Sunday, August 30, 2009


I recently realized that if I'm not creative with the way I write up these blog posts, it's quite possible that they'll quickly become repetitive and evoke feelings of resentment instead of excitement in my readers, especially as temperatures in the northern hemisphere start to drop. My blog could very well read like this for the remainder of my time in Brazil:

"Sunday was perfect. I played soccer on the beach and swam in the ocean. Monday was perfect. I played soccer on the beach and swam in the ocean. Tuesday I went to class from 9am-7pm, then ate dinner and went to bed. Wednesday was perfect. I played soccer on the beach and swam in the ocean. Thursday was perfect. I went to class from 9am-1pm, then played soccer on the beach and swam in the ocean. I went back to class from 5-7pm, sandy but content. Friday, Saturday, and today were perfect. I played soccer on the beach and swam in the ocean. Check back next week for more updates on my life in Brazil."

Fortunately for both you and me, I actually did more than that this week! On Monday I had a meeting with the documentary filmmaker with whom I'm going to be interning while I'm here in Rio. He has a number of projects going on right now, but I'll be focusing on a film called "Beyond Babel" that follows language change around the globe. I've been doing fascinating research this week on endangered languages in New Zealand, Alaska, and Ireland, as well as studying how Jacques Derrida's writings on the Tower of Babel remain relevant in the midst of today's culture of globalization. While I was in the meeting, he received a call from National Geographic offering $3 million to make a worldwide special on rainforests. One more project on the table. He's kind of a big deal. On Wednesday I took the metro to the music stores in the center of Rio; two hours later I took the metro back to Zona Sul with a brand new acoustic-electric classical cutaway guitar over my shoulder. I consider it a celebratory gesture to myself for landing two awesome internships in the past two weeks. Now I'm going to spend a few hours each week writing bossa nova songs dedicated to the girls of Ipanema and Leblon. That night, at the urging of my friend David and a British dude named Nick who's staying in David's homestay, I made the spontaneous decision to attend my first professional soccer game at Maracanã Stadium. It started at 9:50pm and featured Rio's two biggest club teams, Flamengo and Fluminense (this particular matchup is called the "Fla-Flu"). The stadium wasn't full by any means, but it didn't need to be. Crazy fans from both teams were flying enormous flags, screaming incomprehensible chants, and banging African drums the entire time. There were illegal fireworks after each of the two goals (it ended in a tie, 1-1), and my voice was long gone by the time I got home at 2:30am. On Friday I spent a few hours catching up on letters and post cards (so if you sent me one, get excited!), and yesterday I spent a few hours exploring Leblon. I found an absolutely amazing nature park ten minutes from my apartment called Parque do Penhasco Dois Irmãos, with hiking trails, a pond, a soccer court, an amphitheater, sculptures, and spectacular panoramic views of the beaches at Leblon, Ipanema, and São Conrado. Apparently it's one of Rio's best-kept secrets, because it was completely empty during the two hours I was there and because nobody I've spoken to has heard of it! I've been feeling adventurous lately, so I'm challenging myself to investigate a new aspect of this marvelous city every week. I'll let you know what I find...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

School, Soccer, and Surprises

I've officially survived my first week as a student at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro. Well, not so much survived as 'blissfully utilized'. I chose my classes, as I described at the end of my last post, to fall only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This might give the impression that I'm not actually going to school down here, and that assumption is not at all unfounded. I don't even feel like I'm going to school. I'm enrolled in four courses total: Brazilian Culture; Contemporary Brazilian Literature; Society, Culture and Cinema; and Portuguese 5. The first three are normal university courses populated by normal (or rather, rich and beautiful) Brazilian students, and the fourth is the highest level language class offered for international students, which will undoubtedly cover advanced grammar and dense intellectual stuff in Portuguese. I've found the general classroom atmosphere a little unsettling here, what with students entering 35 minutes late, chatting during class, and taking only mental notes, if any. The Brown in Brazil program coordinator explained that since the students who attend PUC are generally the richest in Brazil, their sense of entitlement translates into bad manners during class. Hmm. And there are no entitled Harvard students?

