27 October 2014

Brazil's New (Old) President

Well, Dilma Rousseff was slightly ahead in the polls against my candidate, Aécio Neves, she kept the lead and won the election. Another four years of President Dilma. Another four years of the PT, the Workers' Party, with their hands on the till (and I do mean till, not tiller!). More corruption scandals, less economic growth. More promises, less achievement. Dilma campaigned on all the improvements she had made in education, health, transportation, security . . . though for four years people have suffered understaffed and badly-equipped hospitals, brand new ambulances have sat unused in storage facilities, kids have missed weeks of school due to badly-constructed and collapsing school buildings, 20-year old buses have circulated in the major cities in lieu of the new ones sitting and waiting to be "liberated" from some garage for reasons unknown and unknowable. Same old same old.

Dilma Rousseff

But let’s leave politics aside and focus on Brazil’s election and voting procedures, so similar to — yet so different from — those in the USA. Here are some of the differences:

USA — Voting is a right under the Constitution, and many citizens consider it a sacred duty. But you don’t have to vote if you don’t want to, and nothing happens to you if you don’t.
BRAZIL —Voting is a legal obligation. If for some reason you can’t vote, you must explain why, in writing, at your nearest voting registry. If you don’t do that, you will be assessed a fine. If you don’t pay the fine, various other penalties kick in: you won’t be able to get a passport, you may not be able to get a loan from a state-run bank, you won’t be able to work in civil service jobs, and after three unexplained absences your voting registration will be canceled.

The campaign season is seemingly never-ending. A new season starts right after an election, when the losing party begins to plot its strategy for the next election, years down the road. And a campaign costs tens of millions of dollars.

BRAZIL —The campaign season is rigidly controlled. The starting and ending dates for the campaign are set by law. The amount of television and radio time each candidate has — and which, by the way, is FREE! — is set by law. The content of campaign ads is monitored and controlled by the Supreme Electoral Court. On the day before the election all posters, flyers, and any other campaign paraphernalia must be removed, and noncompliance is subject to heavy fines.

"This time is reserved for free campaign advertising"

If you don’t want to vote for a candidate on the ballot, you can enter a "write-in" vote.

BRAZIL —If you don’t want to vote for a specific candidate, you can vote in branco (white, or in this case, blank), which is something of a protest vote. However, it is added to the tally of the candidate who has received the most votes without your help, thus pushing the candidate further into a majority. In that sense, voting branco is an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. Or you can vote nulo (null), which is a better protest vote. In this instance you vote for a party that doesn’t exist, and the vote is not added to any candidate’s tally.

Absentee ballots are mailed in, the old-fashioned way, with ballots inserted into special envelopes which are in turn put into larger, even more special envelopes, until you have something approaching a Russian nesting doll. And then, just to get our goat after all the time and energy we put into getting our absentee votes to the Board of Election of our last U.S. address, it turns out that the absentee votes are counted only in case of a close result!

BRAZIL —If you live outside of Brazil you are still obligated to vote, and you can do so at the nearest consulate. You vote on the same day and during the same hours as voters in Brazil, and your vote is counted immediately, along with the rest of the country.

the famous hanging chads
The result is known hours, and sometimes days or weeks, after the last polls close on the West Coast. The networks are very fearful of calling an election too soon, in case they turn out to be wrong. And the U.S. thinks it’s the country of super advanced technology!

All polls closed at 5:00 p.m. We knew the results at 8:00 p.m. Now that is advanced!

***Dear Readers***
I’ve been told that the videos from last week’s blog, Drone Strikes, were not visible. If you’re interested, you can access them via their links. The first one can be found at:

and the second one, which highlights our property, can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmu0jJmCie8
Sorry about that.

20 October 2014

Drone Strikes

A dear friend of ours here in Búzios has two sons who live in New York. Recently, his sons were down here visiting. One of the sons, Raphael, built his own drone which — having gotten it through Customs — he carried everywhere he went in Brazil, including to breakfast at our house. I must say, we were rather excited at the prospect of having a bird’s-eye view of our house and our neighborhood!

Here’s Raphael setting up his pet drone —

Here’s the drone starting out on its mission —

While Raphael works the equipment —


And here are the resulting videos, courtesy Raphael Krengiel — the first gives a general overview of our neighborhood:

And the second one is more focused on our property and its immediate environs:

(Wish our house looked better. On one side is that construction project I’ve been blogging about, the one that’s seemingly been abandoned now for almost a year. It’s nothing but a big, ugly scar. On the other side of us, the swimming pool was being repaired at the time of the drone’s visit. Bummer.)

