it.  I actually prefer it to some of the formal speech where I will be called "A Dona" in third person, or "A Senhora". That's weird. If I am standing right there, I can be addressed as "you" or I start looking around for this lady called "A Senhora."

The key is probably to choose your nickname before someone chooses it for you. Trust me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sweeping and squirting - São Paulo


São Paulo is the sweepiest squirtiest place I have ever lived. Every single morning of the year, except in case of really terrible weather, there is a maid in front of every house sweeping the sidewalk free of leaves and whatever fallen bits have dared to set themselves on the front step. There is some kind of unspoken vendetta against any type of leaf, cut plant, tiny crumb of garbage or pebble. Everything gets swept to the curb.

After it is swept to the curb, it is the turn of the street sweep. Pictured above in his flourescent green and dark green suit, he heads up and down the streets near my house twice a week. He certainly gets around--I have seen the same one in two remote areas of my neighborhood on other days. There used to be two of them but apparently cost cuts have reduced the staff of my neighborhood down to one. At noontime you can find him propped against a tree in the green verge of the main street, eating or napping. At the end of the year he stops by my door and asks if there is a Christmas tip for him.

At least once a week, the maids also turn the hoses onto the sidewalks. I swear it used to be every day that the walks were washed but that can't be right. Most of the time there is no soap involved, just sprays of water. Sometimes a power washer. My favorite is when I am walking by with my dog and get hit by a stream of water being directed from inside the garage to out on the sidewalk. That's the true lazy wash.

It is true that São Paulo is a particularly grimy city. Pollution leaves streaks of black on the glass veranda table if we don't clean it every week. Because there is no hard winter here, the leaves and flowers seem to bloom then drop one varietal after the other. There is no peace.  The most dangerous time for my beige lawn furniture is in early spring when the blackberry trees come to fruit and it seems the birds dine out then come home to errrr...roost.

I admit that we're pretty lazy about leaf sweep-up my household. Pretty much we get involved when the automated garage door can't roll back from all the stuff caught in the tracks. It just seems like a losing battle.  Perhaps nature can win a few in the big city.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Islands, Universe, Home - Burr Ridge Illinois and São Paulo


Probably the way I have stayed so happy in Brazil is that I try not to ever compare the two countries--my native USA and my adopted Brazil. The two places are so completely different that either one can suffer depending on the item compared. It is of course, inevitable when I have a bad day or there is sticker shock (a $20,000 car in the US costs $55,000 in Brazil). And these comparisons are the most striking to me on the first day I am back in the US. The simplest of days out at the park here make me overwhelmed by feelings of happiness (the luxuries of life afforded by the US) and sadness for the things not available to me or any other person in Brazil.

Here is what happened yesterday. I am visiting my parents in Burr Ridge, Illinois, a small upper-middle to upper class town (pop. 10,500) about 40 minutes outside of Chicago. It is not where I grew up but where my parents moved more than 15 years ago. As a child I did not have access to its  benefits (though I hardly suffered in New Canaan, Connecticut): elementary school kids walk or take yellow buses to good public schools from up to a mile away, several excellent parks, an exceptional library which makes me so happy that I could roll on its soft-carpeted floor, as well as the usual benefits of wide sidewalks and well-run public services.

It is only by living outside the US that I have become so overwhelmed with amazement at what Americans are offered every day without even being aware of how lucky they are. With my two six-year-old boys I watched two uniformed little league teams (age 6-8 years old)--the Lugnuts and the Mudhens (!!??!!)-- take to the well-kept baseball diamond in a clash for district champion bragging rights. I am not talking about t-shirts as uniforms--I am talking full baseball uniforms. The parents sat on bleachers near each dugout and cheered for both teams. They shared around treats and talked about summer plans. The friendliness of the midwest meant that when I asked a few questions about the rules of little league (father pitchers if there were four balls thrown, etc),  I was rapidly told that I needed to move to the neighborhood and their kids could help out mine in learning the sports. When I left, I felt vaguely like hugging everyone. Next to the baseball diamond a barbecue was set up by the parents-- starting at 10 am, free hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks were available to everyone. Everyone. Not just players, not just family--we were there and they gave all the kids some hot dogs. I admit that my brother and I also scarfed the free burgers.

Any American reading this will say "so what?". Because this is what you get in varying forms in most middle class towns in America. No, not in inner city Chicago--this I understand. But I make the inevitable comparisons to how sports tournaments run in Brazil. It's not the same. Though at their club (private) the soccer tournament included a free barbecue (much better than US burgers) and trophies as well. But behind high walls and not open to everyone.

I promise that I will not be spending my 35 days in the US saying how much better life is here. Because that is not the purpose of my blog. And I don't necessarily believe that in every part of life--I miss the human warmth of Brazil and daily laughs at my interactions with its residents. And as I spend more weeks here, my guess is that my appreciation of life there will increase--I will begin to miss it. Right now, it just makes me sad that what is available publicly here is not even close to being offered there. And of course, that is the reason for some of the protests going on now.  And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Harvester Park, the site of this tournament and a huge playground, was given by the founders of International Harvester--the private sector feeding the public. The volunteerism and public support that is ever-present in the US is fairly well absent in Brazil.

Everyone deserves Little League championships and free hot dogs and playgrounds filled with exceptional toys.

And that is Burr Ridge in my eyes.

Photo Credit: Harvester Park Little League http://www.harvesterparkll.com/



Saturday, June 22, 2013

National Trust - Joanópolis and São Paulo


This is the main church on the square in Joanópolis, a town two hours from the craziness of São Paulo. The town (pop. 12,000) has many old Portuguese-style buildings and a lovely central area that has recently been renovated with new paving stones and sidewalks. Every time we pass through on a Sunday afternoon there are folks sitting around or standing around with bicycles or horses having a chat (the people--the horses keep pretty quiet). The vistas towards the mountains are gorgeous--dark green hills, darker trees, fields and farms.

This is a town that 99% of the foreign visitors to Brazil will never see. It is not well-known. It is small. No one speaks English or knows what to do with a foreign tourist. Very few of the buildings are protected from "besteiras" (bad things)--from someone knocking down a lovely old building and doing whatever they want with it. Fortunately, that has not happened for the most part.  I am keeping an eye on the building below, since the walling up of beautiful old windows usually bodes ill for the place.

One of the areas of big city São Paulo that has lovely old buildings, is the so-called Centro (or Center) of São Paulo. I was not aware that the sprawling city has a "center" but okay. It will take a major effort for the area to be recuperated. Drug dealers, graffiti and street crime are current residents. With the recent protests and destruction of store fronts, I can't imagine that I would want to move into the area. 

In other places, historic buildings are saved from destruction but overwhelmed by their modern neighbor. The building that houses google Brazil was forced to work around an historic house at its feet. The Casa Bandeirista was built in 1896 and protected by federal proclamation in 1982. That means that the enormous building had to be built around it...it makes an H over the house (see last photo). The whole story about the house and its "rescue" is here (in Portuguese).



Ummm, could someone open a window?

 Awww...see the cute house under the big bad glass building?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Ironies and the International Airport - São Paulo


Last night, my two 6-year old sons and I had a flight from the international airport in São Paulo to Chicago. Every year I try to spend 4-5 weeks in the US during June-July break so the kids can have their time with their grandparents and family and friends, and with American culture and language. After a week of protests and road closures, I was pretty worried that traffic would be terrible for our 9 pm flight.  Instead of leaving at our usual 5 pm time from home, I called the taxi for 3 pm.

In the end we made it to the airport in 45 minutes. Which left five long hours to entertain kids, eat dinner and get in the appropriate lines at the appropriate times. Fortunately one of the kids' friends and parents were also flying out that night so we got together for dinner and kid wrangling. And to watch the Confederations Cup games - Spain vs. Japan and then Uruguay vs. Nigeria. 

Here is what struck me in the international airport (filled with gringos escaping the protests as well, by the way). None of the airport channels were showing the protests, which were apparently the biggest yet; 90 cities in Brazil hit the streets to celebrate victory (bus tariffs) or ask for more concessions from the government. There was no ticker-tape banner at the bottom of the screen with updates of road closures or police actions. It was like nothing was going on except for football. 

I half wonder if, at game time of this short tournament, that is as it should be. The Confederations Cup stadiums are built. The teams are here. International visitors who have nothing to do with Brazilian politics are supporting their teams. For 90 minutes of an afternoon/evening, let's shout out "goooooooooooolll" and let the ball roll.

The photo above is of my favorite soccer player, named Diego Forlán. He was the player of the World  Cup of 2010--now a "senior player" of 34. His joy at scoring the winning goal is a reminder of how this game should be. Joy. Can this feeling be brought back to the World Cup of 2014 given what is going on? I just don't know.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stuff shop - São Paulo


As all expatriates do in their temporarily adopted country, I miss things about my home country. Many things. And I'm not even talking how much I miss family and friends. I try hard not to spend my days bemoaning the lack of Target stores, or yellow school buses or even summer camp for kids. But when one of the burners on our gas stove stopped working, I mourned for a moment the lack of Home Depot. As most Americans know, there's not much you can't find at Home Depot.

Instead I had to hit the streets. We figured out that the issue was a burned-out automatic lighter. That must be easy to find right? Our stove is one of the fancier ones by a brand named Bosch, but this must happen all the time. So I thought. On a walk home from school one morning I stopped into one of the mom & pop "stuff" shops. There is no other way to put it. There is just "stuff" from lightbulbs to pencil sharpeners to toilet seats. It is stored floor to ceiling. There are bins of screws and other stuff--you get my point. All in a 10 foot by 6 foot narrow shop.

Out comes the owner, possibly nearing 80 years old, who says "pois não?" This is a phrase that took me a long time to figure out...it seems to translate as "then no?"-- why are they greeting me with a negative? But "pois não" means "yes". Ah, so does "pois é" or "then it is" but "pois sim" does not exist. I've recently adopted "pois é" when someone says something like "this traffic is terrible"...I feel quite the fluent speaker when I say "pois é".  Did you understand any of that? No? Pois não? Just stick with "sim" and you can't go wrong.

Back to the shop.  I show the owner what I need and he shakes his head before I even finish. No,  I don't have it.  I ask if he knows another place that has it. He says try "Fogão Shop" (Stove Shop) on Rua de Pinheiros. No street number. Apparently everyone knows "Fogão Shop", the last word pronounced "Shoppy".

I'm off. I ask someone along the way about this Fogão Shop. He says he doesn't know but there is a store with stove stuff at "1177". Aha, a street address.  On my way to this address however, I see a store with the name "Fogão Shop" and stop in. I bring the broken part to the front of the queue and the guy shakes his head and says we don't carry stove parts. Huh. Where should I go? Try Rua dos Pinheiros, 1177.