There was another crucial decision hanging over my head at the beginning of this week, much more important than my classes. I'd given myself until the beginning of the semester to choose which Brazilian soccer club I'd be supporting while I'm here and forever after. Prior to arriving in Brazil, I had assumed that I'd support Flamengo, the most popular team in Rio whose headquarters are in Leblon. When I arrived, I discovered that my host brother is a die-hard Fluminense fan. Fluminense is Flamengo's biggest rival = dilemma. I decided that for a decision as grave as this, I'd have to do my own research and not just choose arbitrarily. For the past couple weeks, I've been watching highlights from all the different Serie A clubs and reading soccer articles in the newspaper. When I went to São Paulo, I saw Palmeiras jerseys everywhere and knew that God was sending me a message. I decided to support Palmeiras until I die.

*The Top Six Reasons I'm Palmeirense*

1) The club was founded in 1914 by Italian immigrants in São Paulo with the name Società Sportiva Palestra Italia. Their original uniform colors were the Italian red, white, and green. Since I'm studying in Brazil this semester and Italy next semester, Palmeiras is always relevant.

2) Palmeiras is sponsored by Adidas, my favorite athletic brand.

3) It's one of only two Brazilian clubs to lend players to the Brazilian National Team in every World Cup won by Brazil.

4) Palmeiras' nickname is O Verdão, or "The Big Green," my favorite color and one of my favorite movies.

5) The club's biggest rivals are Corinthians and São Paulo FC, two teams everyone in Rio loves to hate.

6) Palmeiras is not a huge rival of either Fluminense or Flamengo, so I won't get kicked out of my homestay and I won't lose my friends.

A couple surprises marked the end of this week. The first was the rapid drop in temperature and accumulation of rainclouds between Wednesday and Thursday. My daily beach visits have had to stop the past few days, and I've traded a soccer ball for an umbrella. The second surprise was much more welcome. Several weeks ago I applied to work as an Abroad Correspondent for GlobalPost, an online international news journal. I didn't hear back from them for a while, so I just assumed I hadn't been chosen. Wrong! I received an email yesterday morning congratulating me on having been selected out of over one hundred competitive applicants to write monthly articles on Brazilian culture and daily life. They're going to follow up with the details, but for now I'm content just knowing that my writing is taking me places! My dream to write for National Geographic seems closer every day. And speaking of National Geographic, this week I was asked to do some linguistic anthropology research for the documentary filmmaker I mentioned in the last post, the one who's produced works for National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, etc. He moved yesterday's meeting to Monday, but was extremely impressed with my work and is eager to discuss internship possibilities for the remainder of the semester. Once I figure out the days and hours of this internship, I hope to contact one of the NGOs I met at the Networking Night and become involved in some sort of volunteer work here in Rio. School seems like it's quickly becoming secondary (or tertiary?), but I've realized over the years that serious learning often occurs best outside the classroom. I'm making the most of my Brazilian experience, and I'm loving every second of it!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Everything's bigger in São Paulo

I need to begin this post with a confession. My *impeccable* Italian from last summer is going, going, almost gone. What a shameful experience at the Italian consulate last Monday... I was speaking 60% Portuguese and 40% Italian, which wouldn't have been so bad except for the fact that the director assumed I spoke as fluently as I write! They didn't have any specific tasks for me, but we discussed the possibility of me translating their website into English in exchange for free enrollment in one of their advanced language courses, so that I can maintain whatever scraps I have left. Vediamo. I'm not sure whether it would be better to focus only on Portuguese and then try to recall my Italian when I arrive in Bologna in January, or to practice both at the same time and possibly become uniquely fluent in Italuguês.  

After that consulate experience, the networking night was an astounding success. I made great contacts with several non-governmental organizations, a Newsweek journalist, and an award-winning National Geographic filmmaker. The filmmaker is working on a four-hour series called "Beyond Babel" which will trace language transformation around the world and involve trips through all seven continents. I'm supposed to meet with him this Friday at his office (crossing my fingers for something sweet!).

