Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rockin' in Rio

According to my internship director, I'm a boss at writing proposals. An original gangster, I think he said. I did a fantastic job with last week's assignment for National Geographic, so now we're just waiting on their official return letter!

Let's see, this is gonna be a Sparknotes entry because I'm super busy and behind schedule with these blog posts. Last Tuesday I ended a long day at school with some intense futsal competition with Gustavo at the apartment complex next door. It was hecka fun and both of us played pretty well. Wednesday was mostly spent writing the proposal, Thursday was school, and Friday was beach exercise and letter writing. On Saturday, the director of my internship rented a recording studio in Botafogo for me and two other program friends. We jammed for five hours on his three guitars and bass, and a professional drummer accompanied us for part of the time. It was SO much fun! We played everything from Johnny Cash to Oasis, Chuck Berry to Los Lonely Boys. It's been a while since I've played electric guitar, so that was sweet. After the studio session, I went back home quickly and got dressed up a bit. I walked to Ipanema and met some friends to confront the pizza rodizio once again. This time we definitely won the battle. I ate about 16 pieces, which was well worth the US$9. Somehow we were able to stand up after a few hours of stuffing ourselves, and we made our way to a housewarming party in Leme. Four girls in the program just moved in to an unbelievable apartment overlooking the beach; it belongs to a family friend of one of the girls, so they're getting it ridiculously cheap. There was loud music, lively conversation, and a table full of food that made me sick to look at for the first couple hours. I knew I was going to stay late, and since Leme is pretty far from Leblon, I just stayed over the whole night with a bunch of other people. We didn't sleep a wink. The sunrise was gorgeous, and I would have been down to take a dip in the ocean if others went, but instead a few of us caught a bus home at 6:30am.

I slept soundly for six hours, woke up, ate lunch, and headed straight back to the beach. I spent Sunday afternoon playing soccer and swimming in the ocean, then watched the second half of the Flamengo-Internacional game and took a bus home. On Monday I met my friend David at PUC to talk about our impending trip. We made some hostel reservations, so now it is totally official. Today we're gonna go to a travel agent to buy our bus and plane tickets, and then we'll be set. The itinerary is basically the same as I described in the last post, except that we'll finish in Porto Alegre for two days before flying back to Rio. We'll just happen to be there on the day of the Gre-Nal (the soccer game between rivals Grêmio and Internacional, the southern equivalent of the Fla-Flu in Rio), so we'll definitely check that out. Monday night I played pick-up soccer for a couple hours, and my team dominated those barefoot 15-year-olds. Haha that doesn't seem like a very big feat, but it is. Trust me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More "EXCELLENT" adventures!

I DID do something big this past weekend, just like I had suspected. Only it wasn't really the result of my independent exploration; all I needed to do was sign a list. More on that in a moment.

Last week was really laid-back, just how I like it. Surprisingly, however, it didn't include a single swim in the ocean! Wednesday and Friday I did my normal beach boardwalk workouts, but that was as close as I got to the water. Tuesday was spent entirely in class. Yes, I met some more Brazilians and found them on Orkut. On Wednesday night we had a Brown-in-Brazil reunion at the Planetarium in front of the university. It was really fun to see everybody again all at once, and the coordinators were thrilled by the leaps and bounds we've made in our Portuguese. While we were hanging out and stuffing our faces with appetizers paid for by Brown University, something crazy happened in the tunnel that passes above the PUC entrance. All of a sudden we noticed that every car was stopped and that people were running out of the tunnel in absolute panic, abandoning their cars and tripping over each other. Everyone at the Planetarium was transfixed on the action. Several police cars showed up, blaring their sirens, but they couldn't get into the tunnel because of all the parked cars. After twenty minutes or so, people started to make their way back to their cars and the traffic cleared. The next morning in the newspaper I read that the panic was caused by an arrastão, literally a "trawl" (that big net fishing boats use to sweep up fish). This is a pretty common and very frightening tactic that thieves use to steal from large groups. Often a bunch of delinquent kids on the beach will run as a pack through the crowds, screaming and grabbing everything they can before disappearing into the city. One of my friends from the program almost got caught in one in Ipanema a few weeks ago, and he said it was terrifying. In the case of the tunnel last Wednesday night, drivers heard what they thought were gunshots, and then saw two motorcycles driving on the shoulder in the wrong direction. The motorists stopped immediately, got out of their cars so they wouldn't be trapped, and ran out of the tunnel. Kinda exciting, huh? Just another form of Brazilian nightlife.

On Friday I played pick-up soccer for a few hours with a couple friends and a bunch of barefoot teenagers. The level of play was pretty good, and I had a blast. One of the kids knew a few English words, and thought it would be funny to shout "EXCELLENT!" after every goal or good move. He was right; it was hilarious! Especially when he got nutmegged playing keeper and all his friends (from BOTH teams) yelled "EXCELLENT!!!"

