Thursday, October 31, 2013

Give back Halloween. Please. - São Paulo

Jack-o'-Lantern 2003-10-31.jpg

Happy Halloween to all of my fellow Americans!  It is my second favorite holiday, but not one that I celebrate while in Brazil. Oh, oops, I am wearing my favorite black shirt with a spider web and spider on it. But it is really a hex against any creepy-crawlies in my house. I used to go to a Halloween party or two, but now it just bums me out.

I want Brazil to give back Halloween to the USA. It is ours. You have Carnaval, and it lasts for days. We get Halloween. I used to get emails from hysterical Brazilians about how the USA had plans to take over the Amazon or make it into an international territory or something. I am now going to send an email (with appropriate level of hysteria) about how this country is taking over Halloween and making it, well, bad. Oh yes, please address your hate mail to me as Ms. Crabby American. What's mine is mine, what's yours is mine. No, I actually don't want Carnaval or the Amazon either for that matter. 

So, when we arrived here with our kids (aged 18 months) in 2008, we decided that we would put them for a few hours each day in a neighborhood creche or day care.  Ostensibly this was to give them some social interaction (and one son got bit on the very first day, very social) but was really because I was exhausted and going through a minor depression. You twin mothers may be able to understand me. It was a nice little place and I enjoyed all of it except when one of my sons wanted to play dress-up with a blue tu-tu they had there and the caretakers ran over and pretty much ripped it off of him saying it was for girls. He was 20 months old. He liked blue tulle. Who doesn't, really?

About a week before Halloween, a notice came home. The notice read that there would be no Halloween celebrated in school--it was an imported holiday and that it was not allowed in the school. Instead, the school would celebrate Dia do Saci, (Saci Day) a recently created Brazilian holiday (created only to compete with Halloween by the way).  Saci, pronounced "Sah-SEE", is my least favorite Brazilian fairy tale character--he is a one-legged, pipe-smoking trickster.  I remember being somewhat insulted at the time (and amused by the competing holiday) that Halloween was banned because it is imported.

Saci, a character from Monteiro Lobato books. Image source:

Now I am 100% in favor of the ban. No, I'm not saying burn the costumes and anything that looks like a pumpkin. I am saying it is not a Brazilian holiday. If you are not American, or go to an American school, ignore the holiday. Bah Humbug it. Do not, at any costs, attempt to imitate the holiday. 

First, let's take a quick look at Halloween. Halloween is actually All Hallow's Eve. It got shortened up by the marketing guys in 1745. The roots are in Celtic Christianity, but also it coincides with the end of the harvest season (this should set off an alarm for the Brazilians--the harvest season is beginning here not ending. This is why you have Festa Junina, which is an awesome party. No, we don't want it. We have Halloween. Are you actually reading this?). And it's the one night a year that the dead folk come back and hang out with their families. And go trick-or-treating. No, I'm making up the last sentence. Now in Brazil, you have Finados, or Day of the Dead on November 2. That is yours. Dead people: November 2. Check. 

Now at this point I have to mention that of course Halloween did not start in the US. All this dressing up and stuff has the Irish to blame. And Brits. And of course it was their idea to start all the pranking and carving up pumpkins so they look like goblins. Well, of course it was their idea; they are the old world, we are the new world. So, I shall let the British Isles and Ireland keep Halloween. I am feeling generous--after all, they let me keep their language without going all potty or stroppy all the time.

Where was I? Ah yes, okay so the US was late to the Halloween party because the Puritans hated, well, just about everything fun. So it took the party boy Irish and Scots to bring it to us in the 19th century. Thank you very much. Here have a Kit-Kat. (pronounced "kitchy katchy" in Portuguese, see, this is wrong).  

I should also mention Wicca, once upon a time called Witchcraft. I have two friends who are Wiccans and I have to say I don't know much about their religion except there is a Triple Goddess (cool) and a Horned God (slightly less cool). There seems to be a wide range of beliefs in the religion depending on your coven, and what most sticks out to me is that they like to work nude (true story, at least if you read wikipedia) and that their big event of the year is Samhain, or Halloween. My masseuse in Miami was Wiccan--she would disappear for a week every year around now and do whatever it is they do. I try really hard not to ever call anyone a witch if they are behaving badly. Unless of course it is my friend the witch and then I try to really just call her by her first name. Susie. The Wiccan.

Before I go too far off the map, let me tell you what has started my harangue today. On Sunday was the Halloween Party at our club. Not on Halloween, which is October 31 but on Sunday. You know, Brazilians make fun of Americans all the time for celebrating President's Day on the third Monday of the month of January not on the actual day(s). So back at ya, crazies. In fact, many of my friends report that their condo associations and buildings held Halloween last night. Why? I don't know. Maybe to save today for Saci.

