There and back again

So it’s been almost two months since I’ve written a blog post.  Why?  I’ve been drained.  I honestly haven’t had the will or energy to write one, and no matter what I write right now, I know it won’t be a sufficient description of what I’ve been and am still going through.

I’ve had a lot of highs and lows recently, and generally a lot more stress than I like.  My mom came to visit, and we had a wonderful two weeks exploring southeastern Brazil–mostly by bus.  My mom and I get along famously, and it’s always a treat to spend a lot of time with her.  She also happens to be one of the few travel companions I don’t ever get the urge to stab somewhere along the way.  It was especially rewarding to be able to show her the country I’ve decided to call home and introduce her to the people I love.

We returned to São Paulo on a bus from Ouro Preto, which took about twelve hours in total.  I got to my apartment, showered, and was preparing to make dinner when I got two terrible phone calls: someone very important to Rino had just died in a car crash.  Rino was also in the crash (thankfully uninjured).

I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with sudden, violent death like this, but for my part, I went into autopilot for the next week or so.  Death is hard enough in your native language, but all the more surreal in a language you’re still learning (and in a country with such notorious bureaucracy).  I went to north for the funeral, which in itself was just a microcosm of the high-low duality of my life here.  I met a family full of warm, funny, loving people, but the context of the visit was never far from anyone’s minds.  I got to know Rino’s hometown, but it wasn’t how I was supposed to get to know it.

We came back and I am still sort of trying to pick up the pieces.  It helps to know that I have a group of friends and adoptive family here in Brazil who love me, as well as those of you abroad.  The emails and moments on Skype are more treasured than ever, trust me.  In the midst of all this, there is still room for joy: I laugh with my students every day, I have a renewed desire to explore Sampa, and Rino and I are relearning to enjoy the small moments together.

I may or may not be going back to Paraíba next week–depends on some changes at work–and I am super excited about it, since it is June and therefore Festa Junina.  Anyway, that’s about it.  Was this a super cheesy post?  I have no idea.  But there we go.  Oh, and the picture above was taken at the easternmost point of the Americas, also in João Pessoa.  You look out, and there’s nothing but wind and water, and then Africa.




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.


Well then, it’s decided.

I just got lost down the rabbit hole of Wikitravel, since I am planning a trip around the Southeast of Brazil.  My roomie is from the Northeast and always tells me I should go visit, so I went to the page for his hometown and found these amazing sentences:

“The ceiling features a 40 meter wide mural, and the interior is inhabited by lots of bats.”

“Intimate and lively. Both gay and straight.”

“An excellent idea is to buy a small frontal unisex pouch.”

If these aren’t selling points, I don’t know what is.  Northeast, here I come sometime soonish.  (Although, to be fair, the pages of all the Brazilian cities on Wikitravel are full of these gems.  Now you begin to understand the joy of my job.  I am a terrible English teacher because I get absolutely delighted by the creativity of my students when I should actually be correcting them.)

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.

Greetings from technology

I am writing this on my phone. What a novelty. On the plus side, i can punctuate! On the minus side, i hate touch screens.

In other news, I am going to Rio for Carnaval, somewhat of a last minute decision. I am also theoretically moving into a new place today, but in typical Paulistano arts scene/other people who don’t work until evening fashion, I woke up at a friend’s house in Lapa at noon and have only just started packing. Also, have yet to coordinate with my new roomie. Ah, well, when in Rome…

I have also started haunting Liberdade, which is the Japanese section of town and very close to my job. Food there is super cheap and good, and yesterday I went into this little arcade mall and bought an adorable backpack that was clearly meant for some less than half my age.  Super cool story, I know.  One of my students is taking Japanese in addition to English, and his sensei works in the same building as I, and I am starting to think of picking up another language. We shall see.

Lastly, today in ridiculous building names: Edificio Prince of Edinburgh.