Monday, March 31, 2014

Indian food and birthday parties - Alphaville

Homemade Indian food...and cold beer!

This weekend I took the kids to the birthday party of one of their friends from school. We really do have quite a diverse population in the school, and this child is Indian. While I won't publish his name, he has a most unusual one, which gets pronounced in a funny way by the Brazilians (who love to add "y"s to the end of words like "Picky-nicky" for picnic).

In any case, it was the kind of kids' party that I will miss. The kids were gone from the second they entered--I saw them two hours later, sweaty and happy from bouncing and kicking and playing air hockey. The food was beyond outstanding--the mom had made the Indian food herself--chicken curry, some pea dish where I discovered that the long green thing was not okra but in fact a large pepper (fortunately there was lots of cold beer to the rescue) and a tofu/tomato dish. 

Bellying up to the hot dog and popcorn bar
There was a large group of traditionally-dressed Indians there--I would not say that we mixed at all though they were friendly. So we sat at our mom table and the dads sat at their outside table and talked about whatever we talk about. Beer and pop came to our table, whiskey and beer to theirs. This is a Brazilian custom that I won't miss terribly. Men on one side, and women on the other. Ah well, I don't care to talk about football that much anyway.

We were literally the last people to leave about five hours later. They were taking down and popping balloons, clearing the table and pretty much escorting us to the door. I think the birthday boy's mom breathed a deep sigh of relief. 


I will be traveling the week of March 31 and posts may be later or shorter than usual. Still counts for the year of daily posts! ;)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mixing red with orange - São Paulo

For about a year now, BH and I have watched some bike borrowing stations spring up on the route to the kids' school. The ones we have seen mostly have been orange for the bank that sponsors the bikes, and has the right to advertising their mark on them. The photo above is of Bradesco bikes, the closest point that has come up near us (maybe three blocks away). 

Now, here's the trick. You cannot borrow a red bike and return at an orange stand. Or vice versa. Which means you have to loop around looking for the right return place. At the moment, there are more orange stands than red, which means I probably will never borrow one of these red bikes. 

According to an interesting blog post I read, any company can petition the mayor's office for the right to put in its own "public" transportation stands. Wait for blue or green to show up soon. Of course these companies all want their stands in "areas nobres" or noble areas, or the richy-rich. I'd like to see them put one of these in the outskirts. 

As the blog post says, it's a great idea, but a terrible system. 

Source: SuperInteressante magazine blog

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Where DOES the money go? - São Paulo

So I was in the Volvo dealer again last week. Our old XC90 (and when I say our, I mean BH's) is giving up the ghost. We are trying to limp through to August when we will attempt to sell it for parts. Haha, just kidding all you used car buyers. It's great. 

So while I was waiting for service on it, I couldn't resist wandering around the new cars. At the moment my fantasy car is any little car. Any hatchback at all that will fit two fat labradors. The v40, not available in the US, is a little cutie and they had a model that was painted Swedish blue with yellow stripes on it. Love.

The top-seller right now for Volvo in São Paulo is the XC60. It's smaller than the XC90 which they don't sell anymore awaiting a new incarnation. Can metal be incarnated? I dunno. Anyway, I started checking out the XC60 and then asked how much it cost, low end. And then I fainted. No, not really.

The XC60 costs, low end, R$155,000 or US$68,500. In the US, it costs US$35,000. Again, low end. It costs exactly double here in Brazil. Why, you ask? Import taxes. 

Now I understand the theory of protecting local manufacturing. As soon as Brazil figures out how to produce a car as technically-advanced and secure (hmmm, how to phrase the tank-like qualities of a Volvo?) as a Volvo,  I am all in favor. But, Brazil produces many unsafe cars, at the very bottom end of acceptable.

And where exactly do the import duties go? Certainly not to the roadways which are pockmarked with enormous potholes. Certainly not to traffic lights which can't stay working in the slightest drizzle. Not to painting lane markings or warnings of speed bumps, one of which certainly took out the suspension of the Volvo last year. 

One of the biggest misconceptions of Brazil is not the idea that the women all walk around in short skirts and/or bikinis, or that we all live on the beach, but that it is inexpensive to live in a developing country. Life is really expensive here. The assumption must be that who can afford a Volvo doesn't care so much (ours, by the way, was bought cheaply after BH left the company which had provided it). 

Here's hoping our old Volvo can make it a short couple of months more. I can't take another visit to the new car showroom.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Accidental President - São Paulo

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil president 1995-2002
One of the things I will miss most about Brazil when we move later this year is the friendships I have made here. Not only with Brazilians, but with the vibrant and interesting ex-patriate community. The true joy of being based in a country not your own is who you find in a similar situation. The club I belong to, the International Newcomers Club, is diverse, and fun, and not what you think. We don't all stand around and complain about traffic and expensive toys while sipping Earl Grey. But I will talk about that club another day.

The main point is that through this club I have made one of my closest friendships here. Erica is a smart, funny, and incredibly sympathetic American-Brazilian. She is more American than Brazilian--her Portuguese is as accented as mine--but she is the daughter of a Brazilian mom and an American dad. Our kids play soccer together, and I treasure the hour a week where we sit around the soccer field and chat.

