Monday, February 20, 2006

Countdown to Carnaval

I can feel it in the air -- even through the smog of São Paulo, the infectious spirit of Carnaval is struggling on through. Maybe it's just my overeagerness to have a vacation from work, but man, am I ready for Carnaval nutsiness. This weekend I did some prep stuff -- bought sunscreen and little shorts and such. So fun, so exciting! I feel so lucky to be able to go to Salvador, since most Brazilians in São Paulo -- or most Brazilians, period -- ever get to go to the Northeast, let alone for Carnaval.

Besides my mini Carnaval prep this weekend, I got in some relaxation, bar time, and good food, which is really all you can ask for. On Friday, Dougal and I checked out a bar in Jardins called All Black. It is supposedly an authentic English pub, and so, of course, it was stuffed with gringoes, speaking loudly in English and sucking down pints. Blach! We stayed for a few hours -- to the point when it started filling up with even older, paler people than were already there -- then went wandering in Jardins to try to find another bar. Neither of us know the area very well, and we ended up going into what appeared to be a bar but was actually a little sushi restaurant. We ordered drinks, and, happy surprise, there was good live music to be enjoyed. We didn't notice the singer at first because the "stage" she was on was only accessible by a very tall ladder built into the side of the wall, so she was singing from a little perch far above everyone's heads. Odd, but, whatever. We got her card, in case I decide to hire musical talent for my next party. Yeah, that'll happen.

Saturday I spent a good chunk of the day at the gym, somehow, then came home and went grocery shopping and got a pedicure. For me, that is the definition of a Productive Saturday. I ended up not going out that night, and watched Sideways on tv instead. Mmmm, wine.

Sunday was quite a disorienting day, since no one told me that Daylight Savings Time ended. So I got up at what I thought was 10 am (really 9 am) and went about my business, not knowing everything was actually an hour earlier, wondering why my cell phone clock was suddenly wrong, questioning if perhaps I was really going insane this time. I decided to go to the mall to pick up sunscreen and stuff, and was even more confused when I arrived at 2:45 (really 1:45) and none of the stores were open. It was like a boring episode of the Twilight Zone. Finally, I figured out that something had changed, and reset my watch accordingly. So that was weird.

That night I met up with D and Rafael at a bar in Vila Madalena called Astor. It has a really cool 50's vibe, with black and white tiled floors and mirrors all over the walls.
I ate an omelette (gruyere, asparagus and spinach) and had three glasses of Argentine cabernet, and by 9 pm (which FELT like 10 pm), I was ready to pass out for the night, which I did, as soon as I got home. On the way back I had a chatty cab driver who gave me lots of compliments and laughed maniacally at things I said that I didn't intend to be funny. For example, he asked if I liked São Paulo, and I said, yes, very much, because there is so much to do here. He cracked up. Yeah, I don't know.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Motoboy mishaps

So the other day I'm walking home from my local grocery store, the Pão de Açúcar, minding my own business, lugging my Pão totebag full of mangoes, canned soup and who-knows-what-else, when I see a motorcycle delivery boy pull up onto the sidewalk about 10 feet in front of me. No big deal, this happens all the time.

One of the great things about traffic rules in São Paulo is that there are no rules! Got a motorcycle and don't want to park it? No prob, just ride it onto the pedestrian sidewalk! Unhappy with your position in the outer lane? That's cool, just slide on over a lane or two without signalling, the other cars will move. Don't feel like stopping for that red light? It's not even mandatory! (Seriously -- red lights are not mandatory in São Paulo because of car-jacking concerns, which is a whole 'nother kettle of fish).

Anyway, this motorcyclist is sort of idling on the sidewalk, having a chat with some guy, whatever, and I walk up and am trying to decide whether to step into the street, or try to get around him on the sidewalk, or just wait for him to leave, when he looks at me, and I notice that the man is completely cross-eyed. Not the kind of slight cross-eyed-ness where it's like, you're not sure what eye to look at when the person is talking, but like, full-on, visual problems cross-eyed. So he starts weaving and starting, like he's trying to decide how to get around me, and I am desperately trying to make eye-contact to establish which one of us is going to stay on the sidewalk. Picture this if you will -- a (cross-eyed) man bobbing and weaving on a giant motorcycle in the middle of a narrow sidewalk, and a girl with a bag full o'mangoes bobbing and weaving back, with no eye contact to be had.

Finally, through some miracle of non-communication, he went one way -- riding his enormous motorcycle on down the sidewalk -- and I went the other. And here is my point: only in Brazil would a man with serious visual impairment be hired as a motorcycle delivery boy. No, let me amend that -- only in São Paulo would a seriously visually impaired person be hired as a motorcycle delivery boy, and only in São Paulo would no one blink an eyeball at the fact that he is driving on the sidewalk.

