26 August 2013

Test Your Brazil Smarts

Every single one of us has at one time or another sat in a classroom during a lesson and wondered, "Is this going to be on the test?" Well, don’t be nervous, but I think it’s high time you were all tested on your knowledge of Brazil. This is particularly important for those of you who are planning to travel here for the World Cup and/or the Olympics, and who might want to have an actual conversation with a Brazilian. Let’s start with a Brazilian who’s who. So get out your pencils, settle back . . . and no Googling!

1. Of the six Brazilian artists in the following list, select the one who is still alive and working

a. Vik Muniz
b. Cildo Meireles
c. Francisco Brennand
d. Beatriz Milhazes
e. Sebastião Salgado
f. Romero Britto

Beatriz Milhazes

Gotcha! All six are alive and well, and still creating great works of art.

2. Staying in the art world, name three distinguished Brazilian painters not mentioned in Question #1. Okay, okay, name two. Can you name at least one?

Tarsila do Amaral
There’s plenty to choose from: Tarsila do Amaral, Cândido Portinari, Lasar Segall, Alfredo Volpi, Cicero Dias, Hélio Oiticica, Anita Malfatti, Ione Saldanha, Claudio Kuperman, Gonçalo Ivo, Iberê Camargo, and many more.

3. Select the Brazilian actor(s) from the following list

a. Gael García Bernal
b. Fernanda Montenegra
c. Javier Bardem
d. Rodrigo Santoro
e. Wagner Moura
f. Ricardo Darín
Fernanda Montenegra

Bernal is Mexican, Bardem is Spanish, Darin is Argentine, so that leaves the Brazilians ...

4. Moving to the world of sports, whose name do you enter when the New York Times crossword puzzle clue is "famous Brazilian athlete" and the answer is four letters?

a. Pelé
b. Kaká
c. Giba
d. Zico
e. Guga

Any of them would do, depending on the puzzle’s crosses. (FYI, they play soccer, soccer, volleyball, soccer, tennis)

5. Besides sharing an initial letter, what sport do these guys share: Ronaldhino, Robinho, Ronaldo, Romário, Raí and Rivaldo?


Soccer, duh

6. Match the Brazilian author to his or her best-known work (that is, best-known outside of Brazil)

a. Paulo Coelho.........................1. The Hour of the Star
b. Jorgo Amado.........................2. The Alchemist
c. Clarice Lispector...................3. Max and the Cats
d. Graciliano Ramos..................4. Barren Lives
e. Moacyr Scliar........................5. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

a(2), b(5), c(1), d(4), e(3)

7. Which of the following Brazilian singer/songwriters is NOT a successful author as well?

a. Gilberto Gil
b. Chico Buarque
c. Caetano Veloso
d. Vinicius de Moraes
e. Tony Bellotto
Gilberto Gil

Answer — Gilberto Gil (though of the five named above, he’s the only one who has served as Minister of Culture)

8. Name as many Brazilian politicians as you can who are NOT the targets of some type of civil or criminal investigation.


Answer — Sorry, can’t think of even one. Really.


FLASH QUIZ — Name the following personalities:

A. Brazilian fashion model and Mrs. Tom Brady __________________
B. Most famous Brazilian architect ever _________________________
C. Brazil’s classical ballerina   _________________________________
D. Brazil’s premier plastic surgeon  _____________________________
E. Brazilian businessman who just fell off the Forbes List of Billionaires
F. Brazil’s current soccer deity _________________________________ 
G. Brazilian Tony-winning star of Broadway’s South Pacific  _________
H. The real Girl from Ipanema _________________________________

Helô Pinheiro, forever tall & tan & lovely 
A. Gisele Bündchen
B. Oscar Niemeyer
C. Ana Botafogo
D. Ivo Pitanguy
E. Eike Batista
F. Neymar
G. Paulo Szot

H. Helô Pinheiro

19 August 2013

Resupplying in Rio

There are dozens of reasons for people who live here in Búzios, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Rio, to make the trip in to the big city. Some people go in to visit with relatives, some to suffer through dental appointments, some to pick visitors up at the airport; others see Rio as the go-to place for cultural experiences, be they art exhibits, music shows, movies or plays; people go in for the usual round of life events, like weddings, births, graduations and funerals. Mark and I have been known to go to Rio for the occasional blood test. But more often than not our reason for going is more prosaic. We use Rio as our quartermaster depot. We go to Rio quite simply to resupply.

Not that a person can’t get plenty of stuff in Búzios, a person can. We’ve got supermarkets and stores aplenty, with another new supermarket being built as I write. But if you’re particular about your brands and, in addition, are somewhat economy-minded, nothing beats a resupply trip to Rio. Prices in Búzios are currently artificially high, and that coupled with the small number of brand options is all the reason I need to jump into the car and go.

