When you dust off a blog that’s been fairly unused for a while, you tend to kick up some dust. It’s just like cleaning out your mom’s attic, or going through those boxes that you never unpacked the last time you moved 5 years ago, or cleaning out your car because you’re getting a new one. You find bits and pieces of memories scattered about that mean something to you that you had forgotten you had, or thought lost, or hadn’t realized would bring up memories of happy times.
In sprucing up and dusting off this blog both before and during my adventures in Brazil, I’ve come across quite a few things which made me smile and laugh, experiences I’d forgotten I’d written about, pictures I’d taken. I wanted to share one of them with you all, since it’s about a thing I’m finding I sometimes miss quite a bit here:
Jessie vs. Snowpocalypse, The (Silent) Movie.
Edited, filmed and produced by me. Shot on location in Portland in front of my house during Snowpocalypse, 2008.
I’ve been in Brazil now for nearly 3 weeks, and in Maceió for nearly 2 weeks. I’ve had two weeks of Portuguese language classes, seen numerous rainstorms, and walked in or near the ocean pretty much every day I’ve been in Maceió. I’ve sampled a BJJ-inspired MMA class, a class in Capoeira, been to the center of the city and to a touristy beach outside of town. I’ve had all sorts of delicious and interesting food. I thought I’d update you all with a little bit of my thoughts and impressions about all that I’ve seen so far.
Click to get a closer view of my notes and textbook!
It’s been one heck of a long time since I seriously tried to learn a new language. Languages have always seeped into my brain with or without my permission, like water finding passage through cracks in the rocks. I always liked that about my brain – it’s one of the reasons I was so confident in my abilities to take on this challenge. But it’s been a long time since I’ve opened the floodgates, and the water pressure was never quite this high when I was taking French for an hour a day in high school. I certainly didn’t have to use French after my first day of class in order to explain what kinds of foods I liked or didn’t like, or to ask a cashier to repeat the amount of money I owed. I never had to know enough French after my first day to understand what someone was trying to tell me about when I would eat, and what, and how to get in and out of my house, and how to get to a new school the next day, and where to find a new roll of toilet paper.
As for French, having learned it all those years ago is mostly a big help. Having gone through the mental process of learning a new language, and one that has many similarities – especially in sentence construction – is a big help. But because it’s French, it also sometimes messes me up. And sometimes when I try to answer in Portuguese, instead the French wants to come out. Or sometimes Spanish. Obrigado, NOT gracias!! Muito, NOT muy!! From what I can tell, of the major Latin-based languages French is the least helpful in learning Portuguese. Spanish or Italian would make this MUCH easier.
But, there comes a time when you have to stop trying to put a language in terms of your own native language, and just let it be itself. I did that with French, and I think that experience and its similarity with Portuguese is far more of a help than a hindrance.
At this point I know enough Portuguese to get by. I can understand simple instructions, can make myself understood, and can generally clearly communicate what I’m thinking. Communicating feelings is a bit more advanced. However, I also know enough Portuguese (and according to several people, my accent is very clean) that other Brazilians think I can understand Portuguese at their normal speed of talking, which I most certainly can not. At all. Not yet. And they all…ALL…talk fast. Very, very fast. The only exceptions being the teachers at the school, they speak a teensy bit slower, and keep their sentences a teensy bit more simplified. That’s it. So when people are speaking normally, I can understand maybe one word out of four, while I can understand like 75% of simpler writing.
I’m drowning in Portuguese. Welp, I did say I would sink or swim, right? Time to get out my bubble-arms and start dog paddling!
I think this dog is always sleeping here.
It never gets below 70°F here, even at night. It sometimes gets super windy when it rains, and when it does rain it often comes down in sheets, but the air is always warm and thick and humid. It seems to rain more often at night then during the day, and the rains are surrounded by gorgeous blue skies and sunshine before and after. When the sun comes out, it starts pushing above 90°F. This is the end of winter. I freaking love the weather here so far.
And I managed to go almost two weeks without getting at all sunburnt, or wearing any shirts with sleeves. And once the sunburn is peeled off and gone, I shall start tanning in those hard to tan spots. I hope.
Ponta Verde Beach. Three blocks from where I’m living.
Hermit crab maybe? Regardless, this guy is apparently a rare find here.
The sand here is marvelously soft. The water that I’ve seen is relatively clear – I haven’t really seen the crystal blue water yet, but I haven’t made it out to the natural pools yet either. It is truly beautiful, especially considering the weather. However, sections of the beaches in Maceió have tons of this seaweed stuff, which seems to always be mixed with quite a bit of refuse; bottles and plastic and….just junk. There are workers out there every day raking and cleaning it up, but every day there is more. Please recycle your plastic. Please use less plastic. The oceans will largely clean themselves eventually, if we quit putting so much crap in it. Seriously. Today I saw a rusted out CFL light bulb amongst all the other plastic bottle caps and plastic bottles and building materials and plastic bags and and and. Thanks for saving energy, but I don’t think the ocean is the proper disposal area.
Stray dog at Paripueira begging for food. Obviously has puppies.
The other beach I went to last weekend is called Paripueira. It’s a very lovely beach and seems to be better tended, but it is definitely a tourist trap. The kind of place where they charge you money to come in and spend more money. If you want to do anything more than sit on the beach, it’ll cost you. And the food will cost you. And there’s people on the beach trying to sell stuff to you. We spent $200 Reais – nearly $100 – on lunch for three people. They didn’t mention that at the school when I signed up for this trip! I guess I was expecting a more hands-off kind of beach, where you just walk in and set up your spot, then if you feel like eating out or shopping, there’s options, but it’s not expected. However, the part I disliked the most about this spot were the dogs. There’s sad looking stray dogs everywhere.
One in particular was skin and bones, probably sick, with lacerations near his tail and looking truly miserable. It kind of made me ill to see it. I bought some french fries to feed the dogs, however none of them seemed interested. I don’t think I’ll go back there.
But the Brazilian dog story isn’t all sadness. I see lots of pampered pooches here as well, and have met several people who’ve taken dogs off the street. Nor are the beaches so touristy and regimented. And they’re all of them, every one, gorgeous.
I’ve taken two classes so far. One is a basic MMA class taught by a guy named Tony, who trained with one of the Gracie brothers (The guys who invented Brazilian Jui-Jitsu). The other was a Capoeira class taught by a guy named Jair who comes to the language school to give private classes.
The MMA class was a fabulous workout. It kind of reminded me of Crossfit, with stations that would switch every minute; however one of the stations was with Tony himself, and he would have you punch targets or hold a car tire above your head while he hit your near the waist with the targets and you blocked them with your legs. Each station was pretty hard – one was even an ab roller, and we all know how much those suck! – and that was just one of the stations. My abs hurt for three days afterwards!
The capoeira class was the next day, and for all that it was far less intense than the MMA class, I finished it feeling pretty shaky and I sweated harder than I ever had in my life (although it may have been the weather, it was pretty hot and humid that day). Jair taught me the basic movement, called Jenga (no I don’t know if it’s related to the game), the four basic kicks and the four basic dodges, and of course cartwheels. I’m definitely going to do that again; and if my understanding of what he said was right, he offered to bring me to some local capoeira events on the back of his motorcycle. Speaking of motorcycles…
…it seems lots of people have them. Not a lot of big cruisery type bikes – nor a lot of rice burners either – but functional ones, or scooters. If they do have a car, it’s a little European economic style car, although not a lot of hybrids. People here are far freer with the car horn, but it’s more of a ‘hey I’m here, just FYI’ than a ‘get out tha fuckin way asshole’ manner. But driving…man. I’ve already seen one car accident, and I’m amazed I haven’t seen any pedestrians hit yet. I haven’t seen driving like this since I was in Spain and fearing for my life in a taxicab on the freeway. The driver there literally said that the traffic signs were more suggestions than laws. Ha! But then again, the cost of taking the bus here is about 30 cents cheaper than taking a taxi. And apparently the bus system has never published a schedule. You just go to a bus stop and wait, and hopefully one will come along in the next 30 minutes…makes a taxi drive seem almost worth it.
Ponta de Barra. Lots of shopping in this area.
As far as my general impressions of Maceió go, I feel…conflicted. It’s a great little town, twice the size of Portland with about 1 million inhabitants. It’s got beautiful beaches, great little bars and restaurants, fabulous music; but there is also a lot of poverty here. A lot. More than I’m accustomed to, living in Portland. Even in the touristy, more well off areas like where I’m staying and the school is located, there is evidence of it around the corners and in the darker spots, the side streets. You can see it everywhere if you look. Maybe it’s my American sensibilities, I don’t know; but it makes it difficult at times to relax and enjoy myself. It makes me feel a bit guilty for what I have, and looking for ways to help that will not be just a meaningless, fruitless drop in an ocean of need.
It’s also unfortunately littered with trash. I mean everywhere. There’s trash everywhere, and very little of it actually in the trash bags that are also left out on the street all the time. From the ocean on, there isn’t a single place I’ve been that has not been littered. Definitely something a Portland eco-conscious resident would find a bit alarming. However, if you can overlook the trash, the area I live in is quite nice. There’s lots of attractive apartment buildings with interesting architecture and a bunch of new ones being built closer to the beach. Lots of rooms with a view!
They have really good sushi here.
No really. One of my fellow students is from Japan, and she agreed.
Buffet-type restaurants are really popular here. There are two, right next to each other, at the end of the block from my school. I’m trying desperately to not gain weight (see: Martial Arts, above), but until I started taking these martial arts classes and going for a run on the beach every few days, it was looking like a losing battle. I already mentioned (on the Facebooks) Feijoada, which is probably my favorite Brazilian dish I’ve had so far, but let me list out a few other notable things I’ve eaten:
Corn and coconut milk cake
A pancake made out of fried mashed bananas and cheese with cinnamon on top for breakfast (zomg noms)
Tapioca…things. Basically pancakes made out of cassava flour and folded over with stuff in it; the original has coconut, but it can have anything from fruit to cheese to chicken hearts
Pastelarias – sort of like pastry shops – have all sorts of fried and baked goods like coxinha, which are teardrop-shaped bread things stuffed with shredded chicken, and all manner of pastéis, which are thin, flat flaky crust pastries filled with (usually) savory fillings, often cheese or chicken or ham. I finally found a pastelaria which sells a ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a pastel filled with guava jam and cheese that my sister in law told me about. I haven’t tried it yet, but I hope to this week!
Johan and I about to try sururu for the first time with Luis, one of our teachers
Sururu – The local dish of the area, it’s like tiny little mussels in coconut milk over rice with a side of the sauce blended with some sort of thickener to pour over, and farofa (a toasted cassava root flour) sprinkled on top. The first version I ate also had shrimp (camarão) and a whole fillet of fish (peixe) on the bottom, while the second version made by my host had just the tiny little mussels in them. They’re about a half inch long on average. Tiiiiiny mussels….in my wine…wait no. Wrong food. Also, someone told me it’s the viagra of the Brazilian northeast. Heh.
Açai! This was the small bowl. Glad I got the small bowl.
Frozen blended açai berries with banana and granola and puffed rice and honey. Oh, yeah.
When it comes to sweets, my brother was right: They use condensed milk a lot. Chances are if it looks like a cupcake or a truffle-like treat, expect that there’s condensed milk – doce de leite – in it, or that it’s pretty much entirely made of it. Very chewy, thick and sweet. It tends to make me long for something a bit more bread-like and less like eating a solid hunk of milky taffy made out of sweetened milk.
Also, that’s a starfruit tree in front of my school. Starfruit. Yum.
Also again – I like cachaça. I’ve had it straight, with honey, made with a mixture of clove and cinnamon, infused with pineapple or cherries. I like it all. I’ll be bringing some home with me. Just probably not the one in this next picture. I just don’t feel that crab flavored alcohol should be a thing, you see. Call me crazy. How did they even get it in the bottle?!
Crab cachaça? No thanks.
And caipirinhas? They’re Brazilian margaritas, they just use cachaca instead of tequila. And who doesn’t love margaritas? If you’re in the mood for something other than lime, you can get a caipifruta, which is just a caipirinha with other fruit in it.
