Thursday, May 29, 2014

Another reason to cheer - São Paulo

2002 World Cup Team. Cafu to the right in the back, Lucio number 3 next to him

So, today I was at my usual weekly Reading Mum volunteer role at my kids' English language school in São Paulo. The Year 1 students (all around 6 years old) read to me one at a time--a short book in English. I correct pronunciation or get them back on track when they get distracted by stroppy stepsisters. This morning, about five kids into the stack of books, the Year 1 classrooms started to explode with energy. I mean more than every other single day of the year. People kept saying "Lúcio, Lúcio" and I thought to myself, huh, that name sounds vaguely familiar. 

There is a reason for that. Lúcio is a 36-year old Palmeiras player (he joined in January) and has played for seven teams total (I did not know this of course; he told us when questioned) including the Brazilian World Cup team of 2002. And that was a year that Brazil won (even I knew that one!). He had his World Cup medal with him, and a special World Cup replica trophy that only World Cup winners get from an Italian sculptor. 

A World Cup trophy in amongst the plastic water bottles and ABCs

I of course could not resist. When all the little kids filed into the classroom to meet Lúcio, I went too. I had some tiny bit of right to be there as I read with Lúcio's daughter last term. For obvious reasons, I will not be telling you her name, show her photo or mention which school she attends. All I can tell you is that this cute little girl just radiated happy pride and love when her father walked in. 

Lúcio, and all I'm going to show you of his daughter--with her hand on his leg.

Just like any other parent coming to tell about his/her career, Lúcio talked about his. He answered questions about how many soccer cleats he had owned in his life, who was the best player in the world, which was his favorite club team, how many times someone had kicked a goal over his head. He answered all the questions with a smile (and in Portuguese, by the way) and with quiet confidence. It is impossible not to like him. Seriously, I dare you.

Lúcio had come from yesterday's loss 600 km away, flying in this morning, and coming directly to the school. I loved how he made his daughter a priority when he could. And what I mean by this is that if you think about these players, you think about how much money they make, how egotistical they are, how space alien-like they are (but I will stop talking about Cristiano Ronaldo soon). What you don't see behind them is their families.

Now I don't know Lúcio but let's just imagine how his life is. Especially in the twilight of his playing career. He won a World Cup in 2002, he was the captain of the team in 2006, and played as well in 2010 for coach Dunga, his hero. And in between all this he played for several European teams as well as several here in Brazil. When approached to leave Brazil last year to play again in Europe, he refused. He wanted to stay in Brazil. 

And when I watched his daughter, I understood it. His wife Dione was there too--together they have 3 kids. And these three kids and his wife get left behind when the team trains for the big games, for the travel all over the country and world and at the late night games, they are surely all asleep. I forget how many games these guys play in a year but it's unbelievable! 

When I sit with a kid to read, it doesn't occur to me what happens at their homes at night. Some go to bed without mom or dad around a lot of the time. And that makes me sad. And it must make the parent sad too.

Now Lúcio is not going to the World Cup this year. Okay, he is probably going but he is not playing. He will watch his compatriots go for the gold--and I hope he watches those games from home with his wife and three kids. And he will know the cost to players and to their families of all of the training, all of the stress and all of millions of harsh words that are leveled at the players that they must ignore.

We can't forget in the middle of all this corruption and protests and FIFA-hating and Dilma-hating, there are 11 men on the field, and 12 more on the bench, who have lived entire lives for this World Cup. And they have sacrificed--even Cristiano Ronaldo who I love to hate has had to give up "normal" life for "national service" and his own dreams. And some of them are happy with that for a while...a long while... but I'm guessing that it weighs on all of them. 

So cheer for the players. Especially the ones you have never heard of and who don't make 8000000 billion on sports ads and drinks. They are giving up some of themselves for us, the spectators. 

Another reason to cheer. If not for Lúcio this time, for the others who come after.

Yeah it's dark...but here's me and Lucio..

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vai ter Copa - São Paulo

I admit it; I'm excited for the World Cup. It's 16 days to go, I've got my Uruguay, Brazil and US shirts, my tickets to Argentina-Iran, and Shakira just released her video so I don't have to watch Pitbull and J-Lo anymore. It's time to look forward and not back at the $7000000000 zillion that was wasted.

As many of you who follow me know, I don't really like watching soccer--yeah, I liked playing it as a kid, and I'm pretty much party rice at any Palmeiras game at Pacaembu but generally, nah. So, if I'm not watching it for the football, why am I so excited?

Well, I'll tell you. In a list. Here are my top 5 reasons for me to be excited about the World Cup.

In first place, I love the human stories. The teeny-tiny teams.  The African teams. The also-rans. The ones without a hope of winning, but every bit excited about playing. My current top three:

1. Iran. Okay, so I'm American and a woman so you'd think that I wouldn't have much sympathy for these guys...but then came the "human interest story" earlier this month. The Iranian players are forbidden from trading their uniform shirts at the end of games because they don't have enough funds to buy tons of extra shirts (say, where is that oil money?) And there's a funny story about the goalie washing his own shirt and it shrinking. And then of course the jokes about the shirts being white and red and the chances of them being pink by the end: high. How can you not feel for them? I do. Well, okay, I don't want them to win, but I love that they are at the World Cup (I do realize they beat the US in 1998. S*** happens). 

Dear players: wash those socks separately in cold water.
2. Cote d'Ivoire. The elephants. Well, of COURSE I like this team as their mascot and nickname is the Elephants. As I said, I am pre-disposed to love any of the African teams because of their David & Goliath nature next to the big teams. They have qualified for three consecutive World Cups--wouldn't it be fun if they made it out of the group stage? I think so too. A new house of orange. Plus with names like Boubacar Barry, or Sol Bamba or Yaya Touré, how can you not want to yell out your cheers? And I like Drogba. Not his name. But the captain is 36 years old. Love. 15 million population, a recent civil war, an agriculture-reliant economy; a good football campaign would be GREAT for them. Go, pachyderms!

3. Costa Rica. The Ticos (what this means, I dunno) Again, here is this tiny nation that has to fight against the US and Mexico in CONCACAF. And they are in one of the two groups of death this time around: seriously, the poor kids are against England, Uruguay and Italy in the group stage. Hello? The other three teams own seven world cups between them. I definitely cheer for them against Italy which I consider staffed heavily by big dramatic babies, and against England just because I am guaranteed to get the most comments from my Brit friends about this. Uruguay I cover later. Other tidbits about Costa Rica: it is the only Latin American country to have a democracy since before 1950, and in 1949, it abolished its army. This may not be good in case they win against Italy and the bambini invade.

Next, the team that makes Brazilians cringe almost as much as their Argentinian neighbors. The team that beat them on home turf in 1950.  And no, it's not just about Diego Forlán (yay, another post where I get to put a gratuitous photo of my main soccer squeeze), but about the history and the fact that this soccer powerhouse IS teeny-tiny too.

4.Uruguay. La Celeste. This country is the king of cute. Literally. It has 3.25 million people (in São Paulo, that is roughly the number of people who commute from one side of the city to another on a daily basis). It is the smallest country to have won the world cup--it had 1.75 million people when it won in 1930. They knocked Brazil on its keister in 1950 when they came from behind to win--and the architect of the winning goal is still alive and coming for the World Cup. Yikes for him. Now, I admit I am not a big fan of the muncher named Luis Suarez but it looks like he may not make it anyway. Cavani is fun to watch and I think we don't need to review my Diego Forlán obsession. Listen, the man is 35 years old and won the golden boot in 2010 so it's not all a pretty face. Anyway, if you want to seem smart about football, know that Uruguay is bigger than it seems on paper.

And the most important reason of all: Those for whom the Cup has still the magic and joy.

5. The seniors and the kids. Yesterday I picked up my World Cup tickets from the distribution center in Ibirapuera. As we waited for the doors to open, I watched the 8 or so 70+ year old men in the priority line talk about watching World Cups since they were televised. Most only heard 1950's World Cup on the radio. They had stuff to say about Pele, about Garrincha, about everyone I never knew I knew--and their eyes sparkled with excitement to see the Cup in Brazil. Dear protestors: do not take the joy from these men. And possibly women though there were none there that day.

And of course, my sons. Especially the blond one whose favorite player is Lionel Messi from Argentina. My sons are seven years old. They think farts are funny, that the world revolves around them, and that soccer stars are gods. What great good fortune that they are able to be part of the magic of a live game.

So that's it. Those are my top five reasons that I am happy that there will be a World Cup here. Vai ter Copa. Vai. And I am pretty darned excited about it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Strike me! - São Paulo

My view of the stopped buses during last week's strike

A friend of mine sent the following link to me this afternoon and it gave me the best laugh I've had all day (given it was a pretty dry day for laughter since I had to go fight with FIFA about my Cup tickets). The article talks about the strike planned by CET tomorrow--CET are the traffic cops who give tickets, direct traffic if the stoplight stops working (often) and probably do something else that I don't know what it is. They are affectionately (?) known as the marronzinhos or Little Brownies. No, zero girl scout cookies.

What made me laugh is how they are doing the strike. It is not a full-frontal assault--a work stoppage where people walk off the job. Nope. Much more crafty and fun: The CET workers are going to go en masse to donate blood. It's not because they are feeling community-minded, but because they get to take the rest of the day off after donating blood. Every blood center will provide donors with a "medical excuse" for the rest of the work day. I know this because I have also given blood here and was given the rest of the day off. Theoretically, since I don't have a boss. Sorry, BH, you do not count.

Now I am wondering if I can just escape paying parking or make a run with my car that is not supposed to move tomorrow because of rodizio (rodizio explained here).  Frankly, I am not too worried about CET taking the day--in fact, I encourage it. I find them most unhelpful in any case.

This is all following on two weeks of strikes of buses, of metros, of trains, of professors and who knows who else. Of course all these unions are taking advantage of the fact that the world cup comes anon. The world is watching us right now. Last week was absolute chaos as bus drivers literally walked off buses and left them parked where they were in the middle of traffic.  I know two people who had to walk home and it took them more than three hours. One lady interviewed on TV had walked home for 10 hours, fed her kids, then turned around and walked back to work the next day.

All I know is that most of these strikes affect only the middle to lower class. Does anyone believe that the construction company executives and the politicians take the bus? Many don't even take a car--maybe the helicopter pilots and bodyguards should strike. The quantity and diversity of the groups striking is definitely making me laugh, especially as my favorite comic writer, Jose Simão talks about having to have rodizio (taking turns) of various groups, including headless Barbies (link here). Maybe we should all have a strike on the same day and we can all just stop. And have a glass of wine.

I am pretty tired of having to plan out how I am going to get my kids at the end of the day. My only warning to the strikers (some of whom I sympathize with, and some I don't) is that if you get between me and my kids, the mama bear will go into action. The Blacky Blockies have nothing on me. 

Anyway, enjoy double-parking at the blood donation center. Hey, and take the rest of the day off!

Monday, May 19, 2014

More Random Advice for Brazil Visitors - São Paulo

With just three weeks to go before the start of the World Cup, I began to think about how people who have never been here before are going to react to various places and occurrences.

I still remember setting foot here in Brazil for the first time—back in 1995 when I was working for Visa risk management. We visited Rio and São Paulo on a tour of banks that were facing large amounts of credit card fraud.  I don’t much remember the banks except for Bradesco and its so-called City of God, the enormous bank campus in Osasco.  It seemed bigger than my American college campus, and BH just told me that it is still growing. It was my first introduction to Brazilian coffee in its tiny cups. I didn’t realize how dangerous it was and every time the uniformed coffee lady came by the meeting room, I accepted another tiny shot. I ended up with blurred vision, a wildly-palpitating heart and a room full of very amused Brazilians.

I also remember moving here in 1998 just at the beginning of the telecom privatization. It is hard to believe but people here used to pay thousands of dollars for a phone line—they were listed as household assets.  I would not call cell phones cheap here now but they don’t cost more than cars either.  I fell in love with Brazil and my Brazilian and look where that’s got me (just kidding, BH!!)

During my first tour of duty here (1998-2001), my artist uncle visited me. He is the closest brother to my mom, though not in distance. He is the closest my family has to crazy-wonderful – he makes art out of found objects, out of Styrofoam, out of paint and mylar and whatever. I am fortunate to own a number of his pieces.  James had been invited here for an art show in Brasilia and stopped in for a few days in São Paulo. I will never forget his visit because of the beauty he saw and the beauty he shared. 

This is as close as you need to get to a favela. From wikipedia

What? Beauty in São Paulo, the mess of concrete, polluted rivers and pothole-marked roads? Yes. Beauty. As I drove him from the airport, my uncle exclaimed at the geometry of the brick, metal and laundry-hung favela shacks. He marveled at the hives of electric wires, the boxy 70s buildings, and the trees popping out of piles of rubbish, growing against all odds. And his comments made me feel good about where I lived, and made me look at it with new eyes. Eyes I forget to look out of sometimes when I am annoyed by the daily life of a big city.

Based on James’ lesson to me about how to see Brazil, here is how I would do Brazil if I were seeing it for the first time:

1.     Expect the unexpected. Or don’t expect it--just enjoy it happening.  Say you get stuck in a two-hour traffic jam. Look around. Don’t get on facebook and complain. Look around at the geometry of that favela, the lady in the next car fixing her hair and ignoring the kids climbing over the back seat. Watch the water rush out of the many creeks and into the river. When the unexpected happens, take advantage, not offense. And if someone starts talking to you at the local bakery, participate. Be part of the country, don’t just visit it.

2.     Be positive. Brazilians will complain about their country. A lot.  My  recommendation is to not jump on that band wagon. It turns out that this will cause offense: while people from here may say “the river is filled with garbage”, they don’t necessarily want the tourists to agree with them. They want someone to say back “well, the trees on the edge seem to like it—I noticed how many flowering trees were there.”  Trust me, this is true. I have been here 6 years and I still sometimes step in the wrong place and people say “if you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?” 

    And please be careful of politics if you are American—the US, at the very least, does not have a sweet-smelling past here.  You may think they want you to agree with their complaints about corruption, or Dilma or whatever, but then you might find yourself on the receiving end of what the CIA did here during the military dictatorship. My advice: smile and say “s*** happens everywhere.”  Especially if you don't know what kind of democracy Brazil has or how justice works here. Listen, smile, and ask questions rather than say statements. Keep those ears open and learn. 

3.     Brazil is more expensive than you think. The pervasive thought about the developing world is that it is cheap. Yes, your dollar and euro is valuable right now but it still will be fighting against an immensely overpriced restaurant industry (São Paulo and Rio), the tax structure of imported goods, and of course the inflation that accompanies the mega event. I suggest keeping it to yourself if you find something very expensive…or very cheap. Unless you are negotiating for a US$500 hammock. Then that is VERY EXPENSIVE and you should complain.  PS You are not necessarily being taken advantage of at every moment. Brazilians pay for stuff through the teeth.

4.     Tip everyone. Okay, maybe not your friends you are visiting. I remember talking about this with a Brazilian friend a couple of years ago. Someone asked if you are supposed to tip the gas station guy for checking the tires or the oil. My Brazilian friend was almost offended—‘of course not! That is part of the service!’ But I always tip. I always go to the same gas station where I have known the attendants for 6 years and I always give them a $2 or a $5 for those services. And I get great service, usually a fun conversation and people who know my car.  I also tip at the grocery store (not necessary), the taxi cab (not necessary and not always—just if the guy has put up with evil twins on a bad day), the waiter who has made my day. It works for me. And it’s not exactly breaking the bank.

5.     If you are going to use your high school Spanish to get by here, make sure you let people know that you realize that Brazil speaks Portuguese not Spanish. Also our capital is Brasilia not Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro. Personally I would highly recommend a quick peruse of Wikipedia to know our population, our president’s name, the size of the economy, and the name of our most famous soccer player (it is not Maradona). Hint: the latter played for the NY Cosmos but is not in fact American as I thought when I was 7 years old.

6.     Skip the favela tour. I hate the favela tour. Why in the world would you do it? They are not animals in cages.

7.     Laugh. As much as you can. Smile at people in the street and say “bom dia” or “boa tarde.” Shrug and let things rolls off you. Let Brazil into your heart.

My two cents. Call it my tip to you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Crap Cake - São Paulo

My mother's day present from one of the twins
Today was a really crappy day. Yes, it is only 9:45 am but it's been crappy. Things are adding up from the stress of buying a house in the US, selling one here, moving countries and hemispheres, lots of work, guilt from yelling at my kids...and on and on. I don't think BH and I have slept well for at least a week with worry and with viruses (I have had a month-long bout of sinusitis and he has some other virus), my 14-year old labrador retriever is giving up on life but not one vet here will listen to me and they want him to keep carrying on, and I can't believe I have to fight to let my dog go. And soon I have to go fight with FIFA over a ticket issue, and also save an Argentinian from a screwed-up ticket deal and agh. Are you all still reading? Sheesh, I hope it makes your day look better.

This morning's cherry on the crap cake was reading mum being canceled (I found out after arriving there), the teachers telling me that my kids were not at school the day of the school pictures and will not appear in the yearbook and then as I am walking home I realize that I have forgotten my house keys. 

I immediately call my husband with the 10% battery left on my phone (seriously, when there is crap cake, there is a lot of it) and he is about to go into a meeting. He says he'll call me right back. At this point I am half laughing and half-crying. I am clearly a lunatic and everyone in the street is avoiding me. Seriously, a little terrier stopped full stop and walked all the way around his owner and hid in a bush.

BH calls me back and says he gave the keys to a taxi driver and that he told the driver to stop for a coffee and a chat first to torture me (BH was trying to make me laugh; it worked).  He had also given the taxi driver R$50 to pay the fare, and our address. I had the taxi driver's name (Valter) and his license plate number.  Would I ever do this in the US? Not dang likely. Note that BH got a taxi not from the street but from the established neighborhood taxi stand in front of his building.

After waiting about 10 minutes, up pulled the taxi. A spry older taxi driver jumped out of his seat, gave me the keys, the change and a receipt. And then we chatted for two minutes about nothing. And I resisted giving the cute man a hug as he got back in his car and told me not to spend the change (about US$10) all in one place. 

And that, the whole human interaction that is Brazil at its friendliest and most helpful, is why I love it here. Look up from your phones, as they say. If you are coming for a visit, talk to the people. They are lovely.

Enough crap cake. Let's roll.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Personal Security at the World Cup - Brazil


As of today, there are thirty-one days left until the opening of the World Cup. However you feel about the money wasted, the terrible treatment of those less fortunate, or FIFA, the Cup comes anon. It won't be canceled by the recent dengue outbreak, by the demonstrations or by the lack of water. Who needs a shower anyway?  This last input from my 7 year olds who are looking forward to the taps running dry.

This blog is specifically directed to those coming to Brazil for the first time for the Cup or for business related to the Cup, or because you are clearly insane since you have chosen to come here at a time when Brazil is least like Brazil. This is a mega-event and has little to do with the friendly, easy-going style that normally is around here (okay, not in São Paulo which is a stressed city).

So, here we go. I am giving my personal advice on your security. I am not a security consultant but I've lived here for 9 years and I think I get it. I have been to World Cup games in South Africa and I've seen the madness southern hemisphere style. Please be aware that this blog post is not designed to scare you but only to give you some ideas of what MIGHT happen while you are here. How you choose to react is up to you.


My strong advice here is to leave nothing to chance. Don't arrive here without a hotel room or without an idea of where the official taxi stand is, or without a few words of Portuguese (please and thank you go a long way). Know the number to call the police (190) and your consulate in your area (up to you to research). 

Do not expect to use dollars here. This is not Argentina (cambio! cambio!). Do not carry wads of cash. Use an ATM in the airport to withdraw what you think you will need, but keep an eye out to see who is watching you use the ATM. (*Numerous reader comments are coming back that airport ATMs are NOT safe. I don't know what to say here--it's never happened to me. To be safe, head to a currency exchange there and do it that way). Separate cash into individual pockets. Do not be distracted. Do not chat with people in line. Do not tell them where you are staying, how you are getting there or take any offered rides (see Arrival below).  

Take more than one credit card. Keep one back at your hotel or in a different place. Be aware that there are places here that still take only Visa or only MasterCard. Amex is less accepted and forget Diner's and some of those others. Remember you are in a mostly cash society so have some on hand at all times.

Pack light. The less baggage you have to maintain control of, the happier you will be.  I wouldn't necessarily attempt to dress like a Brazilian because everyone will know you are a gringo anyway--just don't dress flashy. Leave A&F home (or better yet, burn it), bring a few non-brand t-shirts and jeans and call it a day.  Tevas and Crocs will identify you as gringo at 200 meters. Be very aware of the weather where you will be--it will be cold in Sao Paulo (most likely), warm in Salvador and hotter than an inferno in Manaus. Be aware that Sao Paulo is colder than it looks in print--there is no central heat in most places (not counting chic hotels) so bring a pullover, jumper, sweater or whatever you call it in your home country.

Do not carry a laptop case or a backpack that looks designed for a laptop. Be aware that there will be bad guys in the airport and they will probably be figuring out which taxi to follow. Sorry, but true.  It's happened to a few of my friends.

Do not wear or bring any jewelry. Yes, I am authorizing your husbands to remove their wedding bands but not to go to the putarias. Don't carry a purse. Money belts are great.  You will need to carry ID for many places in Brazil--museums, many buildings, stadiums. I don't know if FIFA will require an original document to get into the stadiums or if a photocopy will do. I suggest carrying copies, notarized preferably, for places OTHER THAN the stadiums. At the stadiums, go original and go money belt.

I used to suggest leaving smartphones at home but I've changed my mind--those are going to help you navigate the countryside here and make sure your taxi is not taking you to Zimbabwe before getting to your hotel. Note: sometimes the Zimbabwe rides are necessary to avoid traffic. The airport taxis are normally highly reliable--I mean Guarucoop here in São Paulo which has a fixed fee for rides and it is not in their interest to lollygag you about. On the reverse side, the name Guarucoop on the taxi door means you are coming from the international airport and you may become a target.You do the risk analysis.

On the major warning side of smartphones: these allow you to become distracted. The more distracted you are, the more likely you will be the first victim of a robbery. If you must look at it while out and about, step into a doorway or a store where you can check it in peace. I can tell you from many conversations with the military police here in São Paulo, the bad guys select victims by who is paying the least amount of attention to what is going on around him/her.


On your arrival, expect big lines.  Be patient. Bring a snack. Smile, you are in Brazil. What, your luggage is taking two hours? At least it's coming. Maybe. There should be official helpers around and you can trust those...I will post what they are wearing once I know it. You must have a visa to visit Brazil from the US and from Canada at least, not sure about other countries -- make sure you check that before you leave!  

Once out in the arrival hall, you may want to hit the ATM or go directly to the taxi stand. I am guessing lines at the taxi stand will be terrible and you will think about accepting the offer of someone hanging around saying "taxi, taxi?". Don't do it. Wait in line at Guarucoop (in Sao Paulo) or the private taxi stand in Rio, or wherever you are. You do not tip taxis in Brazil though you can round up or if they were particularly good, giving a R$5 or R$10 bill (depending on distance) is always nice.  Carry a google map printout of where you are going and let them know you know. Have the address written on a piece of paper and try to do the minimum of waving your iPhone around.

Do not hop into private vans unless you have contracted them through hotels or private agencies. Bad stuff has happened to American co-eds. They cannot be trusted. Buses in Rio and buses in São Paulo are fine (watch for pickpockets, of course, and the distract-and-grab is the most common). Try to stay as close to the money-taker as possible or away from the exit door. Always figure out your route before you go--I suggest Moovit for public transport which is available in Rio and in Sao Paulo, not sure about the other cities. 

Getting to the stadium

Go early. If you have a chance to go by official transfer, do it. If you can go by metro, do it. I can't imagine what traffic will be like near these stadiums but I'm willing to guess that it will be a parking lot LONG before you get near it. Taxis will overcharge, for sure, even if it is illegal.  The earlier you go, the less stressed you will be about it. Enjoy the atmosphere. Eat some "churrasquinho de gato."

Stadium gear. I realize that you are all coming because you support a country team. I suggest that if that country team is NOT Brazil, you be somewhat careful outside the stadium during the big games. If you cheer for say, Uruguay, and they are playing Brazil in the semi-final match, do not wear your Forlán shirt to the stadium. Put it on when you get inside, paint your face when you get inside, do your happy dance inside. If the "worst" happens and your team beats Brazil, get out of that team's shirt and wear black. I am not kidding.  I have seen fans at a qualifying match verbally abuse the 10 Equadorians who were there cheering on their team. Things can get ugly. Especially when alcohol is involved.

More information about security in taxis and public transportation is here.

Inside the Stadium

BH brought to my attention this weekend that the security forces within and immediately outside the stadiums are actually privately contracted by FIFA. In a blog post last week, Juca Kfouri, arguably the biggest expert on football in this country, pointed out that the federal police had yet to find out who these personal security forces are (20,000 officers, apparently).  And Mr. Blatter of FIFA  has now stated that FIFA is not responsible for any security issues within the stadiums. What? And what are the military and federal police doing--are they inside or outside or what? Confused? Me too.

The important part of this for you, the fan in the stadium, to be aware that there does not seem to be a great deal of the coordination between the private and the Brazilian security forces within the stadium. If you feel uncomfortable with something in the stadium, go with your gut and get out of the situation or area.

If the Worst Happens and you are held up

Remember: bad guys here do not want to hurt you. They simply want your money because they are desperate. You are not. You are here because you care about goals and penalties. You care about your life. If you are held up at gunpoint, or threatened with a gun or knife or whatever, you need to follow these instructions from this past blog. Do NOT resist. You are too important. 

I hope and expect this will not happen to you, but it has happened to my husband, to other ex-patriates here so it CAN happen. Before all the Brazilians jump on me about talking negatively about their country, I do know it happens everywhere. But I don't want it to happen in Brazil because I care about it. 

All crime should be reported to the local police station. You will need to ask where that is, or call 190 from any phone. There are English-speaking attendants. The reason you want to report it is that then the police will be tracking crime concentrations and may put more men and women on the street there to stop the next crime from happening. Be part of the solution.


Bring any medication you may need with you. Tough tummy? Bring that Immodium or Gas-X or whatever. You don't want to try to explain that to the pharmacist in English. Wait, just call me first because I think I'll enjoy that.  

Bring bug spray. Everywhere. There is a very serious dengue outbreak in a lot of Brazil. Prevention by covering yourself by bug spray is HIGHLY recommended. Bring sunblock if you are Canadian or as white as one.

If you should get seriously ill, get yourself to the best private hospital you can find in your host city. In Sao Paulo, I recommend Albert Einstein or Sirio Libanese. Not only for the standard of care, but for the fact that there will be someone there who speaks English. Of course, if you do not speak English, what are you doing reading this blog anyway? Contact your consulate if you need more assistance.

Street smarts

We've covered this in a prior blog here, but it's worth reviewing. Be aware, don't be paranoid. Be most aware of the distraction trick where someone seemingly nice wants to chat you up about the exchange visit they did to your fine country while their accomplice is making off with your unattended whatever. Happened to BH. Only has to happen once. Try to keep all your cash separated into different pockets and cards in your money belt. Always have some cash on hand--if you say you have nothing, you might piss someone off.

There will undoubtedly be protests when you are here. There was a lot of corruption and a lot of bad things that happened  locally on our way to hosting the Cup. The anger is not directed against the tourists so I believe that you will be safe from that. But don't join any "parades" okay? And ask your hotel before leaving in the morning if they are aware of any pressure spots, so to speak.

In Sum.

I really don't want to scare anyone here. Brazil is filled with wonderful things to do: get out there and do them! Visit the parks, the museums (I can meet you at the spider and snake museum in SP any time!), the beach, the shopping centers, the historic downtown. Know where you are going when you leave your hotel, and know how you are going to get there. Don't read your smartphone. Go sit at the local bakery and watch the people go by. Find out where your country team fans hang out and hang out at the bar. Smile. Brazil does indeed welcome you. Unless you are Uruguay and then the ghost might just be too big.

Cheer for Brazil! I don't mean just the team.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day - Ribeirão Preto

Behind the ixora bush and the hibiscus tree is the chicken which was the first one to wish me a happy mother's day.

And so I pass on the ranch mother's day greeting to all you moms out there!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Brazil in My Eyes - São Paulo

So here it is, my last post of the year of living dangerously. The year of daily posts. In all, there are 372 posts as I posted twice once in a while (okay just a few times). There are 36,000 pageviews in this year, and not all of them are my mom. Yes, the US likes me best, then Brazil, then Germany and the UK. Surprisingly it is Russia, Poland and China right after that. Go figure. 

I am not ready yet to say goodbye to this blog and to this country. I will need a few days off, though they won't really be off since I have promised a blog post about World Cup security to the American Society here by next Wednesday.  I have too much to say to shut up now. Especially about the World Cup sticker album stuff, the last news of the toucan and my expatriation from my adopted country of Brazil. So, carry on if you will, and keep reading. I'll post any new blogs on the facebook page and the email subscriptions will also let you know the post is up.

I really do appreciate the comments that have come in from all over. Mostly positive, sometimes questioning, sometimes correcting. It is nice to have readers. I don't know why you all are here but I sure am glad you are. In particular, I would like to thank BH (Brazilian husband) who faithfully reads these posts every day as they come to his inbox. He infrequently corrects me here in "print" but I usually hear feedback offline. Mostly positive, unerringly supportive. If I could give him a t-shirt for being my #1 fan reader, I would. Maybe I'll try an Argentina soccer jersey instead.

Carry on.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Change - São Paulo

On Wednesday morning, the for-sale sign went up on our house. It is an extremely strange feeling. My kids, while born in the US, have spent the last 6 years here. There are many memories, laughter and fun in this house. And more than a few scratches in the wood floor.

I will miss this country. It is one embedded deeply in my heart, and fortunately, being married to a Brazilian, I will always visit. Will I live here again? Who knows. There is lots unknown ahead of us: will repatriation really be harder than expatriation as everyone tells me? Will my friends in the US still be my friends when I get there? Will my friends in Brazil still be my friends when we visit for shorter periods of time in the future?

One of the hardest parts is knowing that my kids will not grow up with their third-cousin, now a close friend living right across the river. They won't hear Julia, their first cousin, say her first word. They won't participate in club championships, maybe will give up ballet, capoeira or judo, will lose the "best" in best friend with their school friends...distance does that. Yes, they will always be friends but not like they were. We have experienced that already moving the kids from one school to another across São Paulo.

I worry about great-grandma, who will turn 95 in July. She is on a slow slide now. She lives three hours away now; soon to be 13 by plane. I worry about BH's parents--as much as I like to poke fun and "complain", they are wonderful grandparents full of fun and teachings. My kids will not be a weekend visit away.

I worry about the Portuguese. Fortunately, near Boston there will be many Brazilians. My kids will now have to take language classes to hold that Portuguese. This beautiful language will now become our home language, rather than English.

What keeps me awake at night? Besides my current sinus infection that is... Here's what keeps me awake at night: change. What's that old saying that you can't steal second base while standing on first? (sorry, I may have to explain this to non-Americans). We have a great life here; we are looking to make it better. What if we get called out?

Scary times. And I don't mean the World Cup. I mean the next six months.

And that's Brazil in My Eyes for today.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Well, I'll be...competition - Ushuaia and El Calafate, Argentina

 I subtitle this photo: Crazy-Beautiful

As many of you know, I am from Connecticut. You may not know where that tiny state lies but I assure you it is inside New England. And one thing New England is known for is the fall colors. 

I have lived in many parts of the country and when the residents of one place or other say "well, fall is beautiful here too", I tend to roll my eyes like any good New Englander and say 'you have no idea'. Yes, aspen trees are nice. So are golden hills, and a few red brambles. By the way, Brazil has a very nice fall but it has nothing to do with "my" fall: it is gorgeous colors--of flowering trees. Weird. To me. But in my opinion, New England is the champion of fall.

Or is it? When we planned our trip to Patagonia, I hadn't really been thinking about autumn. I was wondering how I was going to break it to the kids that they would not be having a snowball fight or skiing because that is only in June in the southern hemisphere. And therefore I got bowled over by Patagonian fall. I was gobsmacked. It is, in the real and the southern California meanings of the word: AWESOME.

Before I bore you with vacation photos, I will mention that the days are getting verrrrrrry short down there in Patagonia. In Ushuaia, it was sunrise at 9 am and sunset at 6.  9 am!! Weird. In El Calafate, it was sunrise at 8:45 am and around the same sunset--at the height of winter, the sun is up at 10 am and barely crosses the sky before setting around 6 pm. Let me tell you it is really hard to get up in the dark--I would consider doing an hour rollback of the clocks in the winter, but that's none of my beeswax. Maybe Cristina could do something useful with her time.

9:30 am. The sun still attempting to come over the mountains.
I've got all the usual TripAdvisor stuff on TripAdvisor but let me tell you Patagonia rocks the beauty scales. Seriously. Get thee to the end of the world...

A view of Ushuaia from the boat departure spot to the Beagle channel
Some sea lions catching the breeze. And some birdies.

Did I mention that they are not over the Malvinas war? Ushuaia

Fall. There are only three types of trees in this park but they are the absolute right ones
Train to the end of the world. Tracks originally built by prisoners. The prison was the whole reason Ushuaia got populated. Like Australia.
Tomorrow I return to Brazil with two last daily posts on my life here. Mother's Day I am taking off and then we'll see how often I can post after that. Daily is tough. As Verissimo once said: "The deadline is my muse" which is why my posts are lame as often as they are good. Or more often, who knows? 

And now, the money shot. Taken at 11 am on a beautiful day at Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate. Priceless. Okay, no fall colors on this one but who cares? To say the obvious, Connecticut has competition.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Argentina in My Eyes - Buenos Aires

Seriously, where does Argentina hide the sun?

I have never ever visited Buenos Aires on a sunny day. I admit I have only been there four times, maybe five, but seriously I begin to wonder if it is ever sunny. It makes a difference you know--I suspect that my friends who love Buenos Aires get some sun in a nice city with a little of the European feel, great food, wide boulevards and ease of getting there. It's only a 2 1/2 hour flight from São Paulo.

Buenos Aires is an enticing city, even in the rain. Beautiful buildings. Great food. A lovely shopping center, an extraordinary opera house. And BA was the only place where the people understood my mangled Portugnol which I dragged out from my days as a Miami resident. Ushuaia and El Calafate residents only looked at me blankly. 

Please no one ask me the name of this beautiful shopping center. I just don't know.

Yet somehow Buenos Aires always makes me sad: is it the rain that always follows me? We had spectacular weather in Ushuaia and El Calafate but BA to me has always been grey.

It is a tough comparison between Argentina and Brazil. But I do think that Brazil wins on playfulness and fun and out-and-out joy. You want to have a beer with most Brazilians. Maybe not Argentinians. I always remember this debate on George W. vs Kerry. Who would you rather have a beer with? Of course W. is not having any beer but you get the point. 

And Argentina has just wonderful wine, but isn't so hot on marketing it. I volunteer to single-handedly market the cute Saurus wine that was named for the Argentinasaurus they found while digging out the winery foundation. They can pay me in pinot noir.

Now I know that Brazil is special on treatment of kids. Brazilians love kids. Kids can do no wrong. There is a good side to this and a bad side (the part where my kids think that they really do no wrong). I'm sticking to good. In Argentina, they got frowned at as they walked from side to side on sidewalks, got shushed in the glacier museum, and got no special treatment or smiles. One twin hit a shop window lightly with a glove and a woman came running out of the shop and yelled at him "NO! No puedes something-or-other." And I stared at her shocked and responded "no." And she looked at me as if I had another head and went back in. My kid was stunned into silence for a short while. Oh, okay, 30 seconds. I bought him an Argentina hat at the next shop. He loves Messi and that is why he will always love Argentina.

So here is my advice to Argentina: be more playful. Things are going to hell but you might as well "enjoy" it. We had one very positive interaction in Buenos Aires at a wonderful little restaurant near our hotel. I'll tripadvisor it and then post the link here. Il Fratello. The waiter was fun and asked us where we were visiting, and interacted with the kids and it was all lovely.

Il Fratello. Decorated like a 50s joint, but great food and nice people.

The other really fun interaction was with Felipe.  Felipe was a beautiful black and gold German Shepherd that I could just kick myself for not photographing. He hung out at the sushi place where we stopped at in Ushuaia. He let my kids hug the stuffing out of him. He had a lot of stuffing--it's cold there. Actually the friendliest Argentinians are the dogs--El Calafate has a serious stray dog issue as in there are tons of them. And all came up and greeted us and walked with us for a few blocks before giving up and trying another person. One twin of course wanted to adopt one. Or two. Or ten.

Some of my best friends are Argentinian. So I do like them. Maybe I like the ex-pat ones best. I don't know. I don't feel Argentina in my soul. They do have one hell of a beautiful Patagonia region though. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Flying the Argentinian skies - Argentina

Waiting for my plane in El Calafate

So you might have noticed that I've been gone the last week. I admit to succumbing to a last hurrah around South America. Specifically the part frequently called "El Fin del Mundo" or end of the world. As a few t-shirts said, I prefer to think of it as the Beginning of the World--the wildly beautiful Patagonia including Ushuaia and El Calafate. 

I will try to contain myself about the place as after all, this is a blog about Brazil. And I am in the last week (!!) of my year-long challenge of daily posts. Can hardly write it all about the land of Messi and Cristina, right? But of course, I will have to indulge in just a little bit of comparison with my adopted country of Brazil.

First of all, Aerolineas Argentinas, their now nationalized airline is muuuuuch better than it used to be. I used to be afraid of getting on those old planes. Now, they have nicer planes than many US airlines (hello US ScAirways!). They don't have movies on the backs of seats (a huge disappointment to the 7 year olds) except on the Embraer 190s, one of which we took from São Paulo to Buenos Aires. That is a nice plane. I would like to congratulate all ITA graduates for being anyhow associated with that plane.  BH will like that. He is an ITA graduate. He might have associated with someone who built that plane.

Second of all, still on the Aerolineas subject, there are two other quirks that made me laugh. One, if you are on a national flight, you had better get there two hours in advance, because if they have everyone there early, they simply take off early. Yes, true story. On Wednesday, we had a 5:25 am flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and we were at the airport at 3:30 am. They loaded us on at 4:30 am and we were in the air by 4:45. Now that was an efficient boarding process--literally loaded on, sat down, and the plane pushed back. Love. Happened in Ushuaia and El Calafate too. So word to the wise: your actual flight time means nothing. Be early.

The other part of the Aerolineas subject is the clapping. When the plane landed in all national airports, the entire plane broke into loud and steady applause. My kids were craning their heads to see what had happened that everyone was so enthusiastic. Were people so surprised that they had landed another flight or is it like the good old days of flying when people were genuinely impressed and appreciative of the fact that a couple of regular guys had once again brought 240 people from 0 to 35,000 feet and then back again? I stopped to think about this one a bit. It is a truly amazing thing, this flying. I say "Yay Argentinians" for reminding me of this.

Ushuaia-Argentine Malvinas airport. Yes, we get your point, Argentina

My final thoughts on the flying portion of my trip is that Wow! Does Argentina know how to build an airport! (also they need to get over the "loss" of the Malvinas, but that's a subject for another day). In Ushuaia, the gorgeous terminal was built (another one had existed on site) in 1995, and kicks the butt of any small airport (Ushuaia population: 70,000) anywhere. Seriously. And free wi-fi.  And that's without throwing in the views from the airplane window (see below).
El Calafate International (I kid you not) Airport

In El Calafate, things are even nicer: that airport was built only in year 2000 and designed by an Uruguayan. Is that relevant? Why not? El Calafate is a town of 6,000 residents, maybe 8,000 counting all the stray dogs now that the tourism there is taking off. Their airport was used by 400,000 people during 2007 (source: Wikipedia). Wow! Dear Argentina, please send your airport terminal engineers to Fortaleza where our World Cup visitors will experience a canvas terminal.Oh, all right, that is totally unfair: Fortaleza has about double the passengers and has a pretty nice main terminal. And a canvas one. 

One more view of Ushuaia's airport - WOW!

Okay, so I've rambled on about the airline and airports long enough. If you all will give me license, I'm gonna yap more about Argentina tomorrow and maybe Thursday. Then I'm going to sum up my year of living daily posts. And then I'm taking Mother's Day off. And then I'll be back, but probably not daily. I've got a household to move and not enough time.