Tag Archives: language

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.)




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.


bullet points: free time edition

Kids, the title says it all, or most of it.

But friends, I had a really rotten day the other day.  I wanted to murder someone, or myself, because of a number of reasons (including the ever-present condition of not being able to find the damn colon on my keyboard, so pretend there’s a colon here) heat wave, lack of aircon, close living quarters, cats, having no control over my lunches (ie, rice and beans during a heat wave), the fact that Brasilian salad isn’t salad but rather old undressed lettuce and anemic tomatoes, the other fact that I was getting inquisitioned and side-eyed for taking second helpings of ‘salad’ instead of rice and beans at lunch.  Etc. etc. etc.  It was all too much for a girl to bear.

However, I don’t stay unhappy for long, and the heat wave brove, so I am back my usual jovial self.  Here’s some things that have been on my mind now that I am feeling less aggravated(COLON)

  • Found a Brasilian to listen to Television and watch L’Age d’Or with!  Didn’t expect that I would succeed in finding someone here with the same random tastes I have.  So–hooray.
  • The country’s obsession with panettone.  Granted, this is getting less pronounced the further away we get from Christmas, but it’s still baffling to me.  It’s a Christmas bread, but it’s really just everywhere around here.  Panettone, in all the grocery stores!  Panettone, in a themed subway shop of its very own!  Panettone, on all the tables and in all the kitchen of random people I visit!  Just when I thought that maybe I was making too much of a big deal about this, I sat back and started watching novela the other week.  One scene was in a kitchen.  PANETTONE ON THE KITCHEN TABLE!  Yes, Big Panettone has a firm stranglehold on Brasil–to the point where they are winning big product placement in Globo Novelas.  Or so I imagine.  I asked Ma why everyone liked panettone around here, and she seemed super nonplussed.  ‘Maybe because it’s really easy to make?’ she ventured.  But panettone is actually sort of a pain in the ass to make.  ‘Oh, then I don’t know.’  So…yeah.
  • I think some dude in a car called me rapaz the other day when I crossed the street, which sort of translates to ‘boy’ or ‘bro’ or something–but definitely masculine.  Then again, it could have been a figment of my imagination.  In other news, this other dude sat down next to me on a bench while I was waiting for the bus today coming home from work–I almost never get to just flop down because I’m always running to catch the bus so I was really looking forward to enjoying my time just staring around–and started, I don’t even know, hitting on me. His main objective was impaired by the vital fact that I could barely understand him, though.  He kept insisting I was Italian or something, and he was super inquisitive, so I just asked questions back.  ‘What?’  ‘What do you think?’  ‘Why Italian?’  But mainly I just gave him really confused and annoyed looks because I was tired and he was sitting really close and I had no interest in telling him anything.  He kept telling me to go somewhere across the street with him.  Nothing doing, dude.  I may look Italian (?) but I’m not stupid.
  • I have found heaven, and heaven is in Centro, past baixo Augusta coming from Paulista way, in Bar Estadao.  It’s called pernil, and it’s sort of a pig leg thing.  Do yourself a favor and look at the pictures of this food marvel.  The best news for me–and for everyone in the world, really–is that this place has been open for ages and also never closes.  So (hint hint) if you come and visit me, I will take you there, possibly multiple times.  Many thanks to my aforementioned Television-listening, surrealist-film-watching, Brasilian-author-recommending friend Gera for taking me there for the first time.  I wanted to take a picture of this pork (!)-farofa (!)-rice-potatoey goodness, but I was too busy eating.
  • On that note, I very well may (fingers crossed) be moving out this week to somewhere that’s not an hour away from work in good traffic.  Don’t get me wrong–an hour’s commute is actually a short commute here, and it’s not the worst.  I work in the evenings though, and so I have to leave before rush hour even starts, which results in a lot of wasted time in a lot of random cafes, waiting around for classes to start.  My hopefully future roommate is training to be a helicopter pilot and has an insanely smooth voice.  He’s a friend of my friend’s best friend, which is how these things work.
  • I’ve been trying to speak a lot more Portuguese with a lot more people.  This means…talking with random security guys at banks (key phrase Eu nao sou recepcionista! = I am not a receptionist!), getting to know the people who work in the reception of my building (key phrase Se Deus quiser = if God wills it), and basically bumbling around asking people to repeat things and smiling sheepishly.  People like Gera and my future roomie, who don’t really speak much English with me, are forcing me to get more agile with the language, and to pick up more slang.  My favorites are(COLON) sei la (which I’m not sure actually literally makes sense in Portuguese, but it means ‘I don’t know’), tipo (which means ‘type’–used like we use ‘like’), and negocio (which means ‘business,’ and people use it if they are searching for a word they don’t know or can’t remember).
  • This week in funny building names I bring you…Edificio Royal Place.
  • Lastly, I have a theory.  Allison, you’ll be thrilled.  Here goes.  The older Brasilian men get, the more they look like Jorge Ben Jor.  If anyone wanted to assassinate the great legend himself, I posit, it would be extremely difficult because, well, I have personally seen about a billion old men on the sidewalk who could work as his body double.  No joke.  Jorge Ben Jor at my bus stop, Jorge Ben Jor in a wheelchair chilling on Paulista, whatever.  It’s definitely JBJ, too–he has that just generic enough look.  You would never see a billion older men running around looking like Gilberto Gil, for example.  (See reference pictures.)  So anyway, that’s something I keep noticing around these parts.  The closer to God, the closer to Jorge Ben Jor.

Ma just said the words ‘cheeseburger with cheddar’ and now I have saudades.

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.)

Some more impressions

More bullet points!

  • Buildings here all have names, which I think is really strange.  Even though nobody refers to buildings by their names and only uses street addresses for taxis and directions, as there are way too many buildings in the continent’s biggest city, each one has some ridiculous name.  My favorite so far is Edificio John Lennon (the John Lennon Building), which is a residence I pass by on the bus on the way home from school.
  • About the bus.  I am almost a pro at riding these things by this point, since where I live isn’t really close to the Metro.  You get to see a lot of interesting things if you go by bus, and sometimes there are interesting conversations on which to eavesdrop.  The frustrating thing, however, is that there is no real bus schedule, so the bus comes whenever it comes.  I stood outside in misty rain the other day fo 50 minutes waiting for the bus to take me to my friend’s house in Jabaquara, when I could have taken another bus to a Metro station and taken the subway from there.  It’s always a gamble.
  • Every afternoon it rains, and I never have an umbrella.  This is most unfortunate, since the only time I ever think about buying an umbrella is when it starts raining and the umbrella hawkers appear out of nowhere to price-gauge the people who don’t like getting wet.  Well, I don’t like getting wet, but I have also become sort of thrifty, so I prefer to either get wet or wait out the rain.
  • It’s impossible to go anywhere in a hurry.  Sampa is known for being the city where everyone is always too rushed to sit back and enjoy life.  I want to know where all these fast people are, man.  Everywhere I go, people are cutting me off just to walk slow and stop in front of me.  After a while, there’s no point in trying to go anywhere quickly.  Whereas in New York, people rush down the stairs in the subway when they hear a train coming, Paulistanos sort of just maintain their glacial pace and are content to wait for the next train.  ALSO, people will wait in absurdly long lines to use the escalator instead of the stairs, and to go through the turnstile closest to the staircase when exiting the subway instead of walking the extra 5 feet to go through an empty one.
  • I have made a rule for myself that I won’t listen to my iPod unless it is Brasilian music, since I need to keep improving my language skills.  This means either (a) I hear a lot more conversations going on around me or (b) I really just space out on a whole new level and think about nothing.  Either way, it works.
  • I might be moving out of Ma’s mom’s apartment.  Which is exciting.  While they have been nothing but hospitable, I feel like a guest who is overstaying her welcome, and I would like to be able to cook again and just sort of hang out and not have to be on my best behavior.  This possible place would also be 10 minutes away from 2 Metro stops, which is also thrilling, since (a) that would force me to be both active AND proactive about being on time and (b) I do not like letting the bus rule my life.
  • In the midst of all this lightness, some serious things have been happening here in the city and state of Sao Paulo.  Sampa itself has a relatively new problem with the emergence of a booming crack market, centered in the old center of the city, informally dubbed Cracolandia, and instead of treating the problem, certain Powers That Be have been treating the symptoms instead, resulting in several arrests, destruction of people’s homes, and a general lack of understanding of addiction as a whole.  Also recently, the favela of Pinheirinhos has been occupied and burned, again resulting in the destruction of homes, lives, and dignity.  There are multiple pictures floating around of the inhabitants preparing themselves basically for war against the police coming to take their homes away.  The sad thing is that the majority of the people who live in favelas are not, as the stereotype goes, drug traffickers and dangerous criminals.  I will refrain from adding my political opinion–it’s not my place, since I am lucky enough to be here at all and am more or less an outside observer–but it is disappointing to see how the vast wealth divide leads to such awful situations, when the Brasilians that I have met, of all classes, are some of the most warm, welcoming, come-as-you-are people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  To this end, I went to a protest yesterday, which started near Teatro Municipal and ended up in Cracolandia.  Was it a smart idea for a foreigner to go to a political protest(question mark)  I’m not sure, but it was a very peaceful protest, the police weren’t involved, and I was interested to see how these things work here.  If you want to know my general impressions, ask me via email or something.  I have a few thoughts.
  • Phones.  I have a prepaid SIM card here, and sometimes I run out of money obsecenly quickly, while other times 10 reais stretches for 2 weeks.  I do not understand the phone plans here, but on the bright side, it seems that nobody does.  If you add certain magic numbers to the front of people’s numbers with certain plans, you are able to reduce the charges or get free texts, but alas, I am not proficient in this sort of special cryptography.  Like I said, nobody understand cell phone billing here, which is why it is common to have phones that accept 2 or 3 SIM cards at one time, so that people can have multiple pay-as-you-go plans and call their friends with different plans from their different numbers–from the same phone.  Whew.
  • Banks.  To get into some banks, you have to press a button.  Does this button connect to a security person, who then lets you in(question mark)  No.  You press the button, and the door unlocks, and you enter.  I’m not sure if this is a safety measure proven to be particularly effective against–I dunno, people who just sail into banks without a point for being there–but if seems like if one is hell-bent on robbing a bank, one little button will not be much of a hindrance.
  • Although I have been speaking a lot of English because of my course, I am also getting used to speaking in Portuguese without thinking about it too much.  The other day I was Skyping with my parents and started explaining something in Portuguese to them without realising that I was using the wrong language.  I also had a conversation with Ma’s neighbor in which I was chatting away (to be fair it’s very easy to chat with Valkyrie, since she loves talking) about bad traffic and the virtues of bus versus Metro (this was right before the 50-minute wait for the bus, actually), and it was only afterwards that I stepped back and realied that I had done that without really thinking.
  • On a related note, different people I’ve polled have all given me different reasons why I don’t seem Brasilian to them.  I am too pale (this is changng), I walk differently, I do not have enough of a butt (yep, someone said that)…  But somehow this seems to be diminishing, since people more and more will ask me for knowledge on the bus.  Yeah, that’s right.  I am the master of getting from Ana Rosa to Avenida Berrini, and I share my knowledge if asked nicely.  It used to freak me out but now I’m like, “Yep, it passes by Berrini, mmm hmm.”
  • I was on Brasilian news the other day!  Ma met some people who work at Rede Globo at some Christmas party, and they remembered that she was going to be hosting an Estrangeira in the new year.  I guess they were doing some piece on foreigners coming to live in Brasil, and anyway, they ended up interviewing me at school and filming me in class and stuff.  The interview mostly went well until we got to one question, very oddly-phrased, about how much money I was earning, and I had to ask the nice lady to repeat it around 3 times until I finally got it.  Apparently the piece aired Tuesday night, but I didn’t see it because I was waiting for that damn bus.  But my face has become capable of turning whole new shades of red in record time here in Brasil, I might have you know.  Which is weird because I never used to blush before.  The other day I went to Padaria Leirense with Ma, and the guy behind the counter was like, “Hey I know you.  You always come in here with her.”  Blush blush, yep, it’s the gringa again.  Actually, yesterday in Cracolandia I saw a little lanchonete (snackish sort of casual restaurant) that was called Lanchonete dos Gringos, which made me smile.  But I did not eat there.  We ended up eating at a place that had gross sandy coxinhas.  Ah well, you live and you learn.

Oh, Brasil.  Oh, this keyboard.  I am getting sick of not having a question mark or the last letter of the alphabet.  I am getting scarily good at planning lessons in minimal time.  I am getting used to people talking about me and thinking I can’t understand, and people talking quickly at me and thinking I can understand.  And now, here are some pictures.

vista do vão do masp



These phone booths are all over, and I love them because they are cute and bright and weird-looking–and also very good if you get caught in a sudden downpour.



ma  masp

vão do masp


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.

alguma coisa acontece no meu coração…

A new year is upon us all, and while I would love to lounge around in bed and watch Hellsing while recovering from my New Year’s Eve at Halo, I can’t; in four hours I am getting on a plane and moving to Brazil.

While this has always been the endgame, I decided to actually get up and do something about it about two weeks ago.  I bought a ticket, made some calls, got some of my friends to make some introductions, and long story short, I will be living in São Paulo.  I am initially planning on being there six months, but depending on grad school acceptances and/or how I am feeling, I might stay longer.

In the past two weeks, since I decided to move, I’ve been scrambling to move out in between work, Christmas visits to Palo Alto and San Francisco, and balancing seeing friends from high school and Middlebury who are in town visiting.  Of course, leaving Atlanta is sad, especially since I’ve just settled in to a rhythm here–but that’s usually when I end up leaving places, anyway.  I will not miss certain aspects of my life here, but I am really sad about not having time to say goodbye to some of my good friends here, and I will dearly miss my roommates, who went from two random people I met on Craigslist to two of my best friends in the city.  Driving down Ponce for the last time today was strange and final, even though I know it’ll still be here if I ever come back.  I’ve also said my final farewells to my two main haunts, the Majestic and Hoa Binh, and I’m ready to go.

Those who have known me for a while might remember that I spent some time in the suburbs of Sampa, in the state of São Paulo, in the summer of 2009.  I’m looking forward to being in the city this time, as there is much to be explored.  I’m also looking forward to, jeez, complete immersion.  There’s a huge difference between Americans and teachers speaking Portuguese and the average João speaking the language, so I’m sure I’ll end up in some funny situations.  Which, in turn, you’ll hear about.


You can't really tell, but this is Avenida Paulista at night. It's also the only shot I took in Sampa last time I was there. There's some nice foliage, I guess.