I don’t know why I had the idea that Maceió would be cheap. Perhaps it was the fact that Brazilian Reais (hay-ice) are about .40 to the dollar. Perhaps it’s because of my image of South America. Perhaps it’s because of those nice people I met in the airport in São Paulo who told me it’s much cheaper than São Paulo (yikes!! SP must be crazy $$$$!!). It is most certainly not cheap. At least not near the beach, of course. It’s not exorbitant by any stretch, but I literally was looking at suntan lotion for R$40. $20 suntan lotion?! Come on! I pay on average $8-$12 for lunch, twice that for dinner. A beer goes for about $4-$6, although they’re about 24-32oz bottles. Not super spendy, but not the cheap I thought it would be. Certainly not cheap enough for the cash I brought to last me until I leave. Good thing I got a credit card with no foreign transaction fees!
In summary…well, I actually don’t really have a summarizing thought for this post. I’m getting lots of relaxation, meeting lots of really cool people both brazilian and foreign, getting totally overwhelmed but still doggedly pursing my portuguese, and enjoying the tropical weather immensely. I mean, how cool is it to be sitting at lunch with someone from Germany, Japan and Denmark and chatting in Portuguese with all of them? The litter and the poverty and stray dogs make me sad. As for being homesick…I think I’ll leave that to another post.
Stay tuned for my next post, where I show you all some of the…um…coisas muito interessantes I’ve come across so far. Like giant oyster phone booths and the most amazing shower attachment I’ve ever seen…
But when I think about monkeys, the ones I’ve seen so far are not the ones I think of. When I think of monkeys I think of chimpanzees, 3 foot high little mountains of mischief and masters of kung foo poo-flinging. They can go from adorably cute little 3 year old-like humans to vicious beasts who will keeeeelyouuuuuuuu faster than a lucky turkey on thanksgiving.
But these are not the monkeys I’ve seen. Well, yet. There’s still a few months to go, and I’m not taking anything for granted.
The monkeys I’ve seen are Capuchin monkeys. In one word: ADORBS. Check it:
Still, I solemnly and with full knowledge of my total and complete lack of objectiveness, find my nephews just a tad bit cuter. Witness:
Stay tuned for further tales of fabulous Brazil! Like how I went to an MMA workout one night in the middle of a crazy scary part of town 8 blocks from where I live and had a fabulous workout that kicked my ass where I had to hold a tire above my head while blocking blows with my legs, and then had a very mellow capoeira class the next day that kicked my ass even more.
I landed in Maceió at nearly 2am this morning, exhausted from a long day of maneuvering through the occasionally mystifying Brazilian bus system from São João da Boa Vista, to Campinas, to São Paolo and Guarulhos Airport. I arrived at the airport with hours to spare, so I went in search of sustenance.
It’s amazing how hungry you can get when you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language. I found myself searching for places where I could just grab something and pay for it, instead of trying to order, then try to understand what was being said to me quickly enough to come up with appropriate responses – half the time I would just nod or say ‘sim’ and hope I got something remotely close to what I was hoping for.
Case in point: I order some cheese bread and a drink: ‘pão con queijo e suco de fruta por favor?’. The cashier asks me a question. I respond ‘Sim’. She looks confused and asks again, and I can tell it’s a ‘do you want [this] or [that]?’ but I understand exactly zero of it. Do you want cheese bread with yummy cheese or cheese bread with the brains of goats? Hungry and confused, I say ‘não entende?’ at which point she reframes the question. Desperate now, I say ‘Sim’ one more time, hoping that she will just take some of my money and give me some bread and juice. I’m starting to feel like the accused before the Spanish Inquisition.
I get bread. No juice. But I detected no goats brains, so I call that a huge win.
I did meet a lovely group of people in the airport while I waited, however. I see what they mean when they say Brazilians are friendly! We chatted (in English, thank the lord) for at least an hour, talking about dogs and kids and travel, and at the end we exchanged email addresses and I was pressed to contact them if I needed anything. Not sure what they could do, as it’s a bit of a big country and I was about to fly 1000 miles away, but still it was a great start to the next part of my stay.
So I arrive in Maceió (emphasis on the last syllable, in case you’re interested) and it’s raining. I chuckle a bit at the irony. Its not raining hard, but everything is wet. My skin looked at the rain and braced for Portland cool air, but no! The air was literally *thick*. Now that is what I call humidity!!! The temperature was in the mid 70’s (which is apparently very cold, I would find out later) so I didn’t feel strange wearing shorts. What did feel strange was that I was the *only one* wearing shorts.
Huh. Well no, wait, there’s an older lady over there wearing shorts too. Ok.