Well, at least he was wearing a helmet.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

São Valentino

Today is Valentine's Day, but not in Brazil! They celebrate it in July or something, just to be South American and contrary, I suspect. Maybe Hallmark is behind this.

Anyway, nothing really of note going on in my life but I thought I should write so as not to risk losing my loyal fan base. HA.

I had a pretty good weekend, which included TWO separate trips to the movies, first to see Brokeback Mountain (I cried, of course) and then to see Rumor Has It. Brokeback Mountain was touching and beautifully filmed, and I do enjoy me some Jake Gyllenhaal in a cowboy hat. Rumor Has It was kinda stoops but still entertaining, and I enjoyed looking at cute-as-anything Mark Ruffalo. Love him! Also, since a decent bit of that movie took place in the Bay Area, it made me incredibly homesick for San Francisco.

Well, it's about time for me to pack up my things and blow this popsicle stand.

Maybe I'll write something tomorrow.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Os anos incriveis, or, my beef with Kevin Arnold

So, I was thinking. I watch at least 10 minutes of the Wonder Years (os Anos Incriveis) every morning as I get ready to leave the house for the gym, and I have been coming to a slow realization that Kevin Arnold (memorably played by fellow Stanford alum Fred Savage) was really kind of a prick. I always used to watch the Wonder Years as a kid when it was on TV and LOVED it. I suppose I was too young and too easily swayed by Fred's big, brown puppy-dog eyes to notice what a terrible person Kevin Arnold actually was.

I mean, think about it. It seems like in every episode, Kevin is either betraying someone, speaking condescendingly to someone, sneaking around, lying, cheating, bitching, moaning (remember when he joined the wrestling team and couldn't hold his own?? Oh, the whining!!), getting exasperated (poor, poor Paul Pfeiffer), or spreading vicious lies about Winnie and ruining her reputation, AGAIN. (Winnie, get a clue!!) To try to find evidence for my revelation that Kevin Arnold is, in fact, a terrible person, I went on the internet and found an episode guide to the Wonder Years. It TOTALLY backed me up.

So in the beginning of the Wonder Years, Season 1, when Kevin and Paul and the gang were just starting junior high, things were okay. Fred Savage was cute as a button, it was still the 60s, things were peachy, etc. But as the seasons progressed, Kevin became more and more of an a-hole. Here are some episode recaps from subsequent seasons, taken off the episode guide:
  • Kevin learns a lesson about talking behind someones back and how "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned".
  • When Kevin is partnered with class weirdo, Margaret Farquhar, he tries to keep away from her - especially when she tries to become his friend.
  • Kevin decides cheating is the only way to get ahead in math class.
  • To make up for being rude and insenstive to Winnie, Kevin makes her a Valentine's card, but it is accidently placed in Becky Slater's locker. When Becky finds the card, she thinks Kevin wants her back - setting the two up for a showdown.
  • Kevin has to cancel a date with Winnie to finish a homework assignment with Madeline, who has already kissed him once. To make matters worse, when he flees Madeline's, he drops a bracelet that Winnie had engraved for him.
  • Kevin is on a first-name basis with McKinley's High's basketball hero, Bobby Riddle. When the team makes it to the regional finals, Kevin's dad decides to attend the game and embarrasses Kevin by talking strategy with Paul and Chuck. Later, though, Kevin apologizes to his dad for how he treated him.
  • Kevin, Ricky and Chuck get thrown out of the movie theatre where "Carnal Knowledge" is playing, while Paul is at home losing his virginity. Paul confides in Kevin, but his secret gets out the next day.
  • When Winnie comes over for a study session while his parents were away, Kevin wants to relationship to go further. Winnie sees through his plan. She does stay, but they just fall asleep together. The next day, though, he tells his friends a different story.
  • When Kevin and friends are asked to write down the ways they feel inferior, they have trouble thinking of something. They don't have any problems picking on the new girl with the big nose.

And those one-sentence recaps don't even mention the litany of exasperated sighs and whiny complaints ("come on, Paul") from Kevin that punctuate every episode. He's awful!

But you know what? I actually think that the fact that the Wonder Years has a "flawed hero" at its center kind of makes it a more sophisticated show. Yeah, Kevin can be annoying, immature, whiny as all get-out. He can turn his back on long-suffering best friend Paul on a dime. He can disgrace doe-eyed Winnie (whose brother died in VietNam) in front of the entire school. He can make out with his brother Wayne's girlfriend all over school even though she was pretty much all Wayne had going for him at the time. But, you know, that's what makes the show interesting. It would be boring if Kevin were perfect, like Corky from Life Goes On.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sungas and kangas and tangas, oh my!