Zona Sul discount badge
Our first stops are usually the two supermarkets Zona Sul and Pão de Açucar, both of which now count Mark and me as registered "members" (hey, discounts!). We load a shopping cart to the brim with our favorite brands of pasta and plum tomato sauce and haul it to the check-out counter, where we are often looked at quizzically. I remember once the cashier looked at our 25 bags of pasta, looked at us, and said, "You’re Italian, right?"

Enough pasta for 45 dinners, and plenty of wine to wash it down
Then we make our way to Carioca Zen, the only store in Rio that carries both chickpea flour and the Indian butter known as "ghee," both essential to Indian cookery. Another successful shopping spree. Then off to Mundial, a fairly downscale supermarket where we recently discovered the wine prices to be amazingly low and the wine selection surprisingly sophisticated. There we fill two or three cartons with enough bottles to last until the next trip (we hope!). At the Mundial checkout counter our clanking bottles call a lot of attention to our purchase. Some people might generously think we run a restaurant, but plenty of others raise an eyebrow or two.

So basic, so un-findable
By now the trunk is pretty full, but there’s always room for some discretionary shopping. I have to feed my reading needs and stock up at my favorite used-book store. Every so often I run low on my Paul Mitchell Super Sculpt Glaze and we find ourselves searching for a parking space in Leblon, as near as possible to the only store that sells Paul Mitchell products. And then there’s always some specialty item that seems to stay on my shopping list for months and months, never to be crossed off, because there’s just no finding it easily. For example, right now I’m in search of a pastry cutter — anybody have any ideas?

12 August 2013

Comparing and Contrasting

It's not really fair to compare and contrast two different cultures and civilizations but, hell, I do it all the time. As many of you have figured out, my blog posts often follow the in-the-U.S.-this-and-in-Brazil-that pattern. But I've decided to give the U.S. a break today and turn my sights to France. How can I not? Three weeks in France gave me material galore.

Going beyond the famous Venn Diagram-style of comparing and contrasting, here are some in-Brazil-this-and-in-France-that observations that struck me the most, in no particular order:

These days, when you check in to a hotel in Brazil, you still have to fill out a form at the reception desk, informing them of your nationality, sex, age, your passport number, how you arrived at the hotel, where you're traveling from, where you're next traveling to, and so on and so forth. But at no hotel in France did we ever fill out anything, whether we had reserved or not. All they wanted was our name if they didn't already have it. Who we were, where we were from, our car's license plate number, our favorite foods, nothing was of interest. Remember when you used to have to leave your passport at the hotel reception desk in any European country for the hotel to register with the police? Boy, have times changed!

In Brazil they've kept the "service" in service station. They still have uniformed attendants who pump your gas, check your oil, fill your tires, wash your windows, and even serve you coffee. France, on the other hand, has adopted the annoying and human-less pump-your-own approach. Me, I'll stick to Brazil and New Jersey.

OK, but where's the red button of the instructions?
In Brazil there is a safe in nearly every hotel room we've ever stayed in, whether the hotel is two-, three-, four- or five-star. The instructions are clear enough for a child to operate. During our travels in France we stayed in a total of 11 different hotels. Only three had safes in the rooms and, of those three, only one had clear instructions! I guess there's something admirable about a country that has no security issues.

Brazilians use plastic gloves in restaurant kitchens, in bakeries, at the deli counters, in short whenever there might be the slightest chance that their hands will touch your food. In addition, every wisp of Brazilian hair is tucked carefully inside a hairnet so as to prevent contamination. On the other hand, the French grab your food and serve it barehanded, letting bacteria land where it may. And in at least one bakery, I watched with some amusement as an employee kept whipping her long hair around, and with each toss of her head her ponytail hit the breads on display behind her. The French do, however, use plastic gloves when pumping their own gas. The gloves are offered in handy dispensers, alongside paper towels. Very hygienic.

In Brazil the public bathrooms are cleaned constantly, whether they're in high-end shopping malls or lowly gas stations. Here I always know the public toilets will be as clean as they are in my own house. Over there in la belle France? Well, I only used one public bathroom, and I made sure never to repeat that traumatic experience. It was in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, an otherwise beautiful city.

Most Brazilian restaurants will serve you anything you want at any time of day, and stay open until the last customer wipes his chin, heaves a satisfied sigh, and leaves. In France, most restaurants serve within very rigid schedules (non, Madame, lunch is from 12:00 to 2:30, and dinner from 7:00 to 9:30). Hungry at 4:00 in the afternoon? Tant pis. Just want a drink during the hours of food service? You'll have to sit at the bar, don't even think of occupying a table. Tables are for diners only — even if there aren't any. All this rigidity and discipline, though, probably goes a long way to explaining why the French are all still so skinny.

