30 June 2014

The World Cup Plays Out In Búzios

While thousands upon thousands of people descended on the various Brazilian host cities of the 2014 World Cup, straining those cities’ infrastructures and services to their limits, Mark and I stayed close to home to watch how things played out in Búzios. It was a good move. Búzios was both animated and quiet, and in just the right degrees (for us). Here’s a panorama of how the World Cup has been playing out in Búzios:

Everyone all set with your favorite good luck shirt?


              You can sit on the street . . .

. . . or in a nice restaurant

Nary a car left uncovered!

Getting ready for the Brazil x Mexico game --  

Kiwi + passion fruit, the colors of Brazil

Every Argentine in town watching the Argentina x Iran game on the Praça Santos Dumont --

Back on the Praça Santos Dumont for the Brazil x Cameroon game --

Uruguay x Italy, pre-bite --

Commemorating an Argentine goal against Nigeria --

One restaurant had a special World Cup menu --

These were selling like hotcakes, so I had to buy a pair, too!

No hotel? No prob! Just pick an empty spot and camp out --

Part of a caravan that drove all the way from Santiago, Chile --

And lots and lots and lots of Argentina license plates --

And in the tense Brazil x Chile game, Brazil scored highest in the Battle of the Hats! (Chile 4, Brazil 8) --


23 June 2014

More Blog Updates

Today, I'm going to turn away from All-Soccer-All-the-Time news, and bring you some more updates on our ongoing dramas, both personal and non. But don't be too disappointed, all you soccer fans, it's going to be a long month!

Forbidden Fruits (October 22, 2012)

To my utmost despair, I found yet another fruit to add to my long, long list of prohibited ones: jaca (jackfruit). Our cleaning lady thoughtfully brought us a container full, all cleaned and ready to eat. It smelled divine, it tasted heavenly! Then, in just a few minutes, came that unmistakable tingling in my lips, that swelling around my eyes and in my fingers, and the slow and steady closing of my airways. I hadn’t eaten much, just one piece, so I drank lots of water, lay down and deep-breathed my way through it. The allergic reaction fizzled. Then I hit Google, where I learned that jackfruit is famous for the sticky substance in its center: latex, for goodness sake! The worst thing possible for a girl with the rare latex-fruit syndrome.

Closing the Stable Door After The Horse Has Bolted (February 11, 2013)

Facade of the disco today
Over a year after the devastating fire in the southern Brazilian disco Kiss, in which 242 young people died and hundreds more were injured, most Brazilians can tick off every single factor that contributed to the disaster: the disco was overcrowded, the musicians used pyrotechnic flares in a closed space with flammable, toxic materials, windows were boarded from the outside, doors were bolted from the inside, and the fire department had never properly inspected the place. Over a year now, and not one single person responsible for this crime has been convicted. Those who were indicted (club owners, musicians) are awaiting judgment in the comfort of their own homes, not in jail. And that judgment will take years, with several pending cases making their slow progress through the courts. Impunity reigns, at least for the time being.

Paradise Lost
(April 22, 2013)

In the months that followed our filing of a criminal complaint against our neighbor, who had turned his property into a wild party rental house, he finally did the right thing. Out went the party renters, and in came nice, quiet, mostly mature guests for his brand new, chic and expensive pousada. Things had improved so much that Mark and I had kind of forgotten we had ever made a complaint. So you can imagine our astonishment when we were summoned a few weeks ago to appear in court for an audiência, a face-off with our neighbor. After all, one year and one month had passed. We thought the complaint had just disappeared. But off we went for our day in court. The other side didn’t show up. We had a nice chat anyway with a conciliadora, or mediator. We were told we couldn't drop the charges (because they were criminal, not civil) but we were able to tell her that we had no reason to continue. We don’t want any money damages awarded, we just want to continue to live in peace. It’s now up to the Public Prosecutor to drop the case or not.

The 20¢ Revolution (July 22, 2013)

It’s been nearly a year now and Brazil is still seething with strikes and protest marches. Initially, these marches were organized to protest the rise in bus fares, but they quickly turned into an indictment against the government’s obscenely wasteful spending on World Cup preparations. Unfortunately, the peaceful marches have been infiltrated by masked vandals, who have used the crowds as cover to smash up banks, burn buses, and tear down public property. Then there’s the theory that by going on strike now, in the midst of the World Cup, the strikers will get what they want. So who’s currently been going on and off strike around the country? Just teachers, bank guards, bus drivers, workers in the subways, the bus stations, the airports, hospital staff, civil servants . . . the list is endless. What a mess.

"We’re on strike"


The Vacant Lot’s Not Vacant Anymore (September 16, 2013)

Ever since the forest next door to us was torn out and the earth excavated, we’ve been waiting to see a beautiful beach house rise up before our eyes. But here we are, one year later, and nothing’s happened since construction work stopped last September.

The site in September 2013

The site in May 2014

It hasn’t taken long for the woods to grow back. It hasn’t taken long for the rains to wash much of the earth down to the beach. But the biggest problem has unfortunately been on our side of the wall. Without the earth needed to sustain our wall and the staircase that runs alongside it, the wall began to crack and the stairs began to break up and sink into — well, we don’t want to think about where they might sink.

