24 February 2014

What Russia did wrong at Sochi . . . that Brazil hopes to do right in Rio

Brazil watched the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and not because Brazil is particularly interested in snow sports. No, Brazil kept an eye on Sochi with some butterflies in its collective stomach, because Brazil is — as we say in baseball — on deck. And although Brazil has a serious rehearsal coming up in the form of the 2014 World Cup in June, in many ways the preparations for that event have taken on a life of their own. Authorities seem to have given up somewhat on trying to keep the hotel prices in check (they’ve tripled), on trying to control the soaring airfares as well, on trying to push the still-unfinished stadiums to be finished before the day the games start, and in trying to keep a lid on the recent spate of violent street protests. Whatever happens at the World Cup is going to happen, but then Brazil will have two years to take a deep breath and get it together for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Didn't take long for this error to go viral 
Brazil is of course completely immune to the problems Sochi had with its loose, sugary, artificial snow. Not pertinent to Summer Olympics. Not a problem. And Brazil is pretty cool on the stray dog problem. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stray dogs on the streets of Brazil and no one’s going to put any of them to sleep. Brazil loves its stray dogs. So chalk up another one for Brazil. And we’re all pretty sure that the Opening and Closing Ceremonies will go off without any hitches. Brazil excels at The Big Show; after all, they put on an enthralling Carnaval spectacle every year. I think we’re looking at another positive for Brazil.

As for the inability of the Chobani yogurt company to ship its yogurt to Russia because it lacked proper customs certification, well — I’ll bet a carton of non-fat plain that Chobani yogurt can be shipped to Brazil, where any and all necessary paperwork can always be drawn up, stamped, certified and notarized, even if a little cash has to be passed under the table. I mean, if the U.S. can ship these non-food foods to Brazil, they can ship Chobani yogurt.

In addition to all of the above, the $50 billion that Russia spent on preparing for Sochi’s Winter Games is about what Brazil expects to spend on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics combined! So in many respects Brazil can breathe a huge sigh of relief.

No, wait, stop! Brazil isn’t getting out of the woods that easily. There have been a number of serious problems in Sochi, as the newspapers have described in painstaking detail. Just take a gander at Twitter’s @SochiProblems and you’ll see all about the five sports facilities that were still being worked on two days before the Games opened, and the hotels that were not ready (no water, no heat, no linens, no curtains, doorknobs that fell off or locked automatically from the outside), and the faulty Internet service. You’ll see pictures of open manholes and enormous piles of construction debris left around the stadiums. Some of that could happen here in Brazil too, and Brazil knows it. But Brazil will have a wonderful opportunity to test the readiness of stadiums, venues and hotels in the upcoming World Cup. I’m confident they’ll have all problems solved before someone creates @RioProblems — except for the problems they won’t have solved.

17 February 2014

Yes, Class, There Will Be a Quiz

Maybe you read my blog religiously every week, maybe you poke around it only occasionally — any way you’ve chosen to read it you’ve undoubtedly absorbed many fun facts to know and tell about Brazil, and particularly about Búzios. So clear your desks, class, here’s a surprise quiz:

1. What are havaianas?
a. Brazilian thong underwear
b. Brazilian flip-flops
c. The actresses on television’s Hawaii 5-O series
d. What Brazil calls women from Havana, Cuba

2. Watching how Brazilians drive, one might think that according to the Brazilian Traffic Code,
a. Stop signs are just a suggestion
b. The best way to test a car’s brakes is to tailgate
c. Passing on the right is preferable to passing on the left
d. All of the above

3. Speaking of driving, what is the driving time between Búzios and Rio de Janeiro?
a. Six hours by bus
b. Four hours by the train we do not have
c. An hour and a half by car, if a Brazilian drives
d. Two-and-a-half to three hours by car, if an American drives, and makes a pit stop at Oasis Graal
e. Several nightmarish days if a foreign driver is so ill-advised as to use his GPS

4. Ingredients for the classic Brazilian stew called moqueca de peixe include:
a. Chunks of beef tenderloin, potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, red wine
b. Smoked pig snouts, knuckles and jowls, black beans, white rice, sauteed kale, farofa, orange slices
c. Shark steaks, onion, tomato, green pepper, cilantro, urucum, coconut milk
d. Filet of pargo, onions, jiló, chuchu, jaca, jabuticaba, garlic

5. FATCA, the insidious new American tax law designed to catch fat cats with accounts overseas, stands for:
a. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act
b. Flawed Act To Capsize Americans
c. Foul & Asinine Trap Code Agreement
d. Flagrant Abuse To Cause Acrimony

6. Soccer is —
a. Brazil’s passion
b. The be-all and end-all of life in Brazil
c. The template for Brazilian driving techniques
d. All of the above

7. Where in Brazil are poppy seeds available so that a person can make poppy seed bagels and lemon poppy seed cake?
a. In the SAARA in Rio, where a person can find just about everything
b. In São Paulo’s huge Mercado Municipal, where a person can find just about everything
c. Nowhere! The sale of poppy seeds is prohibited in Brazil
d. You can grow them right in your own backyard (but keep an eye out for drones)

8. A samba school’s carnavalesco is the highly-compensated professional whose main job is to
a. Come up with the school’s theme each year, research and develop it
b. Work with a team of artists and designers to design costumes and accessories, and train the thousands of performers
c. Work with engineers and architects to build the school’s floats
d. All of the above

9. Which of the following injustices was merely invented for this quiz?
a. If Brazilians provide a Brazilian address when making online airline bookings they end up paying higher fares
b. Brazil qualifies for the American Visa Waiver Program, but isn’t waived
c. Brazilians pay a hefty premium when renting cars overseas
d. None of the above

10. How do you leave Búzios with a million dollars?
a. You come with two million
b. In a Brink’s armored truck
c. Very quickly
d. You can’t, you need it to pay the exit tax

1. b
2. d
3. d
4. c
5. a
6. d
7. c
8. d
9. d
10. a

10 February 2014


I know that many of my Northern Hemisphere readers are freezing right now, suffering under ice and snow and sleet, looking for whatever it takes to keep warm. I remember what it feels like to be chilled to the bone. I remember unplowed streets, canceled flights, and shivering, shivering, shivering all the time. I’m with you. I f-f-feel your pain.

But for those of us down here on the flip side, it’s been blisteringly hot, scorchingly hot, too hot to do anything. Too hot to go on errands. Too hot to talk. Too hot to write a blog. It’s just too darn hot . . .

(Ann Miller’s performance of Too Darn Hot, from Kiss Me Kate)

Most of Brazil is experiencing the hottest, driest summer in 20 years. In some parts of Rio, temperatures have soared as high as 57 C (134.6 F) with no break in sight, not one measly drop of refreshing rain. Yesterday ran to 43.2 C (109.76 F), and today they predict a mere 39 C (102.2 F). Tomorrow? Who knows. Who cares. I’m melting.

It’s too hot to eat anything but salads and sandwiches. The stores are running seriously low on bottled waters. On the up side, there are always cold, crisp, white wines and chilled rosés! Our freezer is stuffed with bottles of beer. We have to pray that our electricity holds.

As I drip through each day, all I can remember are those nightly Johnny Carson jokes, you know the ones where he’d come out and say, "It’s so hot in Burbank today that . . ." And then the audience would shout, "How hot is it?" And then, the feeble series of jokes, ba-dum-dum. Well, here, watch for yourself:

That’s how hot it is here. But at the end of the day, we have our pool. (Although some days, even the temperature of the pool water has been too hot!) It’s the only time of day I feel human anymore.

