27 August 2012

Brazilian Gestures

I used to own this book, Beaux Gestes, by Laurence Wylie. It's a really funny illustrated guide to French gestures, and was immensely helpful to me when I first began traveling in France. I studied it the way one studies a Frommer's guide, and used what I could whenever the situation warranted. There's no comparable book I know of for Brazilian gestures, but for anyone who might be planning to visit Brazil without causing an international brouhaha, you might take a look at my own personal gesture guide:

"Thank you!" "Yes!" "Great!" (And much, much more.) This most ubiquitous of Brazilian gestures was discussed in a prior blogpost of mine published on December 22, 2011. Check it out for the full panoply of meanings.

"Soup's on!" Or, "Eating," as in, "Where's the manager?" "He's at lunch." Hold your fist in front of your mouth at lip-level and move your fingers up and down.

Moving your fists around and around in front of your eyes denotes choramingo, or weeping, wailing, blubbering. It's mostly used ironically, to make fun of someone, or to show them how much you sympathize with them — NOT.

Hitting the side of your throat repeatedly with your hand means . . . well, I have competing explanations for this one. One friend says it means that someone is deliberately lying to you. Another friend says it just means that someone is blathering, or talking nonsense.

"I've got your number!" Mimic putting a card up your sleeve and you're saying that you've got the goods on someone. You will bide your time and, at the right moment, you'll take the card out and use it against them.

"Delish!" One turn of your hand alongside your mouth after the first bite. In all these years I've seen only one Brazilian make this gesture, so I can't be sure it's in the country's pantheon. But whenever this friend makes the gesture while eating my home cooking, it's very gratifying.

"So there!" Snap your fingers three times, with a lot of verve. This is another one I've seen only one Brazilian do. Depending on the conversation, it can also mean something like "I told her!"

"Full." Show the back of your hand with the fingers pointing up, and open and close them repeatedly. This is used in any number of situations, could be a hostess at a restaurant telling you that the place is packed, or the parking attendant telling you there are no more spaces to be had in the lot. If you see a taxi driver doing this, he's signaling that he's carrying passengers. Any way you look at it, it's not good news.

"Don't know, don't care." Hold your hands in front of your body with your wrists loose and brush your fingertips across each other, back and forth, several times. It's the closest I can come here in Brazil to my favorite French expression, "Je m'en fous."

"They're like this." Want to tell someone how close two people are? Rub your index fingers together as shown in the picture.

Pull your eyelid down and, depending on the situation, you'll be saying "Watch out, be careful, keep your eyes open," or "How stupid do you think I am?"

Rubbing your hand like this against your cheek indicates that someone is a bad driver, or just did some bad driving maneuver. Check out my "Driving in Brazil" blogpost of November 7, 2011, and you'll wonder why I haven't rubbed a hole in my cheek by now!

And by the way, in case anyone was wondering, I've deliberately kept this Guide to Gestures very clean. However, I must warn Americans: do not, under any circumstances, make the "okay" sign. It's extremely obscene in Brazil. Train yourselves to use the "thumbs-up" sign instead. Okay?

20 August 2012

Brrrrrr . . . It's Wintertime in Brazil

Même la Bardot a froid
Those of us who hail from lands with snow, ice and freezing rain — what might be called Real Winter Weather — do a great deal of eye-rolling and head-shaking when June, July and August roll around and a Brazilian tells us how cold it is outside. On July 16th, for example, the big evening news story was about how that day had been the coldest ever on record for the city of Rio, a teeth-chattering 15.5 degrees Centigrade — for those of you who live in the U.S., that's, um, 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Okay, all of you who just fell off your chairs in a fit of laughter — get a grip. It really is kind of . . . somewhat . . . a little chilly here when the thermometer hits the 50s and early 60s F (10 to 15C). Really. Especially in our rustically-built Búzios houses with no heating, no insulation, and nothing that looks remotely like weatherstripping around the windows. When the wind blows off the water straight into our very permeable house, even we two winter-hardened New Yorkers grab some extra blankets.