13 October 2014

Culture Shock

Coming in on the Marginal Tietê
What bumpkins we’ve become! We lived in New York, for heaven’s sake, we’ve been in a Big City before. But much to my surprise and consternation I started feeling the first signs of certain anxiety on our approach to São Paulo a few weeks ago. The tall buildings were looming on the horizon, growing higher and more menacing as we got closer. The traffic was getting heavier, with huge trucks and lumbering buses crowding the little cars and blocking the traffic signs. How would we see our exit? I’m convinced that if you miss a turnoff in São Paulo you can easily end up caught in Johnny Carson’s Slauson Cutoff routine! The overpasses and underpasses and highways feeding into São Paulo were becoming more and more complex. It was dizzying.

The monstrous Holiday Inn Anhembi
Mark and I had been invited to attend a congress/convention event in São Paulo on behalf of a business magazine back in the States. Since this invitation was a great opportunity for us to get out of the house and actually go somewhere, we accepted. We hadn’t been in São Paulo for years! I was excited! How was I to know how frightening and bewildering and unpleasant it would be once I was actually in such a vast expanse of concrete, steel, fumes and noise. It didn’t help that we were put up at the largest hotel in all of Latin America, the Holiday Inn Anhembi. A great hotel if you have business in the adjacent convention center. A dreadful place if you don’t. When your day’s business is done at the convention center you’re completely trapped out on São Paulo’s periphery in an enormous complex of buildings and arenas and parking lots. Want to explore nearby restaurant offerings? There are none. Want to do some window shopping? No dice.

There were days when we thought, Hey, let’s ditch the event and take the subway to our favorite São Paulo neighborhoods. At least that way, we figured, we’d be reminded of the best of São Paulo. Unfortunately, the closest subway stop was so far from the hotel that we needed to take the hotel’s shuttle bus to get there. Then there was the subway itself. When did it get so big? When did the transfers get so complicated? Where did all those people come from? I tell you, during one of these rides (okay, it was a Friday at rush hour) Mark and I were so packed and wedged and shoved in that we panicked and forced our way out of the car at whatever the next stop was. We managed to find a taxi, only to end up stuck in one of São Paulo’s forever and endless traffic jams.

But it wasn’t all bad, since we did find our way to São Paulo’s renowned Bienal exhibition of avant-garde art in beautiful Ibirapuera Park, where the piece we liked best was a huge mural on the entrance wall called "Map," by the Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie. Since it was all in English, most Brazilians walked right by. But Mark and I spent a long time studying it, sometimes laughing out loud at its ingenuity.

We also passed through the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art right next door, where an exhibit of hundreds of personal shopping lists caught me up. I must have read each and every one. How could I not? I’m a list-maker from way back!

Doesn't look like much in the pictures, but once you get up close and start reading . . .

We also did our share of ooh-ing and ah-ing at São Paulo’s Municipal Market, an absolute must-visit for me. Walking around the Market, with its unbelievable wealth of gastronomic offerings, I almost — just almost — thought about moving to São Paulo. For about a minute.
Here's just a slice of what's on offer:

A visit to Avenida Paulista is always de rigueur for us; it’s the heart of the banking and office building sector and there are always interesting art exhibits in, or just off of, the bank lobbies. There’d been lots of changes, but we did, as always, pass by one of the last — if not the last — old coffee baron mansions still standing, albeit on its last legs.

Residência Joaquim Franco de Mello, circa 1905 . . .

. . . and circa 2014 . . .

Still and all, what for us was the best part of getting away? Coming home.

Dear Readers,
I’ve ended my third year of blogging! I made a half-assed promise (to myself) to continue through the 2016 Olympics. Maybe by then I’ll have said everything I have to say about Brazil. Or not.

06 October 2014


Back in our New York apartment days, Mark and I befriended a Finn who lived right across the hall from us. I had never met anyone from Finland before, so for me she was fairly exotic. We called her Liisa-with-two-i’s, to distinguish her from another friend of ours, a native American Lisa-with-one-i. Liisa-with-two-i’s was a journalist, and she more than once flew off to Brazil on assignment. What was the interest in Brazil? Well, we all found ourselves in Brazil at the same time once, and Mark and I finally learned just what that interest was. Seems that, for the Finnish press, there was a perpetually intriguing story in the little town of Penedo, halfway between Rio and São Paulo. Penedo was the first Finnish colony in Brazil, with a cultural influence that is still going strong today.

Last week Mark and I were driving to São Paulo, some nine hours by car from Búzios. We like to break these drives up and dawdle a bit, so we made that halfway stop in Penedo, too. What a strange place. What a funny place. What a Finnish place.

First up is Little Finland, modeled on villages and stores back in the home country:

And of course there's Finnish this and Finnish that, everywhere you look:

Not to mention one of the best exports from Finland, properly honored in the Museum of Finland:
Finished with Finland, and back on the open road, heading to the highlands of São Paulo: