Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Black swans and smashball - São Paulo

Photo credit:

On the way back from a casual lunch with friends, my kids insisted on stopping at Ibirapuera Park. We don't go often because it's not close to us, and mostly we go to Parque Villa Lobos, the newer smaller park fewer than five blocks from us. But in fact, nothing touches the beauty, fun and variety of Ibirapuera.

In the Tupi language, Ibirapuera means rotten wood. That's unfortunate because most of what you see there are beautiful paths through the trees (most of which seem quite healthy, thank you). I have been to the park many times over the nine years I have lived here, but it seems that I always find something new. 

Sports are everywhere. A couple is playing smashball with a power and speed that is mesmerizing. Skateboarders take turns whizzing down a hill, basketball, a women's American football game, runners, walkers, personal trainers working out their clients. I feel like a complete bum walking around in my jeans and flat shoes. 

Get moving!!

And then there's the trees. BH's brother who has a background in agriculture points out the flamboyants (poincianas) and ipes that will flower like man in the spring. Beyond them, a lazy river carries black swans under an arched bridge. 


It's hardly a relaxing place to be as you always feel you should be doing something, but it certainly is as special to São Paulo as Central Park is to New York. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Loo lessons - São Paulo

My bathroom never looks this neat. But it does have a little trash can next to the toilet

I'm feeling a little bad that this following subject has been left to my last week of daily blogging. But the story must be told. The grim truth is this: in Brazil, you do not toss your toilet paper in the bowl and flush it away. Nope. The sewage system here just cannot handle it. 

Instead, at the side of any toilet bowl in houses or commercial buildings or airports or schools, is a small trash bin. You do your stuff, you wipe your stuff, you throw the wipe in the bin. It's completely foreign for most visitors to Brazil and the cross-cultural learning can be tough if there is a flooded bathroom or two.

Be warned, visitors. Toilet paper in the trash, not in the toilet.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Free for all - São Paulo

No, not the kind you are thinking. A free for all of cars. The traffic lights were out for no apparent reason on Praça Panamericana, a fairly large traffic circle near me. This is when it is literally a free for all as everyone just blasts through the intersection. It is when I am happy that my car (okay BH's car) is bigger than everyone else's car. I say: come and get us, teeny-tinies.

And by the way, if you don't blast through, you are likely to be rear-ended. Welcome to São Paulo!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Street poets - São Paulo

On our way to a school event yesterday morning, I glanced out the window near the metro at Metro Faria Lima and was greeted by signs on the top of a large pole. The one that really spoke to me was "Seguro Morreu de Tédio" or Security died of boredom.  What exactly does that mean? So, I googled it, and it seems that these are the phrases of so-called "street poets."  A different kind of graffiti--these are pages glued on to poles slightly out of your eye line.

I read in this article that there are many of these "street poets" doing their street art and each artist has his or her own reason for it. Protesting the law of "Cidade Limpa" or a city without billboards and advertising. And many seem to want only for you to think. And it did make me think.

And it also reminded me of a beautiful song called "Gentileza" or by the Brazilian artist Marisa Monte, about a street prophet who painted walls with poetry and love for around 40 years in Rio. And then the walls were painted over grey again. 

Link is here if video does not come up:

And here is a translation to English:


They've erased everything
Painted all grey
The word on the wall
Is covered with paint
They've erased everything
Painted all grey
(What's) only left on the wall
(Is) sadness and fresh paint
But we who rush by
Through the city's streets
Deserve to read Kindness'
Letters and words
So therefore I ask you
Out there in the world
Which is smarter?
The book or wisdom?
The world is a school
Life is a circus
Love, word that frees
So said the Prophet
They've erased everything
Painted all grey
(What's) only left on the wall
(Is) sadness and fresh paint
So therefore I ask you
Out there in the world
Which is smarter?
The book or wisdom?
The world is a school
Life is a circus
Love, word that frees
So said the Prophet

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Stick a fork in me, I'm done - São Paulo

Non-Brazilians (and wishfully non-Americans) eating pizza with knife and fork

So I can almost get over the penchant of Brazilians to eat pizza with a fork and knife. The pizza crusts here are thin and can be droopy so it makes some sense. On the other hand, being American means I still like to pick up my pizza slice unless there are Brazilian witnesses present. 

But today at the local padaria (bakery), I caught a man cutting a hot dog in a bun with fork and knife! Yes, little tiny slices of dog plus bun on a fork. I strongly believe that this is wrong, people. Why do you think it's in a bun and not on the plate!! Hello!!

If it's good enough for the leaders of the free world, it's good enough for you. By the way, I am just kidding about that previous sentence.

BH witnessed the cutting of the hot dog and bun so this is all true.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Pigeon disease - São Paulo

While we drove back from picking up kids at soccer, my housekeeper (and sometime babysitter) received a phone call from her mom. Her mom was on the way to a memorial service for a nephew (Teia's cousin) who had just died. 

At some point, I really need to post about my housekeeper and her crazy family of six sisters--Teia has been with us for 6 years now and it is a never ending soap opera of bad husbands, house take-overs, brushes with the law, etc. Not for her necessarily but with the six sisters, there's always something happening. I tell her she needs to write a story for Globo and have it be the next soap opera at 8 pm.

Anyway, I asked Teia how the cousin had died. And she said "doença de pombo" which translates as "pigeon disease." And somehow at that moment, it struck us both as funny especially since one of the twins piped up from the backseat "parakeet disease"? But it turns out the disease is real and carried by pigeons. It affects the respiratory system but only really kills if someone has some other compromising factor like AIDS or diabetes.  There is more information in English here and in Portuguese the story about a sufferer of the disease here.

This is not one of the diseases that concern me here. We have a decided lack of pigeons in my neighborhood and my immune system is compromised only as much as I am a reading mum to 23 first graders who seem to alternate colds and fevers week over week. But dengue fever is out and about in my neighborhood and know several people who  have come down with it. It is normally not a killer either--yes there is one version with hemorrhages and that does kill.

This reminds me again of the work that my one English student is doing. She is a professor in the preventative medicine group at University of São Paulo and her studies keep showing that the middle to upper classes here are simply not vaccinating their kids as much as they should be. Some feel that diseases attack only the poor folk (e.g., tuberculosis) and some just have the feeling that various diseases have been eradicated (e.g. polio) and there is no need to put Pedro or Maria through the pain of shots. 

You can't vaccinate against dengue or pigeon fever. But there are others that you can prevent. If you are coming for the World Cup, it doesn't hurt to follow the CDC recommendations here. I think some are a little over the top (malaria, rabies) but a nice little hepatitis shot never hurt anyone. And watch out for the pigeons. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Life goes on - Joanópolis

The view from the road home.

Yesterday I drove three hours to our fazenda house, spent an hour collecting stuff,  and then drove three hours back. We are going to Argentina next week and we're going to need our hiking boots. For some reason, we haven't been able to fit a fazenda visit into our schedule since Carnaval in early March. So since we're leaving Tuesday for Ushuaia, off I went.

I quite enjoy the ride--it is not long until I am in the curving mountain road of Rodovia Anhanguera. Yes, there were a lot more trucks than on our weekend outings but that just made me slow down more and enjoy the trip. At about 2 1/2 hours, the road becomes dirt and gravel and the cell phone doesn't work. This is the only place that I worry about traveling alone--our history of flat tires recently means that I am quite nervous about every noise from under the car. 

When I reached the house, it was all opened up because the housekeeper was airing out the rooms. She knew I was coming from one of the other ranch staffers -- nope, she doesn't have a phone either. When you need to communicate with the workers, they travel at set times to a place where their cell phones work. Fortunately, as renters, we don't have to worry too much about managing the staff.

Just as I pulled up at the house, the monkeys started calling loudly to each other. They were as close as they ever get, jumping from branch to branch in the pine trees. Far away there was the sound of a chainsaw as some ranch or another cut their eucalyptus trees.  Spiders jumped away from my stomping feet.

Of all the places I have lived or visited in Brazil, the Casa do Alemão or German house, our rented country house, will be the one I miss the most. You can read about it here. I fell in love with this house ten years ago when the owners first bought it from "The German". I waited 8 years to be able to rent it myself and now we will be giving it up in August. 

While I stood there and listened to monkeys and saws, an unusual sadness filled me. Unusual because the fazenda makes me happy. I realized how much I will miss the solitude, the sounds, the brushes with nature -- monkeys, parakeets and lightning bugs (not so much the spiders). I will miss hiking on trails with no trail blazes. I will miss watching my kids run up and down the hill in front of the beautiful mountain of Morro Selado. I will miss a place where the tv, internet, cell phone and home phone don't work. I will miss you, Alemão.

And as I stood there thinking all this, I realized that the Alemão will not miss me. The monkeys will live on safely away from bad guys, the parakeets will keep their house in the roof, the spiders will actually have a better life away from the capture-and-release routine they get with the twins. Life goes on at the Alemão, but soon not for me. When I return after August, there will be new tenants. When I return after August, it will not be "mine" (in fact, it never really was).

Life goes on. It's not something to be sad about but rather happy.  I wouldn't want things any different for the tenants and furry, feathered and 8-legged residents who will be there when I leave.

Lucky them!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who's undulating? Why, it's Rio of course - Rio de Janeiro

Most Americans know of regional differences in vocabulary in the US.  There are people who say "lightning bugs", those who say "fireflies"and some avoid them altogether.  Chicagoans drink "pop" while New Englanders have "soda." In Connecticut, we had "speed bumps"--not sure if other regions have other vocabulary words for those axle-breakers...anyone?  

In São Paulo, speed bumps are "lombadas". Yes, it always makes me think of a Cuban dance. Or is that Puerto Rican? Or have I insulted some other country? Whatever. In Rio, as I just discovered, they are called "ondulações" or undulations. I LOVE IT. That is perfect for a city where everything--sidewalk and water and speed bumps undulate. 

Undulating sidewalk - Praia da Urca
BH claims there is a region in Brazil where they call a speed bump  "the mayor's wife's butt"  because everyone slows down to look at it. Hmmm. I'm going to need a corroborating witness on that one.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

May I help you? - Rio de Janeiro

Here is the insane robot who attacks innocent tourists at Santos Dumont Airport. We saw her first all alone down the arrivals corridor. She kept displaying her screen and spinning around, imploring in her robot voice to help someone.

I started to laugh out loud when she literally chased one tourist who probably spoke back to her. He finally turned to her and she gratefully ran over his toes with her robot wheels. He pressed some buttons, got frustrated and then left. So of course I and the twins had to take a look.

She had all kinds of helpful info on the airport and tourism. Or it would have been helpful if her touch screen worked. The only touch that worked was taking a selfie so we did. One twin took three selfies. He pretty much chased the robot until she took his photo. 

Love technology but that robot was ridiculous. And defeats the whole loving-Brazil thing. When we visited South Africa for the world cup, there were friendly South Africans with all the tourist info and a lot more personality than a robot. And they didn't run over our toes even once. What is Rio thinking? You have awesome cariocas (people from Rio)--ban the robot!

By the way, our photos are now on facebook in the Future Robot page for April 17. Try not to tag me: I have to try to live that down.

Here's one of my sons waiting to pounce on a selfie opportunity

Careful of your toes!!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Please come - Rio de Janeiro

Copacabana Palace hotel (no, you're not drunk; it's out of focus)
Yesterday I tried really hard to see Rio as a tourist. Oh, okay, I am a tourist but one who speaks Portuguese and has lived in Brazil for 9 years. I tried to be worried on Copacabana Beach about whether a pickpocket was standing behind me as I watched a Peruvian artist create unbelievable landscapes with his fingers, a brush, a knife and some Kleenex. I kept my camera in my pocket, except for a photo of the Copacabana Palace where I got engaged in 2000. 

I can't do it. I know Rio is filled with dangers like any big city. I know it has recently been written about by a Danish "journalist" who was horrified by the destruction of lives as favelas are moved to make way for the Olympics. I woke this morning to the sounds of someone yelling "socorro" or "help" right outside our window (when BH looked out, it was unclear what was happening and there was a group of people outside). 

My experience these five days has been wonderful. Magical. A city where we continue to be amazed that anyone gets anything done rather than sitting and watching boats head out to sea, or kicking a ball around the beach, or enjoying a sidewalk juice or coffee or beer. A city that is made for walking--the beautiful horseshoe shape of Leme and Copacabana remains my favorite with its undulating waves of black and white tile, but many places are fun. Ipanema's back streets to the Lagoa where men argue over Flamengo or Fluminense (don't ask me: Rio soccer teams). Santa Teresa's winding streets and walls covered with beautiful paintings of the tram that is out of service, seemingly forever under repair.

We have asked for directions from bus drivers, from flower sellers, from parking attendants and security guards. They have all answered us politely and helpfully, one parking attendant even walking me down the street to find someone who had lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and could better answer my question. Kids are waved onto buses where they don't pay. Fisherman hold out small fish so the twins can throw them back into the bay.  Rudeness has been few and far between.

We have walked through Santa Teresa and Copacabana as night is falling. We are not carrying valuables but we look about as gringo as possible, excepting BH who is the only darker-skinned, darker-eyed person in our group. My stepkids are as white as any Canadian, one with blue eyes, and the twins can't stop speaking English no matter what I try. We haven't had a problem.

So, I will tell you potential visitors to Brazil for the World Cup or otherwise: you do yourself a great disfavor if you avoid this city due to security, danger or fear. Yes, it is possible you will be pick-pocketed. That happens everywhere. It is possible the taxi driver will take you for a longer ride than necessary. I promise it will be exciting as they speed on the wrong side of the street, through red lights and then come to an abrupt halt and say: "where were we going anyway?" 

This is the City of God. You cannot avoid the hug from the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) on top of his hill. You can see him from the beach, from Santa Teresa, from downtown. He welcomes you. Rio welcomes you. Please come.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Scenes from a weekend - Rio de Janeiro

Botanical Garden and royal palms

My favorite means of transport (no joke). Rio city bus

Lagoa. One day I want to row here.

In line at Ipanema Beach public loo. R$1.70 buys you a pee. And a fun conversation with the cariocas with nice toenails.

View from Sugar Loaf. With a twin who prefers to watch the helicopter.

Petrobras. Part of the Bermuda Triangle downtown.

National Library. Under renovation.

Museum of Belas Artes. Where a twin looked at a painting of a messy battle scene and asked "how do they know which team is which?" Precisely.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Praia da Urca - Rio de Janeiro

We are spending the long Easter holiday weekend in Rio, and specifically in Urca. This neighborhood clings to the side of the famous Sugarloaf Mountain (Päo de Açucar) which we plan to go up today. There are trails halfway, and a ropes climb and a 'bondinho' or ski lift. Guess which one this old fart will take?

We are staying at a friend's pied à terre (I am allowed to speak French because he is French) that he uses during the week when he is at client meetings here. I had never been to Urca and now I am never leaving. Ever. I am going to change the locks so Jean cannot return.

It's a lovely apartment with a view across the bay to Botafogo and Flamengo. We can watch the Santos Dumont airplanes wing in--always popular with 7 year old boys. Out the front door is the oceanfront path to the tiny Urca Beach (Praia da Urca) where groups of rowers go out in dragon boats each morning, people play volleyball and then walk into the water to cool off. My kids chase crabs and talk to the friendly fishermen.

It's a real neighbood where everyone seems to know each other. The tiny Julius restaurant serves duck, ostrich and asparagus from Peru. And watching it all day and night is Cristo Redentor from his perch on Corcovado.

I am never leaving. Sorry, Jean.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

City of God - Rio de Janeiro

It just doesn't get more beautiful than this city. Around every corner it's another stunner.

The most puzzling thought is how in the world anyone gets anything done here.

Chicky's Mom - São Paulo

So yesterday I posted a photo of a little chicky that I noted on a busy street in São Paulo. BH's cousin happened to read my blog (apparently someone actually does, besides my mom)  and tagged a friend of hers who happens to be the artist. 

That is cool. São Paulo is cool. It is a verrrrrry small town. I know you all think I'm off my rocker when this city has somewhere over 11 million residents (depends on who you talk to and where you draw your borders and legal vs illegal residences) but it is very small.  It is what I would call three degrees of separation. 

So anyway, the artist Arnaldo Degasperi commented on the facebook page for Brazil in My Eyes and said "yes, that chicky is a survivor." I don't know exactly what that means--are people killing graffiti chickens? Are there laws about that? I don't know but I am completely charmed by this series. Looking at some of his work on flickr, I've decided I want a huge mural of farm animals and my dog Caju on my 20 foot high back wall. If I weren't trying to sell this out!

If you want to take a class with Mr. Degasperi, see here

Fun stuff.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chicky - São Paulo

I noticed this little chicky as we stopped along Avenida Juscelino Kubischeck (oh, heck I can't spell it; I always just call it "Jota Kah" or "JK". It was right in front of a huge corporate tower and I thought to myself why? Of all the things or words one could graffiti on a telephone pole, why a cute little yellow chick with purple wings? I have no answer.

Tomorrow morning we take off early for five days in Rio de Janeiro. For all you bad guys out there, I'll have you know that I have all security systems activated. Including the tripwire electric shocks (I had better warn my labradors who knowing them will probably like the zappies). I haven't spent any real time in Rio since getting married there in April 2002. Yes, BH and I celebrate 12 years of marriage on Sunday, along with yellow peep day known as Easter.

I'll be posting from Rio if my cell company allows. Three weeks to go now on daily posts...

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Science without Borders...but with one large hurdle - São Paulo

cience without Borders is a Brazilian Government scholarship programme which aims to send 100,000 Brazilian students on undergraduate sandwich courses, PhD sandwich courses and full PhDs to study in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and creative industries at top universities around the world. - See more at:
cience without Borders is a Brazilian Government scholarship programme which aims to send 100,000 Brazilian students on undergraduate sandwich courses, PhD sandwich courses and full PhDs to study in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and creative industries at top universities around the world. - See more at:
In 2011, the Brazilian government announced with great fanfare the scholarship program called Ciência sem Fronteiras (Science without Borders). The program is primarily funded by the Brazilian government, with additional private sector support. 

From the Harvard page about this program: "Through this program, the Brazilian government seeks to strengthen and expand the initiatives of science and technology, innovation and competitiveness through the international mobility of undergraduate and graduate students and researchers. LASPAU [Harvard affiliation] is administering the scholarships of 500 Ph.D. level grantees annually on behalf of CAPES and CNPq and will place a total of 1,500 Brazilians in doctoral degree programs in the United States over a three-year period."

Science without Borders

Science without Borders is a Brazilian Government scholarship programme which aims to send 100,000 Brazilian students on undergraduate sandwich courses, PhD sandwich courses and full PhDs to study in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and creative industries at top universities around the world.
- See more at:

This is great! I thought it great when it was announced and I still think it wonderful. An international interchange of math and science and technology. As I've said before, Brazil has some great minds but doesn't have the facility capacity to get them the education that they need. So, off these kids go to the USA, to Europe, to the UK. Fantastic.

Do you feel the "oops" coming? Here would be the first signal: the Brazilian government site in English about the program is poorly written. I am fairly sure they used google translate. Here is just one of the winner bullet points: "Institutional links -  The clustering approach  will also lead to the  establishment of  solid  academic links between  key institutions. Implementation  following rigid  standard" What does that actually mean? I think they forgot the second half of the second sentence.

So, it really came as no big surprise when I read last week that 110 scholarship students with Ciência Sem Fronteiras are returning to Brazil because they failed to have the required English proficiency. How had they gotten overseas without English proficiency? Because they had applied to study in Portugal. Unfortunately Portugal, being in a bad way, had cut all scholarships and the students were forced to try other universities in English-speaking countries. And failed, based on English language.

Where the students go, 2012. Now Portugal is gone.

One of the great worries I have about Brazil's success on the world stage is the lack of English fluency. And it is one of the ones I keep quietest about so I don't risk sounding imperialist and holier-than-thou. It is my mother tongue, this English, but no matter how defensive you are, the fact is that it is now the world language of business and education. Sorry, Frenchies, I know how much you hate hearing that. You still are official at the Olympics, okay? Desolée...

Asia is kicking Brazilian butt. Of course they are kicking American butt too but there it has nothing to do with language. Talking with an education consultant last week in the US, he said that applications to elite boarding schools in the US are now 40% Asian. These schools would love to have more Latin Americans, in particular Brazilians (we are a rather large country down here) but they can't find enough who can speak English. What a shame. 

I am myself working with a University of São Paulo professor to improve her conversational English. Because she has really important things to say, and I want Princeton, where she has been invited to speak, to hear it. And understand it. We have to improve the English, Brazil, and don't you dare get defensive on me. Call me imperialist first, but then you will need to call me right.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tying up loose ends - São Paulo

Ituano celebrating. Credit:

So yesterday I watched Ituano Futebol Club defeat the storied football team Santos in the final of the state championships. Yes, I realize that I don't care about football but I cannot resist a David and Goliath match-up. Santos is the team of Pele and Neymar; Ituano is the team of Esquerdinha (little lefty) and Cabeça (head). Ituano is having one of those "Cinderella story" years that you know would seriously animate any American commentators. 

The game ended in penalties which is my least favorite way to end a match. I know it has to be that way because the players are literally passing out from fatigue and triple overtime just does not work. But I hate it because it usually makes one hero (a goalie) and one villain (the last guy to miss the penalty shot). It is where the "ultimate team sport" falls apart as a team sport. 

In any case, all this Ituano stuff reminded me that I have not chosen my new team yet. If you remember a certain blog post from February (link here), I had lost my favorite team to well, general incompetence (on their part) and I was going to audition some new teams. It was really fun to get a list of Series B, C, D and E teams because it was only then that I realized exactly how many teams there are here in Brazil. According to one source, there are more than 10,000 football teams in Brazil. Huh? Maybe.

I am running out of time to audition. It would be easy to choose Ituano (which had been suggested) now that it is at its pinnacle. I liked the idea of Juventus here in São Paulo except I might have to see a game because they are so close by. Penapolense, suggested by our personal trainer, seemed a good fit except that I cannot pronounce its name. Also 4 de Julho de Piri Piri plays at the same stadium as my vanquished Comercial de Piaui. I could have changed to Comercial de Ribeirão Preto given BH is from there.

So what is a girl to do? Diego Forlan has left the country and the time difference to Japan is just a bit much for me to watch those games. So cheering on a purely aesthetic basis is out as well. Therefore, I would like to announce the following to tie up this loose end as I make my exit from Brazil.

Comercial de Piaui, nunca vou te abandonar. I am never going to abandon Comercial.  In the end, it meets all my criteria (blue shirts, far away so I don't have to see a game, fifth division, doesn't compete with Palmeiras) plus one. They're not even playing!! I don't ever have to see a game! Well, just kidding. Probably they'll figure their way out of the money abyss (no, I am not buying the team) and will be back.

I love it when resolution makes me feel so good.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What if God was one of us? - São Paulo

Dan Stulbach and Irene Ravache in Meu Deus!

On Friday night, we went with friends to the play "Meu Deus" at the Teatro FAAP. FAAP stands for Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado and is a school of higher education.  I can never pronounce the acronym correctly: I try to say "FAH-pee" and it's "FAAA-AAAHHHH-pee". Trust me. Get it right or suffer BH correcting you diligently several times. try it now out loud "FAAAAAAAH- pee". Hope you are not on the bus. You are getting strange looks.

It's not my favorite theatre in São Paulo--it's a long line of chairs and they are shallow, making you crane around the person in front's head. But they've had some good plays.

Our friends are avid theatre goers. A British/Brazilian couple, they moved back to Brazil last year after five years in the theatre mecca of London. About once every two months, my friend sends out an email with a list of plays that she would like to see and invites us all along. And she buys the tickets. There is no excuse for not getting out and about when it is essentially handed to you on a platter.
The theatre offerings here are varied and, for the most part, excellent. We tend to go more to drama and comedy than to the big musicals (okay, in fact I have never seen one of the big musicals). Tickets here for good seats are amazingly inexpensive, especially in comparison with the big shows. Last Friday's show was $60 reais (US$27) for fifth row center tickets. If you want to see One Direction (I don't), you are going to pay $250 reais (US$100). Perhaps I should compare on an hourly basis--most rock shows are two hours or more. Most plays are an hour and a half, or less, with no intermission. Maybe I shouldn't compare at all these oranges and apples.

Most plays here start at 9 or 9:30. It is extremely late for me (oh my God, when did I become old?)--my excuse is that by the end of the day, my understanding of Portuguese goes down, and I have a harder time following intense dialogues. This happened on Friday night--the play was 80 minutes and for 60 minutes, I was with them. At 10:30, things started falling apart--especially when my Bible background was clearly lacking.

The premise of the play was God being depressed and seeking the help of a psychologist. The actors were well-known (to Brazilians) and excellent. God completely cracked me up. Yes, maybe there were some obvious pratfalls--every time the psychologist declared "Oh My God", he would answer "Yes?" or "Thank God", he would answer "you're welcome". It was funny and mostly light, with sadness lightly touched as the psychologist's autistic son appears from time to time, and glimmers of the psychologist's difficult family life shine through.

I recommend seeing the play if you are in São Paulo and your Portuguese is up to it. I "met" two more actors, Dan Stulbach and Irene Ravache, who I add to my short list of favorite Brazilians along with Antonio Fagundes (not in the play) and Claudia Raia (ditto). If not, the play is often staged in English as "Oh God!". Recently it was at Ithaca College in New York and in Boston at Boston University. 

The Israeli playwright is Anat Gov, who died in 2012 at the age of 59 after a four-year battle with cancer. I hope she's having some good conversations with God right now. It all reminds me of that song most famously sung by Alanis Morisette (but also Joan Osborne), "What if God was one of us?"

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him
In all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

And yeah, yeah, God he is great
Yeah, yeah, God he is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you wanna to see
If seeing meant that
You would have to believe
In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints
And all the prophets

And yeah, yeah, God he is great
Yeah, yeah, God he is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

Trying to make his way home
Back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
Except the Pope maybe in Rome

-songwriter Eric Bazilian

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm fronds - São Paulo

Areca palms. Almost as happy as the ones in front of my house.

This morning at around 7:30 am after saying goodbye to the kids and BH, I was just about to grab another cup of coffee when the doorbell rang. I looked through the spiffy video surveillance monitor and there was a dapper old man with a Cuban hat. I asked what he wanted...prepared to be greeted by requests for money, to buy books, whatever usually comes. I didn't understand him the first time and asked him to repeat.

"Senhora, I am from the Dom Bosco Church and I came here to ask if I can cut some of the palm fronds in front of your house." As you all know, I am not religious and that gave me pause for a moment. And then I realized that Sunday is Palm Sunday. Lining the side wall of our house are many Areca palms with wonderful fronds. He wanted some. I told him to cut as much as he likes. He set his hat back forward on his head, said "thank you" and took a small scissors out of his pocket. And trimmed the trees.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Priority - São Paulo

One of the things that I find most amazing here in Brazil is the priority line. Depending a little bit on where you are, you can pop to the front of the line as an "idoso" (senior over 60), disabled, pregnant, or someone with a small (very small) child. And you really don't see people complaining as these folks move to the front. At least I don't.

When I visited here with the twins when they were just 9 months old, we were flying from Miami-São Paulo-Ribeirão Preto. Because of a flight delay, we landed with 45 minutes layover in Guarulhos. With 30 minutes left before the flight, my husband grabbed one twin, stuck him in a Baby Bjorn carrier and took off for the Passaredo counter. Yes, Passaredo which is often called "Passa-Medo" or Be Frightened because it flies tiny put-put planes. I was thinking to way are we making that connection...

We were also traveling with my parents who were over 60. We trucked up to the Passaredo counter as fast as we could, but basically with 15 minutes before the flight. Again I am thinking no way are we making this flight. But they checked us in with all of our bags and coo-cooed at the twins who were wearing matching orange and green striped shirts (yes, I do remember this part) and smiling. We ran for the security lines...which were at least 200 people long.

BH, who knows about priority lines, zipped up to the front. He showed off our clan of six with my parents, and we were waved through. Honestly I don't even remember if we had to pass through the zappy machine. Probably. But not definitely. With one minute to spare, we boarded the tiny plane. And all our bags made it too! Guarulhos Airport in 29 minutes flat including immigration. Don't try this at the World Cup. can find a baby. The best investment you will ever make is a Baby Bjorn where your little one is almost eye-to-eye with his victim...ahh, service provider...and can hopefully cute-stun them to be under your control.

There are exceptions to the rule but the priority service is a law so I think most folks just let them on through. I do. 

At the post office, elderly folks (and some are pretty sprightly) don't even ask but go up to the front of the line. The supermarket is much fun when I'm with my parents because I get to go in the priority line (can't stuff the 7 year olds into a Baby Bjorn unfortunately). Pregnant women get all kinds of special treatment and seating here. Don't try that in the US; you're liable to get hurt.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Loving and leaving - São Paulo

Today I went to a meeting of what I call the "gringalhada" (a large group of gringas) also known as the newcomers club here in São Paulo. Yes, it is hard to call myself a newcomer after 6 years here but I am volunteering now as a board member, paying back the advice and help I've received here. It's a truly wonderful group of international people, including many Brazilians. The only requirements are speaking English and living in São Paulo.  Many of my best friends here came from this club.

In general, we are all positive about our lives here. Many of the women are long-time ex-patriate spouses. They are used to moving somewhere every 2-3 years and they find the positives about each place they are stationed. We have very few complainers and while all of us have our bad days with a foreign culture and language, we are all pretty happy to be here.

Today, however, one of the women I met was a repatriated Brazilian. She was clearly having a terrible time with her move back "home" which was no longer home to her. She hates it here. She says nothing has changed during her whole life and that people here are treated like garbage by their politicians  and that everyone has terrible manners, and the best place in the world is the United States. I did not ask her what her sample size was...if it is between Brazil and the US, you can hardly call one the best place in the world of two countries. 

I was shocked. And as long-time readers know, I have run into more and more Brazilians more pessimistic about their country and more cruel and more hopeless than the expatriates. Yes, one group knows they're leaving. The other may not be able to do so.

So, I wanted to make something very clear here on my blog. I love Brazil. I love the passion, the emotions, the proximity to nature (I mean REAL nature not a national park), the warmth of everyday meetings, the humor of the everyday man. And I love the banal: the weather (you really can't beat São Paulo weather), the food, the caipirinhas, the ability to hire household help for less than college tuition. 

As most of you know, I am moving to the US in July with my kids (and later BH will join). But I am not LEAVING Brazil, I am GOING TO the US. I am going because my kids are half American yet have only lived there up to 18 months old. I am going because I miss four seasons (she says until she meets Boston in February). I am going because I miss home. I am not going because I hate Brazil. I am not going because of security problems, FIFA World Cups or corruption or politics or an expensive life here. I am going because I want to go, not because I want to leave.

I admit that Brazil makes me sad some days. I try to keep the humor up here but there are days where I want to literally weep for this place. I don't see a way out of the entrenched corruption, the crappy politicians, the broken justice system, the terrible education and public health issues. I wish I did. I wish someone did. But I don't want Brazilians to give up and I really dislike meeting those who are giving up--leaving the country, complaining that nothing changes yet spend no effort in changing it. Your country is beautiful, rich in natural resources, filled with intelligent people and warm with a warmth that has nothing to do with the sun. And it's not just your country anymore. I'm married to it and have kids with it in their blood. It's in my soul.

I have less than a month of this daily blog to go. I will continue on a less-than-daily basis until it makes no more sense. Please know how much I love Brazil, as much as I laugh at the daily life or have my bad days where I want to leave immediately. I'm not a fighter. I'm a flighter. But I'm not leaving. I'm going. 

And I'll be back. I (heart) Brazil. I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bring back Waka Waka - São Paulo

And they didn't even record the video for this big hot mess in Brazil. Nope, little Brazil. Miami

Okay, I admit that I love the theme song for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Even without the fantastic video, the song is just upbeat and fun and the refrain of "This time for Africa" is just the best. Now you add to it the simply charming and enticing Shakira, plus videos of different football stars and huge moments from the 2006 Cup and you have a winner. Here is the link and the video in all its glory: I dare you to hate it.

I admit that I was somewhat skeptical about the FIFA theme song for the Brazil World Cup when it was announced that Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte had been chosen to do the song together. The fact that Pitbull is Cuban-American, J-Lo Puerto Rican and Claudia Brazilian didn't scare me. It's the fact that they have absolutely nothing in common and two of the three don't seem to care much about anything but celebrity appearances. You guess the two.  One avoids visiting Brazil whenever possible--she will come to paid appearances and leave to the minute of her commitment.

How they chose Claudia Leitte over Ivete Sangalo, I will never know. How they chose a rapper to do the Brazil theme song, I will never know. When has Brazil been known for rap exactly? Right. 

So, that announcement was several months ago. As of Monday night, FIFA released the new song, though the accompanying video was not released so I assume things might get better if we see these three wiggling their butts around everywhere. Or not. I'll have to wait anxiously for that answer. 

Quite simply, the song is horrendous. Rapping and whistling, no charm, not a Brazilian beat of drums, or anything. It has nothing to do with Brazil. Nothing. It's boring, repetitive and infinitely forgettable.  I think I might hate it, and I don't hate many things. Want to see what I mean? Here goes the link and video:

I am boycotting. No, not the Cup which I am actually attending (one game). I am boycotting this song. I am going to forget it exists. I am going to play either Shakira or Coke's song which is not half bad (see here).  I can even live with the occasional displays of Coke bottles.  It has Brazilian drums, happy lyrics, everything you need...right?

In the end, who cares about the theme song? Well, actually I do.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sympathy for the Devil - São Paulo

Yesterday morning I was trying to catch up with all the exciting events in São Paulo that I had missed by being in the US last week. And of course, Folha de São Paulo is my first and favorite source. Top of the front page was dedicated to more bad news about Petrobras and corruption, plus a giant photo of Ituano players beating Santos in the state futebol championships. Who is Itauno? No clue, but one of their players is named "Esquerdinha" or "little left". Hmmm, either he is a member of the Partida de Trabalhadores (PT) or the socialists or something on his left side is little. Never mind.

Below the fold, we got a photo of a singer at Lollapalooza Interlagos, la de da, and the Ukraine. But what's this official looking box at the bottom? It is an Open Letter to the Population. That's me. Let's read.

The Association of Police Investigators (Civil or Investigative Police) of São Paulo state would like to state the following (more or less, okay? This is my rapid-fire translation).

1. Only 40% of the minimum necessary number of police investigators are "active" to investigate (huh? Are the rest on vacation? Read on).
2. The majority of these active investigators are taking care of police stations rather than investigating (you know, I heard this from the Military Police as well. They actually have to clean their own police station). 
3. The investigators are detailing crime reports because they have the "Fé Pública" or public faith (I am lost on this one--isn't that their job?)
4. Absurd operations like "operação flanelinha" or the dudes that want a buck to watch your car (see blog post on this here), and operations to prevent mass crime should be the province of the military police (note that they are saying the operations are absurd, so might as well hand them off).
5. Long shifts
6. They've lost their will to investigate
7. They've lost self-esteem and professional motivation
8. Low salaries
9. Police stations that are falling apart.

And then the coup de grace--the association of investigators congratulates the Civil Police of São Paulo because they are "Real Heroes".  And it's signed by Vanderlei Bailoni, the president of said association.

Wow, I have never seen this before. It would be like the police union of  Connecticut (my home state) writing a letter on page one of the oops, no state newspaper--let's go with the Hartford Courant--saying that in spite of the terrible conditions, our police men are heroes. And so they are. 

All irony aside, you know I am sympathetic to the police here. I have the luxury of not having been here during the military dictatorship and seeing what bad stuff happened. What I do see today (though I have better knowledge of the military police than the civil) is that these guys are undertrained, underpaid, overworked and very much underappreciated. Maybe I'll write a letter.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Get me out of here!! - São Paulo

Seriously, I just want to LEAVE the country!

So there is something that really bugs me in the international airports here in Brazil. No, it's not the fact that my baggage clearly takes a scenic tour on the way to baggage claim (I will have to eat my words this time when it arrived in 10 minutes as opposed to the 45 minutes the time before). It is not the two hour line at immigration at arrivals (depending on the day, and now that I am a permanent resident, it's much better). No, it's the emigration line. 

When you are leaving Brazil on an international trip, you have to go through immigration after the security lines. Note: security here is a breeze next to the US. Not scary breezy but nice breezy. Keep your shoes on, keep your computer in and come on through. 

But immigration can often back up to the security lines. When I left last Sunday, they stopped security several times so that they could clear the immigration lines. Yes, you have to go through whether you are Brazilian or non-Brazilian. If you are traveling without your partner but with your kids, you are in big doo-doo. That takes forever. You must carry a notarized letter that says you are authorized to travel without your partner--all of this to prevent international kidnapping. So, I'm in favor of checking out the unaccompanied travel of minors. But I am completely opposed to sending everyone through immigration. 

So, inevitably, I have to compare with the USA. When you leave the country as a citizen, you go through security (stripping down to your grundies, getting blown by some puffer machine or arms in the air with some kind of ultrasound, or whatever) and then you go to your plane. Done. If you are a non-citizen, you used to have to carry around the little I-94 coupon and the airline would take it, but I didn't see that this time with the BH. BH is not a citizen or a permanent resident of the star-spangled country but went through at the same velocity as I did. 

Why is it like this in the US? Probably because the NSA is scrutinizing you from the second you book your ticket. There are no surprises about who is leaving the country and when because the NSA and TSA and possibly Obama knows which seat you're in and what you're having for dinner and which movies you watched on the plane (yikes, that last Nemo is not reflecting well on me). 

Why can't we do this here? Why do I have to wait in an hour-long line to get through immigration to LEAVE the country? You're getting rid of me so who cares about checking the passport? Or we can do the same as the UK which I loved last time in Heathrow. The immigration guys randomly pulled people out of line at the gate. They checked your passport and visa and asked a thousand questions, did a cavity search and you were on your way. 

Or flag the people who look sketchy. This happened many years ago when I first lived in Brazil--they caught a vice president from a major telecom company leaving Brazil with 100,000 US dollars in his suitcase and his mistress on his arm.  The vice president, who I knew personally and ummm disliked would be the nice word, made two bad mistakes at this point. First, he told the R$600 salary per month (about $280US) federal policeman that he didn't know he couldn't take that much money out of the country -- that the 100K was "only a part of" his salary. That must have been popular. And when he was arrested, he had to prove that he went to college so that he could be in the nice prison. He had to call his wife to get a copy of that degree--and oops, he was with his mistress. The degree took a long time coming through that fax...

Also, the really bad guys are not going to go through Guarulhos or immigration at all. Like Pizzolato, the guy condemned in the Mensalão trial, goes by putt-putt plane, raft, crocodile back, whatever to Argentina and Paraguay, uses his dead brother's passport and he's out of here. This immigration stuff is just not working. Also it's "emigration", no?

Now I admit to cheating on Sunday. Instead of waiting in the Brazil/permanent residents line which was 4000000000 people long, I went to the foreigners line which was 10 people long. I pretended not to speak Portuguese. I am bad. But I got out of that line in 20 minutes instead of an hour or more. You do what you have to do.

Let's get this together before the World Cup, okay Brazil? Gringos don't like missing flights because of immigration. It makes them cranky.  Ditto Brazilians by the way, but they don't have the luxury of jumping lines.

Here's the story on the weekend mess at Guarulhos International Airport. Bon Voyage!