Now let me address my Brazilian readers, for many of whom a Currier & Ives winterscape has the same charm that a travel brochure image of beach and palm trees has for Frost Belters. What constituted cold weather when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey? Well, for one thing, the temperature had to hover around freezing, 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). It helped, too, if there were snowflakes swirling outside, and some large patches of ice to slip-slide on. Our mothers bundled us up and sent us outside to play. It was nose-reddening, eye-tearing cold, but it was exhilarating. Well, we were kids. When Mark and I moved to Brazil, we took only the most basic items of our winter clothing, figuring we'd use them when visiting colder climes. But our bodies have acclimatized to the weather patterns here, and although we don't wrap up as dramatically as the Brazilians when the thermometer "plunges," we're glad to have brought a couple of sweaters.

Red wine & a fireplace, Campos do Jordão
During the July winter school breaks, the preferred vacation spots for Brazilians are anywhere you can go to shiver, drink hot chocolate and sit in front of a roaring fire. You can do some first-class shivering up in the mountains of southeastern Brazil, in places as close to us as Novo Friburgo and Teresópolis, or virtually anywhere down in southern Brazil. A couple of years ago Mark and I decided to chill out, literally, with the Brazilians, and we headed for Campos do Jordão, a winter resort town in the mountains of neighboring São Paulo State. I don't now remember the exact temperatures, but I do know we left our coats at the hotel and made do with sweaters and scarves. We were comfortable, and happy. But the Brazilians were agasalhados like crazy, wrapped and layered and muffed and gloved in every piece of woolen clothing and outerwear they had brought for the occasion. They were happy, too. My guess is that red wine had a lot to do with everyone's happiness.

Here in Búzios, where the winter days are often in the mid- to high 20s C (75 to 80 degrees F), the nights are still chilly enough for the restaurants to run their winter "soup & wine" specials, and do a booming business, to boot. It's all very disorienting to me. How odd to have a bit of a shiver on July 4th while my fellow Americans are out there barbecuing and beaching. How strange to be experiencing cold fronts coming up from Uruguay while friends and family are enduring a brutally hot summer. I wonder if I will ever get used to winter in the tropics. It's as upside-down as Christmas in the summer.

13 August 2012

Rio's Eight Minutes

Mark and I just suffered through the Olympics Closing Ceremony — a two-and-a-half-hour long anthology from hell of five decades of bangers-and-mash British rock (the Queen was smart, this time she stayed home) — for no reason other than to watch the eight-minute Introduction to Rio segment. When the spotlight hit Renato Sorriso, and he began his magical samba footwork, I applauded. But then I worried that no one outside of Brazil would think he was anything other than an actor in a funny orange costume. No one would understand his importance to the city of Rio, and why he had been picked to open the closing. And then, to prove I was right to worry, I read this in New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson's blog: "In the middle of the stadium is  Renato Sorriso, ‘the garbage collector who is a samba dancer and a symbol of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival.' Seriously. A samba dancing garbage man is Rio's introduction to the world." So arrogant. So smug. So ready to put Rio down. Robertson obviously considers a samba-dancing garbage man pretty low down on the food chain.

Renato Sorriso on the job
I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it does. You see, I've seen Renato Sorriso in person. I know his story. I know how important he is. Renato Sorriso (which, by the way, means Renato Smile) has become a larger-than-life personality, and even something of a tourist attraction in Rio. Renato Luiz Feliciano Lourenço has worked for COMLURB, Rio's municipal sanitation company, for 15 years. If you want to go and talk to him, he can be found every day sweeping up around the Praça Xavier de Brito in the north Rio neighborhood of Tijuca. Back in 1997, Renato signed on to work the Sambadrome during Carnaval for some overtime pay. As each samba school finishes its show on the runway, a group of COMLURB men follows behind, sweeping away the ribbons and sequins and feathers and anything else that fell off the floats and the costumes, and getting the runway ready for the next samba school. Except that Renato, who loves Carnaval and samba, didn't do as much sweeping as he did samba-ing. His boss reprimanded him, but since the public was applauding and demanding more, his boss gave up and decided to let Renato do his thing. A star was born.

