Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An email update from yours truly

When I first started Brasilian Wax, I used to just copy and paste emails that I wrote home and called it blogging. I think I've evolved since then, but you'll have to forgive me if I backslide every now and then. Now is one of those times: I am going to paste an email I wrote home to friends and family so that those of you never agreed to be inundated by teffsinbrasil emails can share in the fun. Enjoy.

from eteffi
date Sun, Jun 27, 2010 at 8:12 PM
subject Brasiw

Hello my faithful friends,

Thanks for agreeing to be bombarded by self-indulgent, Brazil-focused emails for the next four (or so) months. Here is the first one! I am going to try to make my emails different from my blog posts so as to avoid repeating myself and boring everyone more than is necessary. So, in the tried and true tradition of Steph-in-Brazil emails, I will list the (semi-interesting) things that have happened since I've been here:

1. I developed an interest in soccer. I KNOW. I never thought it would happen either. My long-held attitude towards soccer has been one of scoffing disregard, and I never intended to budge from that stance as long as I held an American passport, but it's basically impossible to be in Sao Paulo in the middle of World Cup season and not get a little bit sucked in to the futebol mania. I just had to abandon my anti-soccer attitude and embrace the World Cup - and you know what? It's been super fun. On days when Brazil plays, the entire city buzzes (and not just from those godawful vuvuzelas) -- you can actually feel the excited energy in the air. Everyone wears yellow or green and no one comes to work -- Brazilians have their priorities straight, after all (i.e., futebol > trabalho). One friend told me that on game days, you could go out to Avenida Paulista, one of the busiest thoroughfares in this city of 20 million + people, and lie down in the middle of it and take a nap, since everyone is glued to their TV screens when Brazil plays. Since Brazilians are so into their team, I took a page out of their book and decided to watch the USA-Ghana game with a bunch of Americans (and U.S. supporters) at a bar yesterday. We were the lone table of Americans in a sea of Brazilians, almost all of whom were rooting for Ghana (I made sure to glare at them in righteous indignation, although it's sort of hard to play the underdog card as an American), and I found myself YELLING at the TV screen as the U.S. slowly and painfully lost to Ghana. I never knew I cared about this crap. But I do. Who knew? Today I watched the Argentina-Mexico game (go Mexico!) and found myself yelling at the TV screen when I was ALONE in my apartment. Look who's a superfan all of a sudden.

2. I went clubbin'. I thought my clubbin' days were over, since the last time I lived here I was almost 5 years younger and had a significantly higher tolerance for ear-bleedingly loud clubs and house music in general. But on Saturday night, I found myself out until 3 am at one of my old haunts, Dolores, one of the only hip hop clubs in Sao Paulo. Side note about that: Brazilians don't think they are racist, and they definitely don't have the same issues with race that we do in the United States, but at least we don't call hip hop "black music." Yep. Brazilians call hip hop and R&B "black music," which they pronounce "blacky musicky," which makes it even more ridiculous. The club we went to last night advertises its "Sexta Black" (Black Friday), where they play exclusively blacky musicky, which I guess means no Eminem on Fridays? The best part of last night was seeing Brazilians wearing blinged-out baseball caps and wifebeaters C-walking (although it looked kinda like samba set to Snoop Dogg). Anyway, it was fun going out. Unlike last time I lived here, I didn't stay out until 8 am and then come home with my ears ringing and my hair reeking of smoke. Instead, I called it a night at the mature and reasonable hour of 3 am and went home and talked to my boyfriend and watched Shallow Hal. So much more grown up, right?

3. I went back to Parque Ibirapuera. I LOVE Parque Ibirapuera. It's this giant park in the middle of the city and to me, it is one of the most fascinating and fun places to go for quality people-watching. It feels like the entire city comes out to the park on weekends - it's crowded and loud and a bit chaotic. Today, as always, it was a colorful mess of rollerbladers, skateboarders, bikers, tandem bikers, walkers, runners, boaters, basketball players, volleyball players, coconut sippers, corn eaters, dog walkers, music listeners, and, of course maker-outers. I even saw two girls making out today. Way to evolve, Parque Ibirapuera.

4. I saw a military police helicopter hover above my friend's apartment building for a good hour. Helicopters aren't that unusual in SP, because rich people often use them to get to and from work (no joke) but military police helicopters flying at close range and circling a small block for an hour? That's weird. I was at my friend Mariana's apartment and we had just finished watching the Brazil-Ivory Coast game when we heard the helicopter outside. We went out and looked and realized that there were military police cars parked up and down the block, and cops in bullet-proof vests prowling the streets outside Mariana's building, obviously looking for someone. All of the people in the building came out and stood on their balconies, blowing vuvuzelas and throwing green and yellow confetti down on the police. Ah, Brazil. Eventually, the helicopter left, I guess because it got dark and they couldn't find whatever super dangerous criminal they were looking for. Awesome use of taxpayer resources, eh?

Anyway. I guess I'll leave it at that for today. I've done more stuff here over the past week, but no one wants to hear about how many mangoes I've eaten (four) or which bad American TV shows I've seen ad nauseum (Smallville, Two and a Half Men). So, yeah, I won't even mention it.

Hope you are all well! Ate mais.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pumpin' Iron, Brazilian Style, Part II

And now for the second installment in my chronicle of Brazilian gyms! I went from working out on an ancient, wheel-controlled treadmill to joining one of the schamciest gyms in the city within 24 hours. What a whirlwind. There were several steps in this process. To start with, I decided against re-joining my old gym, Reebok ("Hee-bocky," as the Brazilians say) because it's too far from my apartment and my office and I'd end up sitting in traffic for 20 minutes each way to get there. And since a 20 minute cab ride here costs about as much as a black market kidney in the US, I decided I needed to find a closer gym.

First, I tried Academia Fitness World. Its name led me to believe that it would be some sort of, like... world... filled with, I don't know... fitness. Or something. When I walked up to the building, I was shocked not to see anything representing a world of fitness. Instead, I saw a squat, orange building with a menacing looking metal gate. I had to be buzzed in, and the woman who let me in seemed confused by my presence. She gave me a look like, "Why are you in exercise clothes? What does this look like, a world of fitness?"

I was quickly introduced to a trainer (sigh), who, I was disappointed to note, did not have a mullet, but who did creepily hover next to my treadmill as I ran three miles or so. Then, the same trainer, Roberto, "trained" me on the gym's rickety old machines, explaining that the reason that I have shin and hip problems is because I "run too hard" and need to "run softer." EXACTLY, Roberto - this is why I invested in that company that builds anti-gravity shoes! They just need a few billion more dollars in R&D and they'll have this whole shin-splint thing solved.

Anyway, Fitness World was okay. A bit dingy, a bit small, a bit creepy, but it would do in a pinch. Then, someone told me to check out the Pele Club, which is, unsurprisingly, owned by the soccer icon Pele. The Pele Club turned out to be mind-blowingly expensive -- more than twice as much per month as my SUPER fancy gym back in D.C. -- but it has individual TVs on the treadmills, and I'm sort of a sucker for that. I mean, come on, how can I say no to watching all my favorite American shows on the "Warner Channel"* while I exercise? The Warner Channel plays such popular series as Two And a Half Men, According to Jim, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Supernatural, and Smallville**. You know, all this year's runaway successes of American television!

Anyway, when it came down to it, I was sold on the treadmill-TVs and the fact that after paying several hundred dollars to become a member of the Pele Club, I'd receive a tiny soccer ball. Seriously. That was their membership promotion: a tiny soccer ball. Whatever. I joined. Don't judge me. The way I justify it to myself is the following: 1) I pay more per month at my gym in DC since I have been seeing an outrageously expensive (but very good) personal trainer once a week anyway, and 2) this way I get "trained" every single day by Brazilians, who know all about fitness, and can probably teach me Brazilian stuff, like caipoeira and soft running.

Exercise is just different in Brazil. For one thing, I feel like a total bad-ass when I work out here, because the trainers always seem amazed at the fact that I can run for more than four minutes on a treadmill without having to take a cigarette break. Also, the exercises themselves are just... different. This morning, for example, I stopped by the Pele Club and was treated to something called "treinamento funcional" ("functional training"). This consisted of intervals of a series of seemingly random movements, interspersed with 2-minute sessions on a slow-moving stair-stepper. It was weird. It lasted thirty minutes, and when I was done, I felt more confused than anything else. I don't know, guess I am just used to having my a** handed to me on a plate by a personal trainer. I want to feel SORE and shaky and on the verge of muscle implosion (is that a thing?) after working out. Here, the gyms subscribe to a softer, gentler form of exercise (hence, soft running).

Stay posted - there will be another update coming about the dreaded, mandatory fitness evaluation that the gym is forcing me to do.

*Obviously this channel does not exist in the United States.
**Really, guys? Smallville? UGH.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pumpin' Iron, Brazilian Style, Part 1

I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur of gyms -- crappy gyms, fancy gyms, old people gyms, young people gyms -- and I have been to many gyms in many countries -- Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Scotland, Thailand, etc. -- and frankly, I've seen a lot of weirdness. For example, at a gym I visited in Krems an der Donau, Austria, they had signs designating different areas of the gym: arms, legs, cardio, ladies. The "ladies" section consisted of one of those ab rocker things and a couple of mats. I guess that makes sense. Or, what about the time I joined a gym in Chile where they insisted on measuring my body-fat with calipers before I joined and then told me I was "gorda" (just a shade under "obesa") and thus REALLY needed the gym membership? That was flattering.

