Category Archives: Miscellany

Learning Curve

Oh boy, have I been absent from blogging for the past several months!  While I feel like there is really nothing new to say, at the same time there is so much.  Living on a subtropical island presents challenges I never would have dreamed of, plus the fact that I’m back in school after moving to a place where I know almost no one and people have really unintelligible accents.

Let’s get into some of my random thoughts, then.

Floripa is a really, really frustrating place to live if you’re used to São Paulo.  The public transport–let me put it diplomatically–is suboptimal at best: when it rains, which it does a lot, it takes me almost 3 hours to get home from school, even though I only live 8 km away.  Thus, socioeconomic segregation becomes more pronounced when you don’t have a car, and obviously your social life becomes way more difficult to coordinate.  Racism is more subversive, more ingrained, and more tolerated.  In a similar vein, people do things one way because they’ve always done them that way, even if it doesn’t make much sense; provincialism is still alive and well on the island.

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I’m probably going to get absolutely flamed by prodigiously google-happy Floripa defenders here, but I’m not trying to point out how terrible this city is; these are problems that present in pretty much any society I can think of.  As I said to my friend Flá when I visited São Paulo earlier this month, the smallness of the city forces you to see with and confront these problems, whereas in a city like Sampa, it’s very easy to only see and do the things that are amenable to you.  It’s even easier to avoid interpersonal interaction, which may seem counterintuitive when we’re talking about a city of over 15 million inhabitants.  A smaller selection of options means dealing with the people around you, and at the very least seeing what they have to deal with.  Floripa, due to its geographic limitations, happens to have a smaller selection of options.

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I didn’t experience much culture shock in São Paulo because I was able to mold my experience in the city into an agreeable, not-completely-alien form.  The culture shock really only started in February, after I had been here for a little while and started to realize how different life is here.  It’s starting to become a bit more bearable, though, because I’ve been consciously trying to adapt.  By now, I’ve learned to put the mattress, towels, and heavier clothing out in the sun during the day to avoid mold.  I’ve had some incredibly weird conversations with my elderly neighbor, including how gruesome death by accidental electrocution is.  The 1.5-mile walk to the grocery store is…well, let’s not kid ourselves, carrying a full load of groceries up a giant hill with no shade trees will always suck.  I have taken to downloading a ton of podcasts and using comfortable shoes for my ridiculous, frustrating commute.  Things like racism and lack of will to help out the poorer classes through public policy, though, don’t really come with coping mechanisms; those are factors I keep in mind and, to be honest, really don’t know how to handle yet.

All these considerations aside, I feel really lucky to be able to live here.  My life is a great deal less stressful, for starters.  I have managed to stumble into what seems to be the fourth best university in South America (I have no idea who comes up with these statistics, but take that up with Wikipedia), and I am really enjoying my classes.  I live a 25-minute walk away from the beach.  Any time I get fed up with the buses, which is pretty much any time I have to use them, all I have to do is lift my gaze from the pavement, find mountains and ocean, and remember exactly why I live here.

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Boy oh boy, after that sort of grandiose sentence, how the hell am I supposed to end this? I guess this all sounds like pretty Deep Stuff, and I don’t know if it is or not, but anyway, let’s get back to that old maxim: you only stop learning when you are dead.  So, to end this on a lighter note, another thing I’ve learned recently is that there is absolutely no way to procrastinate a translation job–not that I did!  I started this one early, and I’m glad I did because it took forever.  And I’d like to learn a bit more about herb and vegetable gardening, since produce inflation right now is hitting ridiculous heights.

Carnaval 2013

kawaii carnaval

 

It’s Carnaval, and since last year I went to Rio and my post describing that ended up being the most viewed post to date, I figured I’d update y’all a bit on Carnaval this year.  We stayed here in Floripa, and I’m really happy with that decision.

Brazilian Carnaval, I think, is sort of thought of in the US as an all night samba extravaganza where everyone is wearing feathered headdresses and small shiny bikinis and hooking up all over the place.  In reality, most people like to just relax at home or go somewhere that has a beach and have barbecues and sleep and work on their tans.  Yeah, some people go to Rio, Recife, Olinda, Salvador–the cities most famous for their Carnavais–but it’s a HUGE hassle and not restful at all.  This you learned from me last year.

C and I went out to one bloco on Friday and it was raining really, really hard.  The parade and band were cancelled, but the dancing part still went on, held inside a restaurant.  Essentially, long story short [still long], the police shut down the live band at 2 a.m., but buses don’t start running here until 6 a.m., so people kept singing and playing drums without any mics, and the party finally broke up around 3 in the morning.  We were in the north of the island, i.e. way too far away from Campeche in the south, where our house is, and the guy who said he’d give us a ride home decided to give us the slip (super douche move!), but then an angel sent from Osasco gave us a lift home.  (NB: It did not slip by unnoticed that the local fisherman was the asshat in the situation, and the guy who moved here the years ago from the periphery of São Paulo–with an accent that people from outside of São Paulo inherently mistrust, as a relevant cultural note–helped us out at 5 a.m. even though he had recently been robbed giving someone else a ride, and even though he lived nowhere near us.)  Jeez, I am tired just thinking about it.

We both got a bit sick from being out in the rain dancing for so long (and the beer probably didn’t help), so the rest of Carnaval has been spent relaxing.  I’ve been cleaning the house up a bit, which is hard to do when you have a minimal amount of furniture; however organized you make your little piles on the floor, your floor is still covered in stuff.  I also learned to wash my clothes by hand (about time), and that you need to be really careful about washing electric grill pan within two days if you live in a humid place where your only method of climate control is opening and closing windows.  To spare your delicate sensibilities, I will not elaborate on that.  And today we went to the beach.  So basically, the rest of Carnaval has comprised a few normal days-in-the-life here in Floripa.  Considering last year’s experience, I am really okay with that.

Snippets of correspondence (because I continue to be too lazy to write a real post)

(from 5.January)

yo so how dem mists of avalon coming along?  my kindle tells me i am about 76% done with my copy (lack of page numbers still seems weird to me).  this book is like that damn comedy sketch of the guy talking about the energizer bunny: it just keeps going and going and goooing and just when you think it’s about to stop, it GOOOOES.  but at least it’s interesting.
LOVE AND LIGHT from são paulo, a city without much of either sometimes.  good thing i’m getting the eff out!

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(from 7.January)

I am indeed in Brazil, just beginning my second year of living here (moved here January 2, 2012). I was teaching English as a foreign language here in São Paulo for almost the full year, which started to really wear on me: I was teaching adults, mainly one-on-one lessons,  etc., and in December I opted the fuck out of that situation. They didn’t pay enough to make it worthwhile. The tentative plan is to get a masters in English Lit and Translation down here and get some work doing [hopefully literary] translations. In the meantime, I’m moving out of São Paulo (15 million people and no beaches makes for a whole lot of bad times in the summer, plus at every damn rush hour of every day) and going to Florianópolis.

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(from 9.January)
Back in Sampa (nickname for São Paulo) until Saturday, when I head south the the island (as some call Florianópolis, or Floripa).  Brazilians looooove nicknames, but in this case I do too since “Florianópolis” is kind of hard to type, with that accent and all.  I am pretty sure everyone has a nickname.  I myself have been referred to as: Little Pepper (because I like spicy food), White Girl, Little White Girl (somehow these two not so much about race as it is about the fact that I am relatively really pale), Little Foreigner (again, not so much discriminatory as it is factual), Adorable/Cute (however, the word literally means “soft”)…  Notice a trend?  Brazilians love using the diminutive!  For ladies’ nicknames, anyway.  It’s kind of insulting as men’s nicknames go, and only used with people you know who are younger than you (cousins, brothers, nephews) and maybe dudes you’ve known since childhood.
So, much in the way that you might go about nailing Jell-O to the wall or herding a bunch of cats, I have been slowly getting my documents in order.  The other day, I got my CPF, which allows me to open a bank account and subsequently buy things online and stuff.  That’s all well and good, but I actually went into that day trying to get something else bureaucratic done.  But in Brazil there is no arguing with bureaucracy: you go where the tide of paperwork takes you, and I always get really angry for the first 4 minutes or so but then after a point it’s just so ridiculous that being angry is just really futile and then a sort of Zen state is reached.  It’s especially frustrating because nobody seems to know what is going on or how to do something, so they send you all over the damn map, and everyone else tells you something different.  Sometimes, though, you can just sort of fake it and tell them what to do.  In the case of the CPF, I went to the Bank of Brazil to pay the initial fee, and they told me they couldn’t help me because I don’t have a Brazilian identity card.  Bullshit!  After leaving angrily, I came back and told them to just put in my passport number, and they did, and voilá!  Then they sent me to this other registry office, the Receita Federal, about a 20 minute walk, and when I arrived, the people at the office told me that they couldn’t help me, and they sent me to another office almost literally next door to the bank where I started out.  Like, they had little slips of paper they gave out to people saying that no, you’ve come to the wrong office, go to this other one.  All these people are involved in the same bureaucratic process and do this shit all the time, and there has been a fundamental lack of communication!  I am imagining streams of people making this same damn voyage every week.  This is so emblematic of trying to get things done in this country.  So I went all the way back to pretty much where I started and waited in line for an hour and a half on the top floor of a shopping mall of all places (at least there was A/C), and voila!  I have a CPF number.  All this, mind you, after being told at the beginning of the day that I can’t do what I originally wanted to do because I didn’t have one of these numbers.  Two steps back, one step forward in a different direction.
Today after 3, I pick up the certified translation of my birth certificate, and after that I have to go to one of the myriad civil registry offices (although, in this case, I can’t just go to any of them, I have to go to a specific one downtown, where everything looks the same and I always get lost) and register my birth certificate, already verified by the damn Brazilian consulate and translated by a translator certified by the government, as a document that is recognized in Brazil.  Needless to say I am leaving the whole damn day tomorrow free to tackle this task.  I have been told that the Portuguese are responsible for this suffocating bureaucracy–is it any surprise, then, that I enjoy the most jokes I hear about the Portuguese?  Well, that, and they sort of just took all of Brazil’s mineral wealth, left the country in a mess, and peaced out.  Can’t forget that.  Aaargh Portugal.
So I hope to have all that done by Friday.  I fly to Floripa on Saturday, which I am expecting to be a revelatory, life-changing experience: until now, I have only ever traveled there by overnight bus, which novelty really wears off after the first time.  There really is no comparison between 1 hour in the sky versus 11 hours on the road sitting next to some farty old dude who snores or in front of a loud kid who kicks your seat (or more if your bus breaks down, which mine did once, stretching the pain to a full 17 hours and guaranteeing that my first stop in Floripa was at a gas station to buy not one, but two beers because damn was that harrowing–oh yeah, and the whole trip I was sitting next to a group of 20-somethings from Portugal who were playing board games into the wee hours with their seat lights on).  So one could say that, yep, I am really jazzed about not taking the bus this time.
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(from 14.January)
You guys, I live 20 minutes from the beach!  I have never lived in a non-landlocked place before!
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(from 16.January)
okay, so, like i just said on gchat, almost done with the ol’ tome.  um, how naive was my last email where i said it’s too long but at least it’s interesting?

let’s talk about:
the multiple endings she seems to have tacked on.  like, she woke up the day after she thought she was done: “oooh, i know, to make it longer, let’s make morgause turn into the queen of darkness!  never mind the fact that she never had magical education and seems to have pulled these Dark Magicks out of her un-aging ass or whatever!  yeah, because at the end of the first chapter, if your brains aren’t too weary of this book for you to remember, morgause is the ~fourth, evil~ side of the Goddess, yeah that’ll be a great addition.  but I am too lazy to work in any foreshadowing besides that one sentence anywhere in the past 500 pages so i will just spackle this onto the end and nobody will call me on it because this book is so batshit crazy that it’s a miracle the critics finish it and have the mettle to write a review.”
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(from 16.January)
so greetings from florianópolis first and foremost!  i am here safe and sound and we seem to have already found a house to rent (we are waiting on the rental contract, fingers crossed) that’s only a 20-minute walk from the beach, with a bus that goes directly to the university, etc.  things are good on that front.  also need to get things worked out with respect to the university situation, which is kind of hard because they are between semesters and therefore on holiday.
what else?  oh, i desperately need a haircut.  like, my hair is a big white-yellow cloud and i am almost ashamed to go into a salon with it looking like this, ha.  i did, however, successfully dye my roots about two weeks back, so at least all hope isn’t lost.
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(from 17.January)
(fun fact: we are also moving tomorrow.  w00t.  i am exhausted just thinking about it.  our new house has a jerry-rigged bright blue spiral staircase that i am deathly afraid of, and it’s the only way to get up or down between floors, but other than that i looooove it!)
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(from 23.January)
in other news, i got a haircut here on the island that i hate.  it is very short and just puffs up.  i look like someone’s grandmother.  this was on friday.  also on friday, i moved into the new house.  since then, we have worked out: refrigerator, oven/stove, and internet, all of which ended up coming today.  we also have a grill, a crappy old mattress and two chairs, as well as a bookcase and a cabinet that the previous inhabitant sold us.  we also ordered some plants and herbs for our garden out front, and i guess the next steps would be a washing machine and a bed to put the mattress on.  then a hammock for the front yard.  i think the neighbors think we are really eccentric but the truth is i can’t understand their accents very well, ha.

