25 November 2013

It Takes a Visitor

Amazing how it takes a visitor, with a fresh set of eyes, to restore one’s feeling of excitement about where one lives. This was our experience in New York whenever we took out-of-town visitors to little-known tourist attractions, out-of-the-way restaurants, or the best hole-in-the-wall jazz venues. We loved showing our city off, and we have just had the pleasure of doing exactly that here in Búzios with a visitor so full of enthusiasm that we, ourselves, were re-energized. Though this old friend had been in Brazil once previously, Búzios was completely new for her. She blew in like a fresh gust of air, and dragged me out of the lethargy and negativism that I had recently fallen into.

I guess no matter how beautiful it might be where you live, whether you have a mountain view or a river view, whether you’re in a lush valley or at the ocean, your daily grind is your daily grind. The usual worries and preoccupations start to take over and you don’t see what’s in front of you any more. Is it really possible that I look out at this view every day and all I can think of is Gee, as soon as the bank strike is over we’d better get more checks printed, or I wonder how soon I can get a bone density exam scheduled. It took our visitor to remind me of the beauty in my own backyard.

Since neither Mark nor I particularly like going to the beach and sitting and baking in the sun we’d kind of stopped visiting the beaches around Búzios. But how great it was to get out and see them again!

We’d forgotten how beautiful and savage Brava Beach can be . . .

            . . . how small and intimate Azedinha Beach is . . .

. . .  how unusual the red sand and jagged rock formations are at Forno Beach.

And there’s nothing like settling in at a beachside restaurant and devouring some grilled seafood with a crisp white wine, while the waves lap at your feet. And speaking of devouring, it was also lots of fun to sample some of the new restaurants that have been popping up here, but that Mark and I just hadn’t gotten to yet. We knew we had a visitor who had her gastronomic priorities right since her very first question to us on the ride home from the airport was, "How do you say ‘red’ in Portuguese?" We answered, "vermelho," each of us wondering why on earth that would be her first preoccupation. But then her motive became clear. "So," she went on, "If I want red wine I say ‘vino vermelho’?" "Well, no," I laughed, "you can get by with one word for red in English, but here you need two." I coached her on vinho tinto and vinho branco. And when she drank her very first caipirinha it made my umpteenth caipirinha go down that much better.

Our visitor has gone home, and left me feeling wonderfully refreshed. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that in the months to come I’ll start to focus once more on the little annoyances of life. I’ll stop going to check out the new restaurants and stores, I’ll forget what the Búzios beaches look like. I really do need a visitor to get me out and about. Any more takers?

18 November 2013

Reading the Sunday Papers

I usually get through reading the Sunday edition of O Globo, Rio’s version of The New York Times, in about an hour. There are lots of sections, but I can never find more than two or three stories of any compelling interest. The rest are just regurgitations of what’s been going on all week. But this week I’ve spent an amazing three-and-a-half hours poring over nearly every story, in every section, including Sports! The paper was literally bursting:

he thinks he just won the lottery . . .
The biggest story was about the arrest and imprisonment — listen carefully, the ar-rest and im-pri-son-ment — of 11 defendants, all convicted to varying sentences, in Brazil’s Biggest Political Corruption Scandal Ever, the Mensalão (big monthly allowance). There’s no room here to explain this scandal in detail. Just know that it began in 2005 at the highest levels of government under the prior administration and only just now have any defendants begun to taste their just desserts. These defendants — I suppose I should call them convicted felons now — really and truly considered themselves way above the law. How banal to see them skulk into the police precincts under escort, two of them still defiant, with raised fists, another hiding his face under his jacket. All of them, that is, except  . . .

he thinks he's up for an Oscar . . . 
at least he's embarrassed . . .

a very happy Cesare Battisti
 . . . Henrique Pizzolato, who fled to Italy 45 days ago, unbeknownst to the Supreme Court, the Federal Police, the border patrol, and everyone else who was supposed to have been watching out for such an obvious maneuver. Pizzolato, an ex-director of the Bank of Brazil, has dual citizenship (Italo-Brazilian). Since all of the convicted felons were to have surrendered their passports as soon as they were convicted, there is much speculation as to how this guy got away. Maybe he kept one passport, maybe he didn’t, maybe he got a new passport in Paraguay (his departure point from Brazil), maybe . . . who knows. Brazil is both embarrassed and indignant, and is preparing to demand that Italy extradite him. Ha! That’s a good one. Italy has for the last nine years demanded the extradition of Cesare Battisti, an Italian national convicted of murder who fled to Brazil in 2004, where he is currently writing his memoirs and enjoying a nice life. Quid pro quo, Brazil. You won’t be seeing Mr. Pizzolato for a good long time. La vita è bella!

Then I loved this one. We’re just finishing up a long holiday weekend (Proclamation of the Republic), in which hundreds of thousands of Rio residents left their city, in their cars, to celebrate out here in Búzios and the various other resort towns of the Região dos Lagos. The mayor of Rio is begging them to return to Rio early, today instead of tomorrow, because the elevated highway leading into Rio (akin to the West Side Highway) is going to be imploded in a week, and the crucial avenue underneath it will be closed early tomorrow morning. This avenue closing would cause unimaginable traffic tie-ups even under normal circumstances. If everyone were to return to the city at the same time tomorrow . . . Seems to me the city authorities have known about the Proclamation of the Republic since it was proclaimed on November 15, 1889. Could they not have scheduled the implosion for, um, some other time?