Even though they have called me fat, I have a special fondness for South American gyms. These gyms tend to have a few key, endearing characteristics in common: an abundance of Velcro leg weights, a legion of overly-attentive trainers with mullets, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and, if you're lucky, techno. You guys already know what I'm talking about -- I've written at some length about my experience at the Academia Reebok, the fanciest gym in Sao Paulo, which I am actually considering re-joining for my four months here. But I've never really written about the other type of South American gym - the horrendously crappy apartment gym. This is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Today, after a series of events which conspired to prevent me from joining a real gym here, I decided, in a moment of desperation, to use my new apartment building's in-house fitness center (or, "o feetchy-ness," as the Brazilians pronounce it). Now, I have seen a lot of terrible apartment gyms in my day, so it's a rare treat when I see something so bad it surprises me. That's why I was both horrified and delighted today when I entered the feetchyness, which consists of two treadmills, a bike, and a few free weights, and saw the treadmill, in all of its glory.

The treadmill seemed normal at first glance, except for the fact that I had to stick a plastic key in the front of it to make it turn on. No big deal - I've seen weirder. After inserting the key, though, I couldn't figure out how to make the belt move. There were no buttons. No keys. And then I noticed the wheel. Yes, that's right, this treadmill's speed was controlled by a weird, plastic wheel -- you turn clockwise for faster and counter-clockwise for slower.

The problem with this system, as you might imagine, is that a wheel is an extremely imprecise way of determining the speed of a moving belt, especially when it is being controlled by someone running on said belt. Treadmill runners don't have the steadiest hand, which is something this wheel seemed to demand. I would touch it a hair to the right and the belt would jerk wildly forward, and suddenly I was sprinting. I'd turn it back and the belt would grind to a slow crawl, pitching me forward. Who invented this? Oh, that's right, a Brazilian engineer in 1973.

Ah, Brazilian gyms! Stay tuned - I am planning a pilgrimage back to the Academia Reebok this week, so expect an update. All I hope is that they haven't installed any wheel-treadmills since I was last there and that there are still plenty of Velcro leg weights to go around.

Friday, June 18, 2010


It's my second day in Sao Paulo, and I have to admit I haven't seen much since I've been here. Basically, I've seen: the office, the buildings on the way to the office, the lunch place near the office, and my hotel, which happens to be right by the office. So I don't have a good sense of whether much has changed since I lived here almost five years ago. However, I did notice something pretty telling as I was walking back from dinner (which was, by the way, a ginormous chicken "beirute" sandwich with a fried egg, bacon AND mayo on it - holy Lord). I saw a sign advertising the opening of . . . a froyo place.

Yes, the froyo craze is finally penetrating Brazil. I am of two minds on this: on the one hand, I'm happy, because, as we all know, I love froyo so much I would marry it if it were legal in any state (I blame the Republicans). On the other hand, there's something sad about Brazil, land of pao de queijo and cheese-flavored ice cream, caving to the New York/Hollywood trend of negative-calorie, fake foods. I guess I should have seen it coming - women here already discovered those bug-eye sunglasses and anorexia, so it was only a matter of time before they picked up on froyo, I suppose.

I wonder what else has changed here since I left. I almost got hit by a motoboy while crossing the street, so at least that hasn't changed. And the air still smells tantalizingly of fried food, bus fumes, and cologne. Maybe not so much has changed after all.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brazzzzzzillllll (again!)

As some of you may know, I started this blog in the summer of 2005, right after I had graduated college and was preparing to move to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to start my first real, grown-up job as a paralegal. That was almost five years ago (whoa!) and the blog has slowly evolved from goofy observations about daily life in Brazil to even goofier observations about daily life in other places.

Well, I have some news for you all - I'm back in Sao Paulo for at least 4 months, working as a real lawyer this time, and I am going to start chronicling my Brazilian adventures in this space again. Things might be slightly different this time - I think my life will probably involve more working and less clubbing until partial deafness sets in. Hopefully, though, I'll still be able to regale you all with tales of Brazilian life when I have time away from work.

Right now I'm sitting in my new office (which will actually change soon, since my firm is moving offices on Monday), looking out the window at the tall buildings and scattered palm trees of the business district of Sao Paulo. I can also hear a dog barking somewhere -- ah, Brazil.

I am in too much of a fog from my long plane ride, which started yesterday at 2 pm and ended today at 7 am, to be funny or witty or even to double check my blog entry for coherence, so this will have to do. More to come soon!