Club party announcement

So the club. The party consisted of blacking out a room with dark curtains, having a crazy hair and makeup stand (all the girls wanted to have "princess hair". My son was a pale zombie with scars even though he was wearing a cowboy outfit. Sigh. Zombie Cowboy). Three adults dressed up as a witch, a zombie and a vampire. All children were princesses, zombies or vampires. Or Spiderman, I saw a Spiderman. And of course the Zombie Cowboy. They had a DJ, they played games like holding a balloon between two kids' stomachs then dancing (????) and then we danced gangnam style. When you got tired of all that Halloween-themed stuff, you got a little take-home cardboard box  (orange with a bat, very nice) filled with the same candy as we get here every day. I was seriously depressed when I left there. 

Let me explain something here. Here is how I celebrated Halloween from ages 3-12. I would dress up in a costume made by my extremely talented mother (the talent skipped at least one generation--mine). My costume was Martha Washington one year--my older brother was Benedict Arnold. I realize some of you have no idea who I am talking about. Historical figures. Awesome costumes. In those dark ages, most mommies made costumes. But even now, the range of American costumes is unbelievable--I am talking the store bought ones. Huge fluffy dinosaurs, tigers, Ninjas (of course), the usual superheroes, Rihanna, you name it.  It would blow Brazilian minds. Completely. Here your costume must BE something; you cannot invent something. One of my sons was "Super Passarinho" or "Super Little Bird" one year by tying a colorful scarf around his arms and leaping about. He was roundly scorned. Anyway...

So after the costume, comes the trick-or-treating. I would head out the door with a few of my little friends while being escorted by several of the moms or dads. The moms and dads would stop at the end of the driveway of a house, we would walk up and knock on the door, or ring the bell. The person inside would say "Happy Halloween!" and might even be dressed up too. The house would be decorated with jack o'lanterns and paper witches and spooky music would be playing. We would say "Trick or Treat!" and then the person might ask us who we were supposed to be or how old we were or whatever. In my first neighborhood in New York, they wouldn't even ask--we all knew each other. We only trick-or-treated with the neighbors we knew--about 25 houses. Yeah, there was one scary house that we always avoided, I'm not sure why, and the rumor was they put razor blades in the apples they handed out. I think the greater problem was that they handed out apples. Who wants an apple on Halloween? Hello?

And we would get candy for our pillowcase bag (I never had the fancy plastic pumpkin) and pennies for our Unicef boxes (yes, charity at work in the USA) and we would call "thank you" and we would go back to the street with our parents and on to the next house. It is an incredibly social event--starting an hour before sunset for the littlest kids, up to around 9 pm for the older kids, there are groups of people circulating on the streets, talking and laughing and calling Happy Halloween. Sure, there are the occasional teenagers who are out to cause problems like smashing mailboxes or pumpkins, or toilet papering trees but in general, a nice suburban Halloween is AWESOME. I will now pause to quietly cry in my coffee--how I miss it. 

Anyway, this is not what happens here in Brazil. No. Here is Brazil the adults dress up in dresses that are too short (trust me, I have seen the costume shops and had to even rent a costume once. The most decent one was Kill Bill's yellow suit so I pretty much hacked my way through one party) or in superhero lycra that leaves little to the imagination.  It is an excuse to drink too much and act badly. While wearing a tiny skirt with no bodice. I imagine my friend Willy is liking that description.

The kids, ah the kids. Well, pull out the princess dresses and superhero clothes. You've paid almost $80 for that lycra so might as well. They don't trick or treat here. Heck, I know only two of my neighbors. They're very nice but they might arrest us if we show up looking for candy. The candy is nothing special--no candy corn, no Smarties, no tiny candy bars. Here are some of the experiences my expat friends have had here:
"We received an e-mail from our condo at 4pm that said if you wanted to participate in Halloween that you were to meet downstairs at 6pm (2 hour notice to go out and get candy, or get your kids dressed up?!). My kids stayed in to hand out candy (thank goodness we had some!) and when about 15 kids all came to our door, they said NOTHING! When I prompted them as to what to say (i.e. Trick or Treat), they looked at me with blank stares. Some mumbled Candy Halloween."
" I just argued with my six year old bc his teacher told him he couldn't use the costume he picked out (and I already paid for) bc it isn't scary enough. What?!? He's six... They seem to think it has to be a witch, vampire, ghost or nothing at all."
Now, let me be fair here. I can only imagine how badly an American would screw up a Carnaval party. Or a Festa Junina. They are not ours. We can't do it. But I will have to give you my exception to my "Ban Halloween in Brazil" protest that I am planning to schedule for tomorrow.  If you are an American in Brazil, or married to one, AND have imported at least 50% of the candy being given out at your party AND you make the kids say Trick or Treat, you may have your Halloween Party in Brazil. Save some candy corn for me.
I suggest we create identification cards for Americans that say "Licensed for Halloween." Otherwise, you must stick to Dia do Saci, Carnaval, Festa Junina or New Year's celebrations, all of which kick American butt (okay, except the former--Dia do Saci? Really?) Or if you must do something special today, do what I do. I set up my kid's dentist appointment for today, October 31, at 5:30 pm. I am a mean mommy. A witch, but not in the real sense. A Triple Goddess. Or you could go rally against our mayor, Haddad (pronounced "Ah-DAH-Gee") who is being demonized today as Maldadd (pronounced "Mahl-DAH-Gee", meaning "evil") for upping our property taxes.
And finally, I am adding a small view of how Brazil is not qualified to hold Halloween (from Santa Luzia supermarket, definitely geared to ex-pats):
 Example one: mini-pumpkins
Photo credit to my friend Katie

Let's mini-pumpkins for R$61 (US$27). Moving on to the big pumpkins:

Photo credit to Katie, again

 Oooh,, this one looks American! I can carve this...yeah, let me look at the price...