I went to Rio this past weekend -- heavenly! It was my seventh and last time in Rio -- at least for a while -- and it was a nice way to wrap up with the cidade maravilhosa. I flew up with my friend Nicola on Friday night after work, where we met up with friend Dougal and N's husband, Gabriel, and went to a new champagne bar in Ipanema called Xampanheria. Coincidentally, Xampanheria was across the street from the CHE LAGAHTO youth hostel, on Paul Redfern! Oh, the memories.

Anyway, Xampanheria was what one would expect from a champagne bar in a ritzy area of Rio -- the concept was a bit pretentious and overwrought, but the decor was pleasant and chic. The bar on the first floor was sort of a sunken pit surrounded by glass so the guests, seated on short ottomans, could watch the waiters prepare oysters and pour wine. The main problem with Xampanheria was that the clientele was a tad older and more rotund than we were expecting. Not that old, portly people shouldn't be allowed to enjoy a nice glass of bubbly, but do they have to be crowding the bar at 1 am on a Friday? Oh well.

We all sampled the wares -- first a bottle of sparkling white wine from Italy, delicious -- then Dougal and I cheaped out and went for Chandon by the glass. Chandon is a sparkling white wine that is non-offensive and cheap, so it works for me. Keith, N and G tried more exotic champagne cocktails -- like a frothy yellow concoction with a star fruit floating on the top, and a strawberry caipirinha mixed with champagne. Mmm... afterwards we went nextdoor to a French bistro for some dinner/snacks, then, after checking to see if Bar Code (the Che Lagarto bar!) was open -- it wasn't -- we went to a club called Zero Zero.

I think if we hadn't arrived at the club at 2:30 AM, it would have been a bit more hopping, but it was almost empty when we got there. Dougal and I were approached by an aging surfer who told us about our star signs and energies and such. He said things like, "You are an intuitive person..." or, "You don't like conflict," and then D would say, "oh my God, it's SO TRUE." We all stumbled home at around 5:30 AM, crashed into bed, and woke up feeling fuzzy the next afternoon.

Saturday was spent eating breakfast (at 1 pm), then going to Ipanema beach to sun ourselves and partake in the flesh fest that happens on sunny weekends there. It's a free-for-all of staring and being stared-at. Lots of sungas (male bikinis) going on -- LOTS. There really is only so much of that any American can handle, you know? Bluch. I carefully observed the elaborate ritual of Ipanema beach-going -- I never knew before, for example, that men should only sit in the sand, and women should only sit on a kanga (sarong). Who knew?!

The day was hot, in the high 30s (celcius), whatever that is in Fahrenheit, like a bazillion, so after a few hours of baking in the sun, our hungover butts started to feel very dehydrated and tired, so we left to find food and shelter. We went to a nice little outdoor restaurant for some rice, steak sandwiches, french fries and cokes -- perfect hangover food -- then went home to gear up for the next night out.

Some of G's friends came over for drinks and we sat on the porch, which was hot and sweaty even with the breeze. After a sufficient period of peanut-eating and cocktail swilling, we headed to a club in N and G's neighborhood called Nuth (pronounced Noo-chee). It was absolutely gorgeous! There was an outdoor bar/lounge area that was cooled by a constant mist from above, and an indoor area with a restaurant and bar upstairs, and a big bar and dance floor downstairs, all cast in sexy mood lighting and dark wood. I loved it. However, the music kind of stunk, and there were drunk, obnoxious British girls that were barreling their way through the dance floor running into people, so I didn't spend as much time dancing as I normally would have. We left early because N was not feeling well, and went home to sleep.

Sunday was another wake-up late, eat breakfast at 1, and hang by the pool day. Later, we went to Barra Shopping, one of the largest malls in South America, to check out the merchandise. I wanted to get a Brazilian bikini (tanga) but after trying a few on, I realized that I am just too deeply entrenched in my Anglo-Saxon, American prudishness to be able to walk around with my entire butt hanging out of my bathing suit. It just doesn't look right to me. Plus, the tops are so tiny that the bottoms of your breasts hang out, which to me looks tacky, but apparently that is the look that Brazilians go for. I think for now I am going to stick with my American surfing bikinis with ample coverage -- tangas be damned.

Now I am back in São Paulo, where it is hot as blazes and smoggy. Honestly, if SP had a beach like Rio, it would be the perfect city. Buuut, it doesn't, so I am missing Rio and wondering when I will ever go back.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Oh Beautiful....