Nowadays Renato spends Carnaval parading down the runway with one or another samba school, in between his cleaning duties. There aren't many sambistas as good as he is, or as talented, or as charming, or with as much charisma. And that smile, well, it's contagious. It's from the heart. Renato has also appeared in a Brazilian television soap opera, he's done a telephone commercial in Europe, and he's toured with professional dancers in France, Spain and England in a show called "Brasil Brasileiro." And now he has danced at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Campbell Robertson may not think that this "samba dancing garbage man" should be Rio's introduction to the world, but that just shows how very little Robertson knows of Brazil. It also shows how much a person's brain can be fried after hours of rock music.

06 August 2012

London, We're Watching You!

As London braves the 2012 Summer Olympics, we're all watching very closely down here in Brazil. Some of us are not watching just for the fun of it either. Since Rio is slated to host the next Summer Olympics, in 2016, everyone who will be involved in that event is watching London's performance extremely competitively. They're watching to see what can be learned from London, they're watching to see what the pitfalls are that they'll have to try to avoid. There's a bit of gloating when it appears that London está pisando na bola — that's Portuguese for screwing up — and people here think they can do better. But Brazil is also quaking in its flip- flops, because Brazil after all is still Brazil. Brazilians, too, have a habit of fumbling the ball from time to time, they have an even worse habit of letting everything go until the last minute (that includes building the appropriate facilities), they, too, have chaotic traffic, and they even have a little violence problem.

Impossible not to have snafus in the course of such a massive event, with so many countries involved, and it's now widespread knowledge that in London the snafus began even before the Games officially started. There were security problems, transportation problems, failed ticket sales and diplomatic gaffes, just to mention some of what's been written about in the press. And then there was that . . . eclectic? . . . Opening Ceremony. Let's see how Brazil's Olympic Organizing Committee might evaluate its challenges in light of London's performance:

A humiliated Nick Buckles, G4S CEO
1. Security — The most serious of London's pre-Games fiascos was the hiring of a security company called G4S, "the world's leading international security solutions group," as their website boasts. Well, I don't know what world they think they lead in, but they didn't come close to delivering on their contractual obligations. Just days before the event the company's CEO announced publicly that he regretted having taken on the Olympics security contract, and agreed that his company's performance had been a "humiliating shambles." Wow. I'm sure Brazil feels it has security covered. The best news they got was that G4S will not compete in the bidding process, either for the 2014 World Cup (also to be held in Brazil) or the 2016 Summer Olympics.

2. Transportation — A couple of bus drivers who didn't know how to navigate the city streets of London got lost on the way from Heathrow Airport to the Athletes' Village? No worries, because on that score Rio probably has the upper hand. Getting all the way across London from Heathrow to the East End is kind of like trying to dribble a soccer ball through your opponent's defenders. For the land of Pele, Garrincha, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldhino and Neymar, the stretch between Galeão Airport here in Rio and the Olympic Village in Barra da Tijuca — that's a walk in the park.

The only map a Rio bus driver will need

Paulo Barros

3. Opening Ceremony — Okay, we've all Monday-morning-quarterbacked the topic of London's Opening Ceremony. Everyone's got an opinion or a dig. But after watching it, even Brazil's usually circumspect President Dilma immediately said that Brazil could do better. You want a spectacular show with thousands of cast members, lots of music, dancing, costumes, lights and special effects, all to go off without a hitch? Has anyone been to Carnaval here in Brazil? I mean, Brazil's been putting this show on for years. My advice? The Organizing Committee has only to turn to Paulo Barros, the most inventive of the current crop of carnavalescos whose genius would go a long way to making Rio's Opening Ceremony a stunner.

I remember the opinions Mark and I heard from two friends of ours after the 2016 Summer Olympic Games were awarded to Rio. One friend was adamant that the Games will never happen here. "There's no way Brazil will get such a complex event organized," he said. "Mark my words, the IOC will take the Games away from Brazil." But the other friend was unruffled. "No," he said. "The Games will happen here. They'll just happen in Brazil's way." Myself, I'm banking on Brazil.