Gulp! That is R$121 for a pumpkin. US$55. I think we know the winner of the eternal debate of trick or treat...
Relax, rant over. Request still there. Give it back. And yes, I am planning to be in the US for next Halloween so you can feel free to tell me to just go home.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Na raça - São Paulo

Brazil: The country of football. Photo credit:

Brazil is known as the country of football (futebol if you are Brazilian, soccer if you are American). Everyone, except 41 million Argentinians, know that Pelé was the best player to ever live, and there is no shortage of great players coming out of here most years, Neymar being the most recent. What you don't get a feel for if you've never visited or lived in this country is how deeply football runs in the blood of many male Brazilians. 

I am not talking about spectator sports. I am not talking about watching Palmeiras, Corinthians, Flamengo, Gremio, etc on any given Saturday or Sunday. I am talking about playing it. From the poorest residents of the favelas to the wealthiest members of the social clubs here, most boys-to-men can play and will play for much of their lives. Everyone has heard Ronaldo Fenomeno's stories of wrapping socks one over the other to make a ball and playing with that. One of my own sons will kick anything that is remotely round--playing with a rock in front of a cage in South Africa attracted a fierce reaction from an apparently-Corinthiano cheetah.

You can play it anywhere. Photo credit:

My husband is one of those who has played his entire life. Starting on the campus of a university in the interior where his parents were professors, he has played football as often as he can. At the university where he started playing, there are still games every Saturday one hour before sunset. Everyone knows when it is time to show up. No one calls to confirm; not a single email is exchanged. I watched them once at this grass and dirt field surrounded by tall trees. The age range went from 17-75. The teenagers ran and ran, the older men selected strategically their moves. The oldest, with a large beer belly, played goalie and shouted out "encouragement" in colorful language. These men are not necessarily friends off the field, and sometimes not even on the field, but for an hour and a half every Saturday, until it is too dark to see, they are out there playing football. Na raça.

"Na raça" is translated indirectly as participating in something with energy and enthusiasm. If you speak Portuguese, you can look here. If you don't, you're going to have to trust me because I could not find a Portuguese-English translation. Literally translated, "raça" means people (or race) that share a common origin or physical, linguistic or social characteristics. I like to think of it as the race of footballers who share a common love of this game.

Photo credit:

My husband is now in his mid-40s and has played football since he could walk. He loves it. Besides the Saturday football game, he has played on school teams (including at our grad school in the US and in primary school in England), corporate teams, whenever invited (conferences sometimes have a social football game where no one is social on the field, but all the enmity is also left there) anywhere, and now he has started to play at the club after a five month hiatus from soccer. 

The hiatus was provoked by a game in June where he broke two arms and had five stitches in his head. When I say my husband plays football "na raça", this would be an understatement. At that time he was playing with a group of former co-workers at a society-sized field in the city. "Society" fields in the city are around 50 meters x 30 meters (regular fields are twice this) and normally surrounded by low concrete walls topped by chain link fence. My husband decided he needed to make a goal against two 20-year olds and ran too fast to stop in time for the wall--and went in head first with his two arms outstretched to protect his head. Two fractured arms and stitched head at the emergency room later, he only comments that the worst part is that he missed the goal. 

This particular group of players has since disbanded (fear factor from seeing how my husband will eat concrete rather than lose a game) and my husband went to check out the "racha" at our club this Monday. Now, don't confuse "racha" with "raça"--a "racha" is a pick-up game with whoever shows up that day. The racha starts at 4:15 pm and ends at 6:45 pm. How this group of men (guesstimate on ages from 24 to 64) have this time period free every Monday and Wednesday is a mystery to me. 

Playing "na raça" at the club

My husband had to start out in goal because he was the 11th to arrive (5x5) and the game was on. I know nothing about the sport, as you all know, but I have to say that it looked like some good fun, good running and good swearing. So much for the "no swearing" sign.  They play hard. My husband went down a couple of times, and I sweated a re-break of an arm and the possible resurgence of my life as a chauffeur. But except for some major soreness yesterday and today, there is no semi-permanent damage.

I absolutely love the idea of this sport that courses through the blood of many Brazilians. It does not course through mine, but I see how it is deeply within one of my sons as well. I hope he will play it always, and always with the same enthusiasm as his dad (minus the concrete wall). Na raça.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Droga! - São Paulo

And now it's on to one of my favorite complaints. The drugstores in Brazil. No, let me limit myself to São Paulo which is what I know best. I will try really hard not to do too many comparisons with the US, which has its own drawbacks (powerful pharmaceutical industry for one, lawsuits for another), but the drugstores themselves seem to work pretty well. My kingdom for a Walgreens. Oops, so much for fair comparisons.

This morning I was not feeling well and went to our giant box of medicines in the bathroom. It is a crate--drugs for kids, bandaids, Bang-Aid (what my husband calls Ben-Gay), tummy medicines, headache medicines, etc. Since I haven't been in the US for a while, my US supplies are running low-ish. The main reason for my buying my medicines in the US is that I know them--I have been around them most of my life. The second reason is it is easy to tell what they do for you. I'll get to that in a minute. Also they are less expensive there.

My kids are given US medicines almost exclusively, rather than Brazilian. Yes, acetaminophen is in fact paracetamol (Tylenol's formula in the US and Brazil, respectively) but I feel better when I can read the label well. Of course when they need a mega-blast of antibiotics, I give them the Brazilian versions. 

So, here is a random selection of what I found in the Crate o' Meds:

No, I haven't a clue what any of those do. Okay, the Imosec has got to fix up the tummy since there is actually a drawing on that one showing a tummy in lighter color. Yeah, and I do recognize the revectina as that is a lice preventative that I bought for the kids when a friend who spent the weekend was discovered to have them. So then I had to check if it was only me that had no clue on these meds. I asked the Brazilian husband what they did. He didn't know. He googled them. Sigh.

All medicines here (the ones you need prescriptions for) are in these white boxes with red stripes which say you need a doctor's prescription. In actuality, you don't. On these lighter meds, I have only rarely been asked for a prescription, and it is more to discover how many milligrams or pills are required (don't get me started on the number of pills thing--okay, do, but hold on a minute). For antibiotics, the rules changed about four years ago. It used to be that you could self-medicate on antibiotics. And people did. For any colds or fevers or whatever, people would just order up some antibiotics. Brazil was creating the superbug. I have to say that I find antibiotics prescribed way more frequently here than in the US, but I have no statistics to back me up. Just personal opinion. 

Now you need a doctor's prescription and "segunda-via" (second copy) for antibiotics. As in one copy for the drug store, and one for you to remember what you are supposed to be doing.  For a while there, phenobarbitol (taken by my epileptic dog) was a "blue copy" drug--you needed a special prescription with a blue copy that had even more rigid rules of stamps and duplicate and addresses etc. And ID. Fortunately it is no longer a blue drug--they were controlling it for a while because people were taking it as a calmant (why didn't I think of that? Cheap valium)--but is still a "segunda via" drug. 

Are you following me to here? I'm okay with all of the above. I have to learn the drugs here because I live here. If I am blind by the way, I am in a good place--all of these drugs have Braille on the boxes. Not sure it tells the people anything they need to know besides drug name, but there you have it.  No, there are two specific things that make me INSANE about the drugstores here (besides the fact that they don't stock doo-dads, and birthday cards, and candy and milk. Sigh. I love you Walgreen's). 

1. Quantities of pills. In the regular drugstores here (Droga Raia, Droga SP, etc), there is no manipulation. As in, if you have been prescribed 7 days of a drug, twice a day, you need 14 pills, right? But you cannot get 14 pills. You can get 20 pills or you can get 10 pills. Pills come in boxes with a set quantity only. You will have to buy two boxes of 10 pills, and then just chuck 6 pills. Or flush them into the Rio Pinheiros. Or give them to your maid who will probably actually take them for some reason or another.  What is the deal with that? What a waste. And why do people go to pharmacist school if they don't learn how to count pills into bottles, a la USA? Yes, it takes longer to get your drugs, but you get just what you need.

For example, here is bottle of Cipro I got last year from the US. It has exactly 10 pills in it. Well, okay, less than that now. Sorry, I am not showing the face of it with all the doctor info because of privacy. What I am showing is all the disclaimers about how it can make you sleepy, dizzy, crazy or sunburned. That is the bad part of the US--lawsuit city. In any case, I needed 10 pills, so I have 10 pills. No waste.

2. Lack of computerization. Here is where, I am sorry but it has to happen, I am going to compare with the US. Okay, so I am from the east coast of the US (NY/CT) but when I go back to visit, I may be anywhere from Boston to San Francisco. If I run out of a medicine that is prescribed for me, I can walk into any Walgreen's (where my prescription is registered) and get it filled. Any single one. It is in a computer.

We have computers here in Brazil. In fact, most pharmacies have them. They are used primarily as a way of looking up discounts or seeing stock. There is no unified pharmacy network in any pharmacy chain. Even the big guys. The biggest chain, Droga Raia, which just sucked up Drogasil, has revenues of R$4 billion (US$1.8 billion) and has 9.5% of the pharmacy market. Yet cannot unify its computer system. I have to tell you that Droga Raia is my favorite of the drugstores--the queen of the pigs. Another drugstore chain once accused me of forging my doctor's signature, so I won't go there anymore. For the record, I did not.

I have a Droga Raia about a block away from me which is where I always get Caju's epilepsy medicine. And each month, for the last five years, I have to bring a new prescription with me. There is no record that my dog has been taking this drug for his whole life and will always be taking it. There is no annual prescription (Walgreen's still has record of it in the US from 5 years ago). I cannot go to Droga Raia in another neighborhood and have them look up the prescription and give it to me. Give me a break.

I know there must be historical reasons for all this. Perhaps the military dictatorship was involved. I am sitting here anticipating feedback from anyone who knows anything about this. In fact, I'd be willing to just have you make it up, but make some sense out of all this. Please!

And of course, I must add a Portuguese lesson to all of this. When you hear someone exclaim "Droga!", it doesn't actually mean that they are asking for some drugs. For example, if I miss my train by a half second, I would say "droga!" and it would mean "darn" or "shoot". It is not a swear word, but probably shouldn't be said in front of my 94-year old grandmother-in-law.  "Droga" can also be used to complain about something of low quality or little use (see last paragraph here). Perfect, don't you think?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Holiday - São Paulo

Photo credit:

If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice.

So, today the maid shows up and tells me that she was almost late because of the holiday closure of her kid's school. My reaction was to look at the calendar (blank for today) and then look blankly at her. I believe I put it eloquently as "hunh? what holiday?" except in Portuguese which made it "ah eh? Qual feriado?" Blank look translated well.

Apparently today is "Dia do Servidor Publico". Public Service Worker Day. I have lived in Brazil for eight years and did not know about this holiday. And it is a wacky one--maybe like Patriot's Day in the US, celebrated possibly only by Massachusetts. I am way too lazy this Monday to look that up. Where is my editor? Oh, oops, I don't have one, hence the trouble I usually find myself in.

So public schools have a holiday because the teachers are public workers. But in an interesting twist, the judiciary decided to move its holiday of public service workers to Thursday because, well, I'm not sure. So your kids may have today off, federal judiciary workers, but you don't. Reverse that story for Thursday. True story here. 

Now, I tried to figure out exactly what is going on here in São Paulo in terms of city offices. It's not completely clear. The park service is working. The cultural centers are not. The hospitals are working but the city halls (remember there are sub-city halls) are not. I am not sure that any public worker really knows if they should be heading in or not. Just call the whole thing off. 

Or as Madonna would say...we need a holiday...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

United nations - São Paulo

International Day - all photo credits to Rainy Russ, except as noted
My kids attend a very small private school here in São Paulo. It is not as well-known (or large) as the American school or the British school or as many of the other Brazilian private schools here. We were looking for a small English-speaking school for them that would provide a bit of diversity (tough at a private school but the public schools are not where you send your kids here, if you can avoid it), allowed them to be in separate classrooms (they are twins) and provide a good education. 

Through luck or skill, we found everything we were looking for. It is a wonderful school in a labyrinth of converted houses--the latest addition is a pretty nice artificial turf soccer field created from crushing a neighboring house. We are particularly lucky because the parents of the grade my kids are in are a tight group--and the kids are too. 

Yesterday was International Day, an event held only every two years at the school. While I have some minor complaints on how the event is run (costs are covered by the parents, not the PTA or the school), I was reminded yesterday just how lucky my kids are to attend this school. For seven hours yesterday (yes, I was there for all seven), my kids played, danced (gangnam style, of course), ate, visited and learned from 23 country stands. 

And these stands were amazing--the food, the decorations, the happy helpful people inside. Some countries enlisted help from family if they were the only representatives of the country at the school--Taiwan in particular was amazing. Only one mom involved, and her mom did the cooking early in the morning, they had a lion dance that the whole school loved, and at the end of the day, she was just as friendly and energetic as at 9 am! Australia was also a parent team running the whole show--at one point I passed within grabbing distance and ended up with an Australia tattoo on my arm and a yummy cake in my mouth.

It was impossible to try all the foods. After I set up the USA (we had a college football tailgating theme--how American can you get?), I did a visit around to the other stands. Ceviche from Peru, pasta from Italy, curry in India, wine in France, beer in Belgium and sausages from the lederhosen (sp???) wearing folks in Germany--by 11 am, I thought I was going to POP! Which didn't stop me from eating more when the sweet Japanese kids came over to the USA with little boats of sushi, and then the Brazilians with brigadeiro sweets. 

And through all of this, I chatted a bit with a couple of high school kids attracted by the Michigan helmets and Northwestern banners at our stand.  I tried hard to convince them away from Notre Dame (kidding, folks, kidding, not really). Smaller kids came by to try on the helmets and have their pictures taken. The chili, cupcakes and chocolate cookies disappeared. A special thanks to Sophie & Theo's Cupcakes which donated red velvet cupcakes that were a smash hit! One South African man came by asking for Southern Food (I don't even know what chitlins are but he did!) and fortunately we had the red velvet! The only thing that did not disappear was the cornbread--we've learned that local tastes run sweeter and the cornbread was a little stuck in the middle--neither sweet nor salty.