In Brazil you hardly ever see a convertible and, if you do get the rare glimpse, the top is never down. I’m figuring that speaks more to fear of violence than to car preferences. In France I was really struck by the number of convertibles cruising the roads, all with their tops down. Could have been spring break in Fort Lauderdale.

I'm happy to announce that in Brazil, smoking in public places is mostly a relic of the past. In France? Oh, boy. Puff puff puff puff. Not inside, at least, but outside, on the café terraces, where the best people-watching seats are. Wherever we went we were relegated to the boring and empty interiors unless, that is, we wanted to inhale clouds of secondhand smoke. The most discouraging part of all — and this is serious — is that the vast majority of those who are smoking are young people.

I've written before about all the golden-age perks for the elderly in Brazil, half price at all cultural and sporting events, free rides on public transportation . . . but over in France there are no deals for the elderly, nothing, nada, zip, rien. Oh, unless you belong to the European Community, and even that only goes for an occasional museum. And surprisingly, when we took the French subway, Mark and I looked for the signs we used to see asking people to give up their seats by the doors for "the elderly, the pregnant, and wounded war veterans." But they're gone now. (The signs, I mean. The elderly, the pregnant and the wounded war veterans can be seen hanging on to the straps for dear life.)

In Brazil, and particularly Búzios, the locals wear flat shoes and the tourists wear high heels. In France, it seemed that the locals were in the high heels and the tourists were in the comfortable flats. Just a curiosity for those who, like myself, are shoe-oriented.

05 August 2013

Brazilians Are Pissed, and They Have Every Reason To Be

I’d be pissed, too. I’m pissed just in solidarity with my Brazilian friends. And I’m not referring to the recent events that have so enraged Brazilians and sent them out to the streets to protest in droves. I’m talking about an insidious discrimination against Brazilians that I’ve heard about for years, but never realized the extent of. Could it possibly be true that Brazilians pay a premium, both in price and/or dignity, for being — well, for being Brazilian? They do, they do. Mark and I most recently brushed up against this when we went to rent a car over the Internet for our recent trip to France. We were blithely using the Europcar Web site in English, and we found an amazing rate for a three-week rental. We locked it in. But as soon as we started to fill in the details — which included our address in Brazil — the site automatically refreshed the page and came up with a much higher price! We were scandalized! What was going on? Mark immediately called up Europcar, and the guy on the other end of the phone admitted to the discriminatory pricing, mumbling something about "what the market dictates." He assured us that with our American passports and an American address — any American address — we could get the original, super-low price. Fine for us. But what about Brazilian car renters?

Caution: Change country to "USA" before using!
Then, out of curiosity (and because I had heard some complaints), I went to the Website of the Brazilian airline TAM. By using the English-language page I could purchase a two-week, round trip economy ticket from Miami to Rio de Janeiro for $1,099. But when I switched to the Portuguese-language page, the very same trip on the very same aircraft cost $3,137.92! I did it three more times for three different itineraries, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Shame on you, TAM!

As I wrote in a recent post, our Rio to Paris flight was canceled due to the French air traffic controller strike. We were flying TAM (yes, we got a great deal on the English-language page) and on the day the strike started the TAM Website advised passengers to call to find out what to do. So we did. But initially we used the Portuguese-language phone menu. We waited and waited. Finally a voice message came on and said, in Portuguese, "Here is news of your flight." Then there was nothing. Silence. We tried again. Nothing. Argghhhh. Mark switched to the English-language option. Well, surprise, surprise, we were attended immediately, and our flight was changed quickly, efficiently and to our satisfaction.

I can’t vouch personally for the following, but I can guarantee that the source is impeccable. I’m told that Brazilians must often show cold hard cash at immigration desks all over the world, enough cash to cover their expenses for the length of their trip. In my life I've never been asked to show cash when entering a country, nor would I carry two or three weeks’ worth of cash around. Who would? It’s ridiculously unsafe. I mean, what are credit cards for?

And finally, even though Brazil qualifies for the American Visa Waiver Program — and has apparently qualified for some time now — the United States stubbornly persists in requiring visas from Brazilian citizens, so in reciprocity Brazil requires visas from Americans. But on the application form for a Brazilian visa, Americans don’t get asked whether or not they have any communicable diseases. That question appears on the visa application that Brazilians must fill out for a tourist visa to the USA. I mean, really.