After knowing Erica for a while, I discovered that I "knew" her husband. Her husband is a Reuters journalist, probably the best-known one here, and also works as a ghost writer. His most recent book will be released next week and was written with Pele. His one before that was with Uribe, the former president of Colombia, and the best-known one is The Accidental President written with former Brazilian president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. And that was a book I had read just prior to my move to Brazil.

I didn't meet Brian for almost six months after meeting Erica--I used to call him the Imaginary Husband. Erica would talk about him, but we had never met. I will tell you this: he writes beautifully. I can see why all these folks want to hire him.  Not only that but he is smart and funny just the same as his wife, though the sympathy is more objective. All the best journalists have that.

Last night, we were invited to a small cocktail hour to celebrate Mr. Cardoso. It was held in a nice apartment in the chic Jardins area, and hosted by someone that I never actually saw at the party. And by our friends. Probably 30-40 people were there--many of them in their 30s and most non-Brazilians. I arrived around 7:30 for a 7 pm start--the place was hopping. Mr. Cardoso was expected at 8 pm.

Fortunately (as I am not a good cocktail party conversationalist), I knew several people there and was chatting as best as I could with my current laryngitis. And then a friend pointed out that Mr. Cardoso had arrived--quietly and without fanfare. I had expected him taller (he must be only 5'10" or so) and louder. He's more reserved that I expected. I am not one to take photos with the famous so I stood back for most of the party. (okay, I admit I did take a photo with him near the end--not a selfie like Obama, though)

Brian and FHC. I wanted to turn around and get a selfie with them but I do have some shame
 Brian gave a wonderful speech about working with Mr. Cardoso and then the former president spoke (in Portuguese--I had not realized his English was not great--see, Brian is a great writer as that does not come out in the book) glowingly about working with Brian. I admit to a tear in my eye. After the speeches, I managed to overcome my own shyness and told Mr. Cardoso that his book was the very best history lesson I'd had about Brazil. And it's true.

If you haven't read it, and you don't mind the marketing message here, I highly recommend The Accidental President by Fernando Henrique Cardoso with Brian Winter.  I'm going to be first in line for Pele's book next week, too.

Thanks for the invitation, friends. 

The Brazilian version, released recently
American version, published 2006

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The grippy - São Paulo

The evil grippy virus, as shown by my friends at wikipedia.

For the last few days I have steadily been losing my voice. It's very frustrating trying to get anything done when you don't have a voice to explain what is wrong with your car to the Volvo guy (yes, again!) or tell the credit card company that they have had the wrong address for three years and have sent my new credit card into the ether of Avenida Faria Lima.

I have also had an exceedingly bad and constant headache which makes me more than a little cranky. But enough about me, here's my point and one of my favorite words in Portuguese...I am being gripped by the "gripe." No it's not the American gripe, as in a complaint, but pronounced "grippy". Being overcome by something called the "grippy" never fails to make me laugh...then hack...then coughing spasm. It's the flu, folks.

Apparently the Portuguese word came from the French "grippe", pronounced with one of those little smushed mouth pursings that makes French so fun: "oui, j'ai le grippe, alors, quel domage" Or something like that.  All I know is that I am tired of being gripped by it. It makes my blog boring, and makes me quite sleepy. 

Alors...til tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wearing white....or driving it - São Paulo

What I'd wear to pick up my kids...if they wouldn't drop paint or bugs on me.
As I pulled up to school yesterday there was a mom there who was wearing all white. She looked great--white slacks, blouse and sandals. And I thought to, how unusual. You see, white clothing has been taken over by the legions of nannies who pick up their boss' kids and you rarely see (or at least I rarely see) women wearing white, unless they are in fact nannies.  

We don't have rules here about not wearing white after Labor Day or whatever--it's pretty nice here year round. But many employers and clubs do insist on nannies being dressed in white. Not sure why that is when their little darlings are spilling and dropping and making messes all over the help. We had a nanny for the twins when they were one and I never asked her to wear white--unless required by a place we were traveling.

Nannies are refused entry to this club if they don't wear white. credit:

I don't wear white for a different reason. I have two perpetually mud and yuck covered seven-year old boys plus two chocolate labradors. White does not work for me. I would like to wear it. For more than the five minutes it usually takes to get yucked. 

I also wanted a white car when I was car-shopping a couple of years ago. Strangely, only in the last 20 years has Brazil made cars in more colors--they used to be only silver or black. Henry Ford would have liked it here. Two years ago Honda rolled out my car in white and I said "yes, please" and BH said "no thanks, I don't want to get flagged down like a taxi." Taxis in São Paulo are white (in Rio they are yellow and don't ask me other cities, I don't know).  

Poor white. Such discrimination. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Onwards to the flashing - São Paulo

What, you thought I was talking about another kind of flashing? Nope, I'm talking headlights. Since I have been assigned to the VP-Motor Pool household position by BH a year ago, I am now able to share with you all what all the flashing is about on the roadways of São Paulo. Or not.

It turns out that this is the most ambiguous of all roadway rules here. Killing people in pedestrian walkways is not ambiguous. While it is against the law, you will never ever serve time. Ever. Drunk driving is similar. Against the law. Still going to get away with it.  Flashing headlights? Not against the law, and not clear what it's all about anyway.

Let's get on with it. Now, let's say you are at a 4-way stop and the guy to your right flashes his lights at you. Does that mean "you go first"? Or does that mean "get the heck out of my way, I am driving a BMW and you are not"? And the answer is: it depends. If the car is actually at a full stop, the light-flash probably does mean "I am doing the completely atypical for a Brazilian driver, and letting you go first." If the car to your right is rolling on through the stopsign, at say 30 mph, it means "get the f*** out of my way, you domestic car POS". Or something like that. My Portuguese translations are rough you know.

Now, if you are trying to merge into a lane, and you are flashed by the car behind you in the lane you wish to enter, what does that mean? "I will crush you like a bug if you try it"? Or "there's plenty of space, please come over"?  Again, it depends. If it is a motoboy flashing you, they mean "get the f*** out of my way or I will kick your side view mirror off". If it is a mellow Fiat driver, you're okay.  Do not attempt this maneuver into a city bus lane as you will be crushed like a pancake (literally it happened here a month ago). Lights flashing from them means "Die, tiny Japanese import!" 

On a highway, flashes are more obvious. The Audi coming up on your tail at 150000000 km over the speed limit is saying "You wish you were me, but you're not, so move the heck over!" There are no double meanings there. Oh, okay, if you let a truck in, he might flash his lights at you to say thanks, but frankly, that's not happening a lot.

Now if you are crossing a pedestrian crosswalk (as a soft flesh pedestrian), you really have to figure things out. The car flashing its lights at you is saying "please cross, I will not smush you" about 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time it means "run, you little two-foot cause I'm a comin'-on."  I have fear. They smell fear. The 10% usually comes for me.  One of my sons has a new strategy which is when cars stop he runs across the street waving his arms and screaming "AAAAAAGGHHH!" which usually makes the drivers laugh. When he gets to the other side, he stops, turns around and gives the driver a thumbs up. He usually gets one back, or a light-flash which means "you're welcome."

Basically what we have here is total ambiguity. No different from any other country, methinks. But here, you can die if you don't figure it out. As I was looking this up on wikipedia, THE source for useless information, I found this line, which I love: "Headlight flashing as an effective mode of driver communication has been questioned and researchers have found the ability of drivers to communicate with one another is about the same as the communication abilities among insects." (source here).

If you speak insect, carry on. As you may have guessed, both of my kids do.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kissing and Flashing - São Paulo

Okay the ladies are Greek (note they have to wear sweaters) not Brazilian. Credit:

This post sounds pretty exciting, right? Well, that shows how us marketers of the world find jobs. But  I've led you into something not as exciting as you think. A cultural lesson, if you don't already know it.

Kissing in Brazil is an art form. A test of your skill in discovering what the other person is thinking. I am talking, of course, about social non-partner kissing. You can kiss your partner any way you want and no one cares. No, I'm talking about greetings and how to figure out who to kiss and when and how many times. I, by the way, will not be able to solve the situation for you because after nine years in Brazil, I still get it wrong about 50% of the time.

When you first meet someone, the usual greeting is a kiss on the cheek. At least between women. In an office situation, you will probably shake hands with the men, and sometimes with the women. Usually I wait for the other woman to make the move...and usually they seem to be waiting for me. So we shake hands as often as not because that is my fall-back plan as an uptight Connecticut Yankee. 

If I know the men already, then they get a kiss on the cheek even in the office environment. And by the way, do not EVER try to escape greeting every single person in every single room. You must, socially and professionally speaking, say hello or good morning to every single person, even if you work with them every single day of your life. And then say goodbye at the end of the day. 

So that's work. That's easy. The social situations are tougher. As I said, you must for sure greet everyone in the room. There are some of my friends who are one-cheek kissers and some who like to give two kisses, one on each cheek. I have figured out which are which, and generally get that right. By the way, even if you have a two-cheek kisser on arrival, at departure time, they may only be a one-cheek kisser. Try to figure that out or you may be left hanging with your lips all pursed and making a smacky sound when none should exist.

By the way, there are air kissers and cheek kissers too. I would go for air if you don't know the person well, and then you'll be able to figure out some of your friends like to kiss you really ON the cheek.  I have not been successful kissing on the actual cheek because you have watch the loud smacker sound. Not so elegant.

The hardest ones are the acquaintances. Especially if they are from Rio (two-cheeks), Recife (three-cheeks) or just particularly effusive folks. Then you may get three kisses and a hug. And possibly an engagement request. And someone may stay hanging on to your arm to tell you something in confidence and then even though you want them off your arm (Connecticut Yankee), you are not allowed to shake them off at any time. 

Now the worst you can do is leave someone hanging as they try to kiss you again. Try to signal your intention as you go in for the first kiss. If you turn your cheek more to the side, and slowly, they will see that you can't possibly get back in time for the second cheek. If you're going for two-cheeks, then buzz in on a straightaway and hold their eyes as you go for the other cheek too. Try not to rub noses--I did that a couple of weeks ago with a business acquaintance and it was a little embarrassing. I tried to tell him that is what Americans do (Alaska, right?) but well, umm, it was not good.

Where injury can be done is if you go in for only the one-cheek and then as you are pulling back you see other person wanted two and then you go back only to whack your cheekbone against theirs. This hurts both pride and face (possibly what the Japanese mean about losing face, or cracking it perhaps). 

Now all the above applies only to you as a woman. If you are a man, you have a hard row to hoe. As in, I've explained all the women kissing and handshaking above but watch out for other men. A first greeting is a handshake, and perhaps a small whack on the shoulder from your other hand. If you know the other man better, then you really give him a whack on the shoulder and maybe a little grippy on the shoulder near the collar bone. 

Okay this is sports but pretty much what a male greeting looks like between close friends. Credit:

Where things get truly violent and potentially weird, is when the men are good friends. I love watching my husband greet his college friends (and other close friends). It is a handshake, then a whack on the shoulder, then a pull in for a hug, when your right hand releases, then you pat the other man on the tummy or chest. Or whack them on the tummy or chest depending on your level of intimacy. It is really fun to watch. Especially when they double over in pain. No, men don't kiss men on the cheek here--those are the Italians, or maybe the French. Never seen it here.

Do not attempt to escape a greeting or something like this happens:

I said I wanted a HUG! credit:
Okay, I think I'm done here with kissing but I've run out of space. Let's leave the flashing until tomorrow. I know, I know, it's going to be hard to sleep with the curiosity...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

40 days - São Paulo

The sun going down on the São Paulo coast...and Brazil in My Eyes
As it says in my description somewhere, I started this blog on Mother's Day 2013. The plan was to have daily posts on my life in Brazil for one year. And every day, there has been a post--good posts and bad posts, but a daily post, yes.

Yesterday I realized that there are 40 days to go. Yesterday I also realized that I have four months to go in this country that has been my home for 6 years (9 total with three years here in 1998-2001). While I am looking forward to the next phase in life, I am filled with sadness and a sense of unfinished business here in Brazil. No, that does not mean I have another year left in me here (nice try, BH). It's time to go.

As I start to wind up operations here, my blog will probably fall off daily posts (after Mother's Day 2014). There is simply too much to do to sit in front of my computer every morning, selfishly spending time with me and my relationship with Brazil. I will still post, of course, because who can resist reporting on the upcoming World Cup? And the small steps that are turning into the big steps of departure.

I thank all of you who have come along for the ride. While I don't see many comments here on the blog, I see more on the facebook page, and people will send me separate email if they know me personally or tell me at a party how much they liked (or disagreed) with this or that post. In the end, most of what I say is fluff--I am not capable of political analysis of this place nor economic. I see what I see. 

Let's run hard these next 40 days, okay?  Come on along!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Just another day in the car - São Paulo

Here's the view out the front of the monster truck Volvo as I take it to be fixed for the 40000000th time. 

This is on the Marginal Pinheiros, the ring road of seven lanes, more or less, depending on the region you're in. It's pretty much a normal morning at 10 am...stop-start traffic...though there is a singular lack of motoboys in this shot (not normal). 

That huge wall to the right hides the view to the Jockey Club, the large horse-racing facility that somehow hangs on to some prime real estate in spite of owing millions to the city.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pro-Life - São Paulo

These dudes would have had to RUN here in São Paulo

So this morning I was walking along on my way home from volunteering at the kids' school, thinking about today's post. I had one more day of Ilha Bela in me, but now I'm afraid something happened that has pushed me to rant. So anyone who is not in the mood for rant, or is Brazilian and defensive, or is the driver of a black Mitsubishi SUV, might want to skip the next part. Or the latter can follow along so you will know that I am hunting you. 

Many times before in the blog I have talked about how Brazilians, in general the nicest people in the world, turn into complete jerks behind a steering wheel. Not all of them, but many of them. I am continually shocked at how rude they are, and completely selfish and plain old DANGEROUS. Yes, I am talking about São Paulo drivers, the paulistanos, who are always in a hurry, always crabby about traffic and always predictably nightmares.

Some of the worst driving is around schools. Most parents drop their kids at their private schools in the morning. While there is bussing available, it costs upwards of US$300/month per child and if you've seen some of these vans scream around corners on two wheels, you might think twice about sending your kids. At the kids' private school, the worst time is the drop-off when parents are late, crabby from having a traffic mess on the way there, and they drive worse than 15-year-olds (in fact, I would like to apologize for that remark to pre-teens everywhere). 

I have nearly been run down in the pedestrian walkway by parents zooming in to drop their kids off by starting bell. And not just endangering me but also my two kids--do I need to explain to anyone how much the gringa is like a momma bear?  Parents are some of the worst violators of pedestrian and safety driving laws. I tend to mention this to them if I catch up with them at the front door of the school. I mention that pedestrian walkways are where pedestrians have right of way BY LAW.  And by simple courtesy, but I can't expect too much from folks.

The line that separates life from death

A few days ago I had a conversation with some other ex-patriates and Brazilians about motoboys. These are the black-clad motorcycle delivery guys that I have also mentioned in other blogs. There are many many MANY of them in São Paulo, many of them are nuts weaving in and out of lanes of cars, some are criminals who watch for cars they want to break into. But the fact is that they are soft flesh on the street. I never try to cut one off, I never attempt to knock one down, and I have been known to wave them ahead or make extra space for them. While one Brazilian friend says she will actually try to chase them if they cut her off (LOUCA!), I just let it go. Four motoboys are killed every day on São Paulo streets. Not by me. I respect life.

So that is exactly why I am so angry this morning. As I crossed a street in a crosswalk with right of way, with no cars coming, I heard a loud beeping as I was halfway across. I looked behind me and flying down the road was a black Mitsubishi who wanted to turn right into the pedestrian walkway. I know this not because the car had signaled the right turn (the driver did not) but because it was making a beeline for me, stuck right in the middle of the pedestrian walkway. I stopped because I hate being crushed by 2 tons of metal. And the car turned right at 30 miles per hour, practically on top of my toes. Stopping for me would have cost them, what? 10 seconds more?

Now what happened next does not make me proud. I nearly smacked the car with my hand as it brushed by me, but instead, since I knew that driver would be looking in the rear-view mirror, I yelled "FAIXA DE PEDESTRE, ***HOLE" Yes, the latter word in English. The first words in Portuguese mean Pedestrian Crossing, of course. And I might have made a gesture with my arm. Or both arms. I am only not proud of this because I could only come up with an insult in English at the moment of truth. I plan to practice swear words learned at Palmeiras games in front of the mirror later today so I will not be caught again without an appropriate descriptor.

What's the deal, São Paulo? We are all soft flesh inside our cars, on tops of our motorcycles, crossing the street. Guess what? Your parents, your kids and your friends are soft flesh too. Be pro-life. Be nice. Be like my hometown in Connecticut where we would sit at four-way stops for an hour waving each other on. We tried to out-nice each other. 

Here, the competition is not fierce. So far, I win. Even with the swear word.

Teaching's it going?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ocean wonders - Ilha Bela

Image credit:

As I mentioned on Tuesday's blog on Ilha Bela, when we were pulling into the boat ramp under low power, a large sea turtle popped up its head next to us. A photo could never convey how gorgeous it was (and it's a good thing too because I didn't get my camera out in time). He quickly tucked his head back under the water and glided onwards. I almost fell out of my seat trying to watch it, while the two long-time residents of Ilha Bela with me looked on.

I said to them "ah, you must see them every day" and they answered "yes, we do and many of them." Then Marcelo said "but, you know what? It never gets boring."  And that's how I would feel, I think. I certainly can't visit any town that has a unit of Projeto Tamar without stopping in. But I get ahead of myself.

For those of you who know little about the sea turtles, they are migratory animals. They don't have established homes and are known as sea travelers. Only when it is time to lay eggs do they return to the beach where they themselves were born. Yep, the very beach. They bury the eggs in holes in the sand. 

For a beautiful video on the egg-laying and eventual run for the sea, look here.

Here in São Paulo state, the egg laying time is from September-March. As in, now. Maybe the turtle I saw was coming back from egg laying though that coincidence would be a little unlikely, no? I just read that of 1000 turtles which are born, only 1-2 reach adulthood. Those odds are not good. It takes 30 years for them to become adults, when they become anywhere between 65 and 750 kilos (140-1,600 pounds).  Source for all this here

Ubatuba is near Ilha Bela (in fact I think you can see IB on the map!)

The Brazilian organization that works to preserve sea turtles is called Projeto Tamar. I am not sure exactly what Tamar means but it rhymes with "Amar" or "love" which is appropriate. With 19 bases now in Brazil, this organization (supported by Petrobras the state-owned oil company) does research, educates and rescues sea turtles. While I find the support of Petrobras somewhat ironic, frankly we have to get the money somewhere and Brazil is not known for charitability.  However, I'm guessing there are not too many studies being done on the effects of the pre-sal or new oil reserves on the survival of turtles. 

One of the studies that IS currently being done and is available online is about the effect of light pollution on newly-born turtles. And it's just what you would expect: the little turtles get disoriented by the light, thinking it is on the horizon, and die as they cannot get out to sea. Now, as you may have read yesterday, the port of São Sebastião is planning to grow 30 times in capacity...and I'm guessing part of that will be lots and lots of lights as the ships dock even at night to unload containers. A little killing ground for turtles. Or so I imagine.

The biggest killer of sea turtles, according to Projeto Tamar, is being caught in fishing nets. Not sure if that will change. I might have to pay a little visit to the local Projeto Tamar, in Ubatuba, and ask some questions. For more info, see Projeto Tamar. Their site is available in English.

In the meantime, I say to you little turtles, run, run, run and swim swim swim...away from the light!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crying for You - São Sebastião and Ilha Bela

This is a diagram of what the new port of São Sebastião will look like. What exists today is in brown--the happy bright colors are where cars will be parked waiting for import/export (green) and diesel storage and various other operations areas (orange). Ilha Bela, the subject of my last two days is approximately where this sentence lies. Between the two lies an unfortunately-deep channel which simply entices the shipping industry.

The environment watchdog, IBAMA, has approved the project as of December 2013. It is a port with 30 times its current capacity. Container ships will unload in piles of five or six vertical blocks, effectively blocking the port and the coastline from the sight line of many in Ilha Bela. Including the downtown. Where our friends live is far enough from the port that it should not be affected terribly by the ugly--but in the number of ships that pass--yes.

One ghostly cruise ship...okay...

One parked oil tanker--ugly but okay...30 times this: not okay
During our recent visit, we saw only one huge oil tanker and one passing cruise ship in our view. Imagine thirty times this number. And of course this will also affect my other secret paradise--the beach community of Guaecá.  The project, if approved, will cover two-thirds of the Mangue do Araçá ecological sanctuary. Covered with concrete! Three of the beaches that are covered are major fonts of crustaceans and mollusks.  See more here including a pretty nice video.

How can this all be legal? I don't know--but for sure the government is showing how many jobs will be created in a region where 33% of the population live in slums and 50% don't have access to basic sanitation. Are we spending our tax money in the right place?

I don't know the answer to all this but you can find more information here. In Portuguese. 

This is how I want to see the channel from Ilha Bela. Putt-putts and windsurfers. Yeah, I'm a Luddite

 I cry for you, Ilha Bela. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brisa - Ilha Bela

Evening view from the deck (facing Caraguatatuba)

Today's post is a continuation of yesterday's ramble on about Ilha Bela, quite possibly the most beautiful island in the world (bring on the hate mail from Hawaii and most of the Philippines).  As I mentioned yesterday, we were hosted by cool friends who know how to waterski and sail, and paddleboard and windsurf.  This means that our first day had to include water sports.

One of our host's friends--in fact a childhood friend who learned to sail with our host-- brought around their shared boat in the morning. This motor boat is named "Pedrinhas" or little rocks (not sure why, must ask) and is one of those giant inflatables with a canvas roof and just enough comfort (a cooler with cold drinks) to make it tons of fun. The idea was to teach my kids to waterski.

In order to lay the groundwork, the hosts each sent out their kids to ski. All the kids are around age 6-7, and the two who went first have gone skiing multiple times. I was wondering how they were going to get my kids up on two skis at this age...but then I met the toboggan. My word for it.

The toboggan was a board about 1 1/2 foot wide by 3 foot long. It looked like a flat board with several handholds on it. At the front of the board there was a small pole for the kids to hold on to, instead of being pulled directly by the boat. The toboggan was attached by another cord to the boat. It's best to show it like this (sorry I cut off my kid's head, but you know my addiction to my kids' photo privacy):

It is something so simple, so old style and so wonderful for the kids to learn. Look at how stable my son's legs are! And the long board allowed the father of the learning kids (one kid is just 5 years old) to surf along behind. More than anything, the father on the board was psychological not physical support. My son quickly got rid of BH so he could surf by himself. First time, and he was up.  L-O-V-E Brazil for this stuff. And also many thanks to our host who had an endless wealth of patience, encouragement and applause for my boys.

Our host on a first run with the smallest kid

In the end, one of my sons was too scared to go. Not of the waterskiing part, really, but being alone behind the boat. What if he fell off in the middle of the channel? Would we come back from him? Reason was not playing into his evaluation and so we let him not go.  Then we all jumped in the water ourselves and bobbed around near some beautiful rocks:

When we pulled the boat back into the small boat ramp, a huge sea turtle bobbed up next to us. It must have been 2 feet long. I was so surprised I didn't have my camera in hand.  

Our host and his friend went off for a paddleboard while we went up for some cold drinks and a dip in the pool. And that is pretty much all we did that afternoon. And that evening (plus an exhausting, haha, barbecue). Sure, we could have gone hiking. We could have gone out for Jeep ride, or gone to the beach to watch the sunset. But we stayed out on the deck and enjoyed.

Seriously, would you leave?


On Sunday, we slept late and the more intrepid then went for a sail in tiny sailboats or windsurfers. The wind suddenly died as it sometimes does in the channel and they all spent an extra hour out waiting to be towed in by the local sailing club. "Falta da brisa" --  a lack of breeze. A relaxing afternoon and then we realized we would have to leave. No one wanted to go. Alas, São Paulo awaits and we took back the ferry under a full moon. See you soon, I hope, Ilha Bela.

Tomorrow I am going to talk a bit more about the port that is capable of ruining this island paradise. If it is one thing this country knows how to do, it is ruin the perfect beauty of its coast (Rio's favelas, a port in front of Ilha Bela). It just makes me sad. Yeah, yeah, it's all in the interest of progress and the economy. I get it. I don't have to like it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Beautiful Island - Ilha Bela

Houses perched on the coast of Ilha Bela

Off of São Paulo's "litoral norte" or northern coast lies the large island called Ilha Belha. The actual name is Ilha de São Sebastião but I've never heard it referred to as anything other than Ilha Bela. I went there first almost 15 years ago--it is a hiking, snorkeling and wind sport (sailing, windsurfing, etc) paradise. Half the island is only reachable by dirt trail and you have to pull out your 4x4 "jipe" to get you there. Or take your boat.

We were invited this past weekend by Brazilian friends to stay at their house near the Ponta das Canas. It is at the very end of the paved road. These friends are probably our very coolest ones--sorry, if I am insulting anyone, but here it is--the husband is a competitive sailor and the leader of a digital company, the wife is a partner at a marketing agency, as well as a tireless mommy. They have two boys and Renata is expecting another boy in May. This does not stop them for one minute from driving at 9 pm from São Paulo, and arriving at the house at 1:30 am. We are not this cool--we left at 5 pm and arrived at around 10:30 after a stop for sushi. Cause we're just cool enough. 

The trip there was pretty good. The formerly scary Rodovia dos Tamoios highway has been "duplicated" and actually looks like a real highway now rather than a cowpath. Things were a little hairy in the "serra" -- the coastal mountains-- oh, okay,  I might have cried from fear. BH was on a business call so the driving fell to me...just as a huge fog fell over the road and I could see only a few feet in front of the car. Terror. 20 minutes of sheer terror on the steeply descending curved road.  Then the crying.

The ferry ride is always an adventure. The same ferries have been used for more than 30 years. They are basically flat parking lots on floaties, or so it seems. Fortunately we had pre-programmed our trip (Hora Marcada) and did not have to wait in the three-hour line. Unfortunately we started out in the wrong line and had to go 4x4 over the divider. Love that Volvo. Nah, I really don't but it does do 4x4 well. The ride lasted around 20 minutes--one of the twins was scared and stayed close to mom, the other loved watching the huge oil tankers and mining ships in the port.

When we reached the other side, we jostled for position -- or is that jockeyed? I dunno but man, Brazilians are nuts in cars. After driving a bit, one of the twins asked for a sushi stop and I have never been known to deny a sushi stop. So we stopped at a lovely little restaurant with picnic tables in the garden and my kids laid waste a whole lot of fishies. We also had a house specialty which was fresh lychee fruit stuffed with gorgonzola--it was delicious!! 

At around 10:30 pm we were approaching the house. We made one mistake and got ourselves onto the mysterious dirt road that goes around the island. A U-turn later and a stop at the security gate and we climbed into the hills. Our friends' house clings to the hillside with a huge deck and pool--all of it left open for us. We put the sleeping kids in bed and wandered out to look at the full moon. 

An hour and a half before, while on the tiny putt-putt ferry, I had said to BH: "Why in the world do people take this 3 1/2 hour drive, a slow petrol-smelling ferry and another 20 minutes on the other side to come here?" I got my answer.

Morning's light out the guest room door

All this week I'm going to talk about Ilha Bela and why in the world people live here in São Paulo when they could live there. And it's threatened--the port is expanding and the oil tankers increasing.  More tomorrow.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Port - São Sebastião

This is a giant ship at the São Sebastião port on a Friday night at 9 pm. You can never really grasp how big these things are til you're on a car ferry below one. Not an oil tanker here but a mining ship of some sort. Literally awesome.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Go lay an egg - Ribeirão Preto

This is a photo of the egg-laying area for the chickens at BH's family farm in Ribeirão Preto. There are no chickens there currently because there was a "matança" (killing) that involved a dog and a snake.  The chickens that lived there are no more, though there are now some chicklets in the small barn behind these boxes.

I used to love seeing the fat chickens all tucked up into these boxes. No factory line of metal cages and eggs rolling onto moving sidewalks. You can see beyond these boxes there is a large open area where the chickens were more than free-range. They were basically free. Until a snake ate some. And a stray dog killed some others. 

The new chicks with their warming lightbulb. Cute, no?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fashionera - São Paulo

Which one is a maid? Photo credit:

Every morning when I come back from taking the kids to school, I see the same three women on their way to work. Each works in a house further down this street--later in the day I will see them sweeping the front walks or taking a dog for a walk. Every morning they arrive around 8 am, and every afternoon, I see them walk by at around 4:30 or 5 pm.

What is interesting to me is how they dress on their way to and from work. They are dressed very nicely, wearing heels or nice flats, a skirt, a blouse, shouldering a large handbag. Their hair is down and they wear jewelry and make-up. Later in the day I will see them in t-shirts and leggings or pants sweeping or cleaning. The t-shirts and casual clothes are their work uniforms. And every day before going home, they change back to nice clothing.

It is amazing to me how you cannot tell what someone does here by what they wear on the bus or walking to work. In the US, you can immediately tell a workman by his Timberlands, paint-spattered jeans (usually low-riding, providing unnecessary views of the grundies...or worse...) and thread-bare dirty shirts. In Boston in December, I rode the red line T with two young men with atrocious Boston accents (sorry, but my view) with dirt-smeared jeans and beaten-up Timberlands with untied laces. I cannot tell you the olfactory experience that accompanied them.

This would never happen here. When workmen go out on the streets after work (not at lunchtime, tis true, then they go in their work clothes) to catch their bus or train, they are dressed in nice (usually ironed) jeans, a button down short-sleeve shirt and sneakers or shoes. They either carry their work clothes in a backpack slung over their shoulders or they leave them at the house where they are working. There is almost always a service area in houses and apartments that includes a small "maid's room" for changing. And they have cleaned up--doing a "banho de gato" or "cat's bath" at the service sink.

The title of this blog--"Fashionera"--comes from a posting on the gringas site here yesterday. A "faixineira" (pronounced "fy-shon-air-a") is a daily cleaning woman, and one of the ex-pats here was wondering how much to pay her. The misspelling is close to the truth. These women (and men) hit the streets looking good.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The toucan flies again - São Paulo

Toucan is my co-pilot. Toucan in the freezer bag on the way to school.

Okay, as most of you readers know, I have been in possession of a frozen toucan for about a week. It's all explained in this blog about my BMIL but to summarize, a toucan was killed at the ranch in Ribeirão Preto last week. It made a wrong move near the electric transformer.  It is in perfect condition--seems that there may be a slight burn on one wing (it is a little browned) but the feathers are in great shape, the beak technicolor and it looks like it could wake up and wing off at any time.

So Toucan has been in the freezer here with the barbecue meat (who's coming over?) and today I brought him to the kids' classrooms for show and tell. (sorry, no photos because I have a policy about photos of kids and identifying my kids' school). 

I was there for reading mum with the first graders, and it was an hour of anticipation until I got free to support the presentation. I have to say again and again how much I love my kids' school. It is all about experience as part of learning. And of course, the last unit of the year last year was the rainforest--the classrooms split up into smaller groups to study certain animals. One of my sons was in the coral snake group and one in the jaguar group. There was a toucan group too.

In one son's classroom, the kids were amazed and excited by the bird. They all wanted to touch it. They all wanted to know more about how we got it. In the other room, the kids split into a large group who went crazy for it and wanted to pet it and hold it and then a much smaller group of (mostly girls. oh all right, to be honest, it was all girls) who yelled "How disgusting!". 

Let me make it clear that there were two girls in the toucan group who helped me tell about the toucan and they were not at all disgusted. They were excited to meet their research subject (albeit a dead research subject). They told the class about what toucans ate, that there were five types of toucans, and one kind was extinct--the green-beaked toucan.  Other kids piped up with more information about what they ate (fruit, lizards, eggs). 

As for the two girls who yelled about how disgusting a dead animal is, I met up with them in the girls bathroom as I went to wash my hands. They were still squealing and hugging because of a dead bird. I asked them if they ate beef. They said yes. I said, you do know that is a dead animal, right? So, sorry about turning your kids vegetarians, moms, but you need to buck them up a bit if you want them to get into Wellesley.

A few other teachers came by to see about the ruckus. It was a wonderful ten minutes out of a day full of chores (I am now home waiting for the painter, the security camera guy and the stove repair guy). Next stop for the toucan is yet to be determined. I am talking to a mom of one of the kids because she works for a NGO that works with saving the rainforest. I will also contact USP to see if they want it for their small animal museum.

For now, my frozen toucan is back with the barbecue meat. I might be as everyday crazy as the BMIL.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Moss bonkers - São Paulo

I was cleaning out my office and ran across this newspaper ad from back in September. I had put it aside because I thought it was so well done...and then forgot about it. It still makes me smile. Especially when I think about my dad warning me of "moss bonkers" when I was a kid--some scary beasties in the dark deep of the local river in Connecticut. Usually the moss bonker was my labrador. 

In this case, the moss bonkers live in the Tiete River. It is one of the dirtiest rivers on the planet. I have no data to back this up but will tell you that I have seen all kinds of sludge and yuck in there, and once saw the rescue workers pull a dead body out. It's not pretty.

This page looks like a movie ad for a movie called "Zumbis Pneumaticos" or Pneumatic Zombies. And then below it talks about how these are the living dead that inhabit the river bed of the Tiete River and that they take years to decompose. And then it encourages people to provide a happy ending by sending used tires to be recycled. 

The campaign is supported by the water company, the SP state government, a NGO working to save the rainforest and two radio stations. I am impressed with the message and the delivery. 

Visit for more information.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Caja-manga - Ribeirão Preto

This photo is of one of my kids picking up ripe caja-manga from the ground at his grandma's ranch. In the end, none of the caja-manga was edible--it was already attacked by the little beasties of the ground. 

Caja-manga is one of the many fruits I have met here in Brazil. It looks a lot like a mango, but I personally like the taste of the mango better. It goes by many names: taperebazeiro, macucu, cajá, cajazeira, cajá-mirim, cajamanga, cajá-manga, taperebá, tamacoaré, tamaquaré-serrado, cajazeiro tapiribá, acaiamiri, acaíba, cajá-pequeno, cajá-miúdo (source here).

Photo credit:

It does seem to cure most ills. As I read from the source above, I see that it can help with the following:  fevers, constipation, stomach aches, postpartum pain, certain eye and larynx problems, and the pulp can sometimes cure cystitis. Some even believe that if you burn it, the smoke will cure ulcers or other "injuries."

It's quite a fruit.