Português of the Week

comemoração - celebration

Monday, December 22, 2008

Natal not Nadal: And Out Come The Sloths

A few hours ago I built a snowman.

Or, a snowman was built by me, a few hours ago.

Either way, it’s Christmas time.

I would like to believe that the cold material I harvested from the sides of our broken, bronze ooze-spewing freezer was real snow.

But it was ice shingles pried and hacked off a broken freezer.

I didn’t began wailing on the ice with the intention of constructing anything, much less a pleasant symbol of the holiday season that I find increasingly impossible to get in the spirit of. I was merely trying to open the door to a frozen-shut freezer.

The build up to my Rio Christmas has been odd.

I’m accustomed to an influx of family, decornaments tossed to and fro, cold temperatures, big trees, mad grub, presenting, purchasing, wrapping, gingerbread stacking, grab bagging, the Grinch/Christmas story on repeat, etc.

Call this tropical Christmas whatever it may be but from the summer-mall-décor onset it’s been strange.

For starters, the hostel we stayed at for our first 3 weeks in the city invited us to participate in something they call “amigo oculto.” Disgusted by the imagined initiation processes of this “friend cult” I was halfway to anywhere-but-there when I found out it was a gift exchange, thing.

So, we drew names and were set to deliver our $R 10-20 gift to our cult pal on the 16th. Among the dozen names, was the adorable 15-year-old, boyfriend of the hostel’s 22-year-old hostel manager (the cult consisted of hostel employees, their significant others and close friends of the hostel).

The boy doesn’t speak English and I hadn’t seen much of him since we moved to the Jungle house in October. His eyebrow raising relationship with our Hostel-manager-friend, also male, put a “Keepin’ It almost too Rio” spin on the gift exchange scouring.

In short, I did what any respectable hip-hop enthusiast would do and I bought him Jay-Z’s “Fade To Black” DVD with Portuguese subtitles.

The gift exchanging went well enough and I wont go into Cheesy details, aside from this Vasco towel I got.

Now, adding to the holidoddity is the trip we are embarking on tomorrow.

We are joining our Brazilian friend, codename Luiz, to his “beach house” in Cabo Frio, a weekend get-a-way spot for upper class Cariocas.

First of all, this “beach house” has 40 beds in 10 rooms and was supposed to be a hostel. Now, it’s just used by three gringos and a three toed sloth looking Brazilian dude.

****Watch video of the aforementioned sloth here. Indeed they are hilarious in their slowness and also a Presidential declared official animal of Brazil.

As curiously as those Sloths dangle, so does my mind at the reasons our overly-nice friend is driving us to such a location on such a family specialized occasion in such a seemingly strong family based country (ain’t no one live out they house until they hitched). Other friends are set to meet up with us during our Dec. 23,24,25,26 stay, pushing my pondering to the brink.

So, Cabo Frio is a quaint community where the rich migrate to in order to talk about how much better life is without street dwelling/pick-pocketing/ public defecating/ beach mobbing/ favelados are. Or at least, that’s what they tell me.

They also tell me the beaches are nice, so as long as the thunderstorms remain as isolated as the weather websites tell me — I might get a Christmas tan.

Weird. What the hell is a Christmas tan? The only skin shade change I’m used to during the holidays comes through loss of feeling in my cheeks, during Utah blizzards.

Maybe that was the feeling I was building towards when I constructed the freezer iceman who I tried to pass off as a snowman.

Either way, to all those enjoying any sort of regular Christmas traditions, I envy you a tad.

Stop reading the Rio blog and chug a few glasses of eggnog for the both of us.

Feliz Natal

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


in Africa, Rio de Janeiro would be Angelina Jolie. Cariocas (Rio locals) love adopting our vocabulary.

Shopping, surfing, happy hour, old school, self serve, Big Mac. These are all part of the everyday speech of a Carioca.

Here’s my favorite: Cheeseburger. Let me explain.

They keep the English cheeseburger, but pronounce it with a Carioca accent--Sheesh-burger. Coincidentally, the letter X is pronounced sheesh as well. So, naturally, they write X-burger on their menus.

My usual is a X-Tudo (a sheeshburger with everything). Two buns, meat, lettuce, bacon, an egg, tomato, onion, and potato flakes. Mmmmm. Sheesh.

Sometimes before I get a X-Tudo, I say, “I’ve got some sheesh to do.” Well, no one’s usually around so I just think it. It gets me through the day.

It’s normal to pay around R$2 for a sheesh. That’s roughly 80 US cents.

The best place to have your sheesh done is a podrão. Podrão is slang that literally means “The Big Rotten”—mainly because of their dodgy ingredients. Bascially, a Podrão consists of any person grilling meat on the street. It can be a trailer. It can be a kiosk. It can be some dude with hot coals and tin foil. They all speak the sheesh-language. so either way there will be meat in your buns. (that's what sheesh said)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Vasco: The Futebol Post

In December of 2006, I hugged a chubby, unimpressed Englishman in London.

I squeezed him as hard as I would an old friend or an I-thought-you-were-dead-and-just-found-out-you’re-not relative. I didn’t do it on purpose. It was impulse. The second I saw Thierry Henry’s free kick brush the top of net, I was embracing this confused man.

I don’t even remember thinking about what I was doing. I was in bliss. After standing outside for three hours trying to swindle swindlers for tickets, after they repeatedly call you a Yank-cunt, the whole reason thing kind of flies out the top of the stadium.

The man, looked at me, then looked at his fellow Britons occupying the nosebleeds in Arsenal’s brand spanking new Emirates Stadium and merely adjusted his glasses. They seemed to have managed to shift during the shaking and debauchery of my, seemingly out-of-order, celebration.

The goal, after all, only tied the match 1-1.

While this is the saddest example, I’ve stumbled upon other disappointing levels of enthusiasm during my pinballing between Europe’s biggest soccer stadiums over the past four years. I’m certain, that if that same pompous character found his way into a Rio De Janeiro stadium his glasses would explode — along with his head.

After what I saw Sunday afternoon, I’m convinced that not a single fan in Rio would be impressed by the passion of their European rivals.
You know how, sometimes there is one person during any given American sports finals (Baseball, Basketball, Football) who is just taking it way too seriously and getting way more into it than everyone else. Usually this is the person that comes to mind when you think of fanatic.

This same person actually has the grapes to brand the team’s logo somewhere on their body. This guy (or girl) breaks shit when the team loses, gambles and may or may not hit people they love during the team’s hard times.

Now. Imagine that someone cloned this crazy bastard 30,000 times and allowed all of them to unite, at once. Then, in true Clockwork Orange fashion, let them watch something that would make them more upset than anything in the world.

Me and Bob’s experience last Sunday afternoon was double that.

As someone who, for better or worse, becomes entirely, illogically obsessed with soccer, I felt some emotional involvement in the result. Yet my two-month loyalty to the Vasco crest put me more out of place than in place among the weeping and enraged distortion of a mob.

What exactly was at stake to make this day especially demonic?

When a team does poorly in American sports, they finish at the bottom of the standings and are told, “better luck next year.” You know, win or go home (until next season starts).

In contrast when a team does poorly in the world soccer leagues (not including the MLS) one year, they are relegated (or demoted) to the division below them. In other words, win or you don’t earn the right to even compete against the best next year.

It’s like if the Los Angeles Dodgers finished in last place, the entire team would have to play in the AAA league the next season. The top teams in the second division go up and the bottom finishers in the first league go down.

And the cycle can continue. Most leagues around the world have around 7 divisions. A team could be relegated from 1st to second Division one year and from 2nd to 3rd the next year. Emotionally, the toll this could take on a fan could be fatal.

Imagine that the Lakers did so badly that they had to play in some semi-pro league for an entire year the next season. Their games would be off major channels, attendance and advertising dollars fall. Then imagine that the Lakers were one of only two teams in the NBA to never have been relegated, in their 110-year history. And imagine that the only other team that hasn’t been relegated are the Celtics, your biggest rival.

This is was at stake for Vasco on Sunday. To make matters worse, their fate was out of their hands. In the U.S. we would say, Vasco needed to win and have help, to save their season. They needed a victory and a few other teams needed to lose in games that were being played simultaneously throughout Brazil.

For this reason, radios were wedged into the ears of nail nibbling fans. They listened intently for the results of other matches, as they watched Vasco slowly dying right before their eyes.

Roars and moans boomed from the crowd in reaction to the action in front of them, but they also spread infectiously when information about another relevant match filtered through the stands.

Outside the stadium, people were already on edge. The scalped tickets we bought angered the turnstile soldiers so much, that I had to play the stupid gringo card on them.

“Umm, No falar porch-ugese.”
“Who gave you these tickets? These are illegal, you could go to jail!”

I proceeded to make up a story about a Brazilian cousin who gave us the tickets earlier that day. Bob followed along. The Vasco guard, stern finger pointing and all, let us pass.

Things were blatantly optimistic before the match. Like all good (albeit disillusioned) fans, even in the face of certain doom, hope was the buoy that kept the crowd afloat. Along with the radios, fans kept lucky herbs wedged behind their ears.

The kind of dumb joy that comes with watching sport for most laymen was gone before the game even began. People were bellowing the clubs anthems, but I don’t think anyone, including myself would describe the atmosphere as fun. Clouds were sagging above the stadium.

Vasco seemingly went ahead early in the match. The stands erupted. I noticed, a chubby, shirtless fan tackle his friend down the cement stairs, flopping onto the ground in euphoria. Unfortunately the goal was scored from an offside position and was called back. This mirage was the closest Vasco got to being on the scoreboard.

When Vitoria, Vasco’s final nemesis, knocked in a goal about midway through the first half — most optimism was vanquished.

Halftime was eerie. About half of the fanatics sat, head in hands, silently. The other half, either shouted insults at an empty field or ate away their worries at the Habib (middle eastern McDonalds and Vasco sponsor) snack-stands. But it wasn’t until the second goal trickled into the net, piercing what was left of the crowd’s nearly empty hope-balloon.
No more than a minute had passed when the first police baton came cracking down on the noggins of fans. The section immediately to our right was the first victim. A good dozen riot police burst up the steps, swinging wildly at fans. Not sure if anyone knew why.

Maybe a fan yelled something or socked another fan, but the origin didn’t seem too important. Instead the level of fear and anger skyrocketed. People stopped watching the game completely.

Scared fans and families began flooding the exits away from the war zone. I figured we were safe as long as our section didn’t erupt in fury. Plus, I pride myself in never leaving games before the final whistle.

About the same time I was musing my priorities, I began fingering my camera in my pocket with front line footage in mind. Right then a flare was thrown near a field cameraman and another battalion of police, after marching immediately in front of us, scaled the stairs of the section immediately to our left.

In baseball, they call it a pickle. You have to get to the bases (exits), before the opponent (in our situation the mob or the police) tags you (tramples or batons us). So, it was on.

Most of the crowd began taking to the exit tunnel that is the buffer between the outside and inside of the stadium. We followed but hadn’t made it through the tunnel when a few dozen people began sprinting and screaming back towards us. Running away from something.

When you watch movies and see water or fire cascading down hallways, there is always some tiny nook on the side to jump into for safety. In our case, it was the women’s bathroom. Women and children were screaming, panting and holding each other. One chubby teenager was throwing up in the sink, between wiping his tears.

I realized then, how people die at soccer games — they are scared to death. And by that, of course I mean trampled. This was no place to be.

So we picked a point, like you do jaywalking, and dashed towards the nearest exit. On the way up the exit ramp, a group of stone-faced 20-30 year olds were marching back into the stadium. A woman shouted “elles vaim voltar,” or “they’re coming back.”