Back along the construction zone that is Pinheiros and I stop into 1177. I am a bit hesitant as it mostly seems to have pots, pans and crafts near the door. The place is jam-packed with Stuff. I am in a Stuff store again. The young man in charge that day (none of these shops has more than mom & pop, or grown-up child) takes a look at the part and goes over to the wall of drawers, all with unreadable faded labels, and roots around in some plastic envelopes. And digs out the exact part I need. Sort of.  It's a bit different but I think close enough (close enough means that the middle burner of the stove now erupts into life, nearly taking my surprised mother-in-law with the inferno). It cost me $4US.

I'll have to find another Stuff shop soon to get the correct part before I fry up most of the people in the house. Or break down and call Bosch who will charge me $50US just to show up.  I'm leaning towards trying another Stuff shop. I like the challenge.




Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Protests Redux - São Paulo

The view on my TV--safely ensconced at home...


To be frank, I'm tired of talking about the protests. I guess I would point anyone interested in my point of view (perhaps that is only my mommy?) to the blog of a good friend of mine who has said it very well Born Again Brazilian: What is the Ask?. These protests have to move from protesting to creating. Creating a plan for what the movement wants--is it a new political party? is it really a bus tariff reduction or is it better health care? How? It's time to make this actionable.

Unfortunately a peaceful protest of 50,000 people yesterday turned into chaos. The fringe elements--not even fringe, but the thugs--tried breaking down the doors of the city hall. They burned a media truck. Our housekeeper could not get home last night because the train closed down due to people vandalizing it. And it's good she didn't try--two blocks away from her house in Grajaú, 200 protestors burned a bus. She said that the television reporter literally shrugged and said that they had no idea what the mob was protesting. This is going downhill.

As I will continue to say, I am not a voter here. I pay taxes and am married to a Brazilian and I have kids who are dual citizens. I feel strange and unwelcome in making commentary about a very large moment in Brazil politics (at least I hope it is big--definitely we need some change here fast). It's my business and it's not my business. I too have marched when I was a student in the US--twice I went to Washington DC to take to the streets to keep abortion legal and for gun control. I understand the passion. I do not understand the violence, vandalism and mayhem. I don't understand randomly closing various streets and highways around the city so that people who are hard workers cannot get home.

The tone needs to change. If not reconciliation, let's at least try for conversation. It is enough to know that the movement can call up tens of thousands of people if needed. We got it. We understand. Our mayor Haddad (AH-DAH-GEE, remember?) understands. Tell us what you want. And stop with the impeachment of Dilma stuff. Don't waste your time...fix what you've got for now, then elect a better president.

There, I've said my piece. Tomorrow, unless something completely nuts happens, I am moving on for this blog. Brazil is more than the World Cup. It is more than the protests. At least in my eyes.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blue Skies and Better Days - São Paulo


Yesterday, at the moment of the protest start in Largo da Batata, this was the sky over my head at the club, 2 kilometers away. As most know, there were protests yesterday with more than 65,000 São Paulo residents hitting the street. In Rio de Janeiro, there were 100,000 more. Other cities also protested--the scene in Brasilia of people at the National Congress was scary and emotional.

What's it all about? Well, it started with a small bus tariff hike, and moved along to general unhappiness with how things are going here in Brazil. As I said in yesterday's blog, the reasons are World Cup overspending, corruption, lack of justice, bad education, health care, and onwards. Brazil is finding its voice after being quiet for years after the military dictatorship.

I find myself well on the periphery of the anger. I see the problems here every day. I hate that my kids live behind walls, I hate that they have to go to a private school that the average person could not afford, and I hate that I see lines out the door at the public health facility near my house. But I am not a voter here. I am a tax payer but I am not a voter. I am American and I will not apply for dual citizenship. I love this country but the fight is not mine. I am, however, sympathetic.

I realize that my kids, as dual citizens, will have to make decisions in their future--where they will live, how they will be involved, how to make peace with their lives as they live them. Here's hoping for a better Brazil by the time they have to make their choices.


Monday, June 17, 2013

All we are saying is give peace a chance - São Paulo


The last week here in São Paulo has been filled with protests, hysteria and violence. A demonstration against a bus tariff raise has turned into a flashpoint about the current situation of justice in this country. A recent post I saw from the protest group showed a placard with the words "$33 Billion for the World Cup, $26 Billion for the Olympics (2016 in Rio) and $50 billion for corruption (estimated public funds stolen)...You still think this protest is about 20 cents in bus tariff?" See the photo below.

Unfortunately violence around these protests has been escalating. The protestors vandalize shops, banks and buses, and brutalize a solo military policeman. The next day at a repeat protest, the cops shoot rubber bullets and gas into the crowds. Protesters are hauled off to jail--while corrupt politicians and various other criminals walk free. The president is booed at the opening of the Confederations Cup. Brazil, frankly, looks bad. I don't think I'd want to visit at the moment.

One of the groups I belong to on facebook is a neighborhood association that wants, generically speaking, peace. Don't we all, really? Yesterday a friend and neighbor posted about a gathering at 4 pm in the Praça Por do Sol (Sunset Park), which has one of the most beautiful views in São Paulo. The gathering was about peace and invited all who wanted to participate in songs and music.

We arrived a bit late and sat down with about 60 other people on a small rise with the chorus down below. Apparently it was a mixture of different choirs and different maestros. Most of the music was Brazilian (with a theme of peace) though of course Mr. Lennon's Imagine was inevitable. The group invited any of the audience to participate and gave out song sheets. There was a portable piano and a microphone.

About 50 people joined the choir. To me, one of the standout moments was when they asked if anyone in the audience could play the tambourine for one of the songs. A tall baseball-capped man stepped forward...and proceeded to wow us all with tambourine samba beats...then a samba to the Aquarela do Brasil. Aquarela is perhaps my favorite song of Brazil...check out Gal Costa and Aquarela do Brasil for an idea of this one. My husband and I saw the Three Tenors when they came to Brasil in maybe 1999? and I'll never forget Placido Domingo doing a pseudo-samba to it...pra mim, Brasil...

This afternoon there will be more protests and this time closer to home. The Passe Livre (Free Pass) movement has a march planned (200,000 people have confirmed through facebook) at Largo da Batata. Remember the Largo from a prior post? It is on the way to pick up my kids at school. Protest planned for 5 pm, my kids leave school at 3:15 pm. To say that I will be unsympathetic if they affect my kids would be understating the situation. I can only hope that this rainy day will dampen a bit the level of hysteria the movement is causing.

Or as the song goes...all we are saying is give peace a chance...


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sugar Loaf Kids Race - São Paulo


Yesterday was the Pão de Açucar Kids Race. At least once a year (and I somehow think it's twice a year), the supermarket giant runs this race for ages 2-12 at an old forgotten track & field stadium. My kids did their first race in 2009 at the age of 2 1/2. They ran holding hands with my husband.  The 50- meter race was difficult to watch as several of the toddler competitors tripped or crashed into each other and hit the turf.

Two years ago was the last time they ran.  Because there are so many kids, they have many different heats. One of my sons ran the fastest of the heat and for a year he told everyone he had won the entire division of 4 1/2 year olds. I didn't let him know that he was 125th of 250 kids in the age group. If I were defensive about this, I would mention that my kids are born in November and there are kids there born in January. At this age, 11 months makes a pretty big difference. Probably more of a difference than gender--and they do split the races girls versus boys. Since I am not defensive about this, I would say he did just fine.

The entrance fee starts as $50 reais (around $25USD) and goes up the closer it gets to race day. So unless the race organizer sponsors less fortunate kids, this is a race for the middle class and above (minimum salary in Brazil is near $350USD monthly). For the entrance fee, the kids got a long-sleeved t-shirt that I had to pin up the orangutan sleeves with safety pins, a small backpack and some snacks. We also got a number for his shirt and a number for our shirts--to show that the little runner "belonged" to us so we could pick him up at the finish line.

The race was delayed and the kids had to wait more than an hour to run. But it was very well-organized and when they finally took off down the lanes, they were excited and happy. At the finish line, they got an apple, a medal and an escort to numbered chutes where their parents were waiting at the end. Is this normal for US kids races? I don't know. Maybe we are more sensitive to criminal minds here in Brazil--there was really no chance someone was going to steal our kids.

Especially because I ran into a military policeman that I know from a security presentation at their school. He was there for pleasure--he was also picking up his kid at the finish line chute. Which just proves what a small world São Paulo is. The population is 17 million, the kids' race has several thousand runners--but at the finish line chute for race numbers ending in "8", I ran into someone I know.

Bring on the next race!





Saturday, June 15, 2013

4, 3, 2, 1 Pode Jogar Qualquer Um - São Paulo


When I visited Brazil first in 1996, I was introduced to a lovely sport/dance called capoeira. It is a combination of martial art, dance, gymnastics and music. Men and women in white danced it with blurrying speed there on a beach in Bahia. Given my flexibility (ummm, picture an oak tree), I knew it wasn't for me, but when my kids were 2 and 1/2 years old, I brought them to their first class here at Capoeira Uru Brasil. It is a smallish academy that welcomed kids of all ages (the mestre, or master, of the academy sometimes brings his 1 /2 year old to play) and also trains adults of all levels.

My kids are now 6 and have yellow/green cords. In December they will have a batizado and move up a cord to one that is more yellow than green--right now they are more green than yellow. The two boys you can see best here (this is purposefully blurred) are already adult green cords at age 12. They are really good. And funny--they are willing to twist their bodies into any new position, and they laugh as they crash over or into each other. All of them are helpful and sweet to one of my kids who is doing a make-up class that day and seems more than a little impressed. And lost.

My favorite capoeira video is a little far away from my kids' capabilities. Maybe someday. Two men and capoeira. These people can move.

And my kids sing this song every time they come home from class:

Um, dois, três, quatro
Capoeira é um barato
Quatro, três, dois, um
Pode jogar qualquer um

-from Matematica de Capoeira by Chacal Mobilia, Rio de Janeiro 

(One, two, three, four
Capoeira is the best
Four, three, two, one
Any one can do it )

except in Portuguese, it rhymes! ;)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Rise of the Guardians - São Paulo


As most people know, São Paulo can be dangerous. The difference between the "haves" and the "have-nots" is large and crime can happen anywhere and anytime. Certainly this is no different from most big cities--though recently the spate of crime has turned more serious, scary and closer to home (a friend had a sequestro relampego or lightning kidnapping attempt on her a couple of days ago). So how do we São Paulo residents deal with it?

First of all, you train yourself to not react. If someone wants your stuff, you hand it over. Criminals hate surprises. Okay, I hate surprises too but I'm not armed with a gun. Second of all, you plan and you protect. My house has a fifteen foot brick wall around it, with rolls of barbed wire just before the top, and an electric fence armed and waiting for anyone intrepid enough to brave the barbs. We have four video cameras over the entrances. We have a central alarm with panic remotes. We have things I won't tell you about because this is, after all, a public blog. Maybe we have Navy frogmen, maybe it's carnivorous large scale plants. Better for you not to know.  The two elderly Labradors do not play a huge role.

