Sunday, July 20, 2014

I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello - São Paulo




Warning: Sentimental post. All ITA graduates and sang-froids may want to give this one a pass.

I hate goodbyes. Even "so longs" are tough. I do my very best to avoid them and carefully did not arrange any goodbye parties here (though I did get surprised by one, and arranged a second small dinner with the "Fab 5"--don't ask).

I'm on my way back home--twenty-five years after leaving New England, I am heading back. My new blog is live and should be in action shortly--it's all about finding out that repatriation is harder than ex-patriation. Or so everyone tells me.

I think I have explained in other blog posts that I am not leaving Brazil, but rather going to the USA. Why am I going? Not because of security worries, exchange rate problems or even the absolute horror of the thought of four more years of Dilma Rousseff. No. I am going for my kids. My kids are half-Brazilian and half-American. They are seven years old. We have lived here six years which means they have no idea what it means to be American. They can sing the Brazilian anthem; they don't know one word of the American. I want them to ride a yellow bus; I want them to be in public school. I want them to know that the USA is more than a Target store and Disney World.

By no means do I think that the US is all right about everything and everything is better there. No, there are many things I will miss about Brazil and the recent days have made that conviction even more acute. The absolute warmth, humor and generosity of Brazil--as a country and as a people, well, they are unparalleled. I will truly, madly, deeply miss a number of friends here and their capability to make me laugh until I cry. I can only hope that we can carry the humor and love through skype and emails. We must. We have to.

The Alemão

This weekend we said goodbye to the Casa do Alemão, the German house, that we have rented for the last couple of years. It is the closest thing on Earth to paradise, in my opinion. If paradise has giant venomous spiders and cackling monkeys, that is (in the 7 year old twins' minds that is obvious). And though the leaving makes me sad, it also made me smile today.

The view from the Alemão. Which never changes.

As I walked through the remnants of a trail we had cut two years ago for the twins to find some pinhão (pine "berries" from the araucaria trees--kind of like chestnuts. Delicious), I realized that Brazil was already adjusting to our departure. In fact, almost nothing remained of our trail but the memories. The trees and bushes had grown up through everything. Even the monkeys had wiped out the remains--all the pinhão had been eaten and the husks left in a silent mockery. 

Life goes on. The Alemão will have new residents. The spiders, and hawks and monkeys and hummingbirds will have new admirers. The woods and trees have permanent protectors in our friends Rob and Pri. The house and its property will be there when we visit again in December. The trail will be gone, and our personal effects from the house, but the exquisite beauty will still be there.

The new generation: Zoe, age 1 and 1/2
Cafu, age 12
Life, and death, go on. On Friday we spread the ashes of our 14-year old labrador Caju in the ranch's beautiful lake. From whence he came.... Caju was a puppy at the fazenda when the fazenda was itself new to our friends. And as the wind ruffled the fur of his now-forlorn and decrepit best friend, 12-year-old German shepherd Cafu, three other young dogs raced by to chase the horses. And so it goes.

I will miss you, Brazil, but I realized this weekend that I leave you not. I am taking you with me. Every time I kiss a tight-lipped Yankee on the cheek to say hello, I take you with me. Every time I save a fuzzy spider that gives me the creeps, I take you with me. And every time I feel the warm wind blow (perhaps rare in Boston), you are with me. Shall we go?


That's all she wrote.

++++++++++++
Closing the gate on this chapter.  



Or is it?

:)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Silence of the Lambs - São Paulo


And so it was, Brazil's semi-final match against Germany last night, completely horrifying. I call it "horrifying"; my husband perhaps more rightly put it as "astonishing." I think most Brazilians would not have been surprised to have the national team lose to Germany (as one Brazilian friend put it crassly but directly "we poop our pants when we have to meet that team). 

But how does a team in the World Cup semi-final lose 7-1? That's the score of a first round match when a small-country team meets a titan. Or not. The small-country team (Costa Rica) this year fell to the Netherlands in a penalty shoot-out in the quarterfinals.

Now before I go on, I have to admit that I have not read a single newspaper story this morning in spite of my newsfeed and my house being full of them.  I don't want to know. I do not want to know the superlatives, the mass beating on the chests, the wondering about whether this loss is the bringing down of a political system. Or at least Felipão, our coach, who seemed to have some kind of serious mental issue this time. How he could stick by two players who I will not name, who did nothing, during the whole Cup, I will just never know. As my kids would say: "brain fart." A blog full of farts and poop this is.

You know and I know that I know nothing about soccer. I have said it again and again. As in most organized sports, I don't care who wins in any real sense. I do not go into mourning when the Oakland Raiders lose. Possibly because I only chose to cheer for the Raiders as a 12 year old to annoy my brother. I can't name a single player. I wouldn't be able to tell you which formation they use or who the coach is.

After three weeks of the world cup, though, I can name every player on the Brazil team. I have heard, absorbed and read comments from friends, strangers and of course, BH. In this sense, I have come to care about them a bit. I will never ever forget the bewildered look the camera showed on Fernandinho's face as the fourth goal in seven minutes was scored on the team. I have no other word for how to describe the team: 'bewildered'. Most of us at the house where I watched the game were hoping for a blackout to end the game quickly. Just call it for Germany, and let these poor lost souls go home.

So, you won't find any game analysis here. Okay, I will sum it up like this: Brazil played neither offense nor defense. I don't know what they did. I literally could not watch from the second half onwards. It was 5-0 at the half, and quickly 7-0. If Oscar had not scored a last minute goal, the embarrassment would have been complete. And even then...

We stayed for a couple of hours after the game to chat with our friends to whom I will soon say goodbye as we leave two weeks from today for the USA. The women were much more positive than the men: one wife had been cheering the whole game for the bewildered Brazilians. The other wife came up with a list of four positives about losing as we did. One husband came up with only one positive: at least we didn't lose to Argentina.

And BH? Well, BH was in shock for most of the game. Completely deafeningly quiet. There really was nothing to say. Nothing at all. At the end of the game, he came and sat at the table and listened a bit. Then he went to the kitchen and got a bottle of cachaça and a shot glass. He toasted us, and had a sip. Life goes on.

And Brazil? The streets of this 11 1/2 million population town were quiet. So quiet. Not a single firework. It was if we had been obliterated by an 11-person bomb.  And in some ways, we have been. In some ways, we haven't.

I'll tell you how we haven't been. During the last 15 minutes of the game and far into the nights, Brazilians had come up with jokes and more jokes about the game. In the middle of "disaster" we were laughing. So many are "inside" jokes to Brazil that I won't bother sharing but this is my personal favorite, and the one that brought my husband to tears laughing after the game:

I went to pee, a goal was scored, I flushed, another goal; washed my hands, another goal. I left the bathroom, goal. I sat on the sofa: goal. Can you imagine if I had had to poop?
 
 7-1. It's astonishing.  That is all. 






Friday, July 4, 2014

A trickle runs through it - Piracicaba



Rocks once covered by a huge rushing river

I am spending a couple of days in Piracicaba, a medium-sized town outside of São Paulo. I have blogged on it last year. The crown jewel of Piracicaba is its huge river--fast moving with a rocky bed covered with water. Or not.

A beautiful old building with three aquariums and tubed-in water rushing over the window
 Yesterday I went with my sister-in-law and our combined three kids to the Museu de Agua or Water Museum. It's a tiny place, with no real explanation of what goes on in terms of treatment and pumps and whatever. The tiny pump house was practically taken over with three huge intake or outtake or missile tubes. It was hard to know. And some black and white photos of the good old days. Piracicaba has quite a history of firsts, including water treatment technology.

First city with water tubes. I am really good at water terminology translations

The Museum now consists of two buildings--the pump station and a building that houses three large aquarium tanks (well, three foot long tanks--I am wondering what happens when one of the fish in there reaches its predicted length of 6 feet. On second thought, I'd rather not think about it). Water rushes in a man-made falls at the side of this building, and under your feet covered by a somewhat sketchy metal grill.

On the bright side, it's quite pretty not covered by water.

One of the best features of the museum is its view of the river. Or what was the river. There is a beautiful part of the river that rushes over a rock bed, splashing and jumping and zooming downhill. But not today. It is all dry. Instead, there is a tiny trickle on the far side, and a few lost-looking herons picking about looking for fish. I hope they found some.

After the museum, we went to the park where we played soccer on crunchy grass. The current drought is ugly. Yesterday there was finally an article in the newspaper that spelled out disaster. We are now trolling the "dead volume" of all of the water reservoirs in the São Paulo area. And its disappearing faster than expected because people are not taking this seriously enough. We are not going to have enough to through to September and some more rains. And of course this has a name: El Niño. I almost hate when this term comes up--it has another name which is Bad Planning. We are not prepared for drought in this state--there are too many people and not enough supply.

I miss the river. Hope it comes back soon.

Monday, June 30, 2014

National Treasures - São Paulo

Painting by my 7 year old son.

Personally I think this painting is brilliant. One of my seven-year olds painted it during his last few weeks of school as we headed towards the world cup. However, it turns out that it (and other paintings) are causing me some major problems in leaving this country.

When I got an estimate for our move almost two months ago, the moving company representative spent some time walking around the house and taking photos of art. Not only the large oil painting of the São Paulo coast that was a present to my husband five years ago and is worth some money. Not only the art created by my artist uncle--paintings, constructions.. Not only the acrylic paintings that my dad and I play around with--copies of Matisses and Tarsilas. Every single canvas.  Including this Brazil flag by one son. Including scribbles of dragons and snakes and whatever else. Including a painting done by my stepson when he was ten--a self-portrait in the style of Miró with a signature of said painter at the bottom.

These photos all go to a place called IPHAN. Instituto do Patrimonio Historico e Artistico Nacional. It's the National Heritage police. They make sure that no one is taking artwork of real cultural value out of the country, at least without paying taxes. That means that every single canvas in our house is being analyzed by the art police.

Normally it takes the art police 20 days to "liberate" your stuff. Unfortunately they decided to have a strike during the review period of my "art" and now the backlog is more than a little long. According to my movers, "maybe this week, maybe not". 

Keep your fingers crossed for no more strikes--remember that customs doesn't work on any Brazil game day...and I can think of more than a few other organizations who might be feeling the need for a strike too.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The universe will never be the same - São Paulo

Caravanning with the Argentinians - Belo Horizonte - Porto Alegre

So, as I have mentioned before, I am having a GREAT time with the World Cup. One of the reasons is that it turns out that I am really good at predictions. Let me tell you two examples:

1. At minute 85 (it's 90 minutes + injury time in a match for all those confused) of the Argentina-Iran game, the score was tied 0-0. My kid started crying because he wanted to see a Messi goal. I promised him that Messi would make a goal--I mean I promised...BOOM! At minute 91 (regulation time + 1 minute, are you following me Americans?), Messi got a goal. Even my kid was impressed with me (okay, he was more impressed with Messi, what can you do?)

2. At minute 70 of the Uruguay-Italy game, I was online with an Italian friend who was getting upset about the red carding of the Italian dude and I said "don't worry, game is not over, Suarez will probably bite someone." I'm not kidding--it's right there on my facebook page. And at around minute 80, Suarez did bite someone. Okay, so Italy lost but that's not the point.

So, I'm feeling very chuffed with myself. Yeah, I didn't see Costa Rica coming and yeah, I've gotten most of the score predictions wrong but I am good with some of it. And I'm enjoying the heck out of the rest of it. 

A few friends have sent me the link to Ann Coulter's deluded rant against soccer yesterday. Clearly she has never watched a game in her life. Does she have kids? God, I hope not. Anyway, she is as demented as Suarez but her bites don't hurt as much and pretty much we should all ignore her. The fact of the matter is the World Cup is so much fun. More fun than Nascar, the NBA finals or baseball which I think are the things she mentioned. Okay, minus Nascar. I've never been to a Nascar race so I'd better wipe that one off my complaints here.

Anyway, here's what's fun for the non-soccer person (that's me in spite of being a card-carrying Palmeiras "fan"):

1. Soccer is bloodier than most sports. And it's crafty-bloody. As in, there is no instant replay for the refs to look and say "wow, he really did bite that guy" or "I think elbowing his nose out of joint is cause for a yellow card."  I saw Cavani chuck a guy out of bounds while the ref wasn't looking, I've seen all kinds of "hugs" and kicks and smooshes. Some of it makes me cringe--like Jones and the other guy (sorry terrible with names) from the US crashing into each other--that was worse than a Raiders game.  The gauging and cleats flying is also scary... So not sure that is "fun" but anyway, it's ummm, entertainment.

2. The fans. Oh, my gosh, the fans. First and foremost, let's talk about the South Americans who are here (non-Brazilians). The Argentinians are nuts. We saw converted buses traveling from Belo Horizonte on their way to the next stop in Porto Alegre, covered with blue and white flags. One had hung a real air conditioner out the back window--you know a regular size window air conditioner--and was going hells bells down the highway. This is fandom. The Argentinian fans are so far my favorites--they were polite and good-humored and singing all the time at the Iran game. Love.

Chileans are also here in force. I can hardly believe there are so many Chileans at all. A sea of red. I hope that if they win tomorrow against Brazil, there is not another type of sea of red. No, just kidding--this World Cup fandom is amazingly non-violent. There really are no fights between the fans--they can all sit in the stadium next to each other and no one dies like in club soccer. Love.

Even on TV, you have to be amused by how fans dress, how they cheer, everything. It is a giant party. Yeah, I know I forget to watch soccer when watching the fans but it's hard not to when they are dressed in diapers and whatever else.

Korean fan in diapers. Not sure why. Maybe it's "why not?" Image credit: uol.com.br
And if you think the gringos are immune to "loucura", guess again.Image: uol.com.br

The rising sun? Yes, of course! Credit again to uol.com.br








There's an ad for McDonald's right now which I think sums it up pretty well. Here is the link in case it does not embed: http://youtu.be/uqpw8R-vqD8. The universe will never be the same...I'm glad you came:



3. The stars. I mean the soccer stars. I love watching Messi, Muller, Robben, these guys who are living highlight reels. Yeah, if you hate soccer, you can catch the "real" highlights reel but you're missing the anticipation. And let's face it: soccer is all anticipation. 

4. The joy. Imagine being one of these 11 players on the field and winning a World Cup match, 65,000 people watching you live, millions at home. It must be just incredible. I love watching the moments of joy, the teams streaming onto the field to hug and jump on and pretty much run over the goal-maker. 

Today is a day completely without games. I'm not really sure what to do with my afternoon. Well, okay, so I'm heading to my favorite sushi restaurant with friends, picking up a shirt for my son, and bringing the kids to swimming but I mean besides that! Oh, real life. So it will go on after this? Yes, and I will move from Brazil on July 23 with the best possible memories. 

I'm glad I stayed for this. Tem Copa!

 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Possibly the worst Cup ad of all time - São Paulo



This poster is on the side of a bus stop in the middle of Praça Panamericana, a heavily-traveled area in Pinheiros. I literally stopped in my tracks when I saw it. It reads "FIFA World Cup. It's where everyone wants to be." And it shows the four animals from the Madagascar movie. I loved the Madagascar movie--I want to move it, move it springs to mind numerous times in São Paulo traffic.

But I'll say it here: this is the worst World Cup ad I have yet seen. Why do I think this?

1. Madagascar is not on our continent. 
2. The four animals are looking terrified. Do they look as if they are wanting to be there? I assume that Visa was trying to make them look anxious about a goal being scored (on a beach? maybe not). Mostly they look like they're worried about a bus strike.
3. Not really sure what four zoo animals have to do with a payment card. It's not a feel-good ad. It's not a branding ad. I don't get it.

Back to business school, marketing geniuses. This is not good.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Cheering for Iran - Belo Horizonte




Here are the shirts they have to wear for the whole Cup


So way back in November 2013, I entered the FIFA lottery under two names: my mother-in-law's and mine. We tried for four different cities, 2 x 4 people in each game. In one of those weird coincidences of life, the only tickets we won were 8 tickets for Belo Horizonte and the game on June 21. 

Later we would find out that we would be watching Argentina play Iran--ironic on several levels since Argentina is Brazil's biggest rival, and Iran is the USA's nemesis. Both BH and I were wondering who in the world we would cheer for. No, actually I wasn't--Messi is one of the sons' favorite players, and I refuse to cheer for any country that treats women as second class citizens. So, BH was more of the one torn--while he likes Messi, no Brazilian can cheer for Argentina.

As the game grew closer, it became clear that my mother-in-law would not be able to attend for health reasons. I tried several times to switch her ticket to my other son (the Messi fan was already going) but FIFA would not allow me to change the name on the ticket even to the grandson of the ticket buyer. There are some rules that are made to avoid scalping that are too general to allow any obvious exception. So we decided to take a risk and see if my son would be able to get in on my mother-in-law's discounted ticket (people over 60 and students are allowed half price tickets).

We spent the long Corpus Cristi weekend (also a happy coincidence of when we succeeded in getting tickets) in Ouro Preto, an hour and a half from Belo. On Saturday, we left at 8 am for the 1 pm game, knowing that we had an hour and a half drive in front of us.  The night before I had scouted out a residential street to park on about a kilometer from the stadium. By 10 am we had parked the car and were snacking on sandwiches on this shady lakeside residential street. At 10:30, we started our walk to the stadium, picking up more and more Argentinian fans on the way. Most were dressed in sky blue and white soccer jerseys, many with Maradona or Messi written on the back.  They carried flags, banners, signs and beer. They were generally well-behaved, though quite loud with a long playlist of Argentinian songs.

My kids blended in with their Messi Argentine jerseys--one Brazilian fan was so convinced that the blond twin was Argentinian that he insisted on taking a photo with him even after being informed he was Brazilian, too. BH, his daughter and my brother in law were all wearing Brazil shirts and biting their tongues--the rivalry with Argentina runs deep. I was in white as was my father in law, my stepson in a neutral grey. 

We ran into a few Iranian fans on the way wearing white, red and green. A couple had turbans, one had a crown, all were few and far between. In general, the walk up to the stadium was incredibly pleasant along the lakefront and in a giant centipede of fans. Finally we arrived at the long uphill leading to the stadium, called Mineirão. Mineirão was not built new for the Cup, but extensively renovated and was the first of the 12 to be completed last year. 

Yikes!

We passed through three gates on this hill up to the stadium. The first just checked if we had tickets (we did), the second made us throw away any outside food or drink, the third checked inside purses and bags. Then we walked past the "Tropa de Choque" or shock troops all armed to the teeth with shields and automatic weapons. Even their horses wore plastic eye guards for possible germ warfare (?). We saw not a single altercation at the game--but then we know the Pope is Argentinian, his boss is Brazilian and the Iranians care nothing about any of that. 

At the top of the hill, we came into view of Mineirão which looked impressive (though you have to like 60s architecture, one must say) all decked out in FIFA flags. We got into the short security line and went through the metal detector all in about 5 minutes. Then we found our gate and my heart began to beat faster. There was still the possibility that my 7-year old son would not be able to use the ticket of his grandmother and we would both have to sit outside the stadium for the game.

Security line #4
 We were sent to a special "preferential ticket holder" line for student and elderly ticket holders. My son passed through first, then the machine beeped asking for the document of the preferential ticket holder. My father in law handed over his. The ticket taker got a little confused about who had which ticket and in the end we all passed through. 

I was completely impressed with the organization of the stadium--well-signed and filled with volunteer helpers. No line for the women's room (for once!!) and we found our seats with an hour to go before the game. We had really lucked out in our ticket lottery--we were at midfield, with a great view of the big monitors as well. BH went off in search of food while we took selfies and tried to make heads or tails of the Argentinian fan chants. I dunno but probably something about Maradona. Or matte tea. No idea really.


BH found us some "Feijão Tropeiro" which is a wonderful Brazilian dish of pork loin, beans, farofa, kale and an egg. Warm, delicious-- a little hard to eat with only a plastic spoon. Apparently there are certain foods that different regions cannot live without (the acarajé in Bahia springs to mind) and this food is offered in their regional stadium in addition to the hotdogs and hamburgers. Loved it.  Beer was served in souvenir cups as was water and sodas. I had beer. Cold, fizzy, delicious. Better than any in the US parks (oh, all right, SF Giants stadium wins but barely--it's too cold to have a beer there anyway). 



We ate and watched the teams warm up and the Argentinians swarm in. There were at least 25,000 Argentine fans, combined with around 20,000 Brazilian fans and then about 40 Iranian fans. Seriously. A sea of blue and white. I must say that Argentines are great fans--singing and dancing and jumping. And they were not getting into fights with the Brazilians even when the Brazilians started cheering for Iran.

Yes, the Brazilians cheered for Iran. Loudly. Every time Iran got close to the goal and missed, you would hear a collective "ooooh" of disappointment. When they did a good defense or pass you could hear half a stadium sing "Ole, ole, ole, ola, Iran, Iran." I don't think Iran is that popular even IN Iran. Brazilians are so nice: they won't boo you but they will cheer for your opponent.

I personally would never cheer for Iran. I do feel sorry for them and their whole one-shirt-for-the-whole-Cup thing (see this blog post) but I make it a policy not to cheer for teams that won't let me into their home stadium. Because I am a woman.  Not because I feel very sleepy during soccer games.  

By 85 minutes and no score, the Brazilians were getting louder and the Argentinians quieter. The "Iranians" (Brazilians) had started singing "1,000 goals (as in Pele) and Maradona snorts cocaine". It sounds better in a song. I don't know--they showed crabby Maradona in the stadium on the big screen and I would seriously hate to meet him in a dark alley. I was very quiet. 

My son whose hero is Messi started to cry that there would be no goal by the Argentinian striker. He sat and mulled his hot dog while the Argentinians rose up as one and shouted "gooooooooooal" as Messi got a goal at 91 minutes. We all jumped up and down. The Argentinians were still standing and singing 10 minutes after the game ended and we left the stadium. 

Argentina 1 x Iran 0

A perfect game.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Road trip! - Minas Gerais

A really blank gps screen...where are all the towns? Dunno.

On Thursday morning, on the holiday of Corpus Cristi (please don't ask me what this holiday is about--yes, body of Christ and all that, but what? Don't know), we loaded up the Beast (BH's Volvo SUV) with twin boys age 7, BH's 19 year old and 22 year old kids and me and BH. We took off on an 8-hour odyssey to Ouro Preto, Brazil. Why would we do such a thing? Well, the joy of a road trip, of course (and the avoidance of overpriced World Cup-era airline tickets).

When we entered the lottery for World Cup tickets, we entered it only for cities to which we could drive--Belo Horizonte was the farthest afield at about 8 hours from São Paulo. Our great fortune was winning 8 tickets to the same game (and weirdly we are all seated together in spite of entering in two different groups--max of 4 tickets per group), and winning the tickets to see Messi, one of my sons' favorite players. Never mind Iran which is the other half of that challenge. 

When we won the tickets, I immediately got on the internet to look for hotel rooms. They were all incredibly expensive or even sold out, so I began to think about Ouro Preto, a beautiful colonial town about an hour and a half from the city of Belo Horizonte. And searching further netted us a lovely four-bedroom colonial mansion on one of the stone-paved roads leading away from the main square. Sold.

So my sister and brother in law and parents in law drove over from Piracicaba and we were meeting up with them from São Paulo.  I cannot tell a lie: it is a very long drive. It was about 8 and a half hours, plus the stops for restrooms, food and organic strawberries sold roadside. Surprisingly, the 7 years olds behaved well (god bless Steve Jobs and the ipad) and it was only in the last hour that we all got fairly anxious to get here.

We skipped the part of Rodovia Fernão Dias (the highway that goes direct from São Paulo to Belo) that is closest to São Paulo. It's my least favorite highway ever in that hilly portion--if you want to read an old blog on it, you can see it here. We picked it up from Atibaia, and the first part of our trip was foggy and dripping. Not lovely. 

But soon the sky opened up blue and poofy-clouded and we curved and climbed through the Serra de Mantiqueira, while avoiding the enormous trucks that chugged in the slow lanes. The Atibaia-Betim portion of Fernão Dias is in the running for the most beautiful highway I've been on here in Brazil--giving even Anhanguera close to Ribeirão Preto a run for its money. 

Roadside views

Green hills, huge bamboo clumps by the roadside, colonial houses selling coffee for 20 cents, and all you can eat lunches for US$5, something that you find roughly never in the big city. Everyone was friendly, most of them completely nonplussed by the two kids conversing in English, especially the one with light-blond hair. 

Coffee stop at a colonial house with flowering trees



Pre-sweetened coffee in a glass, hot sauce and a meat pastel. It's what's for breakfast


After taking an extremely ugly ring road around Belo Horizonte, we went back into the hills surrounding the colonial towns of Ouro Preto and Mariana. Absolutely gorgeous. Finally we were in Ouro Preto, the most beautiful of the colonial towns, and braking down the steep stone streets and in front of our rental house. 

More on Ouro Preto tomorrow. No, that's a lie. Tomorrow we head off to Belo Horizonte to watch Argentina take on Iran at 1 pm at the Mineirão stadium. Go Messi (oh, how BH suffers with us cheering for the Argentinians. Or rather, AN Argentinian).




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So much fun - São Paulo

My footwear for the World Cup

So we are 6 days into the World Cup and I'm having a great time. I haven't been to a stadium and some of the games have been snoozers but it is way more fun that I had imagined. As I've mentioned before, I have been to one World Cup (South Africa-2010) and living near another one (San Francisco, USA-94) but there is nothing like being in the middle of Brazil during these days.

One of the groups I joined first in moving here 6 years ago is the International Newcomers Club of São Paulo. I am no longer a newcomer, but I'm still part of the club. Most of my non-Brazilian friendships originated in INC and on Monday, I joined a Canadian, a Scot and some Germans at the Goethe Institute in Pinheiros. Goethe is a school and an institute and some other lofty things but the main joy for us on Monday: they have a bier garten. And TVs to show the game. And lots of tall blond people about.

Bier garten

The Scot and I showed up about 45 minutes before the game and most tables near the TVs were already taken. We then spread out to save seven spots for our arriving friends (I will say that traffic has been a lot worse than expected on game days). And drank our first beers. There was also food there: currywurst (?), a lunch buffet, french fries but we ended up not getting any ourselves.

Frankfurter...I love that word. So much more fun than a hot dog.

There were a number of media outlets there interviewing  Germans about their predictions for the Cup. I am not a Germany fan. I am not "against" Germany either--a genealogy test two years ago revealed that I'm about 35% German origin so blood says I need to be at least neutral. I was there because I wanted to see the fun of the "home" team. And maybe have a few beers.

Two media folks wished to interview me (and the Scot) -- I have dark blonde hair and blue eyes and that seemed to be a clear giveaway that I am German. One journalist asked if I would do an interview even after hearing that I am American. I respectfully declined, thinking that it would be better to just be neutral under the circumstances. I admit I did go get the free Germany-Brazil t-shirt at the front door so as to fit in like a chameleon. 

I won't do a play-by-play of the match which was so kind as to provide lots of opportunities to jump up and down and yell "Deutschland vor!" I really love the sound of German but I quickly found myself incompetent at pronouncing anything. I even tried the language accelerator known as "more beer." Nicht.  

I hope I'll be able to attend more games with the "home" teams--what fun! No, not the USA which I prefer to watch at home, and Brazil which of course is THE home team. I mean Cote d'Ivoire and Costa Rica and France, and some of the little teams. Where are those fans? Let me know. 



Tomorrow we drive to Ouro Preto for the Corpus Cristi holiday (4 day weekend).  On Saturday, we are in Belo Horizonte for the only game that we are seeing live--Argentina vs. Iran. BH will suffer. He cannot cheer for Argentina and Iran is not one to cheer for either. We'll go in neutral colors and take our two kids (age 7) in Messi shirts for camouflage. Messi is one of the twins' heroes so he is simply over the moon at the chance to see him play.  The other twin is likely to nap during the game.

We'll deal with the 8 hours of driving, the long lines, the security checks and everything else so that the World Cup becomes real for our sons. And for BH's father, who at age 75 will see a World Cup game live for the very first time on home turf--he was only slightly older than the twins the last time the World Cup was in Brazil. 

Good times. Vai Brasil!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Surprise and Delight - São Paulo


In business school, I had a professor of marketing whose favorite refrain was "surprise and delight" your customer.  Today, after a long US-based saga of travel, I was surprised and delighted here in Brazil. So much so, I have to sit down and write about it before I do anything else. But let me set the stage.

My last blog post was about the new Terminal 3 at Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo. It is a lovely building. You can see it from the outside here--this is a photo taken from the ramp to the parking garage where I had left "the Beast" (BH's ginormous Volvo) on Saturday night. That post was the last happiness in air travel for this past five days...until this morning. 

We flew United to Newark (delayed half an hour out of GRU, for no apparent reason), got stuck in an hour-long immigration line (because BH is B and not US, I had to go through the non-resident line. Not good.) and missed our connection to Boston by 20 minutes. The United helpers told us the rest of the day's flights were full to Boston but that we could fly to Providence instead. So off we went to Providence. Well, all of us except for one of our bags. And paid $200 more for the rental car because we were picking up in one airport and dropping off in another. I must say the PVD airport is very nice, though. I'm thinking about using that one more often.

BH is staying in Boston until Saturday. So it was just me returning to the airport on Tuesday night. There were two brief downpours at 4 pm which meant that my flight was delayed and I would miss my connection in Washington DC. I decided to stay the night, leaving my bags to be sorted and sent to meet me in Newark the next day. All this is to say that I did not have nice flight experiences in the US. Though United personnel were surprisingly fun and happy.

So, I was now taking a flight back on the eve of the World Cup start. Yes, it kicks off at 5 pm today. I was worried about lines at the airport, protests, traffic, everything. The plane was absolutely chock-a-block--Mexican fans, Spain, Costa Rica, Ecuador, US, you name it. As we landed (on time!), the flight attendant gave her usual announcements and then said she was cheering for Portugal. Then the PA was quiet for 30 seconds then the first officer came on and said "Go USA!"and then from somewhere, who knows where, 2 minutes later came "Viva Mexico" from the PA. Fun and funny.

We came into Terminal 3 again. Delightful. Still has a number of workers around doing last minute stuff (no holiday for the weary airport workers). There was zero line for Brazilians and residents (me). I literally walked up to the police and handed my passport over. There was a perhaps 20-minute line for foreigners but tons of windows open. Maybe less. By the time I had walked from the plane, spent 1 minute at immigration and walked to the baggage carrousel, all the bags were out. Unbelievable. 

This guy is thinking "what? I can't believe our bags are already here! wow!"

They ran everyone's bags through the x-ray machines, but all three lanes were open and efficient. Then I walked out to the garage from the walkway on the second floor, and put my key in the ignition exactly 39 minutes after stepping off the plane. An all-time record for days that I have had luggage (always, really). I did look down on the walkway and there was no line for taxis (a friend spent 2 hours in the taxi line on Monday). Tons of taxis. No traffic. Home an hour and fifteen minutes after landing. Spectacular.

So let me sum things up this way:

1. If you can fly any of the airlines that are currently assigned to Terminal 3, do so. These are: Air Canada, United, Lufthansa, Eithiad, Emirates, Turkish, Swiss, TAP. Do not be loyal to airlines if you are all "I'm an AA super-platinum all-star"--it doesn't count for crap if you come into the Terminal 1 or 2 mess. Fly the friendly skies. Trust me.

2. If you are a resident of São Paulo and going for a short trip, do the math on leaving your car at the parking garage. It may be cheaper than taking the taxi back and forth. And no taxi line and you can use your sem-parar. It does not get easier than this. Yes, you have to hoof a 1/4 mile from the arrivals gate at Terminal 3 but it's pleasant and easy.  

3. If you do have to take a taxi and the line is ginormous at Terminals 1 or 2, you may want to ask the officials at Guarucoop if there are taxis at Terminal 3. Then walk there. It may be worth it.

4. Might want to consider coming in on Brazil game days after all. No traffic. None. 

Traffic on Marginal: Brazil flags and military police cars
5. Prepare for the worst, and celebrate the best. I was ready to spend hours in lines. I spent no times in any lines. Surprise and delight, professor Carpenter...I get it!

6. Vai Brasil!

Monday, June 9, 2014

If you build it, they will come - São Paulo


I have been one of the ardent critics of São Paulo's Guarulhos International Airport, affectionately known as GRU, officially known as Cumbica. By the way, did you know that Cumbica means "fog" in the Tupi language? Now think about why you would put an airport for the world's fourth largest city in a region where flights are often delayed by fog. Yes, now you have figured out Brazil planning.

In any case, it's been years since my flight has faced a fog delay and been diverted for hours to dinky Campinas airport. Wow, I need to get over that, right? So, Cumbica until recently has been dark, dank and depressing. For you fellow Tri-Staters, think of the People's Express airport in New Jersey in the 1980s. Low ceilings, a couple of sad stores and a few places to get a stale pão de queijo. I try to spend as little time as possible in GRU, which is often not possible since I have more than once spent an hour or two or more in immigration (entering AND leaving), customs, federal police and airline check-in lines.  Not a fan.

Recently the new Terminal 3 has opened at GRU, and I'm still trying to figure out why we have heard so little about it. The only thing I recall the media reporting was the hours-long delay to get luggage from the first flights and other doom and gloom. As far as I can recall from those first few reports, there was no "wow!" And guess what? There should be WOW! It is definitely WOW! (can we change the airport letters to WOW now?) 

It is, in word (or two), world-class. As my husband pulled up to drop me off with our huge piles luggage (repatriation is a bitch), you could already see we had entered a new era. I could already tell that I do not ever want to fly into Terminal 1 or 2 again. I am not loyal to an airline; I am loyal to a terminal.

If you have ever been to Cape Town's airport (the new one, wise guys, the one built for their Cup), we have built Cape Town. Maybe a bigger Cape Town. Huge, airy, filled with windows and polished steel, awesome. I believe only six airlines have moved in so far, so there is plenty of wide open space for the guy who wants to shrink-wrap your bags to find you.



My actual check-in experience was not great--it took us over an hour to get through the winding line. But I can probably blame that on the Friendly Skies who were working with a canceled flight and limited check-in folks. Maybe they were learning to use new computers. But this I can safely say: your wait will be MUCH more pleasant than in the other terminals. It's pretty, this Terminal 3. Yes they put the flight-delay sign behind towering palm trees so you have to crane around the fronds to see if your flight is on time. Yes, the signage on the airlines leaves a lot to be desired. But all in all, HUGE thumbs-up.

Unless you're elderly or with mobility issues. Once you're past security (easy and empty this time) and the federal police immigration (actually emigration, but they don't listen to me), you have to walk, and walk and walk and walk. And here I'm going to compare again to a South African airport--this time Johannesburg. The inside shopping mall/gates set up IS the J'burg airport. But with more expensive shops and fewer elephant and giraffe doo-dads. More Michael Kors and Dudalina (what a horrible brand name) shops and Fuleco staring out of plastic wrap. 

Keep walking. Oh, then stop for a refreshment at Bar 365 or something like that. Find that it costs $5 reais for a pão de queijo (yummy) and more for an empanada (yummy but they're out of hot sauce). Forget the teeny piece of chocolate unless you get a bank loan.

Keep walking. Wander in circles around silver giant boxes in the middle of the tundra, errr, terminal. Those are the bathrooms. You just can't find your way in. Why they didn't put entrances on both sides of the boxes, I will never know. 

Keep walking. Oh, great, we're at the second gate, in spite of just walking 5 km. Plenty of place to sit does not mean that a single Brazilian WILL sit. No, they will get in line even though we board by group and they're in group 4,560. You will never change this about a Brazilian: they like lines. And Orlando. Someone has to-- so it's convenient that those two cultural things meet in one mousey place.

All in all, I give high marks to the new GRU-WOW terminal. My major advice would be get there early--they're still working out the kinks. And now it's not get there early because customs and "emigration" will take forever. No, it's because you are going to be competing in the GRU-WOW 5 km sprint to your gate. 

I am returning to GRU-WOW on Wednesday morning so I will test it again on the day before the opening of the World Cup. Weirdly, I can hardly wait. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

I like to move it, move it - São Paulo



As São Paulo enters its second day of a metro strike, I feel compelled to give further recommendations for transportation for visitors. We have three lines right now with only partial (as in very limited service), two operating normally and two, I have no idea. I am pretty sure that the metro will not be striking during the World Cup as I imagine the court system will order them back to work on Sunday.

In any case, let's look at transportation options:

Bus

I have to tell you I love the bus system in Rio de Janeiro. I found it extremely easy to get around, and I think we took taxis only twice.  You can get change for the trip on board: in São Paulo, you get on in the front of the bus, and the ticket taker/change maker is about a third of the way back on the bus. You get off at the back of the bus. In Rio, the bus driver can also be the fare taker. You also get on in the front, and off in the back.

If you are elderly (here that's over 60--no judgement!), or a small child, you may have special treatment or are free of charge. My seven year olds pay in São Paulo but are free in Rio de Janeiro. Ask. If you are a student, make sure you carry ID. Discounts may be based more on if you are a student than if you are under 18.

The main reason I find bus service easy is the use of Moovit, an application for your smartphone that tells you the best bus to take, how far you are from the stop, and when the bus will arrive. You can also follow your journey while on the bus and know exactly when to get off and how far you have to walk on the far side to get to your destination. It also gives you metro options. And if there is a transportation strike. Love it. If you don't have Moovit, be prepared to ask various people at each stop where the bus is going and which bus might be best. At least in São Paulo. Rio de Janeiro had some better signage but I wouldn't rely on it.

According to its site, Moovit is available in the following cities in Brazil at this time: Bauru (SP), Belo Horizonte, Campinas (SP), Cuiabá, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Goiânia, Itajaí (SC), João Pessoa, Manaus, Natal, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and São Paulo. 

If you have an Android or iphone, use it. If you don't, get one.

Metro

I find Rio and São Paulo's metro systems to be pretty good. Limited but good. Check out multiple trip passes for value. Each city feels differently about bus-metro interlink pricing so you're on your own there. Keep an eye on strike conditions--your hotel or host will know more. 

Taxi

While I rely heavily on local taxi stands, I am a local resident so I know the number to call and they know me. And my kids who like to spill yogurt on their back seats. Anyway, be prepared to be surprised by taxis in São Paulo (not so surprised by taxis in Rio who are nutty drivers and not particularly friendly). Taxi drivers in São Paulo are buttoned-up (button-down shirts, slacks not jeans), knowledgeable and many are quite friendly and helpful about recommendations for places. There are exceptions to every rule.

When you get in a taxi, you may be asked "qual caminho voce prefere?" (which route do you prefer?). Apparently, all taxi drivers are trained to do this in the taxi course. That way, if the traffic is terrible on a route the client chose, they are not to blame. If you don't know the route (though I suggest a printout of your google-maps), you can leave it up to them. They know the best routes--and even if it seems they are taking you on a long ride (and some will, no doubt about it), it may be to avoid a tangle that the drivers know about, and you do not. Don't be too suspicious.

I've talked before about the pros and cons of Guarucoop and the airport taxis. The good news: set price. Bad news: people know you are coming from the international airport. Do what you want with that info. 

Since I've already told you to carry that smartphone, make sure you also download 99Taxi, Tajijá or any of the other taxi service applications for your intended city. Here in São Paulo, I prefer 99Taxi because it is the only service that does not charge the driver for the use. 

Walking

Yeah, why not? Ignore the holes in the pavement, the lack of politeness to pedestrians (run!) and the endless names on the street signs. I love walking. Enjoy! 

Driving yourself

There's always a few that want to rent a car. I wouldn't do it here if I were visiting, but if you have, you'll want to install waze on that smartphone and make sure you map out how you are getting somewhere. Waze will not warn you if you are going through an iffy side of town though so I suggest getting locals' recommendations of how to get somewhere. 

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These are my main recommendations for getting around, particularly in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Sorry, Americans visiting Natal, Manaus and Recife. I just don't know enough!  Have fun! 


For a little more about security in public transportation, take a look here, from a prior blog.