29 March 2012

Manguinhos Beach

For a lot of people, the burning question to us has been, "If you two don't go to the beach, why on earth are you living in a beach resort?" We were even rather aggressively challenged years ago by an Israeli, married to a Brazilian, who insisted that non-beachgoers should move to the mountains, period. (Lucky for us he has since moved himself. He was getting a bit strident and tiresome.) Anyway, I wish I had a snappy answer, but I don't. We like it here. We like the easygoing beach resort lifestyle. We like to look at the water from our veranda. We like to hear the tide rushing in. We like to walk on a beach in the early morning, or late afternoon. I can't see any reason we have to log in some minimum number of hours per week "going to" the beach in order to justify our being here.

I admit, beaches are Búzios's bread and butter. They're what the hordes of tourists mainly come here for. The official beach count — the count appearing in the tourism promotion literature — is 27. But if we don't have house guests whom we want to treat to the grand tour, there are a dozen or so beaches that we don't even see from one year to the next. Still, each of the Búzios beaches is somehow unique, and they're not just about beautiful scenery and stunning geography. Each beach has a history. In the coming year I will travel around the peninsula of Búzios and post a blog on each beach, my way of reconnecting with the beaches around me.

Mark and I have the privilege of living on Manguinhos Beach, so that's where I'll start. This is the beach where the first summer vacation homes were built, so our neighborhood has an older, more settled feel. It's anything but a touristy beach. With its narrow strip of sand, large clumps of algae, and fairly unclear waters, it might even be said that Manguinhos repels tourists. Lucky for us, because we enjoy a peace and quiet unknown to so many other Búzios beaches. Windy Manguinhos Beach is home to the nautical sports that keep our view lively: there's a constant tableau of wind surfing, sailing, kite surfing, kayaking and the newest addition, stand-up paddle boarding. The beach's history? Almost directly in front of our house are the remains of an old rock pier built by slaves, and used for loading bananas during the period in which all of Búzios was a banana farm.

Quiet, untouristy . . .

. . . rocky, muddy, pebbly, perfect

The old banana pier at twilight

Still a working fisherman's beach

And a wind sports beach

26 March 2012

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh . . .

A few years ago I had a very intelligent Brazilian lawyer taking private English lessons with me here in Búzios. But he had one obstacle in his otherwise solid progress, so I decided to try a visual aid. I came to class one day carrying a large letter Y with me. I plunked it down on the desk. "This is a Y," I said, "The 25th letter of the English alphabet. It is considered a semivowel. When you see it at the end of an English word, you must pronounce it. You must." My student nodded, laughed, and the lesson began. No more than ten minutes passed when he began to talk about the years he spent in the Brazilian Neiv. (I'm writing it phonetically because if I write it "nave," native English speakers will see and hear "neiv" but Brazilians will see and hear "nei-vee" because Brazilians pronounce that final e that is normally silent in English and, you see, it's all very confusing.) I held up my cardboard letter Y. "Say it again," I prompted. "Neiv," he said, confused. "Nei-VEE," I said. "Vee, vee, vee, you must pronounce the Y." This was years ago. Our lessons dwindled to a precious few, then ended, and I still regret having lost that battle.

It's a battle I continue to lose. Brazilians, as a group, learn English quickly and speak it very, very well, almost with no accent. But even some of the most competent Brazilian speakers of English drop the Y. And why shouldn't they? It's simply not part of their alphabet, or wasn't until 1990, when it was welcomed into the fold by yet another in a long series of spelling reforms. In fact, three letters were welcomed that year, Y, K and W. Brazilians do fine with the K, after all, they know all about kilograms, and the W is not a problem, given the penchant of Brazilians for naming their kids Washington, Wellington and Wagner. But they don't know what in the world to do with the Y. So most of the time they just ignore it.  I think they're hoping we won't notice.

Which leads to some charmingly confusing moments. Take Tom Brady. In the U.S. he's best known as the quarterback for the New England Patriots. But in Brazil, he's known as the husband of Gisele Bündchen, Brazil's greatest gift to the modeling world, and he's called "Tomee Breid" — dropping the Y and adding "ee" to the final M. In conversation, it takes a while for native English speakers to get it.

Same thing with poor Amy. When she died, we heard about it over and over again on the news. Took us a few beats before realizing who it was, since the announcers were all speaking about the tragic death of Eim WineHAUzee.

I was galloping along pretty well one day in Portuguese, talking about this and that, when my interlocutor asked if I liked "Bub SHORchee." Well, I couldn't think of anyone with that name in Brazil. "Quem (who)?" I asked. "Bub SHORchee, Bub SHORchee!" It took some minutes before I found myself finally saying, "Oh, yes, I love Bobby Short!" "Quem?" my friend asked.

Well, there are many examples, each more charming than other. We hear the most competent announcers on Radio MEC, Brazil's classical radio station, say, "You've just heard the Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 35, of Tchaikovsk." I find that amusing, but I'm easily amused. And speaking of "easily," there's my biggest challenge in English classes. The word "ease" (eez) tends to be pronounced "ee-zee" here, and the word "easy" (ee-zee) tends to be pronounced "eez." As for that letter Y . . . I know it will continue to be dropped, and I know I will continue to lean forward, waiting for that last syllable that I'm wired to hear.

22 March 2012

Here We Go Again

I didn't think I'd be following up on the story of the Chevron oil spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro State so soon (the first blogpost, The Language of Oil Spills, was published last December 19th) but here we are. I can't help it, the story is just too juicy, and too much in my face, considering it's directly off my coast. You see, there's been a second "spill incident," as Chevron likes to call these things, this after Chevron had been prohibited from further perforations of the sea bed. And as if relations between Chevron and the Brazilian government weren't already badly strained, once again Chevron was slow to announce the leak. In fact, ten days after the leak was first announced Brazil's authorities were still in the dark. Was this a new leak? Or continued leaking from the first fissure? Did Chevron's containment cement crack? Or were they still drilling where and when they shouldn't have been? Fingers are pointing, accusations are flying, and last week Chevron abruptly announced "temporary" suspension of oil production from that offshore well.

This is one gallon . . .
Chevron claims that this second leak was just five liters (1.32 gallons). The Brazilian Navy, overflying the area, says it's a lot bigger than that. But for the Brazilian government, the amount of oil spilled is not what's important. What's important is the problem of recurrence, the disrespect of prior orders to stop drilling, the lack of clear information from Chevron and the fact that the company had not taken the necessary steps after the first spill to avoid this second one. Chevron was already facing (and appealing) a fine of $100 million for its role in last November's spill. In a newfound spirit of toughness, Brazilian prosecutors plan to file criminal charges this week against Chevron and Transocean and have ordered that the passports of 17 Chevron and Transocean executives be handed over to the Federal Police. These executives hail from all over, from the U.S., Australia, England, Canada, France and Brazil. Doesn't even matter if they relinquish their passports or not, all of their names are in the Federal Police system and there's no getting past Immigration at the airports now. These guys are stuck here pending investigation.

Pilots Lepore  & Palladino
Some people believe Brazil is reacting all out of proportion, particularly in confiscating passports, but I'll just bet Brazil is thinking about the two American pilots who were involved in a mid-air collision between a Gol passenger airliner and the business jet the Americans were piloting in 2006. All passengers and crew of the airliner were killed in the collision. The business jet landed safely, with some damage. After being kept in Brazil for two months, the two pilots were allowed to leave the country after signing a document promising to return to Brazil for their trial or when required by Brazilian authorities. I'm sure Brazil knows it's seen the last of those two pilots on Brazilian soil. In May of 2011 a Brazilian judge sentenced them to four years and four months of prison in a semi-open facility for their role in the collision, then commuted the sentences to community service to be performed in the United States. The pilots plan to appeal the conviction but, in the meanwhile, fly the friendly skies at will.

**NOTE TO MY E-MAIL FOLLOWERS: It seems that not all the videos I use in each blogpost are carried over to the e-mails. This isn't the worst thing in the world, but the terrific opening theme number of the old TV show, Baretta, sung by Sammy Davis, Jr. and beloved by all Baretta-lovers, wasn't at the top of my March 19th blogpost, Don't Do the Crime if You Can't Do the Time, as it should have been. The video made sense of the title and set the whole tone. So, if you want a more complete experience of that post, click on the web site itself.

19 March 2012

Don't Do The Crime If You Can't Do The Time

Let me be categorical, Mark and I have no intention of committing any crime which would cause us to be arrested and imprisoned in Brazil. That said, a few years ago something still compelled us to bring our university diplomas to Brazil and tuck them safely away — just in case. Why? Because under the Brazilian Constitution detainees who can prove they have a higher education are granted privileges that include better cells with fewer people per cell (other college grads), with a private bathroom and a television. Such is the depth of social stratification in Brazil that it continues in jail. And as I've said before, the Girl Scout in me likes to Be Prepared.

The subject of incarceration in Brazil is a very serious, complicated one that I don't mean to treat casually, certainly not in a short, irreverent blogpost. Most prisoners in Brazil are detained in extremely poor conditions. In some instances the cells are so overcrowded that the prisoners have to sleep in shifts, since not everyone can lie down at the same time. What you read in the book, and later saw in the film, Carandiru, was not fiction, it was based on actual events. No, I'm going to distance myself from the more complex issues and rant about a few of the perplexing rights — perplexing for a foreigner, that is — that Brazil accords its criminals.

The most startling difference between a jail term in the States and a jail term in Brazil is the conjugal visit. Actually, Brazil is not alone. The right to conjugal visits is granted in a carefully controlled manner around the world, except in the United Kingdom, and in all federal and most state prisons in the U.S.** In Brazil, the visita íntima is supposed to be granted only to deserving male prisoners (interesting that female prisoners do not yet enjoy this right here). In practice, though, most prisons grant the conjugal visits routinely. And given the wider net that Brazil throws over the definition of  "spouse" — a spouse can be a wife, a girlfriend, or any companion, partner, or friend with whom you have a stable union — well, these private, unsupervised conjugal visits are obviously a great way to pass notes, information, orders, instructions . . . no surprise to me how imprisoned drug lords are still running their cartels from the inside. All at the taxpayers' expense, to boot. I don't know Daniel Fraga, the guy in this video (sorry, it's only available in Portuguese) but you can hear the frustration.

Another surprising right is auxílio-reclusão, or reclusion aid, an indemnification paid by the government (read taxpayers) to the families of prisoners, provided the prisoner has worked and paid into the social security system at some time in his life. The idea is to offer financial support to a prisoner's family while their main wage earner is imprisoned. Keep the kids in school, the family fed, everyone on the straight and narrow. Only thing is, nothing comparable is done for the family of the victim, a family that might also have just lost its main wage earner. Not to mention that this reclusion aid is currently higher than minimum wage. Great disincentive for committing a crime.

From "The Caging of America"
Lest you think I'm under the illusion that the United States is the model for prison systems, think again. I'm still reeling from reading Adam Gopnik's "The Caging of America" in the January 30 issue of the New Yorker. A searing indictment of America's unprecedented mass incarceration of its people, "huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world." I might poke fun at the easy granting of conjugal visits in Brazil, but the Brazilian system — with all of its many flaws — is the more humane.

**Plan your crime carefully! Commit state felonies only in California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York or Washington if conjugal visits are an issue for you.

15 March 2012

Measuring Up

Every so often I'm asked for my height or my weight here in Brazil. Might be at a doctor's office, might be at the motor vehicle bureau to renew my driver's license, might just be in casual conversation. Now, I know my height and weight the way I know the back of my hand. The answers pop into my head immediately, jump into my mouth and . . . stay there. I gulp. Impatient people look at me funny. I want to say, "I'm not an idiot, I know the answer. It's just that I know it in a different measuring system." I look at them, they look at me. I'm thinking they're thinking, "What is this woman's problem?"

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and math was never a strength of mine. I was, quite simply, rather bad at it. One summer during high school I applied for a job at Woolworth's and was turned down because I didn't pass their math test. (I couldn't figure out the correct change back in the days before the cash register figured it out for you.) Well, Woolworth's is long gone now, and I no longer need a summer job. I'm admitting to this personal failing basically because I no longer care, and because I find it particularly ironic that here I am now, living in a world where I have to add, subtract, multiply and divide on a daily basis to convert dollars and reais, Fahrenheit and Celsius, pounds and kilograms, feet and meters — basically, imperial to metric and back again.

I have repeatedly converted my height and weight into their metric equivalents, but the numbers simply don't stay in my head. So when I'm off to a doctor's office and I know I'll probably need them, I've learned to write them down and take my crib sheet with me. That's easy enough. But the problem isn't the medical questionnaires. The problem is social. I'm simply not reacting properly during conversations. Someone tells me a friend of theirs is nearly two meters tall and I just sit there. But six feet, six inches? Now, that's tall! Someone else announces their newborn nephew weighed in at 6½ kilos, and I yawn. But over 13 pounds? Now, that's a baby!

I keep formulas and memory aids all over the house, particularly in the kitchen where I'm forever converting recipe measurements. This being the Internet age, I also have lots of conversion charts and tables under my computer's "favorites." And I'm grateful to have found a little ditty that I can chant under my breath while watching the Brazilian television weather reports: "0 is freezing, 10 is not, 20 is perfect, and 30 is hot." At least with that crutch I know what to wear.

Who knows but that these daily math tests — as well as the late-in-life language learning challenges I spoke of in an earlier blogpost — aren't a great way to fend off Alzheimer's, as good as doing Sudoku or The New York Times crossword puzzles. I sure hope so. But God bless America and its tenacious clinging to the imperial measurement systems. Ladies and gentlemen, we are alone in a very large metric world.

In red, the countries that do NOT use the metric system

12 March 2012

World Cup 2014

It's very likely that few people outside of Brazil are following, or even care much about, the details of the recent dust-up between the Brazilian government and FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football), but we're following it and it's not pretty. As the country chosen to host the next World Cup of soccer in 2014, Brazil has enjoyed a substantial boost to its self-image and expects to enjoy an even more substantial boost to its economy. But relations between Brazil and FIFA have been tense for some time now, and are worsening by the day. We're in the middle of a schoolyard fight with no adult supervisors in sight.

Just last week FIFA's general secretary, Jérôme Valcke, complained that Brazil needed to — in his original French words — "se donner un coup de pied aux fesses," or give itself a kick in the ass, to speed up the pace of its World Cup preparations. One could understand that as just a friendly "egging on" to urge Brazil to get those stadiums, hotels and airports built in time. But by the time the statement crossed the Atlantic, it had taken a turn. Brazil, it was said in Portuguese, needed to "levar um pontapé no traseiro," or get a kick in the ass. Gone was the reflexive, "give itself." Now Brazil needed to "get" a kick from some outside party to set it straight. An unfortunate translation.

Valcke believes he said this

Brazil believes he said this

Beer and soccer, a FIFA dream
But I'm not defending FIFA here, because however the statement was translated, the truth is that it had very little to do with whether or not Brazil is behind schedule. FIFA's own report last January congratulated Brazil for being within schedule. So what's going on? It's all about money. Big money. Huge profits. Greed. It has to do with the approval by the Brazilian Congress of something called the Lei Geral da Copa (the General World Cup Law). In one corner stands Brazil, a sovereign nation, with a federal law that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages in sports stadiums.  Brazil thinks that's a good law, and they want to keep it that way. In the opposing corner stands a big, powerful FIFA sponsor: Budweiser, the King of Beers. They want the law changed. Jérôme Valcke's job is to see that the Lei Geral da Copa is passed, releasing the sale of  beer, thereby insuring FIFA's continued profits.

Valcke commemorating. "Caipirinha anyone? 
Over the last six months the approval of this law met with strong resistance. Voting on it has been delayed several times. As of this writing, it does look as if it will squeak through the Brazilian Congress, with Brazil caving in to the beer interests. As for another Brazilian law in FIFA's greedy sights, that of half-price tickets for people over 60 years of age (which FIFA doesn't want) it looks as if Brazil will hold firm. I think it's all very unfortunate. Drunken drivers leaving a stadium after a game are infinitely more dangerous to the public than a few indignant old codgers.

05 March 2012

Feet up, batteries recharging. Next post on Monday, March 12th 

01 March 2012

Different Strokes . . .

I notice that I'm spending a lot of time focusing on the differences between Brazil and the United States, and not enough on the similarities. I think I'm annoying my Brazilian friends and, if so, I apologize. North America/South America . . . it's all one big America. That's quite possibly why I immediately felt so at home here. Some day I shall indeed comment on the similarities, but let's face it, the differences make for better copy. So here are a few more:

I consider the following the biggest divide between American and Brazilian women:

Good 'ole American "granny" panties
Brazilian "dental floss" panties

An American governor: Rod Blagojevich, former governor of the State of Illinois, currently serving 14 years in federal prison for corruption and misconduct in office, including a charge of lying to the FBI. A former attorney, he has been disbarred.

A Brazilian governor: Paulo Maluf, former governor of the State of São Paulo, currently serving as a Federal Deputy from São Paulo. Convicted of only one of the many charges of corruption against him, he served a few weeks in jail. Currently wanted for fraud, conspiracy and theft by Interpol. Helped coin a new verb in Portuguese, malufar, meaning "to steal public money."

See the word, "push"? A Brazilian will instinctively pull.

                                                         See the word, "puxe"? An American will instinctively push.  

Pfizer is agressively fighting to keep generics from the public, as The New York Times reported recently in an article entitled "Plan Would Delay Sales of Generic for Lipitor"

In Brazil, generics are readily available, including the generic of Lipitor.

I had a friend bring this box from the States so that I could cut off pieces of saran wrap. See that nice, sharp cutting blade along the edge of the box? 

The Brazilian method. Not very efficient, considering the alternatives available elsewhere. And this in a country that loves technology!

Senator Ed Muskie cried during the 1972 presidential primary, was thought to be a wimp, and lost. Not a good idea to cry in the States.


    Lula cried during his entire presidency and was beloved.
    In Brazil, crying is macho.

NOTE TO MY READERS: I'll be taking a little hiatus starting next week, will be back after the Ides of March. See you then!