Português of the Week

comemoração - celebration

Monday, January 26, 2009

Angra Management: A Weekend Getaway

Friday night. Please God, no more Lapa. I call Luiz.

“Okay. This is what I’m thinking.” He starts most of his conversations this way. “My friend has a beach house in Angra and people are going for the weekend. There should be lots of girls" (there were 3). I wasn’t terribly thrilled about the idea of leaving for the weekend, especially still treading in the wake of my hellish sickness. But hey, we only live once, right? Well, unless you’re Hindu. Also I think Buddhists. How do pro-reincarnation folk justify spontaneous decisions? “Well, I could buy this plane ticket to Norway. Nah, I’ll just catch it next time around.”

“There’s only one thing.” Luiz is so predictable. Of course there’s a catch. “We have 2 cars, but only one person that can drive.” (Un)Fortunately, I have my California driver’s license with me. So, needless to say…

…we arrive at the beach at 4:40am on Saturday. It’s dark. It’s quiet. There’s no house. Pedro, the rich Brazilian with the to-be-inherited-beach-house-that-I-don’t-see-yet, takes out his cell phone and makes a call. Either 4 hours of driving in a 3rd world country had driven me completely insane, or I began hearing a phone ring in the ocean. Turns out, I wasn’t crazy. A man stands up in a tiny boat about 50 yards from shore, glowing phone in hand. He buzzes over to the dock. Seeing as no one else was questioning the peculiarity of this, I join them in transferring our bags and groceries from the cars to the dingy. Sardines in the truest sense, we jet through the bay’s blackness.

Faint lights dotting the base of an island grew larger and brighter. We finally got to our destination. The combination of dawn and delirium sabotaged any thoughts I could’ve formed a
t the time, but this is what I saw once the sun came out.Screwdrivers on the deck followed by frontflips off the dock—a perfect getaway weekend combo. Dance parties. Jam sessions. Barbeque. Laughter. Portuguese. We even played the hilarious Brazilian drinking game, “consequências ou bebe”, which ended in everybody eating meat by the dock in their underwear.

It wasn’t until Sunday morning when I thought, “where am I?” I was the first one up. I made a chocolate milk and a cheesebread then jumped in the bay for the better part of an hour. Coves and islands covered in jungle trees. Little fishies under me and fishermen in the distance. Where am I?

The crew on this voyage consisted of me, Alex, Luiz the sloth, and 5 Brazilian ex-strangers.
It was a bonding trip, a culturally uniting adventure not to be forgotten for at least a few weeks. But nothing topped seeing the boat guy come over and hearing Alex say, “Are we getting in that?”

We arrived back in Rio exactly 48 hours after we’d left. 2 days I may never understand. That seems to be an ongoing theme here in Brazil. I don’t understand much. Anything from tiny beer cups to having 10 workers at one juice bar. But understanding is overrated. It’s for mathematicians and people that help stabilize ladders for painters.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cops and Robbers: Okay, Just Robbers

In Rio, you should expect to be robbed.

Not only because that means when robbed you will be less upset, but this way you never bring around anything of value. Or maybe you just value what you bring less (?) I carry around R$ 50 (lil’ over 20 bucks), a copy of my passport, the apartment key and my very disposable celly (with at most R$15 of credit on it).

Needless to say, the only thing I legitimately worry about being stolen is my glasses. I’m running low on contacts, you see. Still. I have managed to fend off three robbery attempts from various vagrants in this crimed ridden city thus far.

The first came during the gayest moment of my life.

I was skipping beneath a football-field sized rainbow flag at one of the biggest gay parades on the planet. After reemerging, I headed towards Copacabana beach to chill on the sand and watch the spectacle from afar. Right then, I felt a hand dip into my trouser pockets. Admittedly, I was a bit concerned about someone going for my goods but I soon realized it was my monetary goods this wondering hand was after.

I caught the hand, tossed it to the side and continued to the beach unscathed.

Another hand hovered above my pocket entrance in the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is Lapa. Using the popularized (by Bob) arm swing technique, I ran into this intruder the moment he limb was making the diving move.

I turned in time to see an arm coming down on my head. I felt a series of hands beginning to pummel my dome while I scurried towards the safety of a X-Tudo stand. The two run-by-beating-thieves slunk away in the crowd, as ready to get away from me, as I was to get away from them.

Another Rio robbery attempt foiled by my quick hands.

Embarrassingly, the only Carioca who managed to get money outta my pocket was a kid no older than nine. I was shortcutting my way to teach a class at Rio Sul, a massive shopping center close to our pad. This route went through a tunnel that cuts through one of Rio’s trademark steep rock faces that pop up all over the city. Without this shortcut you have to go around the protruding mount, leaving you about 20 minutes stupider. This time, a series of tunnel dwellers roamed on the far side of the road as I entered the tunnel. One ran towards me. He was a runt.

