Thursday, September 30, 2010

The U.S. in Brazil

Traveling outside the United States for the first time I expected everyone I met to be intimately familiar with U.S. current affairs and politics and to immediately quiz me about these subjects and share their opinions on these topics as soon as they learned I was from the US. Being a naive American this did not, of course, happen at all. By no means was it only an effect of social class either. From our well educated instructors and my college educated host family to the kids in the favela and random people we conversed with on the street, the fact that we were American was taken in stride as if we announced our favorite flavor of ice cream. It was no more interesting than any other of the introductory facts people collect upon meeting (name, age, profession, etc). Yet we had not totally escaped the influence of American culture. The McDonald's in Centro and Botafogo shopping had lines longer than other restaurants around them and people sported American brands like Hollister and America Eagle on a day to day basis. Antonio, one of my professors at BridgeBrazil, explained that Brazilians were enamored with American pop culture but wary of the military might that the US was known to throw around. As Brazil is a land rich in natural resources there is some fear that the US will one day decided that they have a right to the clean water, wood, and other goods in Brazil and simply occupy the country or take these things by force. Not being a military strategist I have no idea if this is actually feasible but I can imagine such thought among the Brazilian population do not bode well for US/American relations. In a time when the world is so globally connected it makes the most sense for the United States to forge friendships more frequently than it makes enemies. While ideally every nation would live in perfect harmony with one another we must be realistic about which countries we take on as allies. The especially powerful Brazil as well as our other South American neighbors should be a priority as the nearest source of ideas and resources and possibly threats. Positive, educated relations between countries should always be a priority and I hope to help foster this relationship with an understanding of language and culture and a desire to bring countries together.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

At the Movies

One of the first movies we saw in Brazil was Toy Story 3. After hearing rave reviews from my friends back home as a 'must-see' we jumped on the metro to Botafogo shopping, an 8 or so level shopping mall with the theater on the topmost floor. Passing the food court and seeing the longest line for food was at McDonald's we decided to check out the Brazilian version of movie. We were able to pick our exact seat in the theater when buying our ticket, which probably cut down on customer unhappiness with seats right near the screen. Popcorn and soda were standard issue behind the counter and there were also hot dogs like the ones at the soccer game. Halls cough drops made an appearance in the candy section, as they did at the impromptu street side candy stands alongside Serenata de Amores (hazelnut and chocolate candies) and Pacoquitas (a kind of peanut candy). Toy Story 3 was offered with subtitles as well as dubbed and we opted for subtitles to compare the English with the translated Portuguese. There were a few jokes that didn't translate into Portuguese well, where Rita and I were the only two laughing in the theater. On the whole though, our fellow Brazilian movie-goers chuckled, gasped and probably got a little misty-eyed at the same times we did. Even though an animated movie is probably the most commercial use of translation, it did remind us that no matter how perfect a translation between words is, there are some cultural references that are difficult to capture without an intimate knowledge of pop culture and hard to translate without a clumsy footnote (or not at all in the case of a movie). This reminded me that a future in translation and interpretation would be more than just memorizing a dictionary.

Our next foray to the movies, a movie festival in fact, occurred after we were turned away from the Teatro Municipal for improper attire. We had gone on a whim and unfortunately I was wearing a pair of flip-flops and even though they sported the Brazilian flag, the theater did enforce a dress code. Luckily, write across from the theater in the plaza at Cinelandia there awas a movie theater. Featured at the Animundi film festival was Mary and Max. Although it was a fantastic piece of claymation cinema we were a bit disappointed to still have not yet seen a movie in Portuguese. Thus on our next trip to the theater we specifically chose a Portuguese language film. After an inspection of the Arts and Entertainment section of O Globo, we chose Viajo porque preciso e volto porque te amo (I Travel Because I Need to and I Come Back Because I Love You). It sounded a bit romantic and visually pleasing at it was set in the Nordeste do Brasil (which we had planned on visiting but steep flight tickets changed our minds). Sitting in the theater and watching a movie in Portuguese with no subtitles whatsoever I felt quite pleased with what I had learned as I picked out common phrases and words I had learned in class during the movie. Even though it was great to practice my listening comprehension, after an hour or so the movie became quite tiresome and a bit desolate. The Nordeste looked dry and barren and the protagonist was hard to like because of his multiple trysts while away from his girlfriend/wife whom he had plaintively pined for at the beginning of the movie. While the movie would get 4 stars for helping me practice my Portuguese, in terms of cinematic merit it would rank pretty low.

