Tag Archives: photos

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


(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.

(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.
(from 14.January)
You guys, I live 20 minutes from the beach!  I have never lived in a non-landlocked place before!
(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.”
(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.
(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!)
(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.


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.


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.)

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….)

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