The owner/architect of the project has, to his credit, been responsive to our concerns and has filled some earth in between our two properties. He’s also had some plants put in (to secure the earth? to hide the construction site?) We’re not altogether happy with these bandaids, so here we are, having a major repair job done to maintain the integrity of our wall, our stairs, our property.

16 June 2014


Back in the early 1900s the folks at AT&T gave a lot of thought to the proper use of their new contraptions called telephones. "Speak directly into the mouthpiece," explained one of the company’s instruction manuals, "keeping your moustache out of the opening." Well, we’ve come a long way from those quaint (and sexist) instructions, but telephone etiquette is still a lively topic on today’s table. I’m not talking about those strangers’ cell phone conversations we’re all forced to suffer through on buses or in restaurants, that’s another issue for another day. I’m talking about what happens in Brazil when you’re at home, minding your own business, and your telephone rings. You pick it up and say, "Hello?" And in what I can only understand as a complete breakdown of the otherwise extraordinarily lovely manners of Brazilians, the first words you are likely to hear your caller say are, "Quem fala?" (Who am I talking to?)

This quem fala is for us so wrong, so inappropriate, so rude that it never fails to stop me in my tracks. But I must say right away that every single Brazilian with whom I’ve discussed this believes strongly that they are right and we are wrong. Brazilians cannot continue a conversation until they know who’s at the other end of the line. Maybe a maid picked up the phone. Or a visitor. You have to know who picked up in order to address the person correctly and get on with the call. But what makes this such a pea under my mattress is that in our house the options of who’s answering the phone are small. Mark or Barbara. Take your pick. Male voice? Mark. Female voice? Barbara. This is not rocket science. So if you have to ask who you’re talking to, it means you’ve dialed a wrong number or you’re a telemarketer or you’re working a scam. Either way, you don’t know us! You shouldn’t be calling in the first place, let alone demanding that we snap to attention and identify ourselves.

From earliest childhood in the U.S. we learn that the person who makes the phone call is the person who identifies himself. Period. Mark and I have learned a lot from the Brazilians, and have taken many of their manners to heart. But this quem fala business? We’ll just never see eye to eye.

Here are a few strategies that Mark and I have devised over the years to deal with "quem fala." They work like a charm.

[Phone rings. Mark picks up.]
Mark — Hello?
Caller — Who am I talking to?
Mark — You’re talking to me.
Caller — What’s your name?
Mark — What's your name?
Caller — (Hang up)

[Phone rings. Barbara picks up.]
Barbara — Hello?
Caller — Who am I talking to?
Barbara — Identify yourself first.
Caller — I’m So-and-so, and your name?
Barbara — Well, who were you calling?
Caller — I want to speak with the head of the household.
Barbara — So you really don’t know me, right? You invade my house and demand that I identify myself to you, and all you want to do is sell me something? Let me tell you . . .
(By this time the caller has hung up.)

[And finally, phone rings, Barbara picks up. Barbara’s tired.]
Barbara — Hello?
Caller — Who am I talking to?
[Barbara hangs up]

09 June 2014

Talkin' Sports

It seems in keeping with the pre-World Cup spirit at fever pitch here in host-country Brazil to talk about the way sports expressions seep into a language until they become so popular that people don’t even know where the expressions came from. English has tons of sports idioms, to the despair of people trying to learn the language. Native English speakers know that when you’re responsible for something you’re the one who has to carry the ball (football); that when you say or do something wrong you’re out of bounds (basketball); that when something happens at the last moment to keep you from doing an unpleasant task you’ve been saved by the bell (boxing); everyone hopes to ace (tennis) a competition and win it hands down (horse racing); anyone who has all the power is holding all the cards (poker); and when you’ve dealt successfully with every possible angle of a situation, you can relax because you’ve covered all your bases (baseball). I always tell my Brazilian students that if you can memorize just some of these expressions, your English will be all the richer, and whoever you talk to will be very impressed indeed!

No surprise that the Portuguese language is also peppered with sports expressions, though from what I can see they all seem to come from soccer (which I guess is also no surprise). Here are a few, which I try to use in casual conversation, just to show off. Coming to the World Cup? Or maybe you’re already here? Learn them! You might be rewarded by a huge smile, or maybe even a bear hug!

Botar para escanteio [bow-TAHR pra ess-kahn-TAY-oh] — Literally, to kick the soccer ball to the corner, or out of bounds. It has come to mean to ignore or stop talking to someone.

Driblar [dree-BLAHR] — Don’t confuse this dribbling with any basketball maneuver! In soccer, you "dribble" forwards, backwards, sideways, and upside-down, showing off your amazing footwork, to get around your opponent and get that ball down the field. In everyday living, driblar has come to mean getting around something, anything — legally or not!

Pendurar as chuteiras
[pen-dur-RAHR ahs shoo-TEAR-ahs] — Literally to hang up your soccer shoes (as in when you retire), but generally it means to give up (as does the expression tirar o time de campo [tear-RAHR ooh TEE-mee doo KAHM-poo] or, literally, to take your team off the soccer field.