At midnight on Tuesday I caught a bus with a friend to São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, in the Americas, and in the entire Southern hemisphere. Nearly 20 million people live in the metropolitan area alone, with another 9 million in the outskirts of the city. It's pretty big. I knew I wasn't gonna be able to see everything in three days, but I'd say we did surprisingly well! After arriving around 6:30am on Wednesday, we took a taxi to Gabriela's grandma's apartment and crashed for a couple hours. Around 10am some cousins swooped us up and showed us around the enormous Mercado Municipal, the wild "25 de março" flea market, the sprawling Parque Ibirapuera (= Central Park), and the disappointing Museum of Image and Sound. We returned home at 8pm and enjoyed Dona Isa's dinner of cooked fish and vegetables, after which we went to bed, exhausted from lack of sleep the night before. On Thursday some other cousins picked us up, served us lunch, then brought us to Shopping Aricanduva, the largest mall in Latin America. I didn't buy anything, but it's cool to say I've been there, right? At night we went to Dunas Bar, a popular Arab-Brazilian hangout with live music and belly dancers. I had açaí juice with condensed milk- OH BABY! Jamba Juice could learn a thing or two from Brazil. Friday was more of the same with more cousins: visits to the Museum of Portuguese Language (two thumbs WAY up!), Liberdade, Praça da Sé, cathedrals, theaters, malls, etc. Liberdade is the Japantown of São Paulo, with the largest Japanese population anywhere in the world outside of Japan, and the Catedral Metropolitana in the Praça da Sé is the largest in São Paulo, with a capacity of over 8000 people. Moral of the story: everything's bigger in São Paulo. That night we went out to a friend's birthday party in Vila Madalena, one of the nightlife centers of the city. Since we had to leave at 10am the next morning, we only stayed out until around 3am. Paulistas normally stay out until 9am- yes, they're crazier partiers than cariocas. We caught the bus back to Rio and I was in my apartment by 7pm, tired but content.

Yesterday was absolutely unbelievable. Since classes started up again for everyone today, I suppose God wanted to give us one last perfect day. Everyone and his mother hit the beach, including me. I arrived at Posto 9 in Ipanema after church, around 1pm, and spent the next five straight hours playing soccer and bodysurfing. You know those pictures of packed Brazilian beaches where you can't even see the sand because of all the people? That was yesterday, and it was glorious. Eventually my friend David and I dragged ourselves off the beach and feasted on kabobs while watching Grêmio massacre Flamengo 4-1 in his apartment. We jammed on guitar for a while, and then I walked home. Three of the four other guitarists in the program have purchased guitars here already, and every time I play one I miss having my own. They're cheaper here than in the US, so I think I'm gonna give in and buy an acoustic-electric this week or next.

Since I only have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my first day isn't until tomorrow. I have four-day weekends EVERY weekend, not to mention free Wednesdays. And I'm in Rio de Janeiro. Jealous much? 

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Quando eu penso na Bahia

Salvador, Bahia. Been there, done that. It was fantastic, but I'm glad to be back in Rio. Allow me to begin from the very beginning: We flew into Salvador last Saturday, August 1st, around 5pm. We had the great fortune to arrive at the exact same time as the São Paulo soccer team, who was in town to play a match against Bahia's Vitória FC. Since São Paulo is one of the most popular clubs in Brazil, we were met by a screaming throng of boisterous fans as we exited the airport. Now I know what it's like to be a professional soccer player, so I can check that one off the list. The ever-jovial Fred Bomsucesso, Bahian tour guide extraordinaire, met our group outside the airport and herded us into a bus to our hotel.

Give me a moment to praise our accommodations. We stayed at the Hotel Tropical da Bahia, arguably the most luxurious hotel in the state. It was even good enough for Angela Davis, the famous civil rights activist who sat next to me at breakfast every morning for the entire week. Swimming pool, exercise room, three fresh self-service meals per day, chic dance club, convention center, and all the subtitled horror films you could ever need right at your fingertips. Saturday night we were tired from traveling, so we just stayed in and relaxed by the pool with a large group of Californians from a UC Davis study abroad program. I was proud of my ability to pick them out as Californians before I even heard them speak. Sho nuff, they were. Hella cool.

On Sunday we hopped on the bus and traveled to Praia do Forte, a touristy beach town home to a ruined castle and Projeto TAMAR, a project that protects endangered marine life native to Bahia (especially turtles). I played lots of beach volleyball and bodysurfed in the ocean, then went swimming with a program friend in the freezing hotel pool when we got back to Salvador. Throughout the week we attended lectures on everything from race relations and national cinema to candomblé religion and Bahian samba. I especially liked the capoeira class and the forró tutorial (the forró dance is pretty much Mexican banda).

Remember what I wrote in the last post about visiting the nicest restaurant ever? That whole red light, green light deal? Yeah, the Brown in Brazil program outdid itself again. We ate at a churrascaria in Salvador called "Boi Preto" that was more ridiculously expensive and varied than Barra Brasa in Rio. The buffet included caviar and strawberry sushi, and the filet mignon was to die for (literally, some cow gave its life to pleasure my palate). Nothing else was planned for that evening, or the morning after- that's an indication of how much you're expected to eat at a churrascaria, especially one that costs R$80 to enter.

Tuesday was a day for city exploration and money spending. I went with some friends to the Mercado Modelo, an immense indoor souvenir market at the foot of the Elevador Lacerda, which connects the lower and upper parts of Salvador. I bought a classy black t-shirt decorated with a colorful sketch of Pelourinho, the historic center of the city. We spent the evening learning capoeira from a world champion named Jair Oliveira de Farias (Mestre Sabiá) at Ginga Mundo, an organization dedicated to teaching youngsters respect, responsibility and- of course- how to pretend to beat the s*&# out of anyone.

We spent Wednesday in Cachoeira, an historic city considered a national monument for its role in the formation of the Bahian economy (sugar, cotton, tobacco, gold) and cultural development (center of candomblé, a syncretic African religion). Along the way we made a stop at an MST encampment (Movimento Sem Terra, or Landless Movement), which was really intriguing. A disheveled man called Chileno told us in thick Portunhol about MST's efforts to instigate land reform in Brazil, where just 3% of the population owns two-thirds of all arable lands. He warned us to watch the news tomorrow morning (Monday, August 10) because MST members are planning to occupy the federal courthouse in Brasilia. "I'm always willing to die for the MST," he declared. "I hope I won't have to, but I'm willing."

After escaping Chileno's socialist tirades we made our way to the Fazenda Santa Cruz for a delicious lunch overlooking the Paraguaçu River, followed by a visit to the Dannemann cigar factory and art gallery. The rolling green hills reminded me so much of Sonoma County! Skipping ahead- we drove back to Salvador, went out seeking entertainment in Pelourinho only to fail miserably, and fell asleep around 2am. On Thursday we had a race relations lecture in the morning, dance class in the afternoon, and then group volleyball/cannonball practice in the hotel pool until we could no longer bear the cold.

Friday was a marvelous day from start to finish. We attended a lecture on Afro-Brazilian religions in the morning and then visited a favela NGO called Grupo Cultural Bagunçaço that teaches kids music, computer literacy and film production. I had a blast playing percussion with them and laughing at their hilarious music videos. I could definitely see myself dedicating some time to something honorable like that. From the favela we drove to the Museu de Arte Moderna, where we took gorgeous pictures along the beach as the sun was setting. At night the group went to watch a balé folclórico performance in Pelourinho, but I stayed behind because I was waiting to hear back from Juliana, a Brazilian friend of an Italian hostel owner I met last summer in Calabria. Talk about global networks, huh? She picked me up from the hotel around 11pm and we went to a hole-in-the-wall club called Borracharia in the Rio Vermelho neighborhood. We danced to James Brown and Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Brazilian reggae all night and into the wee hours of the morning. I won't tell you exactly what time I got back to the hotel, but birds were chirping and the doorman said "Good morning."

I slept until 11am, packed up, ate lunch, pretended to play snooker in the game room with a friend, and checked out of the palace. We caught our plane back to Rio de Janeiro and all went our separate ways. I fell asleep early, but not before reading the postcards that came during the week from friends in London, Australia, France, and China. It's crazy that I know so many other kids on similar adventures around the world. We are truly blessed.

Today was a day for rest and relaxation at home. I caught up on emails, wrote in my journal, and read the entire newspaper. The first day of classes was postponed until NEXT Monday because of the swine flu, so I have a completely free week! Tomorrow I have an interview with the director of the Italian consulate in Rio to discuss a possible internship for the next five months, followed by a "Networking Night" for the participants of the Brown in Brazil program to meet with organizations and- surprise!- discuss internship opportunities. We are movers and shakers, are we not? On Tuesday I might travel to São Paulo for the rest of the week, or if I'm daring, to Buenos Aires. I love freedom. Check back soon for updates!