In addition, we have something called a "ronda". It is a company that has a base in our neighborhood, and we call as we are arriving home, or when we are leaving the house. They send a car with a guard in a bulletproof vest to follow our car to the door. They watch until we safely enter or exit the house. The idea is that this discourages any casual robberies or entries--we just are that much harder to get. That in fact sums up my whole home security policy: look tougher to break into than the next house, but don't look like you have something really valuable inside. We haven't washed our outside wall in two years. Slummin' it.

The photo above is from one of the street guard houses in another neighborhood nearby. Many streets do not have "ronda" service, but instead the service of a street guard who spends his time in or around these small telephone booths. Telephone not included. This particular booth comes complete with filtered water--that is a ceramic water filter. These guards are paid by the residents of the street they cover and residents will usually also give small presents at various times of year, or donate warm clothes in winter, and often one house or another will provide warm meals to the guard.

The guards provide some of the services of the "ronda" though they are not connected by radio to a central station. If someone wanted to get into your house, it would be fairly easy to overwhelm this guard --especially the one on our street. Francisco must be nearing 70 years old. I guess the hope there is that people would feel bad taking out that senior.

This is the reality of life in this big city. Be prepared.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cartório - São Paulo

Yesterday my husband and I finally stopped putting off going to the cartório. What is a cartório exactly? I guess it is most like an American notary public; it is a place that confirms that you are you, and your signature is yours and that you know how to sign it exactly the same way as you did a week ago, five years ago, whenever you registered it. The photo above is the line-up of file cabinets containing index cards full of signatures. Each time you go in and sign something, they check it against the card. Forget your middle initial in your signature? Nope, you are not you. Fail.

We were at the cartório to have my husband sign off on an authorization for me to travel with our children without him. Every time we take a local, national or international trip on mass transport (bus, train, airplane), I need to carry this authorization. When we leave for Chicago next week (me and the 6-year old twins) I will have to show this to the federal police at the immigration desks (wouldn't that be emigration? Discuss.) and they will check it against a list of kids who cannot leave the country (think in the case of a contested custody fight, etc). Sometimes it worries me that I do not have free choice on traveling with my kids without my husband's sign-off. The US does not require this kind of documentation. If your kids are not Brazilian (mine are half Brazilian) they also do not require these forms here.

This sign-off is necessary until the kids reach 18 years of age. Last year I traveled with my stepkids too and their mom and their dad had to sign off that I could take them out of Brazil. Yes, the US and Brazil have had some issues with kids being kidnapped by one parent or the other and that is why this law is in place. I get it. I still don't have to like it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Gentlemen (and one lady), start your engines! - São Paulo

Largo da Batata - 7:30 am Tuesday morning

This photo shows a moment of my morning commute to the kids' school. My husband is normally the taker-of-kids (no yellow bus here as you'll recall from an earlier post) but since breaking his arm by crashing into a concrete wall playing soccer (looooonnnnggg story), I am the driver.  I do not love the morning commute. Fortunately 7:30 am is earlier than most people go to work--most people start their jobs at 9 or 9:30 am (before you make any wise cracks about lazy Brazilians, realize they stay until 7:30 or 8 pm). Here I am in the Largo da Batata - which translates roughly as Potato Square - so named from its history as a gathering spot for potato sellers.

The motorcycle line-up is about the same at every stoplight. A line of motorcycles jostles for space as close as they can get to the pedestrian walkway. They seem to enjoy threatening the people running for their lives (motoboys, or motorcycle delivery guys, are not known to honor the walkway). Motoboys are all pretty much dressed this way in dark clothes, in spite of recent attempts to jazz up their required clothing to make them more visible. You can see one of the motoboys is checking out the lady on her moped second from left. There are not many women on motorcycles (except as garoupas, see earlier post) and those you see are generally on smaller moped.

By law motorcycles are allowed to pass in the space between cars when they are stopped. I actually reached this light before all of the others did, but they all zoomed up between me and the next car and spread out on the front line. They get really annoyed if you don't leave space between your car and the next one so that they can squeeze through. Several friends have had their side view mirrors kicked off when there wasn't enough space. One fat motoboy ripped off the side view mirror of my husband's Volvo when the motoboy miscalculated the space his rather large self would need to get through. It was unintentional but the result was the same. A Van Gogh Volvo. 

Some of you know my favorite motoboy story. I have a love/hate relationship with motoboys, and a semi-real obsession with their crazy lifestyle. One day as I was heading down this same road, without the kids, a line of motoboys was passing on my right and one of them hit the side view mirror and bent it backwards. Annoying but not broken. The next motoboy in the line-up pulled up next to me (we were at this point driving around 20 miles per hour), paused, looked in the passenger window and pointed to the mirror then himself. I nodded at him and the motoboy proceeded to bend my mirror back into place while driving with one hand. At the next stoplight he was stopped in front of me, and he flipped up his face shield and smiled and winked at me when I gave him the thumbs-up. A favorite São Paulo moment.