So, here's a little photo essay. I'm so proud of my school. 

A tiny tip of the USA, Dominican Republic and Mexico
Vegemite anyone? Set-up Australia

Brazil hard at work!

La Belle France

Germany with a sushi visitor from Japan

India and henna tattoos (my lone photo here)


South Africa

The lion dance from Taiwan

USA! Chili anyone?


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cheerleading - Sao Paulo

As I waited for my kids to buy a 'besteirinha' from the tuck shop (snack store in British), I noticed this sign on the wall. And inwardly groaned. At the risk of alienating some of my best friends who were high school cheerleaders, I have to say I am totally opposed to this sport making its way into my kids' Brazilian IB school. It is not that I don't believe cheerleading to be a tough workout-- it clearly is. But I am still opposed.

The premise of cheerleading is of course pepping up the fans at a game. Overwhelmingly boys and mens sports. I have never seen cheerleaders at a women's college sports game but then I went to a division 3 school of all women. Maybe the UConn women's basketball team has them. I am not talking about professional sports but rather sports during the formative years of a young girl's life.

Brazilian girls do not participate in sports at anywhere the level of US girls. I will check on exact numbers but in my personal experience (in my eyes, remember), here is what I see at my sons' sports trainings:

-soccer at the club. One girl out of 13 kids in Monday/Wednesday afternoon class. Two girls on my son's intraclub team.
-judo after school. No girls. 15 boys
-ballet. 9 girls, one boy. Yes that one is mine
-gymnastics at club. 10 girls, one boy. Also mine.
-Capoeira. Varies but a ratio of 4 to 1, I would say. In the class of kids age 13-17, girls outnumber boys 2 to 1. I don't know why, but I like it.
-academy soccer. 12 boys, 1 girl
-swimming. Even odds.

Personally I would rather see girls in competitive sports. Or martial arts. I am not talking about the cheerleading competitions you see in the US. And I am talking everywhere in the world, not just Brazil. I did competitive sports--soccer at the beginning, cross-country and track and then rowing in college.

I don't have enough time this morning (it's International Day and I'm Team USA) to research the roots of cheerleading and participation but I'm going to. I am sorry cheerleading made it here.

For an interesting article on the link between successful women and competitive sport, see here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Glory days at the Maksoud- São Paulo

Photo credit:
See that painted lady in the middle of the photo? That's the Maksoud Plaza Hotel, the site of the South Africa trade event I attended on Tuesday. I have subtitled it: crazy 70s hotel in search of a novela (soap opera). 

So I think I may have said earlier this week that it was a 1960s throwback. Turns out it was inaugurated in 1979, and that paint job is intentional though a more recent addition. I think someone famous did it. Or not. It's hard to know. It seems like make Romero Brito could re-do it and get some more attention for this puppy. Although it might not need more attention--it is rated as a 5-star hotel after a recent renovation (rating by a Brazilian rating agency). But man, that place is troubled.

Henry Maksoud, in happier days. Photo:

Henry Maksoud is the founder of the hotel--he is still alive and nearing 90 years old. His son Roberto was running the place for quite some time, until at least 1996, when a major family fight made him check out. Certainly Henry has some business and familial issues--the hotel has twice been auctioned off to pay debts to workers from the holding company. 

And here's where things get a little crazy. Before the last auction of the hotel in 2008, Henry put a "stay" on the result, claiming he had settled the debts. That means that though JSL Holdings won the auction with the minimum bid of $70 million reais, they are not the owners. Yet. An article from July 2012 said that the courts said the auction was valid, but of course Henry has appealed the decision. He is listed on the website as the Hotel President. Meanwhile the hotel carries on.

Yes, it has all the makings of a novela. Complete with an ex-wife who sued Henry at least twice for non-payment of spousal support. Last lawsuit was when they were both around 75 years old and Henry was sentenced to 60 days of house arrest. He chose to spend his house arrest at the hotel rather than in his 17,000 square meter house in Chacara Flora. You know, he'd feel a little squished there. Henry also has an ongoing fight with a son, but his grandson is a director there at the hotel. I am way too confused to even know where to research all of this.

Meanwhile the Maksoud charges upwards of US$250 a night. It's doing just fine. Not sure its workers are, but it is hard to get that out of the newspaper. I personally found the interior a little dated, but frankly you could put most hotels in New York City in that category. They just smell dated.  Yes, suspended gardens, open atriums, reflecting pools, check, check check. It's pretty--I'm sure that at the time of its inauguration (the first of the open atrium type hotel here in Brazil), it must have been just breathtaking. I didn't see the inside of a room but the conference room was the same as any other hotel one I've ever been in. As in, fine.

Source: hotel website

So, perhaps not the Maksoud's finest hour? Hard to judge (and I mean that literally). The greatest moment in Maksoud Plaza history: Frank Sinatra himself sang there in 1981 for a four day, 700 person per night intimate audience.  Catherine Deneuve has stayed there, as did Margaret Thatcher. I think One Direction might skip it though...not much their style.