Pisar na bola [pee-SAHR nah BOW-lah] — Literally, to step on the ball, but idiomatically it means to drop the ball, or, frankly, to screw up.

Show de bola
[show djee BOW-lah] — Literally a "soccer ball show," or a spectacular soccer performance; it’s now used for everything that’s positive and beautiful.

Vestir a camisa
[ves-TCHEER ah kah-MEE-zah] — Literally, to wear your team’s shirt (we would say dress in your team’s colors), but it has come to signify a loyal supporter of a cause, or a loyal employee.

Zona de rebaixamento [ZOH-nah djee hay-buy-sha-MEN-too] — In American baseball, a major league baseball player with a bad season performance can be sent back down to the minor leagues; in Brazilian soccer, it is a rule that the four lowest-ranked teams out of a group of 20 are in the zona de rebaixamento. At the end of a season, all four teams (referred to as the Z4) are sent from, say, the A league down to the B league in their entirety! No kicking out just one or two players; the whole team goes. In a recent newspaper article about Brazil’s teetering economy, I was surprised to see this expression used by a reporter lamenting the fate of the recently-emerged middle class, now perilously close to the zona de rebaixamento.

One last expression, which — believe it or not — comes not from soccer, but from badminton:

Não deixa a peteca cair
[now DAY-shuh ah pe-TEK-kah kigh-YEER] — Literally, "don’t let the birdie fall," but in popular speech it means not to waver, to keep on acting with resolution.

02 June 2014

Driving Update

One of the principal reasons I started this blog, believe it or not, is simply that I felt like railing about the reckless way Brazilians drive. And I did so (blogpost of July 11, 2011). And, if I hadn’t been so afraid of exhausting my readers’ patience, I could have railed plenty more. But given that I’m generally an honest person, I must now give credit where credit is due. Or give the devil his due. One of those two. Brazilians do not yet drive in as disciplined a manner as the North Americans. Driving here is still in many respects a sport and, for many people, maybe even a blood sport. It calls for skill in the manipulation of a manual transmission, skill in maneuvering in tight spaces and problem roadways, skill for laser-quick judgments of times and distances. It is not yet, as it has become in the U.S., just a means of getting to and from work, getting the kids to soccer practice, and getting the groceries home from Trader Joe’s or WalMart.

"Smile, you’re being fined"
But in the twelve years I have lived in Brazil, I have seen real, positive, tangible changes in the way Brazilians behave behind the driving wheel. Much of the credit goes to government — at federal, state and local levels alike — for getting on the bucking bronco and whipping it into submission. For one thing, there are traffic-calming devices like crazy — speed dips, speed ramps, speed bumps, speed humps, speed tables and speed cushions, all of which are marked pretty clearly. You see them coming. But if you don’t see one of them and you hit it hard, ouch. You’re going to keep your eyes peeled in the future. There are also speed cameras and radar equipment like crazy (both visible and hidden). These enforcement devices may not jar your spine the way flying over a speed hump does, but they sure hurt you in the pocketbook! For example, between us and the town of Macaé, about an hour away, we’ve counted over 25 of them. And, though we ourselves drive with a cautiousness bred in the land of Driver Ed and the famous Signal 30 scare-their-pants-off film, we’ve gotten enough citations in the mail so that we don’t drive to Macaé anymore unless we absolutely have to.

To these measures, add breathalyzers, and a permissible blood alcohol level lower than you’ll reach on a single beer (0.1 mg of alcohol for liter of air expelled). For that one beer you can end up paying a large fine, losing your license for up to a year and even serving some jail time. Then add mandatory driving schools. Add rigorous practical and psychological testing for new drivers. And public service announcements on television. Add mandatory retraining for drivers who rack up over 20 points on their licenses. There’s some serious enforcement here and I, for one, welcome it!

Drive right in here, and take a deep breath

Interesting, and effective, public service campaign

When Mark and I moved here the idea that a driver might stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk was almost ludicrous. It was the motorist who claimed the right of way, and pedestrians were wise not to trust their luck. But, while we still haven’t reached Californian levels of compliance with crosswalk laws, the situation has quite unmistakably taken a major turn. It’s as if stopping for pedestrians was contagious. One person did it. Everybody else copied. Brazilians now seem in effect to take pride in the courtesy they show.

But let me go back to where I started. Driving here is still neither as disciplined as it is in the U.S., and neither is it consequently as safe. But most new drivers in the U.S. had parents who were drivers and probably grandparents who were drivers. Driving as well as car-ownership have long been routine in the U.S. Here many drivers are first-generation drivers, and widespread car ownership is a function of the only recent emergence of a vast middle class. I don’t know the Asian countries. But, if what I hear about driving in India and China and Vietnam is true, Brazil may still be some distance from U.S. standards of behind-the-wheel prudence, but it’s at a far greater distance from the amazing mess you see in this picture from India. And this pretty much reflects just where we stand on the development scale. Down here in Southeastern and Southern Brazil, we’re not yet 100 percent First World. But we’re getting really close.