On the you-heard-it-here-first theory, has the American press reported what I just read, which is that various countries in the European Union have stopped exporting the substances used in lethal injections to the 32 American states that have the death penalty? Can’t get any more Sodium Pentothal from the United Kingdom, no more Pentobarbital from Denmark and not a drop of Propofol from Germany. The states are in a panic. Missouri has opted for a moratorium until they decide what to do, but Ohio has decided to try a never-before-used cocktail of toxic substances (good old Yankee ingenuity!) and Arkansas wants to return to the electric chair. Or at least that’s what O Globo reported.

And the news went on and on . . . Chile has a fascinating presidential election today between two women — two women, U.S.A., get with the times! — who are the daughters of two Air Force generals on opposite sides of the 1973 Pinochet coup . . . An amazing battle is going on in Rio between monkeys and birds, as more and more birds move their nests inside people’s apartments and houses to protect their eggs from the hungry, and wily, monkeys . . . Many Brazilian food companies have been caught with their pants down, selling obviously smaller containers of foodstuffs for the same price as before, despite a law saying the companies have to advise consumers in advance. It’s only a matter of time before the huge fines start being imposed . . . Another men’s volley ball championship is underway, this one in Japan, and the Brazilian team is expected to do their usual spectacular job. Now I have to see what times the games will be shown here, and organize my upcoming week accordingly . . . It’s late now, but there are still a few sections to read, and miles to go before I sleep.

11 November 2013

A Little Fishing Village

The famous Three Fishermen, by C. Motta
Búzios gets a lot of mileage out of the wistful, romantic idea it has of itself as a "little fishing village" with colorful fishing boats bobbing on the gentle waves and humble but happy fishermen setting out at the crack of dawn for the day’s catch. It is an idea that is perpetuated and exploited by anyone and everyone in the tourism business here, from the official city government tourist bureau to hotels and pousadas and restaurants. It is an idea that is splashed all over publicity material and Web sites, and it still works like the charm it’s meant to be. Fraud? Not really. Even though Búzios is way more than just a little fishing village nowadays, there’s no question but that you can still see traces of the life that late they led*.

Colônia dos Pescadores
The fishermen of today — and yes, there are still many active fishermen — enjoy a prestige here slightly out of proportion to their role in the town’s development into a swanky international resort. They have statues in their honor, as pictured above, they have a street named for them, the Travessa dos Pescadores, and inumerable bars and restaurants bear names with the word "pescadores" in them somewhere. There’s also a Colônia dos Pescadores, built in 1957, once a bustling hub of fishing-related activities, and now an interactive visitor’s center for Búzios’s Coral Reef Park. And it certainly didn’t hurt the electability of the first two mayors of Búzios — Mirinho and Toninho, as they are called — that they were "sons of fishermen." No great surprise to anyone that each candidate used his pedigree to great effect.

Down the beach from our house is the Associação dos Pescadores, which shares space with a restaurant called the Bar dos Pescadores. The restaurant has changed hands several times, but new owners have always been wise enough to keep a very special part of Búzios’ fishing village history on display: a series of remarkable portraits, oil on canvas, painted by an artist known simply as Hugo. He called his work collectively "the brave men of the sea." These portraits hang between closet doors, where the fishermen from the Associação store their nets and fishhooks. If you look hard enough — behind the newly-built, walled condominiums, beside the hulking cruise ships moored offshore, around in back of the high-end, boutique hotels — you can still find that bucolic fishing village that drew you here in the first place.

Here are some of the "brave men of the sea" — 

*With apologies to Cole Porter, composer & lyricist, Where is the Life That Late I Led, from the musical Kismet

04 November 2013

Americanisms in Portuguese (Part 2)

Last week I talked about the English words and expressions that have been seeping into the Portuguese language, and which have been warmly embraced by most Brazilians. But don’t think it’s all moonlight and roses. Plenty of Brazilians find themselves on the other side of the linguistic divide, wishing these estrangeirismos, as they are called, could be extinguished once and for all. But unlike in France, where this fight is valiantly fought by the august Académie Française, the Academia Brasileira de Letras keeps mostly to its mission of promoting Brazilian literary arts. The Academia may be the paramount authority over the Portuguese language, but it has no legal oversight. That job has been turned over to politicians.

Aldo Rebelo
One politician in particular, Aldo Rebelo, has sunk his teeth into efforts to ban the English-language interlopers with a certain gusto. Back in 1999, while serving in the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, he proposed legislation to prohibit the use of foreign words in all official government documents and requiring that businesses using foreign words or expressions in ads and on Web sites, etc., also provide the Portuguese translation. The proposed law has slowly wound its way through the system, and seems to have been approved at some level in 2008. But I can’t swear to where things stand right now. If such a law was passed and published at the national level, no one told me. (However, as the current Minister of Sports, Rebelo has succeeded in getting his staff to substitute rede mundial de computadores for "internet," portal or sítio for "site," and informações para imprensa for "release" in all Ministry documents. That must be a relief to him.)

In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, legislation approved in 2011 now requires all official documents or communications to include a Portuguese translation of any foreign word or expression used. However, because the law did not include fines for non-compliance, most observers feel that in the long run the law won’t stick. And in the city of Rio de Janeiro, a similar law was approved in 2009 (with fines included). A judge overturned that law in 2011, alleging that the city’s legislators had overstepped their jurisdiction. For a short time, though, shopping mall storefronts were so covered with words: "Sale! Liquidação! Discounts! Descontos! Reduced prices! Preços reduzidos!" that you couldn’t see the products.

Will all this lawmaking and anti-estrangeirismo finally take hold? Given the long history of how languages have infected and affected and enriched each other, I doubt it. Here’s a cartoon that confirms with lots of good humor why such prohibitions usually backfire. (Translating the cartoon will ruin the joke. But anyone with a modicum of romance language in them will get it.)