Motoboys are not supposed to pass in between lanes when cars are moving. This has stopped no motoboy ever. It is incredibly dangerous.  Two to three motoboys die per day on the streets of São Paulo--generally because they drive fast and take chances. I have twice almost knocked motoboys down as I make a left turn--even when signaling your turn, these guys will try to pass you. And if you ever do knock one down, you're going to want to seek police help quickly. Where one motoboy goes down, others will come to circle around like flies. They can apparently become quite aggressive to the car driver, even if it was not the driver's fault. Hasn't happened to me. Only smiles and winks so far...





Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Meeting up and Hanging Out - São Paulo

Meeting up at Google Brazil Headquarters

Yesterday evening, a friend and I went to a sales event at Google Brasil headquarters. Billed as the first Google Women [sic] Meetup, it was marketed as a meeting to learn about tools that online entrepreneurs could use to monetize their sites or market their products online. While I don't personally do any of those things, I thought it a good way to see the possibilities. And see how Google would present their now-large-corporate model to us, the small business market (as they say here: the PMEs or Pequena e Media Empresas).

Getting there was, as always, an adventure. A 5:30 pm start time meant that we drove through the beginnings of the evening commute. And one point we found ourselves in the far left turn lane and realized we needed to be two lanes over. My friend rolled down the window and in best Brazilian lady style, fluttered her fingertips at the driver of the enormous bus next to us and asked him sweetly if we could cut in front of him. Smiles and thumbs-up! One illegal u-turn through a parking lot later, and we pulled up in front of the mammoth black tower that houses Google and many others. We left my car with a valet that later charged us $43 reais (around US$21) for three hours. Up a black escalater, across a black marble floor past enormous black urns filled with enormous fake black flowers (there IS such a thing as too much black) and a stop at the reception desk with a line of ladies.  We have to show our IDs: in any office building in São Paulo you have to show an ID and take a picture. Always.

Another line at the google offices on the 18th floor to get our sticker name tags. I realize I am old when I have to squint at the 12-point font to see if it is really me. What can I say about Google HQ? It makes me feel old. I missed most of the internet start-up craziness of 1999-2001 when I was working for one of the world's biggest companies (well, it was then--144,000 worked there. Now I think it is a quarter of that size after being absorbed by a Frenchie company). Open spaces, pool tables, a giant screen of google earth to play with and check what your mom is doing (hi mom!!!). Free drinks! Our happy hour break involved fresh orange juice, cold hamburgers and brownies. When we left they were setting up the caipirinha bar--do you think that happens every day? What a company! But I digress...

After a short line to get doodads, giveaways and pens from the summer intern (I assume--she seemed rather overwhelmed. But since every employee is apparently teen-aged, she might have been the president), we sit down in the front row. Because we are front-row people. We are on time and ready to go. 

Google is not. Tatiana, the runner-of-the-show, is waging a battle with the technology that will bring us two screens, a videoconference with the tech guys in the back room (or so it seems) and laptops-a- go-go. Every speaker brings her own. However, there is no slide changing remote so all these executive women were squishing past the screens back behind the podium to hit "FWD" on their slides. No, they did not help each other out by running each others' slides. This I noticed.

Twenty minutes later we are ready to go. The products discussed are Google+, AdSense, AdMob, Conecte-Se, Hangouts and I'm not going to talk about any of them. They would have to give me 45% of my profits for that (okay, so 45% of my current online profit would be zero, but you get the point). That is their take on any video you post on YouTube--if you run ads off of it. 

All of the presenters are women. Maybe they have men in similar roles but because the Meetup is for Women (Big "W" intended), perhaps they wanted to show off they have lots. All I know is that they sure can talk fast. Is that a Generation C thing? See how much I learned yesterday? The generation 15 years old to 25 years old is called Generation C. Generation Connected. Generation Collaborator. Generation my-smartphone-is-more-interesting-than-you.

But what I most notice is the silliness of English words when spoken with a Brazilian accent. A Meetup becomes a "Meet-uppie". A hangout becomes a "hang-outtie" and YouTube is "YouTube-eeee". When AdMob becomes "Adgee-Mobbeee", I decide that it is a good thing that Al Capone didn't have to deal with southern hemisphere employees--if anyone had called his mob the "Mobbeee" he might have offed them just for making fun of the word. 

More and more English technology words are used. They are all Brazilianized. After three hours in my hard wooden chair (Google apparently makes hard chairs to make sure no one sits around in chairs all day--it's time to play billiards!), I'm just about ready to go. But then I hear possibly the worst Brazilianization of a word: Flagear (pronounced "Flag-eee-arr"). What is "flagear" you ask? (or you've long stopped reading in which case I will write this only for me). Well, that's when google looks at something you've posted and flags it as inappropriate. "Flagear" does not exist in Portuguese. Or it didn't until last night.  "Marcar" exists. Flagear does not. 

Bottom line: if I were an internet site creator, I would make my way to Brazil stat.  Of the 6 million PMEs in Brazil, 70% have online access (by the way, that is pronounced "on-liney"). But 73% of those with internet access do not have a site. Not wise when 7 out of 10 people with online access research products online before buying (source is Google on these numbers).

Time to get cracking, Brazil. Flagear this post and get going!

The view from Google Brasil HQ's veranda


Monday, June 10, 2013

Trees, sidewalks and street life - São Paulo


Every Thursday morning I walk back home after Reading Mum (see post last week). It's about a 5 km/3 mile walk depending on the route I take. I try to vary my route every time, not only because a police man advised me to do so (that is a story for another day) for security reasons but because there is nothing like a walk for learning about a place. The latest discovery on my walk is that there exists in São Paulo a Center for Hellenic Studies. Who knew? Must investigate--I did love my Greek mythology.

The first part of the walk goes through what I call "gritty" Pinheiros. Office towers, small restaurants, mom and pop shops selling everything, people rushing to work from the metro. Next up is a stroll  through the feira (farmer's market) where I get calls to check out various veggies and fruits, as well as smell the fried pasteis (pasties, as the Brits call them) at 10 am (this does not make me hungry).

Then, all of a sudden after 2 km, the world changes. Trees are everywhere. I am in Alto de Pinheiros (know how there is Upper Nob Hill and Lower Nob Hill in San Francisco? This is Upper Nob Hill). The sidewalks change from concrete city sidewalks. In reality, sidewalks change in front of each house. Every house owner is responsible for putting sidewalks in front of their own house. You can choose the material. And the style. And so everyone does--and the sidewalk is a patchwork of tiles, and stones, and planks and concrete. You cannot ever run on a neighborhood sidewalk--you will for sure trip over the tiles or concrete slabs. Many of them are uneven because of trees that grow on the verge--the growing roots bubble and warp the sidewalk, a small earthquake that takes months and years to manifest itself.

This is one of my favorite ironies of São Paulo. The sidewalks must be built and maintained by each owner in front of their individual house. But the trees belong to the city. You may not cut down or even trim a tree in front of your house. Even if a branch sheers off to the last stringy part, you cannot cut it or you are liable for a large fine as per municipal law. If the roots of Haddad's trees (yes, I call the trees for our SP mayor--remember you pronounce it Ah-Dah-GEE which makes it fun), warp your sidewalk, too bad for you. You have to fix the sidewalk or face paying a fine because your sidewalk is dangerous. Unfortunately what this leads to (and this I have seen near my kids' school) is some residents cutting the roots of the trees under their sidewalks. They lift up each tile, cut the root, put the tile back. Tree murder.

I live in Pinheiros. I don't get too worked up about whether it is Upper or Lower Pinheiros. The neighborhood was named for the Araucaria pine trees which used to line the Pinheiros River and populate the neighborhood. In 2008, a local botanist did a study and found there are only 10 araucarias in Pinheiros, and they are all new and trying hard to survive in Praça Panamericana (Where are the Pinheiros of Pinheiros neighborhood?). In a 5 square mile area, there are 10 araucarias. Sad, no? They are beautiful (see photo below from the fazenda in Joanopolis).

While Pinheiros has many other trees (the lovely ficus pictured above is a recent settler, and is problematic in its size), São Paulo in general is under-treed. The city has four square meters of green space per inhabitant, with the recommended Urban Green space is 12 square meters (source:  Urban Nature). So we're lucky here in my neighborhood.

Ah, in case it comes up in Trivial Pursuit (does anyone still play that?), the official tree of São Paulo is the cambuci. And the official flower is the azalea.  I have seen lots of the latter, not many of the former. More research awaits me...


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Festa Junina - São Paulo






Yesterday was my kids' school's Festa Junina party. The boys dressed in jeans with patches, plaid shirts, boots and straw hats. The girls wore ponytails or braids and flouncy be-ribboned "peasant" dresses. I put the "peasant" in quotation marks because I have never seen a Brazilian peasant or anyone wearing such a dress in real life here in Brazil.  Some of the girls paint on freckles, some of the boys have drawn-on mustaches.

The kids dance traditional country ("caipira") dances like quadrilha (square dance) with traditional music. Then they play games to win prizes--fishing, throwing potatoes at cans, etc. One of my kids refused to play the games and simply ran around the school after changing back to "normal" clothes. The other one threw so many potatoes that he could trade in his points for lots of tiny erasers. Hmmmm. Foods include the traditional paçoca (peanut treats), popcorn, corn on the cob and cocada (coconut candy). And hot dogs and meat on a stick. Possibly the latter has a nicer name.

So what's it all about? The festa junina (once upon a time "festa joanina") comes from the feast day of São João (St. John the Baptist -- realize I am on shaky ground here as I never learned about saints as a Presbyterian). It started out in the northern hemisphere as a Midsummer Festival. Here in the southern hemisphere, we ignore the issue with midwinter and just let her rip.

For kids, I think it is a fun, pretty and sweet celebration. It is always fun to see your kids dressed up out of their usual soccer uniforms or grubby t-shirts. While the music is not my favorite (usually involving an accordion), the actual lyrics are funny like country music lyrics in the US.

Ten years ago and before kids, I went to an adult Festa Junina party. It was my first Festa Junina party and I had no idea what to expect. It was held out in the countryside, there was a hole dug into the ground in order to fit the pig roasting on the spit, and a huge bonfire in the yard. It was all good until someone said I should try the "Quentão" (best translated as the "big hot"). It was warming up there on the stove and I could smell the cloves and cinnamon and yum, it smelled great. I had 2 mugs full.  My friends neglected to mention that quentão is basically a full bottle of cachaça (rum), 2 pounds of sugar, lime and orange peels, plus ginger and spices. Delicious -- and I don't remember anything else from that night. Apparently I sang "Country Road" with a friend from West Virginia (with microphones--thank you God for not inventing the smart phone until after this) and drank cachaça from a petrified cow foot. I try not to think about it. That was, in fact, my last adult Festa Junina. I need to hold on to the brain cells I have left after having twins.

One of the game tents (think US state carnivals, but downsized)


Quentão (aka Evil Brew)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Reading Mum - São Paulo


My favorite day of the week during the school year is Thursday. From 8-10 am every Thursday morning, I am a reading mum at my kids' private school. The name "reading mum" is a little misleading--I am really a "listening mum" (and I would prefer "mom" but it's British English at their school). There are 23 second-graders who read me their 16-22 page books and I help them with pronunciation and difficult words. We sit on a bench in a corridor near their classroom and the other school kids pass by going to their activities--my own sons (1st graders) also stop by for a hug when they see me.

Why do I love it so? Second graders are funny. Really funny. I started posting on my facebook page a number of the "zen moments" I had with them. My favorite child (sorry, but I do have one, I can't help it) is at a moment in his boyhood that he does not like girls. So I like to tease him that his book this week (every week) is about princesses and he feigns death. Then he'll take the book and read it with every character as a boy (the princess becomes a soccer star) doing "boy" things (on the soccer pitch instead of at the castle). Yes, there are books with gender bias but not many. If there is gender bias, this particular boy will change it. The other way.

I also have had the opportunity to brush up on my British English. I can "humour" them rather than humor them now. Lorries deliver what trucks should bring. But when one of the girls read a story about Cinderella and one of the stepsisters was "stroppy", I crossed my fingers that my reader would not ask me what stroppy meant. Of course she asked. I said "rude." I was corrected by my British friends later, and of course I have already forgotten what they said.

Around 80% of the kids are Brazilian. You might think that the English native speakers would be the best readers but that is not necessarily true. The soccer-obsessed kid above is the best reader of all (no accent, excellent pronunciation and comprehension) and his parents are both Brazilian. In general I can tell who has parents who read with the kids at night, and who does not get the chance to practice after school.

I wish there were more ways to be involved directly with the kids at our school. And I believe that this school is more inviting to parents being involved than most others. The kids' first school here in Brazil (private but Brazilian language only) was not at all welcoming to "outside" help. I imagine that the public schools here probably don't ask or receive much help from the parents--but I'm out of my league. I just don't know. 

Next week is my last Reading Mum of the year. Yesterday the school sent me a present of flowers and tea and biscuits to thank me. I should thank them. I will miss those 7 year old kids who sit as close as they can to me, snag a book and read about laughing hyenas, magic keys and fairy tales. Since my kids move to second grade in the fall, I will not be able to read with that age group again. Maybe I'll get me some first grade readers--I can hope!


Friday, June 7, 2013

Little flannels - São Paulo


Yesterday I went to the French Bazaar which is run by the French ex-patriate community in São Paulo. There are a LOT of French people here but I never run into them where I live. My one expat French friend moved away to Brussels three years ago. But the bazaar is filled with Francophones and I love hearing that musical language as I sort through the stuff laid out on the various tables. The bazaar has many local Brazilian crafts available...and fresh croissants for sale if you get there early enough (I didn't). Also patés. Also lots of things that are making me hungry just to think about.

The bazaar is held at the Scandinavian Church in a beautiful residential neighborhood. Well, most of it is beautiful--I notice the background of this shot is not so beautiful. In any case, when you park your car on the streets around the church, a "flanelinha" or "little flannel" pops out of nowhere and gives you a thumbs-up with a questioning look. Normally they don't even say anything -- it is just that thumbs-up gesture. In this shot, the flanelinha is the man in the jacket walking with the woman back to her car. So what's it all about?

Flanelinhas are the guys who want to "watch" your car for you while you are in a shop, or out to dinner or somewhere where you have no choice but to park on the street. The name "flanelinha" comes from the guys who used to try to wipe down the car windows with small pieces of flannel for spare change.  Flanelinhas don't provide that service anymore, but they do want you to give them some change for "looking after" your car.

I am generally opposed to paying off the flanelinha. As if I had a choice. If you don't give them the thumb's up back (yeah, man, you can watch my bulletproofed car-alarmed satellite-tracked car in the middle of this quiet neighborhood), you might come back to find a new scratch in the paint. So I hear. That has never happened to me. I think. How would I notice a new scratch on my city car? Join the party, scratches.

Some flanelinhas complain if you don't tip them enough. And sometimes they will come up to you asking for a certain amount ($5 or $10 depending on the situation) in order to park on a public street. If you are going to a concert at the Morumbi Stadium, expect them to ask you for at least $20 or more to "watch" your car. They don't watch anything at these events, by the way--by the time the concert is half over, the flanelinhas are gone, gone, gone.

My husband (Brazilian) judges each situation to see if and how much he'll pay the guy (I have never met a female flanelinha). At a soccer game a few weeks ago, he gave the flanelinha $10 because the guy was actually the security man for that street (more on security guards on another post). He was going to stay around the car during the whole time we were at the game.

I admit that I am less generous and more cranky. When I parked my car once at 5:45 am for a 7 am start road race last year, and a flanelinha came up to me to ask for money, I looked at him, looked down at my outfit (running shorts/t-shirt/running shoes) and said "dude (okay, "cara"), I have nothing". He started to get mad so I went back into my bulletproofed, car-alarmed, satellite-tracked car and scrounged up $0.50. He was mad but what in the world? I was at a road race not a shopping center! 

This year, at the same race, I got crafty. I went to park in the same place and noticed that the Policia Militar was pulling over a motoboy for something. I parked right behind them. No flanelinha. Why? Because it is legal to be a flanelinha in only two cities in Brazil, and I don't live in either one (Belo Horizonte and Brasilia, if you are curious), they could potentially be held for extortion if they made a threat along with their money request. No worries for them, really, because jail sentence is under four years and that means they're out on the street immediately.

Watch your car, ma'am?