Reminds me of some of the lyrics of a Bruce Springsteen song, Glory Days:

Now I think I'm going down to the well tonight
and I'm going to drink till I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days

Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days

Sources for this blog post:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Greek mythology - São Paulo

And here's the latest gardener business card dropped in my mailbox. Agamemnon perhaps with a misspelling or perhaps just as it is. A face that launched a thousand ships. Or not. Still made me smile--now I met Achilles the cheetah at the sanctuary in South is his buddy. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Riding on the metro-oh-oh - São Paulo

One of the things I love most in São Paulo is the metro system. Yes, it's true. The metro system is a joy--on most days. On days of rains, days of "pane" (breakdowns) it is not fun. But most of the time, it is a delight. And what continues to surprise me is how few people in Classe A/B, as they put it here, ride it. In fact, when I told a Brazilian friend that I had taken it to the conference yesterday, she looked at me as if I were crazy and exclaimed "Aren't you afraid of being robbed?" 

I am afraid of very few things, actually, and being robbed on the metro is not one of them. I assume that it will happen to me one day in some city in some country of the world. I haven't seen the numbers for robbery on the metro here versus any other big city, but I would believe they are roughly the same. Pickpockets are a universal delight.

Yesterday the South Africa conference was being held at the Maksoud Plaza, a wacky hotel just off Avenida Paulista. For sure, it will be tomorrow's post. The place is stuck so firmly in the 1970s, I want to wear bell bottoms when I go there. The meeting started at 9 am--traffic at this hour to get near Avenida Paulista, a major thoroughfare, would not be fun.  So here is what I did.

I parked my car, for free, on a street four blocks away from Vila Madalena station. I admit I have an advantage with my car being bullet-proof. There is no way to steal it--I never think twice about leaving it parked on a street. I walked up a nice stairway, a little like this one below (actually this is the block before where I get the staircase).

Photo credit:
Three blocks later I arrive in front of the Vila Madalena station. It is always "movimentado" or full of people going in, leaving, catching a bus out front or waiting for friends. An escalator down and you are in the big open atrium. I flick my "bilhete unico" (unified ticket --bus, metro and train) card onto the reader and I'm through the gates. Another escalator down and I join the people waiting on the platform.

At 8 am on a weekday, things are busy but not crazy. One of the best things about the V. Mad station is that it is the end of the line. When the train comes in, you can usually find a seat pretty quickly, and there is no fight for space. Things fill up slightly at the next two stations (Sumare and Clinicas) but the big munch comes at Consolação which connects with the yellow line. The next station, MASP/Trianon, is mine and I have to ask pardon to get out, holding tight to my bag.

At MASP/Trianon, I am a little confused about where to exit and end up getting on the correct side of Avenida Paulista but farther from my destination. But it's only a three block walk on the other side and I get to walk down one of the most fun streets in Brazil. For people-watching, that is. The whole trip, from parking to arrival at the hotel, has taken me 30 minutes, and I've arrived stress-free. Cost of US$3.00 for metro back and forth. If I had parked at the hotel, the most obvious cost would have been the US$20 parking, not to mention gas, time and frustration.

Avenida Paulista. Photo credit:

Love the metro. Makes me sing that old Berlin song (no I had neither a whiskey nor a gun on my trip). Riding on the metro-oh-oh...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

You can take the girl out of South Africa - São Paulo

Yes, here I am with South Africa again. I'm at a seminar about business opportunities in South Africa. And eating free cookies.  

I took the metro here. Every time I am on the SP metro I am so impressed. Love it. Going to live near it someday. But that's is South Africa.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jeitinho Brasileiro, negotiation and "the flick" - Johannesburg, South Africa

Reception of Gold Reef City Theme Park and Hotel
On our last two nights in South Africa, we had originally been scheduled to stay in Sun City outside of Johannesburg. Then a conference booked up everything and we were moved by our tour agency to the Gold Reef City Theme Park and Hotel. Picture Disney on a MUCH smaller scale, and with the theme of the gold mining heyday in South Africa (they once produced as much as 30% of the world's gold). Yes, I am sure you have seen some photos of gold mining operations--it is not pretty. Gold Reef is. Though very fake.

Gold Reef has a downtown which is pretty amazing. It all looks old-timey, peacocks roam next to old-fashioned cars, and all of the buildings follow an old-timey theme. Our hotel room was in the saloon. It only looked like a saloon from the outside; I kept looking for the bar in the building inside but no such luck. The park closed at 5 pm, and after this time, only the hotel guests could wander about. And you could wander about anywhere you wanted, and there were no guards. Kind of spooky and ghost town. Fun for kids. Would never happen in the US, because of fear of lawsuits; would never happen in Brazil because of lack of trust. 

The kids spent a few hours on kiddie rides. I felt a bit bad for them because they are not 1.3 meter tall to ride on the big coasters, and the kiddie rides were of the bumper car, mini coaster and merry-go-round type. However, after 6 days of safari, they were pretty happy to just run about and ride even goofy rides. 

At the park, we were some of the very few foreigners. Most of the foreigners were white, all of the locals (almost) were black. The ride operators talked with the parents and kids in one of South Africa's languages, and quickly switched to English when they saw us. Fortunately no one tried Afrikaans on me because I would have been completely lost. 

It was here at this park that I thought about another cultural difference, this time including the US, South Africa and Brazil. And of course, my sample size is small so feel free to tell me I'm off base. While waiting in some lines with my kids (I would wait with them, then they would ride without me), some of the little kids there slightly older than mine (seven or eight years old) would try to jump the queue. My kids, who are shy, would look up at me as they got passed to ask me for help. 

But before I could even do something, a woman behind me would reach out and flick (literally I mean flick) the kids back into place, saying something in a language I could not understand. This happened several times. In one instance, a woman nearby sitting on a bench waited her time, then when the line-jumpers got to the very front of the line, she got up, went over to the ride operator, said something, and the kids got put to the back of the line. A strong sense of fairness.

In the US, I have never seen "the flick". I have seen parents negotiating with their kids. "Please, Johnny, understand that this kid was here a half hour before you. How do you think he feels?" Agh, Deus me livre. (God save me). There are times when you don't negotiate. You skip line, you go to back of line. I do think the US has a strong feeling for fairness but not a strong feeling that you sometimes just need to execute (as in act, not kill) not negotiate.

In Brazil, there is "jeitinho brasileiro." I hate jeitinho--defined as a way of circumventing rules. It is the way you jump ahead in line. You charm, you worm, you negotiate with the ride operator. It is a way of thinking only of yourself. There are rules and then there are rules that you work around. Using jeitinho. I have seen Brazilians encourage their kids to sneak into line, grab the best treats at a party before the happy birthday song is sung, and I see kids watching how their parents work around certain rules. I have only been to the theme park here once so I can't really say, but I imagine that Brazil falls somewhere between the US and South Africa. No negotiation, but an attempt to get ahead at the expense of others. 

Sometimes I think you just need to do the "flick". Also to the parents. I am working on it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I'm Concerned About the Blueberries - Flint, MIchigan and São Paulo

Photo credit:

This morning I had planned to continue my South Africa/Brazil in my eyes series but an article in Adweek caught my eye and got me thinking. The pictured billboard about blueberries appeared mysteriously in Flint, Michigan. People guessed it had to do with drugs or some other commentary about life there. 

But the man who put it up there explained that it had to do with an experience he had while traveling in Alaska. A simple question to his young tour guide "how's it going?" came back with "I'm concerned about the blueberries" referring to the state's crop and the lack of rain. The man at first thought the response rather in, what a small worry to have. But to this young man the blueberries were the worry--not gun control, not the US economy in general, not world peace. 

And I started to think about this. When you travel or live in a foreign country or even your own, do you ask people how it's going? I mean REALLY ask, not that "howzitgoin'" that means "hello." Do you get a real answer? I don't think I've asked this question enough of the people I meet. 

My guess is that the concerns that would come up as answers to "how's it going?" here in São Paulo would be: security, school, health care, traffic, and all the daily items that affect us. That would be the answer in my socio-economic group. Maybe. I might be surprised by a "blueberry" answer though.

And what about the street guard? What does he worry about? What about the policia militar? The strawberry farmer who comes to sell out of crates at the end of our street? 

It's a simple question really: "how's it going?" Try it out. You might learn that your blueberries are not someone else's.

You can see more from Adweek here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Praise the Lord, I'm Free at Last - São Roque

Photo credit:
Early on Monday morning, about 100 activists invaded Instituto Royal in São Roque (about 2 hours from São Paulo) and rescued beagles who were being used in pharmaceutical testing. These beagles are now being hidden in activist houses, because there is a rumored judicial process that requires the dogs to be returned to the laboratory. 

Ten hours later, a facebook page for adopting one of the 178 beagles rescued was created. Four days later, there are 300,000 fans of this page (see link above). Today there is a protest in front of the lab. The protests in June and July in this country were largely organized through social media. I am amazed always at its power here.

As for the beagles, their future is in limbo. It all depends on judicial process. I admit to more than a little naivete on animal testing--I had thought that it was pretty much forbidden on anything larger than rats (note the beagles are submitted to testing only after rats have been tested). But of course, that is shutting my eyes to the anti-venoms produced by horses being injected with snake, scorpion and spider venom. What do you choose? Drugs tested and produced with human tests or with animals? Which is worth more? Would you choose a dog over making a safe cancer drug for children? 

I don't have an answer, and it is hard to judge who is right in this one. But as my 13 year old labrador retriever snoozes by me, himself a miracle dog surviving only through the use of drugs (he is a cancer, epilepsy, canine tick disease and pancreatitis survivor), I know that his existence is allowed only through sacrificing other animals to the tests. It's not a comfortable feeling.

Photo credit: Folha de São Paulo 
For more on the story, use your google translate here: