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I am now in the second half of what was originally planned as a 6-month stay in Brazil.  My birthday almost exactly marked the 3-month turning point, and the day was a nice source of both closure and opening: I still have much to do to build a life here, but I made a point of spending the day with the people that I have here that I love the most (with the important exception of dear Marília, who was at her father’s house outside the city).  So, on one side of the coin, maybe my wide-eyed newness is coming to a close–at least in São Paulo–but now a new kind of newness begins.  I have some [unorganized] thoughts.

Somehow, to me, the parallels are obvious.  I can’t get away from a feeling of cosmic symmetry.

Releitura means re-reading or reinterpretation, and   My second three months here involve not getting used to a new culture or a new language, but rather to a new life and to the reality of having a day-to-day routine in another country.


“Don’t worry,” Gera told me sometime in February, when I voiced the concern that for some indeterminable reason, everyone on the sidewalk instantly pegged me as non-Brazilian.  “In about another month you will have learned the way of walking down the street, the secret cues and ways that we have here.”  And he was right.  I sit on the bus and read people’s text messages over their shoulders and hear their conversations (normal, human) without stopping to translate in my mind anymore.  The automatic switching off of foreign-language babble is becoming less and less frequent.

In São Paulo, I have felt both more a child and more an adult than ever before, sometimes in the same moment or with the same people.  I have also felt a weird (weird for me, anyway, since I am terrible about these things) urge to reach out and keep in better contact with friends and family abroad, and I have a strange fondness for children at times, since I really relate with them these days.  I have been and continue to be lucky to have wonderful people here, and sometimes the process of making friends here is frustrating–let’s not go into last-minute cancellations of social plans–but I know I will have more in time.

Rino found a quote recently by Robert Doisneau that really struck me as a summary of this, my symbolic second half of life here: As maravilhas da vida cotidiana são tão emocionantes. (The marvels of the quotidian are so exciting.)  I have a way of joking around here: every time something good happens, no matter how little, I say something along the lines of, “Just another success in my glamorous life.”  Joking aside, this is a new way of thinking about my life: all sorts of banal, tiny events make me happy these days.


My student uses a phrase like “in a nutshell” without my ever teaching it to him; I successfully make pão de queijo or farofa for the first time and Roomie Rino likes it; Gi, the receptionist at my school, tells me, “Você já é brasileira!” (“You’re already Brazilian!”); one of my friend’s students thinks I am Brazilian when he hears me gossiping with the receptionists (excessive flattery?); the porteiro tells everyone one day that I am the nicest American he’s ever met and that I look like a princess; I make it to the Polícia Federal the day after getting hopelessly lost trying to get to the damn place; I have a long afternoon drinking cachaça with Gera and trocando idéia (literally: changing ideas) about literature and future projects together; an 8 a.m. class all the way across Zona Sul, which I had been dreading waking up for, turns out to be a delightful fest of lawyerishness and makes me feel, for just a second, like I’m at the dinner table with my parents in Atlanta; I find a pile of old shattered records on the side of the road and salvage the reusable ones for nesting-related craft activities (Chasidic in America, anyone?  See above); wow, I am in São Paulo and thinking about making this apartment feel like a home….

They’re all just more successes for the week, or for the month, or for my life.  I got a tattoo on my birthday.  It’s an arrow.  The idea came to me suddenly and forcefully.  As I make my way through the second six months here, and a certain looming deadline, and the plaguesome doubt that it drags with it, one fact is more certain than ever: I don’t know where I am going, but I am going with certainty.



You know you’re assimilating when…

  • You have made a long list of things that you want your mother to bring in her suitcase when she visits in May.
  • You are no longer shocked or scandalized when your friends start requesting that your mom bring things for them when she visits in May.
  • You send beijos to and receive beijos from people you haven’t even met yet.
  • You congratulate people on everything.
  • Dinner is at 10 pm at the bar next to your apartment.
  • You don’t worry about large things, like obtaining a work visa, because (1) you’ve put out the word to your Network and (2) anyway, it’s out of your hands, you’ll stay here se Deus quiser, and there’s always a jeitinho for these things.
  • Speaking of the Network: Your friend talks about needing to go to Porto Alegre for business but having no place to stay, and you realize that you have 3 or 4 people down there that you could put him in touch with.  You have never been to Porto Alegre.
  • It’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and you’re in your apartment wearing a sweater and clutching a mug of tea because you have the chills.
  • Portuguese is the language you speak in your free time and with your friends, and you consider English to be a job.
However, in a bid to introduce one of the more delightful American customs to Brazil, I made brunch on Sunday.  It’s funny how some things that I never really even like in the US are the things I crave here.  French toast, for example–which is what I made for brunch.  It’s simple to make and somehow much more delicious than I remember it being.  The only tricky thing is that cream as we know it apparently doesn’t exist here in Brazil.  Instead, there is nata, which is like a solidified SuperCream, somewhere in between butter and milk, and then there is creme de leite (cream of milk?), which is a liquid.  I had no idea which to get, so I threw caution to the wind and used both.*  At any rate, Rino and Gera liked it.  I am secretly harboring the ambition to make Sunday Brunch a standing-appointment-type, come-as-you-are event.  Anyway, here are some pictures of the brunch.
*But wait, this gets even better: I just checked the label of the nata in the fridge, and it says that’s it’s pasteurized creme de leite.  I give up trying to understand.  (Another  sign of assimilation, I think….)

So you want to go to Rio for Carnaval and you come down with sinusitis

~*smiling on the outside, dying on the inside*~

Edited one year later to add: if you are looking for good travel advice on Rio during Carnaval, look somewhere else.  I actually had mostly an awful time; if you’d like to read about that, then by all means continue.  If you want to see the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, and dislike crowds, I’d recommend going during the off-season, when it’s still warm and a hell of a lot easier to get around.  My experience on the beach of Ipanema, for example, was that I had no view of the ocean and no breathing room both days I went during Carnaval.  And my other advice would be to go to a smaller city or town for Carnaval: you’ll still get the parties, the music, and the beaches, and things will be a bit cheaper and more relaxed.  I now live in Florianópolis, for example, and Carnaval here has been delightful this year.  The Northeast is also a great option: Olinda, João Pessoa, Fortaleza…!  Also, don’t just assume it’s okay to grope people because *it’s Brazil* and *everyone does it.*  Nobody does it, and you’ll get slapped at the very least.

So Carnaval in Rio wasn’t quite what I expected, if we’re being honest.  The first night I was there, I went out with Ma and the other girls I was staying with to a street party in Lapa.  This is relatively normal, sure, for Carnaval.  What is not normal is that I went home and woke up in the middle of the night with my nose running as if it were being chased by a madman with a chainsaw.  Ew.  Commence crazy sinusitis and migraine!  I am especially confused as to how and why this happened, especially since I’ve never had sinus problems in my life.  At any rate, this misery lasted through medication, “self-medication,” and a few nights of horrendous sleep–right up until the morning I left Rio, when it disappeared.  The Fates didn’t want me to revel, I guess.  But revel I did, somewhat.  Here are some tips, should you find yourself in this situation:

  • Sleep at night, go out during the day.  It’s harder to sleep during the day anyway–not to mention impractical to go to the beach at night–so you might as well get up [slowly] and get out.  I ended up passing out as early as possible at night, which sometimes wasn’t very early because I was sharing a studio apartment with 4 girls who were in the habit of inviting gentleman callers with flutes and tambourines over to pre-game before going out (I shit you not).  But sleep when you can.
  • Forget trying to be “fun.”  I’m pretty sure I got called a mala a lot behind my back (mala meaning suitcase, or colloquially, social baggage or a person who is a draaaag).  I was past the point of even trying to pretend I felt good sometimes, though, so whatever.
  • The beach is your best friend.  Stay there for a few hours, preferably under an umbrella.
  • DO NOT go around the city with a group that can’t decide–for two hours–on where to stop for lunch.  The building rage and low blood sugar will only intensify the migraine.
  • Medicine will not help.
  • Contrary to popular logic, beer will.
  • But then you will feel like absolute death afterwards when the beer wears off.  You will know pain you’ve never known before.
  • Avoid going to the Beatles-samba bloco, since the music sucks and is hard to hear, and it is über-crowded and you will end up just going to Ipanema and having a better time anyway.
  • Rio is beautiful, and even if you don’t get up to Christ the Redeemer or to any other super touristy attractions, and even if the hordes of people there for the festivities sort of dampen the effect, you will like it and want to go back.
A special This Week In Funny Building Names: Rio Edition: Edifício Kosmos.  And I also saw a few Jorge Ben Jors partaking in the merriment.

chegou a turma do funil…

”]”]Well, I am moved in and heading off to Rio for Carnaval.  Jeez.  It seems like every time I move, I am also under strict time limits.  But anyway, I did it, I have my key, I had a few celebratory beers (not the ones above) with Gera, and it’s bus time.

Also, look you guys: ;:?zzzzzz!!!  My laptop works with the internet at my new place!  É destino!!!

And apropos of nothing, let’s marvel at a country that drizzles olive oil on its cheese before eating it for dinner.  This is precisely why I’m not exactly, as ladies’ magazines would say, bikini ready–but that stops nobody in this country (you should see some of the bus fashions here), and it’s certainly not going to stop this gringa.

*The title of this post is from a pretty famous Carnaval song and it more or less translates to “The funnel class/gang has arrived.”  As in beer funnel.  Yeah.  If you’re into that (Big sis, I’m looking at you again), you can hear it here.

Planes, trains, and automobiles

You`ve already heard about my bus triumphs, but what about the other methods of transit here in this giant city(question mark)  Planes, trains, and automobiles have been on my mind a lot, since transportation is rather a big theme in the beginning and intermediate EFL world. As you can imagine.

(And before I continue, let`s get this part out of the way.  Ma`s keyboard seems to have changed overnight, and now I can find neither the colon, nor any of the proper accents for Portuguese words, nor quotation marks and apostrophes.  Ugh sei la!)

First, the automobiles.  I arrived here in Brooklin my first day by taxi, and that has been the extent of my taxi adventures so far–thank God, because they`re expensive!  I have ridden a few times in Marilia`s sister`s boyfriend`s car (to a bus stop, natch), but I`d say that the most memorable car trip I`ve had so far was this past weekend.  We were at a bar in Butanta with some friends, who invited other friends to join us…you know how it goes.  One of this friends had a car and offered to drive us back to Brooklin, where people would crash in the apartment until the morning.  Okay, cool.  This girl had a special car because she was paraplegic, but that`s not even the interesting part.  She was a terrifying driver (some drivers of stick have an alarming way of braking suddenly) and we had 7 people crammed into this tiny clown car and had to drive casually past the police to get on the highway, so half of us were sitting on people`s laps and trying to bend over and hide under the windows.

Secondly, the trains.  Picture this.  I am at Sao Bento, which can get semi-dodgy at times, and it`s 10 pm.  I am with a friend and we want to get to his house in Jabaquara, which is straight down the blue line.  Nobody is moving through the turnstiles: yes, the system of swipe cards is broken.  (I found the colon!)  The crowd is pissed (inclusive me, as I just observed a 3-hour lackluster lesson in beginning English and I am HUNGRY), and there are a few harried policemen trying to keep peace.  There`s no way this will go on much longer.  This is Brasil, my friend says.  And he`s right: a lone guy darts through the turnstile.  Suddenly the floodgates break.  People everywhere, flouting convention because they want to get home!  The two policepeople try to get a grip on the situation, and they almost do, but a tired crowd without answers is an unhappy crowd, and in an uncharacteristic move–in the States I am quite the rule folower–I go through the stile and keep walking.  A free subway ride.  Oh, Brasil.

I also keep making the inevitable mistake of taking the CPTM at rush hour.  The CPTM is the commutery train here in Sampa, and one of the stations is right by Ma`s apartment.  The second time I took it, I was still getting used to Brasil, and I got really spooked by the close quarters and people talking about me like I couldn`t understand, and I vowed not to take it again.  However, after today, that trip was like a walk in the park–and yet, today I handled the even more hellish voyage so much better!

I just came back from Shopping Eldorado, which is 3 stations up the Emerald line.  How bad can that be, right(question mark)  In Sao Paulo at rush hour…you have no idea.  I got in with my shopping bag, and the train was crowded.  I almost didn`t make it in the car before the doors closed, actually.  With each station, more people packed in–to the point where, manners be damned, everyone basically knew each other really well by the time we reached the stop before mine.  Body odor, awkward body part contact, the works.  I raised my eyebrows convivially, in a sign of mutual suffering, at the female coworker of the guy whose butt my hand was forcibly pressed into.  Isso nao e vida, she had said as people crammed into the car (This isn`t life, or maybe This is no way to live.). 

