Sunday, July 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alemão

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

The view from the Alemão. Which never changes.

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

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

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

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

That's all she wrote.

Closing the gate on this chapter.  

Or is it?


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Silence of the Lambs - São Paulo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 4, 2014

A trickle runs through it - Piracicaba

Rocks once covered by a huge rushing river

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss the river. Hope it comes back soon.