03 February 2014


A week or two ago The New York Times published an article mocking the way in which the popular, newly-elected mayor, Bill de Blasio, ate a pizza at a well-known pizzeria in Staten Island. Mayor de Blasio ate his piece of the pie with — gird yourselves, readers — a knife and fork! When confronted with this blasphemy, de Blasio defended himself by saying he was just being true to his Italian roots. "That’s how they eat pizza in Italy!" he sputtered. Well, that may be, but de Blasio, who’s been part of the New York political scene for 25 years now, has to know how a true New Yorker eats pizza, Italian blood or no Italian blood. Take a look at these former New York mayors — they knew how to keep votes:

Mayor Lindsay

Mayor Dinkins

Mayor Giuliani
Mayor Bloomberg

This just hurts, Mayor de Blasio!

Movie about Italian immigration to Brazil
Mayor de Blasio may never come to know it, but I know that he would feel completely at home here in Brazil, because here the correct way to eat a pizza is with a knife and fork, no exceptions. Pick up a slice with your hands and you’ll have shocked and panicked waiters rushing in from all sides with utensils and napkins. In fact, all of this Brazilian knife-and-forking may well have everything to do with "Italian roots." Brazilians of Italian descent are the largest population with full or partial Italian ancestry outside of Italy. And with 1.4 million pizzas devoured per day, São Paulo surpasses every other city in the world except New York in pizza consumption.

Pizza à francesa
The differences between the pizza cultures of Brazil and New York took some getting used to, because they extend way beyond utensils. For Mark and me, the most striking difference is in the time of day that pizza is served. You want a midday pick-me-up slice from Stromboli’s on University Place in New York? Fear not, they start delivering at 11:00 a.m. and continue straight through to 11:00 p.m. But here in Brazil, restaurants that serve pizza before, let’s say, 6:00 p.m. are few and far between. And don’t think you can just get a slice, either. It’s usually the whole pie or nothing, unless you’ve gone to a restaurant that serves a rodízio of pizzas, in which case you’ll get a never-ending, all-you-can-eat array of slices with varying toppings (including dessert toppings) until you burst. And I remember the first time we were asked whether or not we wanted our pizza à francesa (the French way). What on earth was that, we wondered? Sure, we said. Well, the pizza was served already cut up into teeny tiny little bite-sized pieces, kind of like what parents do for their one-year-olds. À francesa is very popular here, but I’ve tried it, and I just can’t get behind it.

Just a few months ago a straight-off-the-boat Italian kid came to Búzios, opened up a pizzeria, and tried to model it along more Italian lines. He opened up at 11:00 a.m. ("We eat pizza for breakfast in Italy!" he told us.) Mark and I were so excited! We wanted a pizza at 4:00 in the afternoon? It was available. We wanted just a slice? That, too, was available. It didn’t hurt, either, that his authentic, thin-crust pizza was absolutely scrumptious, and that his prices were reasonable. We told all our friends. But unfortunately, the two of us were virtually alone in wanting pizza during daylight hours, and the kid got bored hanging around all afternoon without any business. So now he doesn’t open until 5:00 p.m., and that’s only to start firing up the ovens. At least you can still just get a slice there.

There’s a Brazilian expression, tudo acaba em pizza (everything ends in pizza). Although it originated from a rivalry between two soccer teams, it has come to be used for politicians who, after arguing and posturing and name-calling all day, end up reaching an agreement and going out for pizza with their former enemies. There’s a real edge of sarcasm, however, since the agreements they reach almost always fill their bellies (and pockets), but without leaving even a little crust for their constituents.

"Because here everything ends in pizza!
The Federal Senate Pizzeria

Specialties: Agreements, Conspiracies, Amendments for sale, Secret votes, Nepotism, Votes for sale, Illegal favoritism and much, much more . . .

For delivery call 0800 171 171**"

(**171 is the article in the Brazilian Penal Code that defines Fraud . . .)

And since I’m on the topic, and the blog has already gone over my self-imposed length limit, a shout-out to the best pizza in the world, ever: Bonvini’s, of Livingston, New Jersey, which closed its doors on December 13, 1997 to the continued heartbreak of its legions of fans. I’ve eaten a lot of good pizzas in my life, but none came close to Bonvini’s.

It says Jerusalem, but we know, deep down, it’s still Bonvini’s.