I spent all of Saturday on a field trip for the international students at PUC. We met on campus at 6:45am and proceeded to fill three buses with 130 sleepy foreigners. The trip was to the Hotel Fazenda Arvoredo, a "leisure farm" two hours outside of Rio in a town called Barra do Piraí. We arrived, ate breakfast, went on a hike through the Atlantic rainforest, paddled a raft with bamboo poles, swam in the pool, ate lunch and then had until 7:30pm to do whatever we wanted. There was a ropes course, horseback riding, a gigantic slip-n-slide, volleyball, billiards, ping-pong, and a grass soccer field with goals and nets. I went straight for the soccer, and that's where I stayed. Fortunately for me, a lot of other guys did the same thing, so we played an 8-a-side tournament for hours. It could have been the World Cup with all those languages and cultures represented! I got home around 11pm and slept as well as I ever have.

Yesterday and today were devoted to indoor intellectual work. I spent a few hours planning my trip to Argentina and Montevideo in October, which is the most exciting type of research on Earth! There are SOOO many places I want to see, but I think I settled on this: bus from Rio to Iguazu Falls, bus from Iguazu to Buenos Aires, ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, daytrips to Colonia and Punta del Este, ferry from Montevideo back to Buenos Aires, daytrip to La Plata, and plane home from Buenos Aires to Rio. Hopefully my friend David will be able to travel with me, and I'm crossing my fingers that I'll get to spend some quality time with friends in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. I'll probably leave October 9th and come back around the 22nd. What about school, you say? Ahem. What about it?

Besides making travel plans, I've also been working feverishly on a new project for my internship with Giros Productions. It is my job, by next Saturday, to write a proposal to National Geographic Television for a $3 million documentary on rainforests. I have a basic proposal in Portuguese that I've translated, and now I need to add some missing elements and spice it up. The idea is that this documentary will coincide with a National Geographic Magazine cover story on rainforests, that it will have its 100-minute premier on the Sunday night before the magazine comes out, and that it will instantly increase global awareness of the need for environmentally sustainable practices in rainforests around the world. You remember how this director told me I was already working for National Geographic when I had my interview? Yeah, now it feels real. Wish me luck! :)

Monday, September 14, 2009


Big news! I found my dream home this week, or at least one of them. Wanna know where? Wanna know how much? Well you're gonna have to read through this entire post, because I'm saving the best for last! (Alternatively, you can just scroll down. Cheater.)

This past Tuesday, just like the Tuesday before that (and the one before that), I had class from 9am until 7pm. Nothing very exciting to report, except that I'm beginning to meet and befriend some of my Brazilian classmates. I already have seven friends on Orkut, the Brazilian version of Myspace. Yeah, so there. Beat that. By the end of this week I bet I'll be in the double-digits!

I spent most of Wednesday writing my first article for the GlobalPost website. This opening assignment was supposed to deal with initial impressions, so mine detailed the hours between stepping off the plane and really realizing I was here in Brazil to stay. The surreal moments leading up to the real moment, so to speak. "And that's when it hit me..." I'm not sure when it will be published, but I'll keep you GlobalPosted.

On Thursday I went to class in the morning, wrote and mailed two long letters during my four-hour break, then watched a sweet documentary about Portuguese language around the world. Did you know that Portuguese is spoken officially in Angola, Mozambique, Guiné-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé e Príncipe (islands off of Nigeria), Goa (India), Macau (China), Timor-Leste (Southeast Asia), the Azores and Madeira (Atlantic archipelagos)? It looks like I really will be able to travel all over the world with Romance Languages!

Friday was beach workout day. I ran from my apartment at the end of Leblon to the top of Arpoador, around 2.5 miles. When I reached the end, I rested a bit and watched the skateboard tournament in the bowl at Arpoador. I don't know the first thing about skating besides the anti-gravity cheat in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater videogame, but even I could appreciate the gnarly-ness of those tricks. On the run home, I stopped at every post to do pull-ups and sit-ups. I'm gonna get sufficiently tanned and ripped just in time to lose it all in Bologna.

You've all been aware of my desire to explore someplace new each week, and on Saturday I ventured across the bay to the charming city of Niterói. I initially planned to just visit the saucer-shaped Museu de Arte Contemporânea designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the same architect who designed the space-age buildings in Brasilia. On the way there, I got enticed by an enormous outdoor market under the freeway across from the ferry station. I wandered for over an hour without seeing everything, feeling like I was back in Mexico. Eventually I caught the ferry and was thrilled to discover that we would pass right by Ilha Fiscal, a castle-like building that used to manage import and export taxes but now serves as a cultural museum. That was one of the places I intended to explore, but now I can cross it off my list!

When we arrived at Niterói's dock, I got deliberately lost for a while in their enormous Saturday street market, then finally found my way back to the beach and walked to my original destination. The Contemporary Art Museum is a little eerie because it's SO out of place. Perched on a cliff (see the photo above) and blinding white, it could be a forgotten prop from a 60s sci-fi movie. I ended up not even entering. Instead, I took lots of spectacular photographs of the outside of the museum, which is undoubtedly the coolest part anyway, then paid a trip to the grocery store for lunch. I ate my nutritious focaccia and wafers on the stairs of my future apartment building, with its beachside views of the museum, Sugarloaf and the Christ statue. Niterói is a tranquil city 45 minutes outside of a crazy city, just the kind of place I'd like to call home. Sitting there in the shade of the afternoon sun, I imagined myself living comfortably with a panorama like that. Especially out the window of a plush million-dollar penthouse. Once I took my fill of photographs, I caught a bus back to PUC and walked home, finishing the perfect day at an all-you-can-eat pizzeria with some friends. Oh, what a life.

Sunday and today were lazy days of drizzling rain and indoor responsibilities. I read the first 185 pages of the 400-page book due for my literature class on Thursday, prepared tomorrow's 10-minute presentation for Portuguese class and managed to write a new song (with lyrics!) on guitar. This coming weekend I'm gonna do something big. I don't know what, but I'm already feeling extra-adventurous! Vamo' ver!

Monday, September 7, 2009

More of the same...

And another week passes, just like that. Today was my 66th day in Brazil, and guess what... It was perfect. I played soccer on the beach and swam in the ocean. I have only 101 more perfect days here in South America before I fly home! Gotta enjoy each and every one to the fullest!

So I did indeed do my fair share of soccer playing and ocean swimming this week- again- but let's just assume that's an uninterrupted pattern and skip ahead to the other stuff. Monday and Tuesday were pretty boring, just class and beach. On Wednesday I had to visit PUC to complete my official course registration and take my student ID photo. Supposedly we'll get our cards this week, which is sweet because students with ID only pay half price for movies, soccer games, plays, concerts, museums, parks, and similar admission-charging venues. A night showing at most cinemas in Rio will now cost me just the student price of R$6, or around US$3! Might have to take advantage of that bargain, huh? Classes on Thursday passed quickly, and I was excited to buy my first book for Brazilian Literature: A Grande Arte by Rubem Fonseca. It's a murder mystery that takes place in Rio de Janeiro; the main character mentions a gym on my street on page 11! I thought that was extremely cool, even though the girl on the treadmill is the assassin's first victim... On Friday I felt adventurous and decided to walk all the way around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in the center of Rio's southern zone. It took me around three hours from start to finish, although I admit I was snapping photographs and working out on the pull-up bars every chance I got. Some of the pictures came out really nice despite the cloud cover and stagnant water (like the one of the Christ accompanying this post!). On Saturday night, Brazil played Argentina in an away World Cup qualifier match. I went to watch it with some friends at an open-air bar in Ipanema, surrounded by die-hard fans that have closely followed Brazilian soccer for at least sixty years each. That's exactly the kind of crowd I like to be a part of for a rivalry matchup like Saturday's! I screamed for each of Brazil's three goals, fell silent when Argentina scored, complained about the referee's calls and ridiculed Argentine legend/coach Diego Maradona every time he appeared on screen. I learned the lyrics of a passionate anti-Maradona anthem and sang along with all my peers. It went like this: "Cheira Maradona, Maradona cheira, cheira Maradona seu amor já foi embora!" ("Maradona smells, Maradona smells, Maradona smells so his lover left him!") It's way more eloquent in Portuguese, trust me. I ended up pulling an all-nighter after the game, chilling at Copacabana Beach and watching a couple movies in a friend's apartment. I finally made it home at 9am, after which I slept until 2pm, Skyped with my family, and wrote a new song on my guitar. Today was Brazilian Independence Day, and because God is Brazilian He turned Sunday's rain into Monday's sun. Since the winter temperature reached a satisfactory 91°F, Ipanema was completely packed with beautiful Brazilians and tourists alike. Needless to say, "I played-----" :D

On the way home from the beach I witnessed two amazing sights. First was a middle-aged woman walking along the street juggling a soccer ball. Since I was walking the same direction anyway, I slowed my pace to watch her. I told myself I would only follow her until the ball hit the ground. Fifteen minutes later, I was still trailing behind her, mesmerized by her incredible skill and slightly upset that I've played soccer my entire life only to have a 50-year-old Brazilian woman unwittingly show me up. Not only was she juggling with her feet, shins, thighs, chest, and shoulders, but she was also stalling the ball on her head and walking normally! After I passed her, sufficiently humiliated, I saw a man on rollerblades do a complete front flip off a curb- on purpose- and land it perfectly! I started clapping, and he gave me a thumbs-up as he skated off in the other direction. Who needs a circus when you have the Ipanema Beach boardwalk?