Outside the stadium, tension was still sky high and sporadic waves of riot police were scanning the crowd from horses, clutching batons and large wooden staffs. Pockets of the crowd outside were arguing with each other and with the police.

We walked through the 110 years of flat lined tradition and passion. Making it onto a bus a few blocks away.

On the bus, the despair drew on. Some of the more subtle reactions ranged from smashing used watermelon wedges on benches to jerseys being turned inside out in shame. Even futebol neutrals seemed down about the whole thing. It’s rare, in Rio, to see literally everyone on a bus frowning.

A day later, every newspaper on every newsstand and every coffee drinker in every snack stand in Rio reacted to Vasco’s bloody Sunday. I imagined it was a sort-of unique riot because the brawl wasn’t between two sets of rival fans. It was a manifestation of the temporary end of the lives of thousands of sports fans.

Whether the police were trying to straightjacket the crowd, to protect them from themselves, is up in the air. A lot of times, looking at the cops faces, its hard not to see a hint or two of enjoyment in beating the rowdy fans.

Vascainos (fans of Vasco), now have to endure an entire summer of torture and taunting from their rivals as they wait for their second division campaign to begin. Which might even turn out to be a more stressful season, because if they don’t finish in the top four next year, they will be stuck in the second division.

I think this is the most difficult part for the fans.

One fan, after we left the stadium, actually tried to kill himself. News stations repeatedly displayed the sight of this Vascaino, dangling his body from the top of the team’s stadium. Vasco’s motto “Força Jovem” written on his shirt faced news cameras.
Right when he was letting go, a few police officers caught his hands.

Needless to say, when I arrived in Brazil, the only direct experience I had with the domestic leagues was what I read about on occasion. Of course, what sticks out in my mind about the South American leagues (Brazil and Argentina in particular) is the unparalleled passion of their fans. More often than is reported, I’m sure, the passion does erupt into violence. Every year, these two leagues lead the recorded fan death tallies in the world. Most of these deaths come from trampling.

This is the first time a team I support has ever been relegated. I gotta say — it’s an ugly sight.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Shape Shifting: We Have Emerged

Posts have been scarce of late.

This is because, we've been saved...

Last Monday we were gifted with the news that our Trinidad and Tabagian homie was bouncing to her native islands for 3 months right when we needed a place for 3 months.

It just so happens, she lives in the middle-class/centrally located place where we “work” — the neighbor-wood of Botafogo.

With the majority of short-term, furnished, rentable places in Rio being in only the most expensive tourist areas, with only the most expensive tourist price tags — our find was a godsend.

Sadly, this may mean significantly less jokes about life above a Favela and below a jungle. Fortunately, it means absolutely every other aspect of our lives will now be improved.

All this change, for the same price we’ve been paying — a combined R$800.

We have yet to swindle a way to snag wireless web waves from our new neighbors but the mall next door has a couple of hot spots. In fact, we pretty much have everything we could ever need in a two-block radius from our building.

This is a sharp contrast from the, can’t walk no where for nuthin’ or no one, status of our old place.

Me n Bob got the Jungle bungalow until Friday but have most of our junk in our new, “kitchenette”/studio/one-room apartment. In fact, we already held a funeral/party/BBQ/Caiparinha fest with anyone willing to make the long, dangerous trek up to our the crib to give it a send-off.

Now, for your entertainment, here are two walk-through videos of the The Jungle and The Fogo residences. These visuals should give you some sense of the wide range of living conditions you can encounter living in Rio.

The Jungle:

The Fogo:

*In other news, Sunday was a fateful afternoon in our sporting lives.

We visited the São Januario stadium in the Northern part of the city, to witness our beloved Vasco De Gama Futebol Club fall into the second division for the first time in their 110-year history.

Shit got grimy.

A post on that later this week, once the wounds began to heal.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


in Rio is like the inside of an ostrich egg—one big yoke.

Let me crack the shell for you.

The vast vast vast majority of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) jobs in Rio de Janeiro are one-to-one business English classes. My students are engineers and systems analysts for oil companies. Their international bloodsucking employers need them to speak English like the rest of the office, so they pay a language company to send a native English speaker (me) to teach 2 or 3 days a week.

So what’s the problem? Doesn’t this system benefit everyone? Ideally, yes. But this is what actually happens:

Fernando Fernandez is Alex’s English student. Fernando Fernandez works long days. Days filled with deadlines and reports. Days filled with angry managers. Days filled with stress. Does Fernando Fernandez want to spend an hour-and-a-half beating his brain into a pulp over which modal auxiliary to use or how the present perfect progressive tense is formed? Probably not. Would Fernando Fernandez rather spend that time yoking around with an American? You bet your bottom Real.

Don’t the companies monitor what’s being taught?

The extent of accountability in my class is a sign-in sheet. Aside from that scribble of an initial, what happens in that classroom is between that student and me. But first there needs to be an unspoken agreement. Some signal saying, “Neither of us wants to be here, so let’s take advantage of this time and just hang out.” This is even the case with my more serious students. Once this pact is mutually understood, nobody really does all that much of anything.

Everybody wins. Okay, except maybe the oil companies. But they’re used to winning. Plus, by not providing proper English lessons to these companies, I’m being patriotic. I’m hindering the progression of foreign energy. So I guess I’m doing my part. Go USA!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Chur-ass-care-ia : Eat your chicken heart out

Call it a meat-lovers wet dream, call it a vegetarians worst nightmare — I call it a glut feeling.

Gluttony is Rio's thing anyway.

So, why wouldn't we go to a Churrascaria for thanksgiving?

There is no better place to let it all hang out than at an all-you-can-eat meatery, on the day where you eat-all-you-can.

En-route to meet the other meatheads (Americans) at the meathouse, I had to turned down a weed offering from my bus driver.
Yeah — dude was working too. Stopped the bus once he was shielded by one of the many thickets of vines, trees and swinging monkeys that line the lonely Almirante Alexandrino road that leads to our above-favela-wood-face crib.

He stopped the bus. Went outside, got high as balls and re-assumed his position behind his red/yellow/green decorated wheel, whining Bob Marley tunes all the way down the windy, dangerous road to Rio's Centro.

Needless to say, more than a few potential passengers were ignored by the now-in-the-zone driver. Santa Teresans' attempts to hail the bus served only as my enterainment, as I watched them 1. run 2. yell and 3. huff/puff while cursing after the smoked-out vessel.

Now, I don't smoke but honestly, the stuff seemed powerful enough, to have really given me the edge against the blades at the Churrascaria.

I starved myself. But you gotta take all the help you can get at these joints. Even joints.

It ain't a sprint. It's a marathon. And I didn't train.

Nonsense like rice, fried bananans, farofa (dust for meat), french fries, cheese bread, pico-de-gallo-ish stuff and absolutely everything at the absurdly equipped salad bar will only slow you down (a collection of average sushi slabs in particular, got the much-better of me).

I learned this the hard, not-in-time, way.

Unlike most thanksgivings where there are some clear endpoints in sight for a number of tasty items — there is no bottom, no empty containers. You don't even have to move, you're serviced. Your only limits are time and stomach space.

Little militant-meat-spike-yielding servants are constantly swirling about with different shades of brown/red/tan carnivour feed, eager to slice slices until you say when. At first these troops are welcome in the battle to make the 32 Reais meal (15 U.s. dollaz) count, but they quickly become enemies.

When you have spent weeks starving yourself, eating beans, rice, lentils, acai, and the occasional salgado (another post) — your not ready to keep up. Your not ready to taste the threads of the meat, tickling your throat all the way down to your shrunken stomach. You pile everything you see in your gizzard as soon as possible. And you know what? You fail.

Next time, we might have to pre-meat with the bus driver, among other precautions.