Friday, January 31, 2014

More dead than alive - São Paulo

Image credit:

I am hoping that I will be able to finish this blog post before the data plan on my cell phone runs out. I don't have high hopes. You see, since Wednesday, the cable modem at our house is not working. The cable TV is not working. They are "morto" or dead. 

They are both the responsibility of a company called "Vivo" or alive. I believe I don't have to explain that irony. Ah, the little blue dude above in the image is the Vivo character--in this case I believe he should be lying on his side without "sinal da vida" (sign of life).

Anyway, I find myself somewhat restricted in what I can say about Vivo. Primarily because I don't want them to find out about it and cut me off from even cell phone (yep, also their product). Secondly because BH and I have friends who work there. Thirdly, because BH used to work there. Wait, the third point should actually be a reason to post bad stuff about the company...but in fact, BH's time there (13 years!) was pretty good. We used to even get priority response to any system blips, but alas, the paycheck stops and the good service does too. We are now some of the little people...

As everyone can probably guess, data/cable/satellite/cell companies are the biggest complaint magnets here in Brazil.  And probably in the world (note to self: check this whenever we get cable back, probably in 2015). Here is the chart from Procon, the consumer defense organization. These "tech" companies hold six of the top 10 complaint positions. Vivo is way out front, almost double the closest competitor (another cell phone company). It is, as I like to say, Queen of the Pigs (this should not be confused as a compliment from a Palmeiras fan). You might as well go big.

I am really glad I got invited to a Superbowl party this year so I don't have to worry about the Big Game being a big dud on Sunday. Cause I'm guessing Vivo will still be morto then.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rolezinho da gringa - São Paulo

Walking along the Pinheiros club (parked cars, not traffic, okay?)

 Today I am going to take you on walkabout with me. My personal "rolezinho" or little stroll through São Paulo. I love walking around in this huge city where almost no one walks if they can drive. I can drive, and I like to drive but walking is still my favorite. 

This morning it took about 45 minutes for me to cover the 2.2 kilometers/1.3 miles from my kids' school in Pinheiros to a little French bakery in Itaim.  I was in no hurry. 

The walk starts along a leafy road that has a name impossible to pronounce--it must have eight syllables. I can almost see the Tupi native folks smirking as they made it up to confuse the newcomer Portuguese. Most likely it means "road really close to the river but not so close that you can smell it." That probably was true 200 years ago, but not as much today, in the heat of summer.

---wait, croissant break--this is crumbly stuff--

Okay, so long-named street is a lovely one--filled with huge trees and and well-tended homes and buildings. It has great sidewalks which is a huge compliment coming from someone used to Chicago sidewalks. I cross gingerly at pedestrian crosswalks: Brazilian drivers are definitely unreliable on stopping for you. I feel like a deranged chicken turning my head this way and that to make sure I don't get clobbered by an out-of-nowhere motoboy.

Ah, must digress for a moment. No, not for a croissant, that's done. For walkabout, I normally dress in exercise clothes with good running shoes. But today I have a meeting of the gringa group (hence a French bakery and not a down-and-dirty padaria) so I must try to look less rough than my usual costume. So I'm in khaki shorts (agh, so gringa!) and a flowery blouse . I would look right on a cruise ship but on these streets filled with ladies in nice dresses and men in trousers and button-down shirts, I fit in not at all. 

I pass by maids walking small dogs, yakking earnestly, and I hear one exclaim "but does she pay well???" The doormen are sweeping the sidewalk and a van from a pet shop passes by on its way to pick up a fluffy to be fluffed. As I turn down the next street, the sound of running feet makes me turn. But its on the other side of the metal fence--I see two male runners running/chatting on their way around the track that is the outside barrier of Esporte Clube Pinheiros, one of the largest clubs in the city.

As I walk along, I note how many people are walking with their eyes glued to their stupidphones. I want to shake them and point--"look at this wonderful day! Look at the building with its hanging plants, that geometric walkway, the hustle and bustle, the energy of São Paulo life."  But apparently something incredibly interesting is happening elsewhere through the texting of their phones.

I have to tell you, without sounding like I've had my third cup of highly caffeinated latte, that I am in love with this city. At 8 am. In the middle of the morning commute. In the middle of a lovely neighborhood.  I am undoubtedly smiling like a lunatic as I walk down the streets and I suspect that is why more than a couple of people cross the road to the other side as I come near.

The city is cool at this time, the people bustling to work, or already at work, the bicyclists zoom by in the new bike lane, the ugly heart sculptures that were placed to commemorate the 460 year birthday of the city last week--well, no, they don't look good, but everything else does. 