I meet my ride, a very nice taxi driver with my name on a a piece of cardboard who drives me to my host Tania’s house. By now it’s easily 2:30am, so I cringe a bit as he calls her phone outside the door to her apartment parking garage. But she’s up, and lets us in, and is very kind and genial. At this point I would at least try some bread with goats brains for a chance to go to sleep. She shows me to my room, we attempt to stumble (err make that *I* attempt to stumble) through a short conversation about breakfast and bathrooms and then I gratefully collapse on my (very very hard) bed. (I like hard beds, what? I’ve just never lain on one *this* hard!)
A lovely sleep later, and I’m up at 9am. I discover that the letter I had noticed the night before in my room is a letter from the school, Fast Forward, welcoming me and explaining how they specialize not just in language but in cultural immersion, which makes me feel really good about my choice of schools. But let’s get to the good part, I know you’ve all been so good and that you patiently read through all that other crap to get to the pictures…
Tania’s lovely apartment building, complete with stinking cute puppy visitor:
The school where I’ll be portuguesing – 1 block from the apartment, in the opposite direction of the ocean:
My first view of the ocean…2 blocks from the apartment:
A Praia!! 3 blocks from the apartment. THREE. BLOCKS.
I’ll just say this: the sand is the softest I’ve stood in and the water is the warmest Atlantic Ocean water I’ve ever had the pleasure of standing in. And you could wade out for nearly a quarter mile at high tide and it would never get over your head.
I have never been a morning person. Not ever, not no matter how hard I try. But right now, I seriously feel like I *need* to get up at 6am every morning and go for a run on this beach. Will it happen? Who knows! Check back tomorrow and find out. My first day of school starts at 8am tomorrow, and I’m feeling strangely tired even though it’s only 7pm.
Last night I heard a dog yowling in pain, cat fights, and an air raid siren just like the ones out of WWII that made me wonder if I should duck under a table or toss on some camos and start scavenging for food and a good source of alcohol.
There is also of course the familiar sounds of car alarms going off, mopeds passing by, clock ticking, …MOSQUITO BUZZING smash… dammit-I missed. But there are so many stray dogs and cats that I could easily imagine that the dog was seriously injured, or the cats were fighting for their lives. Perhaps against a hungry stray dog, even. And then barking, barking, spreading in waves back and forth across the city, sounding much like two sets of Mel Brooks and Madeline Kahn arguing in the airport in High Anxiety.
Every once in a while, however, I hear sounds I can’t place. I’ve been ignoring those. Must be cats, I tell myself.
Despite the noise, I’ve been sleeping quite well. I am a New Yorker, born and (partly) bred, after all. This is all just a new lullaby to me, who grew up falling asleep to the soft music of sirens, alarms and various people shouting.
But next chance you get, hug your pets. Unless they’re fish, that might not go over so well.
Despite the illustrious start of my three months in Brazil with a mild case of food poisoning from my first class airplane dinner on Sunday night (watch out for the spare rib tips and salmon, my friends), my first full day here had many delightful highlights. Ironically, most of them are food related, so it’s a good thing that I can once again eat food fairly safely. I ate exactly nothing all day Monday. Ugh. Anyway…highlights!
Fresh sugar cane from my sister in law’s mom Celia’s back yard. You put a chunk of the stuff in your mouth, chew it up until all the tasty sweet juice is gone, and then spit out the fibrous remains. It’s surprisingly good for you, considering it’s where much-maligned sugar comes from. And since Celia just chopped it down from her backyard – her BACK YARD, people, which also has a huge MANGO tree and a much smaller papaya tree – it’s absolutely100% delightfully fresh. Here she is preparing chunks for us to eat by peeling off the outside and cutting up the inside:
If you ever want a lucrative money making venture, you can just bring a couple pounds of pistachios or cashews and make some serious bank. Just put it into little dollar bags and stand in a trench coat on the corner: “Psst hey there man, I got some fresh pistachios CHEAP. Only 5 bucks a bag…” Seriously. That tiny little can is more than 10 bucks (21 reais and change, stupid flash got in the way):
Have you ever even seen an avocado this big?! I didn’t believe my sister in law when she said it was an avocado…I took it home to further investigate this preposterous claim:
But the best part of this first week is clear already: Stinking cute nephews! (yeah, that’s a Woody from Toy Story hat in his hand)
Random Brazilian Portuguese fact: Mango in Brazilian Portuguese is manga. That made me giggle just a little bit. Puts a whole new spin on Japanese comics…
Some of you may be wondering what the heck I’m doing, since apparently I neglected to tell you what all this mustering and worrying and planning is all about, exactly. I could try to make up something awesome, but the fact is the truth is awesome enough for all my coworkers to hate me.