Shit, I thought to myself, I have to get off at the next station.  No time to be timid.  This was not going to be easy, since the door was barely in sight and I really hate making a scene.  I readied my shopping bag, I shifted my weight a bit so that the people directly around me perceived that I was preparing to make a move.  The train stopped.  I shouted.

Licenca, pessoal, quero descer! (Exuse me, people, I want to get off!)

Ela vai descer, vai descer! went down the line. (She`s getting off, she`s getting off!)

Ahhh, vou tentar pelo menos, I shouted jovially (I`m going to try, anyway).  I shoved and elbowed and smiled, and finally I was on the platform.  A helpful set of hands birthed my shopping bag out of the melee behind me and into the free air, I shouted a `Brigada! (Thank you!) and the doors closed.  Oof.

That was actually, I think, my biggest victory here so far.  This is no place for the timid.

You’ve been speaking a lot of Portuguese when…

  • you are typing a phrase and it comes out “connotations coloquial” instead of “colloquial connotations.”
  • you realise when your boss makes a comic aside about difficulties that Brasilians have learning English, that you, too, tend to erroneously say “polemic” when you mean “controversial.”

In other news, I have a few free days (read, one full day) in between now and when I start my job teaching English as a foreign language.  I still have to get my CPF and buy some professional clothes (because, contrary to whomever the hell inhabited my body when I packed to come here, flip flops and tank tops do not professional attire constitute) –> (and ohmigodyouguys, work clothes here are called roupas sociais, or “social clothes” hahahaaaaa).  So anyway, I have a few thoughts for the next bullet point roundup, but those will have to wait.

(P.S. The ‘jesus mother of god i hate cats’ tag will always be relevant. I hate them, I hate them, I hate them.  And I hate dogs that act like cats and lick cats and then sit on my pillow WHYYYYYY.)

I’m alive, I promise!

Hey there, I’m still alive–alive and well, acually, in Brooklin here in Sampa. I’ve only been here less than a week but it feels like so much longer already.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve (insert a colon here, since the keyboard is using has various inconveniently-broken keys)

  • learned to navigate the bus system successfully
  • scared a small child on the bus just by being a gringa who speaks Portuguese
  • likewise, learned to navigate various accents, like those from Porto Alegre (friends), Minas (the maid Francisca), and Ceara (Ma’s relatives).
  • taught myself the word for ‘bicycle lane,’ among others.  Ciclofaixa.
  • stayed out until 5 a.m. in Vila Madalena
  • been talked to at length by my neighbor, a woman named Valkyrie.  Apparently I remind her of her mother, who was Russian, because I am so pale.  I have also overheard multiple times that I am soooo branquinha e loira (pale and blonde).
  • been to not one, not two, butfour shoppings for various reasons.  Funnily enough (to me, anyway), shopping is the word for ‘mall’ in Portuguese.Shoppings seem a lot more serious here, somehow, maybe because everyone is really well-behaved and generally quieter.  Although I don’t really know why I get that feeling.
  • answered the question did I have a Brasilian boyfriend about a billion times.  Yes, I’ve had two, and no, not at the moment.  Yes, that’s how my Portuguese is so good.  Ha.
  • gone to the countryside for an all-day churrasco (barbecue).  This is the best way to spend a weekend day, if you were wondering.  I lierally did nothing all day except eat delicious meat, chat with people, and sit by the pool and read.  Also, the farofa was delicious.
  • sang Janis Joplin with some random Argentinians.
  • watched my novela, A Vida da Gente.

In the meantime, I haven’t had too much time to do touristy things, but I’ll get around to that when things calm down. I’m still working on finding an apartment and a steady job, as well as taking a course here, so that’s keeping me pretty busy.  Also, my laptop is somehow incompatible with the internet here in the apartment, so my time for internet use is limited–which is for the best, anyway.  So anyway, it’s off to the padaria, then meeting a friend for coffee and to do homework on Paulista.  Whee.