Bike lane Avenida Faria Lima
 Crossing busy Avenida Faria Lima, I look down at one business man's Keds and look back at him--he has caught me being impressed by his fashion and smiles. I smile back. The buses stream down Faria Lima, two men in tank tops and shorts and flip-flops greet each other with slaps on the shoulder and a handshake--"e aí mané?" At a street corner, a vendor sits in the middle of two rows of flowers, a woman sells parking cards (zona azul) from tupperware bins. 

As I cross into treeless Itaim, the free paper vendors (Destak and Metro) hand out papers to everyone, pedestrian and driver alike. The Metro vendor says good morning, good morning, don't worry you can open the paper today, it is full of good news. Don't be afraid to look. 

Finally I turn into Le Pain Quotidien and order the biggest breakfast they offer. It's going to be a good day. I love São Paulo.

Great risk brings great reward. Le Pain Quotidien

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I am sooooo liquidating you - São Paulo

Liquidation of these ladies
Yesterday I was at a local shopping mall for an interview. I love a Starbucks for a convenient, comfortable and easy location to interview the students who are applying to my alma mater in the US.

After the interview, I sat in a nearby corridor to read some emails and the pictured display caught my eye. Not only because the models are plus-size (not common in this land of the skinny and small) but because that middle dress is ridiculous. No, I'm kidding. Well, not completely. 

It caught my eye because of the sign emblazoned on the window at chest level of these poor mannequins. It says "Liquidação" or Liquidation with some steamy looking smoke off the left corner. It seems to be asking for these ladies to be liquidated, or wiped out, if you do a direct translation. Because in English, liquidation does not mean "sale", it means a "settlement (assets cover liabilities), elimination or extermination" (see dictionary entry here--it's Princeton, you can believe it). We like to liquidate the enemy if you listen to some of the military talk. Neutralize preferably.

"Liquidação is a false friend, as I can almost hear my French teacher in high school say. Madame Dupres. Man, she scared the cookies out of me. Anyway, in Portuguese, "liquidação" can mean settlement, but seems to be more commonly used in the meaning of "fire sale" (hence the smoke coming from these ladies?). 

You might also see "bota fora" ("put outside") which is my other favorite sign of a big sale. At D&D Shopping, it literally is "throw outside"--the on-sale furniture is outside the stores in the corridors of the mall. I think we call it a "sidewalk sale" in the US where we actually have sidewalks that are useable. Sorry, just a small jab today. Did it hurt? No.

The sign I cannot abide is one using "OFF". I can almost survive those shops that feel the need to be trendy and use "SALE" instead of "Desconto" (discount) or "Promoção" (promotion). But Off is not a Portuguese word and when you hear it here, it is pronounced "Offy". "Cinquenta por cento offy" (50% off) should not be allowed.  There, I've said it. Let the crabby feedback begin. But before you do, take a look at this sign and tell me if it is okay:

I vote to liquidate (American sense) this sign.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Say goodbye to the big cats - São Paulo

Photo credit:
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am crazy for saving African elephants. The short of it is that I went to Tanzania in 2012 and learned that these animals could be extinct in the wild in 13 years. One is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory. 35,000 are killed each year. There are only 450,000 left in the wild. In South Africa, they are no longer endangered. But in much of Africa, the killing spree is unabated.  No, I am not talking about my love of elephants today.

Yesterday, I opened up the Folha de São Paulo's Science section to a huge picture of a jaguar. My kids love big cats so I immediately turned to them as they were eating breakfast and said "LOOK! A Jaguar!" And they wanted to know what the article said. And then I was a bit sorry I had seen it. 

Folha de São Paulo, January 27, 2014

The title reads: "Jaguar runs risk of extinction in the Atlantic rainforest." In Portuguese, "onça-pintada" is a painted panther, or jaguar. The word "jaguar" actually comes from the Tupi native language -- "ya-wara" or feline (source: wikipedia). It is an incredibly beautiful beast--larger, heavier and stronger than its cousin the leopard and similar in temperament to a tiger. They hunt alone, can swim (and well--check out youtube for some videos on onças hunting caimans), and are solitary. And they get more solitary every day.

According to this article, and research published in November 2013 in Science Magazine (sorry, I am too cheap to pay for that subscription so look it up at your local library), there are only 250 adult jaguars left in the Atlantic rainforest. This is a reduction of 80% in the last 15 years. Read that last sentence one more time. 80%!!!! I have to believe that they are now so hard to find that Folha had to resort to taking a picture of one in the Ribeirão Preto zoo. And it almost goes without saying that without this top-of-the-food-chain animal, herbivores they usually hunt (e.g., deer) will run unchecked and munch up the rainforest. This is not a joke, by the way.

What is going on? One of the major reasons these beautiful animals are at risk is what I will call the Wyoming Wolf syndrome. When those beasts were re-introduced to Yellowstone years ago, the surrounding farmers started losing domesticated animals, and they shot the wolves.

In the case of the jaguars, members of the local communities will shoot any animal that takes out kills their domestic stock. You can almost understand it--these are very poor folks--to lose their only cow to a jaguar is a crushing blow. 

And be aware, fellow Americans, that we did in our own population of jaguars by the end of the 20th century. And we are doing the same to our cougars. There are 15-22 cougars left in Nebraska, and hunting licenses cost only $15. Guess how long til they are extinct? But I digress..

source: Folha de São Paulo
In the majority of countries where you can still find the jaguar, its hunting is prohibited. Argentina and Paraguay prohibit its hunting. As well as Colombia, French Guiana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, the US and Uruguay. But here in Brazil, hunting is allowed if it is classified as a "problem animal" (ones that attack domestic cattle). And attack they do. And getting killed they are.

Where we rent a country house near the Minas Gerais border, the prior renter said he saw a jaguar early one morning near one of the remote lakes. It is possible--jaguars love water, and there are for sure jaguars in the Serra de Mantiqueira. My kids are crazy to see one but I know in my heart of hearts, they may never see one in the wild.They will be gone long before the African elephant.

I'm going to see how I can help personally. And I'll be back to tell you how you can join me.

For the full Folha de São Paulo article (in Portuguese), please see here

Monday, January 27, 2014

If we couldn't laugh we just would go insane - São Paulo

Photo credit:
There's a Jimmy Buffet song that goes "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, nothing remains quite the same." My favorite line from it says "if we didn't laugh, we'd all go insane" and this for the most part describes my motto for living in Brazil. From bureaucatic conundrums to daily issues of traffic and pollution, the way I have come to love a country so different from my own is to laugh. As much as possible. 

This would have been handy if I could have laughed about our fourth flat tire in three weeks yesterday, but unfortunately I was just about laughed out about that one. Maybe later after I pay $XX,XXX to buy two new tires for the monster truck.

On the facebook page for this blog, I posted on Thursday about an assault at my small club in São Paulo. I decided to let it ride a few days before posting here. But coming up to the World Cup, I have decided to return a bit to my security posts (Born Again Brazilian and I did a Monday series a few months ago). Why am I doing this? Because this assault scared me, impressed me, and made me realize that visitors to this city need to be prepared. The victim of this assault was 100% prepared and it may have saved his life.

Watch the video in this link. It's a little more than a minute long. This is the road in front of my club where all of the members park to walk into the reception area. Where the victim in the white car parks is about 15 feet from the entrance to the club, and it is not very parked up at 6:40 am. And clearly the security guards are sparse at this time--we had two other assaults last year in front of the club and they have put in more security. But they weren't there.

The white car is a Land Rover Freelander. The car that pulls up with a guy holding a high-powered rifle (in the next day's story it claims a machine gun; I am happy to say it makes no difference to me) is a Honda CRV with at least three guys in it. The victim immediately raises his hands and walks to the sidewalk. He stands, hopefully not looking right into the assailant's faces (you do not want to seem to be trying to identify them and these shameless guys were not wearing masks).

And then the part that would make you laugh if it weren't so insane. He is asked to go back to the car and start the ignition for the criminals. In fact, they do not know how to turn on the car they are stealing. He calmly gets into the car, starts it, puts his hands up and goes back to the sidewalk. If there is ever a poster child for how to handle an assault--calmly, hands up, this is the guy. 56 years old, a public relations executive. Maybe he needs to start a blog on safety.

I went to the club the afternoon after this video was published by the news media. As I dropped off my parents and kids at the reception, I noticed there was no security guard across the street as was normal, but instead 2 guys videotaping. They were not wearing network TV shirts and were not identified as being official in any way. So I parked, walked to the front desk and asked "who are those people videotaping the front of the club?" And the receptionist didn't know. I went back and asked at the club administration desk and they also did not know. Another security breach if you ask me. While that is a public spot where they were standing, they are videotaping a private club and we should know why. Finally the club sent a security guard to figure it out.

Without any humor at all, I say to anyone living in any big city:

1. Be aware of your surroundings. Roads that are easy access to escape routes (e.g., Marginal) are more likely to have this kind of crime. My club is one street from the Marginal.
2. Watch who may pull up next to you.
3. React calmly to any assault.
4. If you have children with you, speak to the assailant and tell them you are going to get your kids out of the car, slowly. Tell them they can have the car and everything else in it.

The Land Rover was recovered two days after the assault. I doubt the victim has recovered yet, but I certainly would like to congratulate him on his reaction.

With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of my running and all of my cunning
If I couldn't laugh I just would go insane
If we couldn't laugh we just would go insane
If we weren't all crazy we would go insane
-Jimmy Buffet

Past safety blogs from Brazil in My Eyes:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Street Secruity

Part 3: Car Safety

Part 4: Taxi and Public Transportation Security

Part 5: School Security

Part 6: Security at Home

Part 7:  Stats and Tatts

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Last days of summer vacation - São Paulo

Sun over the yard-arm at 11 am.

It comes with great regret that I must inform you that today is the last day of my kids' summer vacation. Tomorrow they begin the second half of Year 2. Silent cheering is expected and pre-approved.

On one of the last days of vacation, the kids had soccer at 10:30 in the morning. This is not their usual field but the regular classes don't start for another two weeks. The "temporary" field had a bar (closed) and a really nice looking large beer cooler (locked) next to it. My dad mentioned to another kid's father that it was so hot out that morning, he wished he could have a beer. Dad was (mostly) joking.

Two minutes later this kid's father had called over the secretary of the soccer school and asked her if there was any way to get the beer. She said that the area was run by a separate organization and she couldn't help. So we laughed about wanting a beer at 10:30 in the morning and then started chatting about other stuff.

At 11 am, a large really cold beer with two glasses appeared on our table. The secretary had seen the bar guy arriving with a delivery and asked him to open up the cooler. The waiter smiled and served the beer, not blinking an eye at the hour. I declined to participate as I was driving four kids to my house at 11:30. So this father and my father toasted the end of summer, the soccer boys, and, I suppose, life in general.

Add another to the list of things I will miss about Brazil. No, not the beer at 10:30 am. The Brazilian folks who want to accommodate you no matter what you ask for at whatever hour. 

This would never happen in the US. Beer at 10:30 am, locked bar? No.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Slum or Community - São Paulo

From Folha de São Paulo, Friday 24 January 2014 Section C8

So, once upon a time, I was going to do some volunteer work teaching English in a place called Jardim São Remo. São Remo is one of the oldest poor communities that developed around a richer area, in this case the richer area was University of São Paulo in Butantã.  There is a tangled love/hate story between the two--Jardim São Remo was first created by the construction company which built it for the workers that were constructing the university campus in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Once the campus was finished, the workers stayed on. Many of the current residents still work as gardeners or janitors or whatever on campus, which is why there are two gates open between the community and the campus.

Orange bit is Jardim São Remo. The entire area to its right is USP São Paulo

Today I noted that the Folha de São Paulo had classified São Remo as a "favela"or slum, rather than a  "comunidade" or community. I personally would not have closen "favela" since that brings to mind haphazard cardboard and metal roofed temporary places. And I can't think of a place that supplies a lot of good to the university, and the pejorative-laced "favela."

My experience there was that it very much was a community--the woman in charge of the NGO (Alavanca) took me around the streets. The homes were piled on top of each other, pieced together from brick and concrete block. Small rooms were filled with multiple families, the roads terrible, filled with trash, with electric wires and with people. Yet every person said hello to me. I was introduced to the woman at the gate of the community that leads to University of São Paulo. She told me about how she was starting a bookmobile for the community.  I felt secure. About two months later, I met a distance runner from São Remo and took him home from one of the races, taking him as far as that gate that walled the poor from the rich campus that is USP.  I could hardly drive in there with my imported Japanese car. It just wouldn't look good.

Today São Remo is again a favela, according at least to Folha. USP seems to be under attack from a gang there. $20,000 reais bicycles are being stolen at gunpoint as their owners rid around the campus early in the morning. The bicycles are disappearing into São Remo. This latest story claims that a negotiation took place between an executive and the "leaders of the favela" to get back his R$20,000 bicycle. Some say he paid R$2,000 to get it back. 

In the end, most favelas probably are communities in the sense that the live together, succeed together and suffer together. Meaning, I am guessing that police presence will shortly be heightened there. There's a lot of good in that bad, so I just hope they stop to figure out which one is which.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Colors of childhood - São Paulo

O Pescador (the fisherman). With apologies to Tarsila.

My kids have been on summer vacation for literally FOREVER. Oh, all right, since December 18.  Normally I would have used some of this time to drag them off to the US to ski or see their cousin or many other things. But this year we decided to stay because of BH's grandmother, now 94 years old, and because my parents needed to escape Chicago in January. They traded a month of below-freezing for a month of beyond-boiling--it's the hottest January on record here, and the coldest on record there. Which would you rather? 

On one of the days last week, I tried to get the twins into painting with acrylic paints. My dad took up painting when he retired ten years ago. Copying masters' works and making them your own is one of his (and my) favorite ways to pass a day. So, I decided to outline a painting from a Brazilian master and get the twins to paint it.

Here's what actually happened. The kids painted that little green plant on the orange mountain to the left. Okay, one kid. The other didn't touch it. It wasn't that they weren't interested, it was that this painting wasn't theirs. At 7 years old, they want to do their own art: dinosaurs and dragons and spiders and bugs. Tarsila was not going to hold them.

This painting is indeed based on a Tarsila do Amaral, who is perhaps tied for my favorite Brazilian artist with Candido Portinari. Tarsila has a slight advantage because she is (was? She died in 1973) a woman, and that's just unusual around here. Here is the original painting on which I based my "masterpiece." Yes, you can see I owe her an apology for my poor knock-off.

If you don't know Tarsila, as she was known, I would highly recommend a look. I am not so interested in her earlier works which are dark and not fun. I like the works where she re-discovered the colors of her childhood, as wikipedia puts it. They are primitive, colorful and bring to me a feeling of relaxation and rest.

Here is her most famous work, given by her to her husband Oswald de Andrade:

Abaporu. Photo credit:

If you are interested in an exhaustive catalogue of her work, you can look here--it is available in English and Portuguese. If some of them don't make you want to pick up a paintbrush and attempt it yourself, nothing will.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mr. Beer - Ribeirão Preto

These are a few of my favorite things...

Yes, I am going to talk about beer and food again. No Brazilian visits Ribeirão Preto, 3 hours northwest of São Paulo, without thinking of beer. It is the home of famous Pinguim, which I have talked about before and I cannot recommend highly enough a visit to the downtown (not shopping mall) location. Great sandwiches. Great chopp (draft beer). To get up to speed on things like chopp and cardboard coasters and important stuff like that, check out my August 2013 post here.

So, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, all the religion and baptizing made us thirsty and so we went to the Mecca (I am now going to be struck dead by both Allah and God, presuming they are different guys) of beer. No, not Pinguim. The Mecca of Indoor Beer.  Indoor Beer is what you have in Ribeirão Preto from November to March when you cannot stand outside without frying your brains. And melting the bottoms of your shoes. True story. I cannot abide the two indoor Pinguims which are in shopping malls. What's a gringa in search of air conditioning to do?

Senhor Chopp. Translated by me as Mr. Beer. Senhor Chopp is a wonderful bar/restaurant at the Novo Mercadão de Ribeirão Preto (the big new market of RP), opened in 2008. This "new" market is less about fresh fruit and vegetables and more about doo-dad selling than others I have been in. That's fine. What matters is the beer. And the food.

As we sat down with our menus, you can already tell you're in for good service. One of the waiters knew my father-in-law and shook his hand and asked after everyone in the family, etc. Later FIL told me that he knew this waiter from when he (the waiter) worked at Pinguim 40 years ago. My FIL was a medical student at the time. This guy has been a waiter for forty years. Happily. Solicitously. Successfully. He moved to Senhor Chopp a few years ago and am I glad he did.

Our 2nd waiter. Not the 40 year one.
I asked him first about a dish called "Lascas de Bacalhau" (for one delightful moment I read that at "Lashes of Bacalhau" and was looking forward to that stinky old fish getting a bad beating). Lascas actually means "chips". But not Brit chips. He said to wait, I'll show you. Off he went and got a plate of it that was being delivered to another table and showed it to me. Then I asked about what was an "Azzura" olive and he brought me two to test--a green one and a black one. Large and yummy. The olives, people. 

My father, who speaks only one word of Portuguese, which is by some weird coincidence "chopp", was then confused by what was a "chopp escuro doce" (sweet dark beer) or "chopp escuro normal" and of course they brought him a taster. I am saying "they" because we had two waiters taking care of us for a long time until the place was too crowded and we dropped to one. We felt lonely.
Escondidinho de carne with homemade spicy pepper. And beer glasses looking sadly half full...
Huge green salad with the best fresh arugula and palm hearts in the land. It fed six people, and cost US$10. Escondidinho de carne (see here). Shrimp, though not their specialty (RP being a land-locked city), was garlicky and good too. And we did get the lashes of bacalhau and they were good. A few chopps went down, because of course, when in do what the Ribeirão Pretanos do... Highly recommend. 

PS> This marks my 265th post. That means there are still 100 more to go to make my goal of one year of daily posts. Not all of them have been good, I admit, but all of them have been here. Thanks for reading along!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Goddess Water - Ribeirão Preto

Cute chapel,no?

So, as I mentioned a couple of days ago before Motor Pool Madness, my niece was baptized last Saturday in a small chapel in Ribeirão Preto. I was pre-disposed to being amused by this event because my husband is an agnostic and he was the named godfather. Clearly God was not as amused as he sent us a very flat tire as a message.

In the end, we arrived only 15 minutes late. Everyone was waiting outside for the pastor to make his appearance. Apparently they will only show up after everyone is there. So we milled around a bit and looked at all the other tiny chapels arranged around this parking lot. It was shaded and as cool as Ribeirão can make it on a summer day (ummm, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Finally we went into the chapel, a small group of around 20 people. My niece Julia was not impressed by either her big poofy white dress or being dipped into the bowl of water, but that is no different from any other baby ever. 

Have you ever seen a saint showing some leg? Me neither.
There was only one tense moment when the pastor asked which saint the parents wanted to name as Julia's guardian saint. I saw my sister and brother in law look at each other like deer caught in the headlights. Fortunately, SIL's mom came to the rescue by saying "Nossa Senhora, right?" I assume that this is Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil, but I didn't ask. I find that the less I say about religion, the happier we are all going to be. I have been baptized and I went to church as a kid but my ignorance is infinite on saints, baptisms and well, everything including why in the world people were being encouraged to climb up the stone stairs next to the chapel on their knees.  

After the ceremony, they handed out little white net bags with a small bottle of holy baptism water and a cute little photo card of my niece.  One of my 7 year old twins immediately grabbed the bottle, pulled out the stopper and rubbed it on his forehead saying "Great! Goddess water!" Fortunately, this stopped his brother from drinking the water which he was on his way to doing. Last thing that twin wants is to turn into a girl, even a goddess girl.

Goddess water

We stood around and took some photos, and tried to calm an increasingly perturbed baby. The kids wandered off and I soon found them chipping some candle wax off the little outdoor prayer-stone-cross thingy. Sigh. Fortunately, there were no lightning strikes in the area so we got off lightly with the flat tire.

Yes, my kids chipped wax off here.
It was at this point that we made a break for Mr. Beer. I am a believer in pagan beer rituals...but that's a story for tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Daqui um pouco - Sao Paulo

Well, I had a different post planned for today. One titled "Goddess Water" and that sounds fun, right?

Instead I'm at the monster truck dealer again. More problems. The biggest one is when the service rep tells me they are going to work on my car "daqui um pouco" or in a little while. In Brazil, this can mean 20 minutes or two hours. 

Goddess water will wait.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Road trip!! - Place where the fish stop, black creek and Portinari's hometown - São Paulo state

Countryside of São Paulo state and sugar cane

I have always loved a road trip. When I was in my twenties, I crossed the US at least four times, and was introduced to places like Pella, Iowa (home of a lot of Dutch stuff. And people), Winnemucca, Nevada (lost the free roll of quarters from the Super 8) and Lincoln, Nebraska which I hope to insult no one by saying that I drove quickly through. My trusty car almost overheated crossing from Arizona to California, and another car years later almost said no to the Rockies. 

This weekend, BH, the twins, my parents and I got into the monster truck, also known as BH's SUV and drove around São Paulo state. We did have a goal in mind which was the baptism of BH's niece (BH is the godfather) in Ribeirão Preto. Can I translate as Black Creek? Yes.  But on the way, we decided to visit the Place where Fish Stop (Piracicaba) because we enjoy melting.  

The highway from São Paulo, Bandeirantes, changes from urban, to rolling green hills within thirty minutes of leaving São Paulo. Piracicaba is about 2 hours from São Paulo,  a busily growing city of almost a half million. I have posted about it before, and I must say that I enjoyed it once again. 
Place where fish stop
Acerola and orange juice along muddy river

We again lunched along the swift-moving brown river, walked across the new bridge and visited my brother-in-law's house. We also drove through ESALQ, which is the agricultural college and visited its small and somewhat sad agricultural museum. It was not part of my museum challenge. I also got bit by three incredibly cranky ants and am still itching.

ESALQ main building. Yes, blurry.

Empty little museum between shows.

On our way from Piracicaba to Ribeirão Preto, the beauty of the clouds and the road kept us all fairly silent (okay, so the twins were watching American Dragon on the ipad, not the clouds). On both sides, oranges and sugarcane fields gave way to eucalyptus and then ceded once again to sugarcane. The huge cumulus clouds reminded me of Colorado clouds. A rainstorm closed down the view of the roadway after São Carlos, but only after we saw the Statue of Liberty attached to a store.

Statue of Liberty and impending storm

It took us almost two and a half hours from Piracicaba to Ribeirão Preto, between a small directional error and the rain. We arrived at BH's small family farm at almost 8:30 pm and piled out of the car. The family farm is in Brodowski, on a small hill above sweltering, valley-dwelling Ribeirão Preto and is only a few kilometers from Candido Portinari's hometown and museum. If you don't know Portinari, I suggest taking a look. The museum is also worth a trip.

On the morning of the baptism, we got a huge flat tire entering into the city. I suggested that it had to do with BH, the agnostic, being named the godfather to his niece. In any case, the baptism was held up until we could all 6 of us be ferried over in BH's father's car. After the baptism (tomorrow's post), we got the tire fixed but quickly gave up on any real tourism in Ribeirão Preto--it was topping 35 degrees Celsius/ 95 Fahrenheit. We went to get a beer, like any self-respecting Ribeirão Pretano. Nope, not at Pinguim. More on that later, too.

Beat that cloud, Colorado

Back on the road again on Sunday afternoon, I was again impressed by the rolling hills of the interior of São Paulo. Not big mountains, but curving roads through dark green sugar cane fields. Back through the eucalyptus forests of Santa Rita de Passa Quatro (love this name! Cannot translate it. Saint Rita of Four Passes? I looked it up. There's no translation--it was named for a nearby creek).

Eucalyptus trees as far as the eye can see

Many expats here don't drive. That doesn't mean you need to miss out--there's a good bus line with Cometa from Rodoviaria Tiete to Ribeirão Preto. I highly recommend it. On Wednesday, I'll tell you where to get that beer. Don't drink and drive...or you will find yourself in the newest viewpoint from Ribeirão Preto to Brodowski...a prison...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A view to a thrill - São Paulo

For some reason, this view of São Paulo makes me happy. It's one I rarely see because it is an avenue filled with traffic and one I avoid as much as I can. During these days of Brazilian summer, with half the city at the beach, I can once again head up tree-lined, beautiful Avenida Rebouças.

In this photo, we are almost at Avenida Paulista, probably the most famous large road in São Paulo. Famous for the TV towers like the one in this photo. Famous for never having traffic as light as it was this day, a Sunday in January. 

Unfortunately, everyone is on their way back into the city in the next week. Most schools start this week or next week. Usually they start in early February, but because the World Cup will cut the school year short, our kids' school will start January 28. 

See you in July, Avenida Rebouças, when the traffic hopefully becomes light again. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

And now for my next trick - São Paulo

Museu Ipiranga

BH sent on to me this article that shows that São Paulo state (not city only) museums had 33 million visitors in 2013. That's a bunch considering there are 41 million people in São Paulo state, and I'm guessing most of these folks have never entered a museum.
After a recent trip around São Paulo's downtown region, one that I don't know well, I started to realize how few of São Paulo city's museums I have actually visited. There are museums everywhere--house museums, culture, arts, history. So, as I know myself and that I will only do something if there is a challenge in it (hence me running a half marathon two years ago to make myself actually train), I have begun my museum challenge.

It goes like this. I am going to hunt down and visit every museum in São Paulo city I have never visited (nope, no Alphaville Cultural Museum or Santos whatever, thank you. City only) by August 2014. Of course, they need to not be under renovation and closed for months--I plan to stay within the law (yeah, my brother's best friend once jumped the Acropolis wall in Athens to get that checked off--turns out there ARE guard dogs at midnight and they do like the taste of Americans). Also the museums have to be public, not private. 

Now, I'm going to need some help from any of you out there who know any obscure museums that I might not know of. Here is my list of targets (House of Roses was added yesterday--who knew??) with a note beside any already visited.

Museums in São Paulo city: (if I blogged it, the link is there)

Catavento (visited, blogged)
Estação Ciencias (visited, and a good thing as it seems to be closed semi-permanently)
Estação Pinacoteca (visited)
Fundação Maria e Oscar Americano (private, but visited)
Instituto Butantan (visited and blogged. Frankly I pretty much own it)
Jardim Botanico (arguable. But I have visited)
Museu Afro Brasil (visited)
Museu de Anatomia Veterinaria at USP (visited, and blogged, and that place is WEIRD)
Museu de Arte São Paulo - MASP (visited)
Museu de Arte Moderna - MAM (visited)
Museu de Casa Brasileira (visited)
Museu de Futebol (visited. Kid almost thrown out for saying Messi best player ever)
Museu de Lingua Portuguesa  (visited)
Museum Oceanográfico USP (visited and blogged, same as the Vet museum)

Now the up and comers:

Acervo Palacio das Bandeirantes (temporarily closed...let's see...)
Casa Guilherme de Almeida
Casa das Rosas
Fundação Ema Klabin (private, but I'm dying to go anyway)
Instituto Moreira Salles (private, but like what's going on. Think I'll go)
Memorial da America Latina (hmmm, let's see if it recovers from the fire in November)
Museu Anchieta (private, but looks fun)
Museu da Imagem e do Som - MIS
Museu de Imigração do Estado de São Paulo (temporarily closed for renovation. Let's see)
Museu Brasileiro de Escultura (MuBE) - (private, still going)
Museu da Policia Civil do Estado de São Paulo - did you even THINK I could resist?
Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia da USP 
Museu de Arte Contemporanea da USP - MAC/SP
Museu de Arte Sacre de São Paulo 
Museu de Geociencias de USP (IGC-USP)
Museu de Policia Militar do Estado de São Paulo - yep, I need to go.
Museu de Zoologia de USP - Closed for renovation. Theoretically opens in 2014
Museu Geologico Valdemar Lefevre - Mugeo
Museu Historico de Imigração Japonesa (private but I'm going)
Museu Ipiranga (closed for renovation, no end in sight)

I missed the following (closed for renovation past August 2014):

Museu Lasar Segall

Which ones am I missing?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Supercamp - São Paulo

Helicopter mom spies on the first few minutes of Supercamp
My kids are in Superférias this week. Roughly translated, it means "Supercamp". It is held at our little club and I'm guessing there are around 70 kids there--ranging in age from 3 to 12. It is one of the few camps that accepts kids at such a young age for a full day. 

Kids arrive at 9:30 and leave at 5 pm. Suffice it to say that most normal kids are exhausted at the end of the day. Suffice it to say that the 7 year old supertwins are barely winded and go on to destroy my house at will after coming home. 

During the camp, the kids do all kinds of stuff--zooming down zip lines and getting chased by a goat at Bichomania (some petting zoo/animal farm outside of São Paulo), pool time and scavenger hunts around the club, and whatever else they do. In fact, I do not want to know the details as I would probably have a helicopter-mom heart attack. So, you would think I would have had to sign maaaaannnny documents to allow them to do all this. You would be wrong.

Last US summer, one of my sons went to a nature camp at the Morton Arboretum outside of Chicago. I had to fill out 2 pages of information about my kid. Emergency contacts, allergies, doctors, all the addresses he had ever lived, who was allowed to pick him up and drop him off, my financial information and the color of my underwear. Only one of these is not true. Then there was a third page which was a medical form with all kinds of detailed questions about surgeries, what to do in case of emergency, etc. I got a hand cramp off of all of this. Also I had to sign off on getting charged $20 per 10 minutes late to pick them up (I have twice been late at our club more than 15 minutes and got charged a grand total of zero).

The sign-up sheet for the club went like this:
Parents' names
Member number
Phone number. 
One week or two (check box)

It's all you need. Love Brazil.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Struck by lightning - São Paulo

Several seconds before death...and the lightning strike. Photo credit: Folha de São Paulo

Two nights ago we had dinner with friends at their apartment in Jardins. It is a beautiful place with a great view over Ibirapuera Park. At around 9 pm, one of those fantastically scary lightning storms hit and we watched the sky light up, crack open, and sizzle for more than an hour. My kids and their kids were alternately hiding under sofas and watching open-mouthed as the lightning hit seemingly everywhere. A woman on the São Paulo coast was killed on Sunday from a lightning strikes. It's not child's play here.

I am no fan of lightning storms. During my youngest years, we lived in a neighborhood in New York state that was at the top of a hill seemingly in the path of every single thunderstorm. In theory, we were. Storm King Mountain on the Hudson River Valley would direct them all our way, or so it seemed. Just about every house in the neighborhood was struck at least once. I still hate thunder so much that I am awake every time I hear even a distant rumble. 

Turns out I moved to the wrong place to escape lightning. Brazil is a bolt magnet. Every hour more than 5,700 lightning bolts strike in Brazil. More than 50 million bolts in a year and more 1,600 deaths from lightning strikes from 2000-2012 (source here).  Parsing the data further, you see that 82% of the deaths were men, with the majority between 20 and 39 years old. And summer is the big "winner" with 45% of the lightning strikes. 

This article claims that during summertime there is a humidity "band" that comes from the Amazon and sits over the São Paulo beaches. Reminds me of how in Chicago we blame Canada for the cold fronts. Those Amazonians, such kidders. You guys are going to burn down our forests and steal our water? Fine, have some lightning. São Paulo registered 267 deaths out of the 1,600--more than double the next state (Minas Gerais, 125). Apparently lightning likes our humidity. 

Which country wins the lightning bolt war? Not us. A small village in the Democratic Republic of Congo is number 1. Venezuela number 2. We are number 3. I'd say let's get ourselves a bronze metal but we all know what that would attract.