After two years of talking about it and saying I was going to do it, after two years of planning and saving money and hoarding vacation time and using my miles debit card for every damn purchase and bill I possibly could (the one bit of silver lining on the fact that I had to purchase not one but two cars this year!! gah!), after nearly 15 years of dreaming about it, I am leaving, on Sunday, for Brazil. I’m spending the first week with my brother and sister-in-law and totally adorable nephews, who are going to be arriving at the same time for a wedding outside of Sao Paolo, and then I will head to a city called Maceio. The banner picture of my blog is from Maceio, but just for the heck of it here’s a few more:
I will spend the next 2 months in Maceio learning Portuguese at a Portuguese language school called Fast Forward. During my third and last month there, I will be participating in their volunteer program, where I will be teaching self defense and martial arts skills to young people of an as-yet-undetermined age for an as-yet-undetermined daily time frame at an as-yet-undetermined location.
My accommodations in Maceio consist of a homestay with a family who speak no English, only Spanish and Portuguese. Total, absolute immersion. Oh, and their apartment is apparently two blocks away from the beach.
I plan on packing scuba gear. I’ve purchased new shorts and tank tops, since I was woefully depleted of both items. I have spray on suntan lotion. I will bring some Oregon wine, some lovely Great Harvest Bakery pumpkin chocolate chip bread, several pairs of sunglasses and one pair of boots. In case I need to kick someone.
And my laptop, of course. Because all you crazy people insisted that I continue to make you all jealous and post lots and lots of pictures. You asked for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I find myself spending more and more time and effort trying to disabuse all my friends, neighbors, coworkers and various other associates of their jealousy of my impending adventure. It seems everyone I talk to who knows about my trip has told me how jealous they are, how amazing it is that I’m taking this trip, or expounds on their physical flexibility when it comes my suitcase. And my response has always been “No! If you knew what I was getting myself into, you wouldn’t be jealous! You’d be as nervous and full of trepidation as I am!”
(Trepidation. Yeah, I used it.)
But today, I started wondering why.
Because today I also realized something. For some reason it’s the fact that others are jealous of me…of ME…that’s been making me all sorts of anxious and so insistent that they are overlooking the seriousness of the situation. I am clearly very uncomfortable with this position. Granted, as far as I know it’s not one I’m accustomed to be in, but I could say that about being able to eat a banana sundae with brownies every day without gaining weight, and I think I’d be able to handle that with no difficulties whatsoever.
Anyway. The fact remains that they haven’t misunderstood the gravity, the significance of this trip – they all understand it perfectly well! They also know just how awesome this trip will be, and are perfectly correct in thinking I’m going to have an amazing experience that I will most likely treasure, and will definitely impact my life in all sorts of ways I haven’t even begun to fathom, which I think is never a bad thing. They know I’m going to eat amazing food, get lots of lovely sun, go swimming in the ocean most every day, meet marvelous new people and work on perfecting my salsa dance moves. It’s me who is starting to frankly get on my nerves and needs a good smack upside the head to get me to stop worrying and start grinning like a silly fool.
“Quit worrying about the trip goddammit. You’re gonna have a great time. You’re gonna be safe. You’ll have no trouble meeting people. Quit downplaying how awesome this is. From now on you should just smile, or nod sadly because they can’t go, or just have them give you their address so you can send them a bonafide Brazilian postcard with a leaf taped to it or sprayed with Brazilian suntan lotion or sprinkled with Brazilian sand or chewed by a Brazilian monkey, instead of being a worrying dumbass.”
“Yeah I got nothing. You’re so right. I *am* a worrying dumbass.”
“Yep. So stop.”
So I’m done. I’m done worrying and downplaying how fabulous this is, and ready to get on with being, as my friends keep telling me, awesome.
As soon as I figure out why having people jealous of me makes me so uncomfortable.