kitchen observations

Since it is Sunday and I should be working on a translation I have to deliver to a client, the obvious course of action is to reflect instead on the nuances of the Brazilian kitchen.  Food is food is food, but also it’s just not the same down here when you’re cooking.  Here are some observations:

  • Somehow Brazilians generally think that you only need one real meal a day.  Meal consisting of a meat (delicious), starch (rice and beans!), and maybe a vegetable or salad (anemic).  Also, sandwiches are not considered meals here.  It’s not uncommon to hear something along the lines of: “Oh, I had lunch, so tonight I won’t have a meal–I’ll just have a sandwich.  Maybe some fruit.”  I’m still not sure I’ve wrapped my mind around it.
  • The pressure cooker is used a lot here.  Originally popular because it saved gas costs when cooking beans and tougher cuts of meat, it has pretty much remained ubiquitous in the Brazilian kitchen.  I’m not sure why it’s not more popular in the states, to be honest; I am becoming a fan.  It makes cooking oxtail, for example, a much less daunting, time-consuming task.
  • Kitchen hygiene is a lot more meticulous.  The kitchen trash is generally a tiny receptacle on the counter, which means you have to keep emptying it forever and ever and that is all you ever do in the kitchen.  It feels like, anyway.  The sink gets squeegeed out and the food bits get put in the aforementioned tiny wastebasket.  Dishes get pre-soaped and scrubbed, sit on the counter a little, and then get rinsed.  When you think about conservation of resources, this makes a lot more sense.  There is a weird tension between wasting certain resources (food, for example, gets thrown out alarmingly quickly here; my roommate wanted to throw out my half a roast chicken that had been in the fridge for, I swear, three days) and conserving others (water, gas–and rightfully so).
  • If you want to dice an onion, you hack into it multiple times with a knife, and then you cut it.  Voila.  I do not do this for fear of cutting off a finger.  If you, however, are more adventurous, this could be an interesting method for you to try.
  • Mushrooms here are small, bland, and yellow, and they come in a brine in little glass jars.  They’re also kind of rubbery.  Two of my three roommates LOVE them, and I don’t get it.
  • I was never a huge fan of tropical fruit (pineapples, mango, papaya) until I came down here.  Tropical fruit is so much better in a climate where it grows a bit more naturally.  I am obsessed with pineapple–this is new–to the point where I am actually very good at cutting them up.  Fun fact: in Portuguese, “to un-peel a pineapple” means to solve a difficult problem.  I also put mango in my morning oatmeal.
  • In the spirit of not wasting any food, I am in the middle of making chicken stock from that same roast chicken that my roommate wanted to throw away.  This is generally being regarded as a curiosity, but I have a few recipes I want to try that call for broth, and I cannot resign myself to using the mix-with-water kind that also doubles as soup.  Dude, the horrors.  I still can’t get over the contradiction of terms: so many old ways still being employed in the kitchen, but when you want to make tomato sauce for your pasta, you open a plastic package of sauce, throw in some fresh onion and tomato, heat it up, and you’re good to go.  This is not to criticize; this is just how it is in the apartment.  But it’s interesting–wait for it–food for thought.  Yeah, I did that.  When I move in the new year, I will be setting up an herb [and hopefully vegetable] garden, so I guess a lot of this stuff is on my mind right now.
  • My roommates seem to think it’s unbearably weird to use celery in things.  “Seriously, you’re putting celery in your juice?”  “What is that weird smell?  Oh, celery?  What do you even use celery for?”  “You’re putting celery in your chicken stock?  Why do you want to do that?”  No love for poor celery over here.  Needless to say, the Cajun Holy Trinity (celery, carrots, and onions) is not a major force in Brazilian gastronomy.

Essentially, I think that’s all I have for now.  I always think of these things when I am cooking and forget them afterwards.  Gonna go check on my stock, which is in the pressure cooker.

Pastiche

1. My current apartment has a wall of windows and quite the view.

I happen to be living across the river from the Jockey Club these days, and it’s my fondest ambition to watch some horse races for free.  I just learned from my roommate that you can post bets online, and somehow that makes the whole situation just seem that much more chique.  As it is, I have seen no horse races, but I have witnessed many tiny little cars driving around the track–Lord knows why–and a village of tents being constructed.  The tents are for a music festival that will be happening next week: so the good news is that I will be taking in a concert by Garbage without paying anything.  Wins all around.  I’d still prefer a race though.

I also get quite a view of the local taxi, mall, and commuter train action.  My local grocery store is actually in the ground floor of a mall, which hasn’t yet ceased to blow my mind.  The mall also has multiple banks, a few salons, a movie theater, and a theater theater, as well as an Outback steakhouse and some other, actually reputable restaurants.  It’s like Little Worlds in there.

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3. The other day as I was walking and looking around–something that I definitely don’t do enough, as I am usually concentrated on getting around the infuriating bunch of bejeaned (yep just made that one up) slow ladies in my way on the sidewalk, forchrissake–I realized that none of the buildings here have fire escapes.  Nowhere to sit at night in the winter with a glass of wine, nowhere to get into your apartment from if you forget your keys, and, now we’re getting to the point, no way to escape in an emergency.

São Paulo is the worst place to have an emergency of any type.  Somehow you can’t get anywhere in less than 40 minutes, even if it’s right next door.  When you are at the end of the last bit of rope, taxi drivers choose not to understand you that day, even though you know you’re saying everything correctly.  I walk down most of Rua Consolação to get to class twice a week, and rush hour traffic is just a given from 17h on.  I almost always see an ambulance stuck in traffic, siren plaintive, sort of an afterthought; cars don’t even try to move out of the way because there is nowhere to go.  I always wonder if there is a point in calling in a medical emergency between 5 and 8 pm if you’re in Centro or near the Marginal or far away or really anywhere at all.

I almost cut off a good chunk of my finger, and out of a profound lack of desire–call it an antidesire–to find a cab or get on the Metrô with blood gushing out of my finger, hand clutching a frozen beer can, and navigate a shitton of bureaucracy just to get a few stitches, I opted out and stayed on the couch.  I know I would have been waiting around for four hours or more before anything happened at the hospital.  Now I have what is shaping up to be an interesting parabolic scar.

If someone dies in an accident, the perícia will take six hours to get there, and they only come that fast because you know someone who knows someone.  I didn’t even see an ambulance, although logic tells me there was one at some point.

4. Here are some poems I’m enjoying these days.

5. And a song: 

6. And to top it all off, I have lost most or all desire to continue working at the place I’m working and doing the things I’m doing, but I haven’t lined up anything else yet.  Aaargh.  But that’s life yeah?

I have a few ideas and maybe a tentative option in another place and all I can think about is Getting Out of Dodge.  Keep your fingers crossed for me and send productive thoughts my way, please, because I really need a swift kick in the ass as far as Applying Myself goes.  In caps because these things feel super theoretical to me right now.

I’m blaming it on the weather, which seems to also be having an identity crisis; summer is approaching, but it’s getting colder.  I, habitually associating October with chill and pumpkin and Bob Dylan, am incredibly confused by all this because theoretically I know that it’s supposed to be hot and humid but I am not-so-secretly longing for more sweater weather.  My more Brazilian side wonders if everyone isn’t in some sort of universal mild Astral Hell (everyone asks what your sign is here when you meet them), because it sure seems like it.

7. ‘Jesus mother of god i hate cats’ tag added to this post because it is and always will be true, and because I saw it just now and it made me smile.

Where have you been, MC Casual BlogStyles?

There are not enough words in the English language to answer that question, so I won’t even try.  Instead, here are some snippets from the past 6ish weeks.  Obvious gchat editing done by yours truly.

 

at street level

I am currently out of Sampa on some personal business, and to kill my nostalgia, as you could say in Portuguese (matar minha saudade), I was looking through pictures and noticed that a ton of the ones I take feature graffiti.

What we lump together under the catch-all ‘graffiti’ is actually differentiated based on intention in Portuguese.  Grafite, for example, is what we would probably call ‘street art’–i.e., there is some thought and artistry behind the piece.  Tagging, however, is known as pichação, and has a very distinct style in Sampa: vertical and spidery.  You can see both in these pictures.

Unfortunately I rarely have my camera when I happen on really good stuff–or, let’s be real, really good stuff is all over the place and I am often in a rush and forget–or else I’d have more to show.  (And in the interest of disclosure, a few of these were taken in Rio.  But not the pichação.)