Well, nothing too interesting going on at the moment. I am just trying to get through this day, since tonight I hop on a flight to Rio for the weekend. Should be wonderful -- time with my friends, a trip to a swanky champagne bar in Ipanema (Xampanheria), a visit to Maracanã, the world's largest stadium, some gente-bonita gazing at Nuth -- but before that happens, I need to struggle through a day of work. Thank goodness for coffee and my 10:30 AM mango break. Mmmm, mango.

Since I don't have a whole lot to write about, I thought I'd reflect on some things that I miss from the United States. Remarkably, I haven't been homesick really at all for the last 6 months of living here, but I have missed certain things quite acutely. Of course, I have missed my friends and family constantly, but I've enjoyed my existence in Brazil so much that I haven't felt truly homesick. Then again, I don't usually get homesick until something Bad happens (getting bit by a stray dog in Chile, getting $1000 stolen in Cuba, stuff like that). And now that I have my plane tickets home, I have been getting more and more excited about returning to America, my only home.

So, in no particular order, here are a few things I can't wait to indulge in when I return to the US:

  • Diet Coke -- here we have Coca Light -- totes not the same
  • The Daily Show
  • frozen yogurt with sprinkles
  • drug stores that sell magazines, cold drinks, and cheap makeup
  • Anthropologie
  • driving. In particular, driving along 280 between San Francisco and the South Bay
  • hot Red Rose tea with milk
  • my dad's cooking, especially when I get to help
  • running outdoors
  • non-smoking areas -- mainly the large non-smoking area that is the state of California
  • iTunes and listening to the radio
  • kitchen and bathroom sinks with hot water -- and water that doesn't smell like dirt
  • the pedestrian right-of-way
  • US Weekly, In Touch, and other horrendous American gossip mags
  • seedless grapes
  • power yoga
  • the YMCA and my old man friends there
  • my parents' dog, Dougal

How could you not miss this face?!

Obviously, there are some things that I will miss a lot from São Paulo, too, that I know I just won't find in the States, such as:

  • heavenly mangoes and pineapple
  • laundry service
  • cheap shoes and handbags
  • cheap, delicious, fresh all-you-can eat sushi
  • caipirinhas -- REAL caipirinhas
  • open-air markets in my neighborhood every Saturday
  • Japanese peanuts
  • cheap taxis with non-a*hole drivers
  • rodizio (all-you-can-eat) pizza, meat, sushi, fondue, etc., etc., etc.
  • manicures for $6
  • drug stores that dole out medicine without a prescription
  • clubs that stay open till 6, and afterhours clubs that serve breakfast and lunch
  • fried manioc
  • ChocoMac branco

Of course, there is more. I can't live in a place for months and months without becoming emotionally attached to it, and I will miss living in this incredible city, DUH. But, first order of business upon return to the US -- get a diet coke and a frozen yogurt and buy a copy of US Weekly.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I am getting really nervous about returning to speaking Spanish in a few months. Apparently my brain is not as large as I had previously thought, and can only comfortably hold 2, maybe 2.3 languages at once. Portuguese has brutally thrown Spanish off the territory it once proudly held in my cerebro, and I am rendered absolutely useless in my second language. Oh, Spanish, I miss you!

It's weird, sometimes I feel like Spanish and Portuguese are my two children, and I have to decide which one I love more -- obviously something every parent must decide -- and even though Portuguese is fun, quirky, and infinitely complex, something about Spanish pulls at my heartstrings. I love the rich rrrrrrs and the soft d's, and the fact that CAMERÓN is a swear word. Then again, Portugese has ões and ães and boa noite. I find the nasal intonations of Portugese both perplexing and wonderful -- for example, I love saying the words consolação (consolation) and mãe (mother) but hate the words pão (bread) and irmã (sister) because I think they sound grunty and un-lovely.

Clearly, both of these wonderful languages can not reside in my brain at the same time. I am not sure I will ever be able to switch effortlessly back and forth between them; I just get too tangled up. For example, when I met some Mexicans in a bar here in São Paulo, I ended up spouting the oddest mixture of Portuguese and Spanish I have ever heard, despite the fact that I was willing myself to speak Spanish, only Spanish. I said eu instead of yo and mas instead of pero. It just wouldn't come out right.

When I leave Brazil for Argentina and Chile in a few months, I will have been living here for 9.5 months in total -- that's a lot of Portuguese saturation. Right now I am excited and nervous about reclaiming Spanish as my own -- I know the words are in my brain somewhere, filed away alongside the 3 children's songs I can sing in Mandarin -- it's just a question of digging them out and separating them from my Portuguese lexicon. But I also suspect that once I leave this country, I'll immediately become nostalgic for Portuguese, for l's that sound like w's and the exclamation Nossa! Maybe I should just resign myself to speaking Portuñol -- combining the best of both worlds.