Thoughts on samba and Bahian food

While having attended two live samba shows doesn't make me an expert by any means, I have come to the conclusion that there is not one but many ways to dance samba.
My first samba experience was on a Monday night in Centro. There was a tarp held up by poles set up where 4 streets came together in a small plaza and beneath it were a group of musicians seated on folding chairs. Someone had set up shop a few feet away with big coolers full of cold drinks. People crowded around the band to hear them play samba and clapped and sang along energetically. As we moved in to listen we were befriended by the people standing around us and when we asked them to teach us how to samba each person showed us something different, from a complicated to a very simple step. One man said the women dance samba like they're squishing a cockroach with their toe while the men step on the imaginary cockroach with their heel. Everyone was moving their feet in a different manner but I think it's all considered samba if the music is.
Looking around at all the feet around me in Carioca da Gema (in Lapa) I noticed everyone was doing something different. Some people were moving their feet quickly, some slowly, some with a lot of hip and knee action, and some people were just barely shuffling their feet.
Also worth mentioning is that before heading over to Carioca da Gema we ate at a super tasty, very pricey Bahian restaurant. Bahia is a state to the north of Rio known for the particularly strong African influence in its culture. A traditional Bahian woman would dress in a white dress and wrap up her hair in a sort of white turban also, the proprietress of the restaurant we visited, Yorubá, was dressed just so. One dish consisted of cakes fried in palm oil covered with a bean paste and filled with shrimp and chopped tomatoes and onions. Another dish was a kind manioc/potato type flour boat filled with crab paste. Then we had a creamy seafood dip on a starchy vegetable. I can't remember all of the ingredients but it was delicious. Since we didn't get to make it over to Bahia I'm glad we got to sample a bit of the delicious cuisine.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Maracanã and Flamengoooooolllll!!

A few weeks back we saw Flamengo take on Botafogo in the largest futebol stadium in South America, the Maracanã. Rio´s most popular teams include Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminese, and Vasco. Matches between local futebol teams were put on hold after the World Cup but after the final they resumed and a big group from school got tickets. We ended up getting there about an hour and a half before the game started and the stadium was relatively empty. We sat near the middle of the field although it became apparent as the game started that the real fun was on either side of the stadium, which were where the torcedors for Flamengo and Botafogo were, respectively. I chose to cheer for Flamengo since that was where I lived and we were surrounded by a fair amount of Flamengo fans too. The fans from each side had huge banners that were about 20 seats long and hung over the railing proclaiming the name of their fan club. They also waved gigantic flags throughout the game, some with team colors and others with caricatures of players. When the game was about to start each side lit up about 20 or so flares and waved them around. I have no idea how this isn't a fire hazard but Fogo had white ones and Flamengo red. Each side started up chants at various times throughout the game although it was hard to make out what exactly they were saying. I'm pretty sure Flamengo had the majority of a brass section too, as we could make out a few horns playing When the Saints Come Marching In during the game.

The game was fast paced and there were plenty of moments where we thought we were about to score or were worried Fogo would. The man sitting behind us kept exclaiming a certain phrase when the opponent was about to score so we learned a useful insult. Luckily the goalie for Flamengo was blocking all of Fogo´s shots. We took a walk around the stadium after the first half to drink in the industrial concrete grandness that is Maracanã. It´s not necessarily pretty and really just utilitarian. It´s oval shaped, open air, and huge. On our stroll we ran into a man wearing a white robe, iridescent wig, angel wings, halo, and Flamengo scarf (thanks to Boris for the pic). The Flamengo angel was clearly good luck because in the second half Flamengo scored and half the stadium was on its feet cheering for a good 5 minutes or so and more red flares were lit. The Botafogo fans were silent and only a few more chants from their side started. The game ended 1-0 and the Flamengo fans left happy.