Runts are young (5-13), drugged-out (via huffed chemical compounds in water bottles), beggar kids often from the favelas but who spend their nights sleeping on cardboard (at best) on the sidewalks and streets of Rio’s neighborhoods.

These kids have less than nothing to lose — they’ve never had anything in the first place. They are the last bunch you want to run into on the Rua.

This time, one particular runt began to straggle beside me, asking for money. About five other runts crossed the street, targeting me as well. I started to get nervous entering the tunnel with three more runts lurking above me on a ledge like gargoyles ready to swoop on a gringo. In my increasing discomfort I spoke some broken Portuguese words.

This mistake almost did me in, as the little runt waved his friends forward to the foreign feast in front of him. I started to feed him little coins, hoping to satisfy him. Right when I was ready to break the bills out, an average João was walking the same path and served as my scarecrow to these raven runts.

“Why do you walk through a tunnel? Everyone know don’t walk through the tunnel,” my middle-aged student told me fifteen minutes later, in the safe confines of the 21st floor conference room. It wasn’t the first time that a student tried to give me tips to avoid bandieros (bandits).

I don’t know a Carioca who hasn’t been robbed. Usually, they are more fearful of their city than gringos. This weekend I learned that they also get a little mad if you aren’t as scared and careful as they are. Despite my “expect to be robbed motto,” I’m no fool. If I can, I avoid robby scenarios. But on Friday I walked my friend Ellen right into one.

Once again in Lapa, on an infamous inclined path (where I’ve witnessed no less than 10 other robberies), I led us by some runts. Walking in front, I turned around just in time to see Ellen being dragged by purse that was being strangled off her wrist. After a fruitless chase, I was left with earfuls of “told ya so” from my befriended Lapa-ers. I shouldered some blame and thought that was the end of it.
No less than 12 hours later, at Ipanama Beach’s post 10 on Saturday afternoon some Karma enforcing bandiero got me back. Although it’s another place I’ve repeatidly been told to be wary of, I’ve never felt the least bit threatened by the invisible bag boosting crowd who roam Ipanema’s squeaking sand.

I can’t tell the details, because I wasn’t there. But someone stole my bag from right under the noses of Bob and three other friends, while I was meeting a friend.

I lost R$50, a 2 Euro pair of aviators, a somewhat pornographic Spanish towel, sunscreen (which is like gold here) and a copy of Moby Dick, in which, I was entrenched waist deep in Whale lard.

I won’t bash Bob’s trustabilty as it is officially his birithday, but with the tourist season now in full swing, I will keep my “expect to be robbed” mentality.

Especially in Lapa.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Raw: Not Just War Backwards

Four months deep and I still struggle finding the right words to describe Rio de Janeiro. My cousin/traveling companion/hip-hop enthusiast/insomniac continually refers to this city as “raw”. I like that word. I’ve stolen it.

The other day I dropped eaves on a conversation between my cousin and his (girl)friend:

“You keep using that word!”
“Because that’s what it is.”
“Yea, but what does it even mean?”
“It means what it means!”

So. What does it mean to be raw? Let me break it down.

Raw like raw meat—flavorful but ultimately dangerous. I like my tri-tip as bloody as possible. “Still beating” is what I tell waiters. Why don’t I just eat it uncooked? Because I wikied it and do you know what those experts say? Raw meat can cause anything from mild discomfort to death. Death! Combining my analogy with their expertise on raw meat, “Consuming [Rio] is not the problem. It is what is in [Rio] that can be a problem.” Those smart bitches.

Raw like raw sugar—unrefined and naturally sweet. I always church up my double espressos with Sugar in the Raw. There’s just something about dissolving those tiny crystals that brings a smile to my foam-stained lips. Like raw sugar, Rio is unstirred by its well-processed neighbor, São Paulo. There is no bleaching process here...okay, maybe a little bleach. But aside from the bourgeoisie Zona Sul, Cariocas are overwhelmingly brown. Did you know that because of the natural presence of molasses, raw sugar is brown in color? Just like these people. And they're beautiful. They’re beautiful glimmering brown crystals, not dull bleachy white specks.

Raw like a raw wound—painfully exposed yet captivating. Have you ever cut yourself deep enough to see the white underskin staring back at you for a few seconds as if to say, “ahhhh, you found me!”...then quickly covering himself with a red flowing blanket of blood. Well Rio’s rawness, too, is hidden under layers and layers of skin. Tourist skin. Catholic skin. Samba skin. Soccer skin. It’s like every Carioca element has an excruciating underbelly. From favela funk to futebol fanáticos, you gotta cut deep to see the good stuff.

So when I say that my experience in Rio de Janeiro has been raw, you now have a slightly larger inkling as to what I mean. I’m not giving you a short answer because I want to get back to soaking in the summer sun on a bikini-filled beach, it’s just because it’s the only word in my vocabulary that accurately illustrates this crazy place. That and I just want to get back to soaking in the summer sun on a bikini-filled beach.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kombi Nation: Hands Up, Eyes Closed and Fist Clenched

There are a variety of ways to get to and fro in Rio. All are inefficient.

But only one comes to mind as a steadily wobbling mascot on wheels for the city. That creature of a vessel is known as the Kombi. Kombis appear to be compact Volkswagen buses. Well, actually, that’s what they are — at least from the outside.

Once you get past the two-color braided retro paint job (note: only scene on the up-to-speed Kombi’s) showcasing the Kombi’s two primary destinations, you enter another dimension.

A demented dimension.

Stinky men, with stinkier wives struggle to hang onto even stinkier children as the Kombi parties its way through Rio’s windy-est neighborhoods.

Many times these neighborhoods are favelas or somewhere in Zona Norte (the part of the city where they majority of Carioca’s live and most gringos avoid). However, between the hours of two and six in the morning you can catch a Kombi in most parts of the city, even Zona Sul (The south zone includes the beach cities and the nicer neighborhoods).

At R$2.00 a pop, Kombi’s are a bargain to the inflating 2.20 price of a bus, the 2.60 for an all-too-limited subway ride or the 4.50 starting price of a Cab fare. This drastically low price and the hard-to-reach location of our old Jungle house, had Bob and I coming in and out of Kombi’s like a good sex pun that I would could be used here. We became regulars on the Silvestre-Largo De Machado Kombi.

On one such occasion, I had the privilege of riding in the front of the Kombi. There, wedged between a Brazilian-hairy (another level, I promise you) retired linebacker looking fellow jostling between gears and a make-me-sit-in-the-middle-wanna-be suave favela type, I began to admire the stickers and trinkets that decorate most Kombi dashboards.

Giant sparkly bumper stickers, like the ones you buy at truck stops in the US, sparkled little religious sayings like “God Protect This Kombi” were slapped on every nook of this particular Kombi’s guts. Enjoying the breeze, I looked behind me to see what I wasn’t missing—16 people jammed into a space that only seats 9 comfortably. And this was not irregular. I turned around and enjoyed the breeze as we sped through Laranjeras.

My lucky day would be thwarted by a swerving taxi-cab driver, a complete rarity in Rio…dot dot dot

Another funny component about Kombi’s is that the engine is in the back, so when you are in the front only a couple of inches of plastic and tin separate you from the outer world. So when I realized the Kombi was in for a splash into a sea of yellow taxi paint, I did what the guy next to me did — nothing.

The cab, having been jackknifed, spun onto the patio seating area of a snack stand. Our Kombi, complete with screaming women and children, came to a screeching halt and everyone deboarded.

Besides a few strangling injured saps (bloody lip, fouled-up leg) the rest of the passengers waited as the driver radioed another Kombi. One arrived promptly 15 minutes later and the unfazed passengers (including myself) hopped on as if nothing happened.

Sure the Kombi’s are said to be run by the drug trafficanos in the favelas and squeezing so tightly so many times did a number on my personal between the legs baggage — I have to say I miss the little buggies.

After all, if going anywhere is a chore, wouldn’t you like that chore to cost you the least amount?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cajus Everything Around Me: When keeping it Rio’ goes Raw-ng

I always thought Cashews were a nut. And I’m nuts for ‘em.

Apparently, however, they are actually a seed from a fruit — cashew (or Caju) fruit. The delicacy is as popular here as it is in my heart. At all of Rio’s juice stands you can order Caju fruit juice and buy salted cashews from street vendors.
A strange looking item, the Caju fruit is so tender that it cannot be exported. Before coming to South America I had never encountered the source of my beloved “seed.”

Naturally, I was eventually bound to buy a few Caju fruits myself in order to extract and dine on a cashew or two in their purest form.
Many times Keepin’ It Rio is best achieved by Keepin’ It Raw.

Raw is a term as loaded as an Irishman who lost his flock. But for the purposes of our blog it usually means pure, un-tampered with and honest.

And honestly, it is usually a day-to-day goal of mine while roaming Rio to get raw with the city, at most to all costs. This time the cost was my lips.

I had only consumed a fraction of the nut before learning (via recently bill-paid-up-and-running and saving-my-life Wikipedia) that you must NEVER consume a raw cashew seed.

It’s nestled in a cocoon of the same toxin found in poison ivy. Mid-read my mouth started sizzling and popping like pork in a microwave.

I’m ashamed to admit I freaked-out a little bit. I watered, juiced and soaped my mouth while Aria, one of our three holiday Gringo visitors braved the language barrier storm and created a vitamin C paste for my poison ivy-ed mouth.
Liquids tasted strange for a couple of days but I’ve survived.

In other news, its 2009, so Happy New Year and remember, not everything is best raw.