Interestingly, the food served at futebol games is the same as that served at an American baseball game, namely hot dogs, peanuts and soda. The hot dogs come in individual pre packaged servings with a packet of mustard, ketchup, and a little baggy of fried potato sticks to put on the dog. Soda consists of Coke, Coke Zero, some type of lemon-lime soda and of course guaraná. Wikipedia tells me Guaraná Antartica "... is the second best-selling soft drink brand in Brazil, behind only Coca-Cola, and absolute leader in its segment. Currently, it is one of the 15 best-selling soft drink brands in the world." It's fizzy and vaguely reminiscent of ginger ale except with a stronger, fruitier flavor. Guaraná is an Amazonian berry that is in all types of foods from soft drinks and juice to jelly. It has been eaten by indigenous peoples forever and I believe has a fair amount of caffeine in it too.

Long overdue! Churrascaria/Lanchonete/Por kilo (the food post)

Since it's been so long since I've written here (sorry!) I picked a random topic to begin with. The churrascaria. In a nutshell it is an all you can eat meat buffet (steak, sausage, chicken, pork, turkey, roast beef) accompanied by a buffet of salads, pasta, veggies, fruits, and in the case of Carretão, sushi too. Could eating out get any better than this? Nope. It was Ramin´s last weekend in Rio so on Friday at school we all decided to meet up at Carretão. It's a very nice restaurant, white table cloths and real napkins (this is a nice change of pace from the lanchonete napkins of thin plastic which I will describe in a bit). Everyone pays R$35 for the basic buffet setup and drinks and desserts are extra. We walk past the buffet to our table and see they´ve set out various types of pasta dishes, vegetable and fruit salads. Once we sit down we get small plates of bread, french fries and onion rings as well as a red/green card per person. The red side has Não Obrigado (No thank you) written on it and the green had Sim (Yes) written on it and the idea was you turned it to whichever side expressed your desire for more meat.

And then it began. A never ending parade of waiters carrying various types of carne. Some had sizzling plates of steaks, but most had a large metal spear with a giant chunk of meat on it that they would plop on your plate. They would then whip out their handy knife to slice off as much as you wanted. It was wonderful. The waiters were even nice enough to pose for a picture since I had hijacked Sarah´s camera (will get the pics when she posts them). After eating far too much we all had to sit for a bit and let our food settle before we waddled out of the restaurant.
Aand now after writing that I'm hungry...

After mentioning our trip to a churrascaria to our professor at school she informed us that chances were the restaurant was owned by someone from the Sul do Brasil. Southerners are known as gauchos and stereotyped as being unable to live without churrrasco (meat cooked on a spit) or a type of strong tea. That day we also learned about some of the stereotypes brasileiros have about each other. The carioca (someone from the city of Rio de Janeiro, as opposed to fluminese who is someone from the state of Rio de Janeiro) is supposed to be fun loving and lazy, only wanting to go to the beach. The paulista (from São Paulo, Brasil's commerce capital) is a workaholic who only cares about money and doesn't know how to have fun. The mineiro (from Minas Gerais) is stingy and hardly ever says what is on their mind. Of course these are just stereotypes since for example, our professor Cristiane, who is a carioca, doesn´t really care for the beach or samba that much.

Coming back to the rare cloth napkins I mentioned earlier and the topic of the lanchonete. The lanchonete is basically a snack place that specializes in a few types of salgados (which literally means salty things but in general is just fried snacks) but that also serves 75 million types of juice, from the mundane strawberry and orange to exotic fruit only found in Brazil like graviola and fruta de conde. Typical salgado varieties include a baked hot dog in a croissant, a pastry dough filled with cheese, a pastry with cheese and ham, and a few types of chicken pastries. Once upon inquiring about the tipos de salgados a small lanchonete had I was informed that they had frango, presunto com queijo, queijo, frango, e frango (as you remember frango is chicken). I chuckled at the ever present frango and ordered the presunto (ham). Salgados are around R$3 and a perfect quick snack. At most lanchonetes people just stand for the few minutes it takes them to eat their salgados and drink their suco (juice) but there are usually tables and chairs too. So far in terms of exotic Amazonian fruits I have tried and liked fruta de conde and graviola although I've made a list of other fruits I need to try and will hopefully be crossing those off soon. In Rio you are guaranteed to have at least 2 lanchonetes per block anywhere in the city. They stay open late and open early so the carioca is never without a salgado and suco. It is impossible to be hungry for long with at least R$3 in your pocket because you are constantly surrounded by cheap lanchonetes and popcorn, churro, boiled corn, and toasted peanut carts. (The picture of Big Nectar, a popular lanchonete chain, is from here)

Continuing on the subject of food, I don't know if I've mentioned how many por kilo restaurants there are in Rio. If there are 2 lanchonetes per block there is at least one por kilo restaurant per block. The fancier the por kilo place, the more expensive it is por kilo but you can get a decent amount of food for R$10. Upon entering a por kilo restaurant you get a ticket and after you get your food your plate is weighed and the price calculated, which then ends up as a sticker on your ticket. Then you sit down and a waiter comes by to take your drink order and mark your ticket as per your order. At the end of your meal you take your ticket to the cashier and they calculate your bill. Losing your ticket means paying upwards of R$50 so it's best to keep track of the little slip of paper. There has been talk of attempting to load up a plate with more than R$50 of food and then purposefully losing one's ticket but no one has attempted it yet.

Cute video of a good song we listened to in class.
Brazilian reggae I'm listening to right now. Natiruts is pronounced "Na - chee - hoots" and reggae is "heggae" since sometimes (not always) the 'r' is transformed into an 'h' sound in Brazilian Portuguese. Also rock = "hocky" and hip-hop is "hippy hoppy".

Monday, July 12, 2010

Teaching English

A friend of mine had been teaching for about two weeks at the school so she warned me about what to expect at Meninos Solar de Luz, the school BridgeBrazil partnered with. There was little to no organization, certainly no lesson plan, and in general we had no idea what level of English the kids were at. Meninos Solar de Luz is in a favela near Ipanema and is considered one of the 'nicer' favelas. The local police, as opposed to drug traffickers, control the favela although it looks just like the other favelas that dot the hills in Rio. In general we taught 3 classes per afternoon, generally in English, once in Spanish, and once we tutored two girls in English. My first day teaching I was introduced to about 30 elementary school-aged children and then left alone with instructions to "teach English." The only book I had on me was my Portuguese textbook so I repeated the lesson we had learned in class except instead of teaching the lesson in Portuguese I taught it in English. Getting and holding the students' attention was a challenge, but was a lot easier when Rita and I taught as a team. There were about 5 students who were interested in what we had to say and asked questions and offered answers. Otherwise the rest of the class was deaf to our calls for silence and we soon found out that the concept of raising one's hand to ask a question was pretty much unknown. To be fair to the students neither Rita nor I had ever taught in a classroom setting or been given instruction on how to hold the attention of a group of energetic students, so there were probably things we were doing wrong too. Nevertheless, we taught the kids who were eager to learn the names of clothing items to how to describe the weather and various animals.

I had another friend at BridgeBrazil who was in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) program and she also taught English to native Portuguese speakers. Except in her case her audience was adults who paid for classes, obviously more attentive than the rambunctious kids who would rather be playing outside that we had. Still, the school's willingness to let us teach (and gratefulness after we did) reminded me that knowing English is a powerful tool and for some of the kids at Meninos Solar de Luz could be their ticket out of a life of poverty.

Sunday, July 11, 2010