Mutirao Varzea

And to continue this theme of lasts, the last mutirão de graffiti that we attended was in Varzea. Varzea is an interesting neighborhood near the federal university here in Recife (UFPE). Pixote and his group Novo Geração were in charge of organizing and welcoming everyone to their neighborhood. We had been there before a long time ago to hang out with Pixote and his family and paint graffiti. As evidence, our old piece was still up (horror of horrors). Yes, it was bad, and I am not saying that I have gotten much better, but looking at the really old stuff shows evidence of slight improvement (or maybe just better color choice). I think it might have been one of the first times I used spray paint, before that point, I was only using brushes.

It has been amazing to have participated in the Mutirão for the past 2 1/2 years and seen all of the different phases of the Rede and the different communities that participate in the Rede de Resistência Solidaria. In the entire time we have been here, they have only repeated one neighborhood, and that community is so big it was in a completely different part.

The mutirão had a lot going on and many more people involved from outside of the graffiti scene. One group set up a pirate radio, Radio Livre, at the main area, other people brought fruit seeds and soil to plant trees with the kids in the area, and another group attempted to organize the kids to paint a wall (I have written previously about my attempt to do that in the past!). It was interesting to have all of these different activities going on, because it took the mutirão past the idea of just showing up in the community to paint to a real community action day. I will admit that in the beginning, I was very skeptical about what the Rede was really doing and about the purpose of the mutirão—it seemed like it was just an opportunity to go out and paint with your friends in a somewhat organized fashion. I was constantly questioning whether going to paint people's houses in the communities really leads towards community self-sufficiency, but over time, I have come to understand more about how the Rede works and the effect it has on the communities and on the participants. By bringing a group of people from different communities in Recife, people get to know each other and their city. It challenges the idea that you stay in your own community and don’t interact with people from other areas. The more we met other people and see where they live, that more we realize that we are all in the same situation and working for the same goals. By organizing an event like this, it strengthens the relationships the various groups have in their community and makes the group more visible. People come out of their houses and ask what is going on and that creates a great opportunity to talk to people.

I really treasure all of the time I have spent going to different communities in Recife and talking to all of the people about their lives. I have been to more placed in Recife than most people who live here and have been to the "dangerous" neighborhoods and have seen first hand the reality versus the media image. I have seen various groups that are part of the Rede really grow and become more self-sufficient and organized. They are now producing materials, creating music, organizing workshops and are educators in their own communities. Nova Geração is a great example of a group that is organized and involved in their community. The Mutirão also shows people that there are alternatives and possibilities outside of the expected and the routine. My friend always says that Sundays in the communities are either about church or brega and beer. There aren't a lot of alternatives. The fact that the mutirão is always on Sundays breaks that routine--just like having an event in the street during the 8 o'clock soap opera. It makes people do something a little different. People come out of their houses, mix in the streets, and talk to people that they normally wouldn't take a second look at. Most of the time there are very positive results and many people who aren’t interested in the two Sunday options come out in the street to talk. Of course, there is always a few drunk old guys wandering around full of cana and stories.

It is always interesting to see what will happen when you show up and last Sunday really highlighted this culture clash between brega and beer, and something different. The DJ booth and microphone area were set up on one side of the soccer field directly in front of a little stand that normally serves as the local bar on Sunday. Everyone was back there drinking and listening to brega on a car stereo throughout the day, but there came a point when a midwife group from the community was talking on the microphone and the brega kept getting louder and louder. One woman in particular pulled up her shirt, beer in hand, and started bumping and grinding in a way that was almost a challenge. It really felt like as a group they were saying, "This is OUR place, and this is what WE do on Sunday." I can see how it would almost feel like an invasion and a challenge to the people doing what they normally do. All of the sudden this giant group of people show up in your community and start playing their music and talking about what they want. Of course, the community is welcome to participate and that is a main part of the mutirão, but it is asking people to participate in a very different way. The situation was handled graciously, but I definitely felt the resentment (probably provoked by beer) by the people wanting their typical Sunday beer and brega.

Aside: One of the things I most admire about Brazil is how people deal with confrontation. People are gracious in ways that I am always surprised by. I can't count how many times that I have been in a situation that would definitely have led to a fight, raised voices, cries to talk to the manager in the United States that have been resolved here with a smile and a thumbs up. Twice in the past week I have watched difficult situations resolved with humor, tact and consideration for both points of view--something I consider very rare in the place (and people) of my land.


Another last

Yesterday was my last day of work. It was strange and left me feeling a little empty. Most people had already gone on vacation, the library was closed, and everything felt deserted. I think I saw about 7 people when on a normal day it would be more like hundreds.

I am so glad that a few of the teachers organized a party for me last week. It would have been devastating to end yesterday without that last chance to see everyone. The party itself was very sad because all of the sudden it really felt final. Up until that point I had been in complete denial about my eminent departure and then as I walked in the room everyone sang a little song about leaving (that I had never heard before, but there was mention of saudades) and I immediately started crying.

There was a lot of typical food from Sao Joao (corn based), and other typical sweets from this area (bolo de rolo, bolo de mandioca, beiju, etc.) It never ceases to amaze me that you can make so many different things out of cassava/manioc root. It is really limitless. You can have an entire full course meal here made out of nothing but manioc, but that is another post.

It felt good to turn in my final work project and turn to the new project of taking apart the rest of my life here.



The rainy season in Recife is something a desert girl cannot get used to. It takes your breath away, fills the streets, and signals retreat. There are times when I can't hear the person I am talking to on the phone because of the rain. We have to shut all of the windows and doors and still can't hear the music from the stereo. The rainy season has made some appearances this year but hasn't shown us all of its force--it saves that for July.

About two weeks ago as I was getting out of class, Sam showed up at work and handed my a pair of flip flops and an umbrella. "You are gonna need these to get home," he said. True enough, it was mid-shin deep in many places. It is hard not to think of the raw sewage as you are wading through the streets. There is also something I call "the rat pee disease" (because I can't remember the real name) that comes from wading through sewage water. A great thought as you are trying to get home. I guess it is nothing that a shower and a mantra can't take care of , "I am not walking through sewage, I am not walking through sewage." Ahhh, Venice, of Brazil that is!

Luckily there have been few days like this so far, but then again, it is only July 1st.


The Slow Surgery of Leaving

The last day of teaching is the beginning of many "lasts" that will happen in the next month. My friend said it perfectly today, "You spend all of this time constructing a life, and then you have to take it apart." That is how I feel right now; I am slowly beginning to dismantle pieces of my life. Student removal was the first big piece that was taken apart yesterday. It is so strange to have people that have become so intertwined with your life (for better or for worse) just look at you and walk out the door. I always feel a little empty and unfulfilled. I feel like I need to get something back from them that they have been taking from me all semester.

Maybe the whole process is like a slow surgical procedure, and the monkey on my back has just been removed. After the grades are in the system, the projects finished, and the last day of work completed, the rocks bearing down on my shoulders will be removed. After two weeks of frantic scrambling to sell everything, deal with unbelievable bureaucracy, and saying goodbye to everyone I know here, the pits will be taken from my stomach. And finally, when I get on the plane, little pieces of my heart will be shredded and left with the people I care about and a dirty smelly city that I came to love.


Bird Graffiti

I haven't written much about the mutirões lately or painting graffiti, but I have been painting a lot lately. I have spray paint all over the outer edges of my finger nails to prove it. It has been fun and I have been a lot less anxious, but I always end up worrying about what to paint. I haven't been drawing lately, so I have been painting birds. Strange birds. Colorful birds. Girly colored birds

And the thing is, I don't really like birds.



We have been renting (or chipping in) on a beach house in Enseada dos Corais since January and it is about to come to an end. We had a great New Years there with lots of friends that involved an 8 hour game of Risk, whiskey, other card games, churrasco, and of course, beach. It was a great way to spend another birthday and my friend made me a cake. It had been a long time since someone made me a birthday cake.

It takes anywhere from an hour and a half to two and a half hours to get there depending on how quickly you catch the three buses. Sometimes it is like a perfectly timed dance where you get off one bus as the other pulls up, and sometimes you are left standing in a bus station smelling of piss for what is always too long. Recently they have added a direct bus on the weekends that runs once an hour from the center of Recife--great when the dance works! We have been going there on and off since January, but unfortunately we have trouble getting out of town due to a) dogs b) work c) dogs. We have a few lovely house sitters, but it is difficult to ask the same people every weekend to go out of their way to take care of some old dogs, even if money is involved.
Going to the beach is a very seasonal thing here even though it is a tropical climate and year round beach going is certainly possible. After Semana Santa, it is "going to the interior" time, namely Gravata, until about November when beach time starts up again. I think it gives you a sense of seasons which otherwise is totally lacking in this climate.

Completely out of season, we went to the beach yesterday. It was amazing to see no one except fishermen and surfers. The ocean is a little more wild and the waves get better, so "winter" is the time when surfers get all of the fun. "Winter" is also the rainy season, another solid reason why the beach is not the most popular activity. You are always running a risk of getting rained on. Yesterday was a mix of sun, rain and clouds, but there was a special feeling in the open expanse of the beach--privacy and real life. The life of the place without tourists. We love the area from Calhetas to Itapoama because it is a real place. Everyone here talks about Porto das Galinhas as the best beach around, but I don't like it. It is touristy and the place to be, all the more reason for not going.

The middle and upper class, or as they call them here, the A and B classes, buy and sell and move up and down the coast with the latest fashion. Many places have been the "it" place in the past and have fallen out of favor. Porto das Galinhas is the it place, but I think its time has come. (The name comes from its past as a secret slave port after slavery was made illegal. The slaves were called "chickens" by the slavers to disguise the real nature of their ship's cargo).

Calhetas was my favorite beach for a long time--a small little cove with a few beach barracas and deep, clear, calm water, but it has been replaced with Xareu. Xareu is a mixture of virgin beach and a few beach barracas where you can get cold beer, wonderful caldinho, fried fish and macaxeira. My favorite meal. There is something about eating fish and macaxeira on the beach while sipping beer or coconut water that the completes perfection.
These are the things that I will miss.


Meat Party

I can't believe that I have lived in Brazil this long without going to a rodizio churrasco. I have been to a rodizio of pizza and pasta (another sickening experience), but the traditional barbecue experience had eluded me until today. My work changed its bonus policy and instead of giving us money, we get points towards things like meals, books, and electronics. So, this meat party was the result of my hard work last year and ability to keep students enrolled in the course.

A rodizio is basically an amazing salad bar and roving waiters constantly showing up to shave sizzling meat off skewers onto your plate. It is a knock down drag out all you can eat extravaganza and I still feel a little sick. I definitely did not indulge to my fullest, but even 6 hours later I feel a fullness slightly boarding on nausea. My husband made a nice showing, but nothing like the days of his youth (and ability to finish a Hurricane's disaster burrito).

I should confess that I was a vegetarian for about 12 years, and then added fish and chicken to the menu, and only after moving to Brazil, I started eating red meat. So, two and half years of red meat eating (on a very very occasional basis) after almost 20 years without does not prepare the stomach for this kind of experience. After Sam said, "suckling baby pig" my stomach sort of flopped over and the meat party took a new turn. It tastes good, but it is also a little gross at the same time. I have also had some misgivings about sausage lately as well. It has done me wrong more than once. I think it might be time to rethink this whole carnivore attitude. I might be ready to return to my vegetarian ways, but then again, what is life without bacon? Ahh bacon, the one meat that always brings me back.

Note: I threw up later that night. No more meat for me, at least for a couple of days



We are leaving.

There. I said it. We are leaving Recife and moving back to the US. I have made it clear that only a fool would move back BEFORE the election (considering the hijacking of the previous two), but I am now that fool, moving back to jump into the fray when it is at its most intense. Unfortunately, I have never let politics be a purely spectator sport; I am in there making myself sick and stressing out with the best of them. I am hoping that this 2+-year break will give me a little perspective on the event, but I really wish that I were voting at the consulate instead.

Of course there are a million other reasons besides politics that I want to stay here, and a million reasons to go home, but it comes down to this--it is time.

It is time to do something other than teach English, it is time for my husband to do what he wants to do, it is time to be surrounded by family and friends, and it is time to see what else is out there for us. I have always known that Recife is not the place where I want to spend the rest of my days, but it has become home and comfortable. I really like the people I work with and my general work environment, I am finally getting involved in some interesting projects at the Federal university, and we have a great little rented beach house with friends to escape to (when we can get dog sitters), but when it comes down to it, it is not enough. I miss my friends and family. I miss having people to depend on. Here we live in the world of acquaintances, they are great, but they do not fill the emotional need I have for my people.

I have no idea if this move back is permanent or temporary, but it is the next step. It is almost as though I have stepped outside and am watching myself flip channels, instead of planning the next beach vacation, I am thinking about bringing my garden back to life, getting chickens and goats, and planning mountain biking and camping expeditions. All of the things that I cut completely out of my life by moving here are slowly starting to creep back into my thoughts. Yesterday, I caught myself visualizing the mountain bike paths in the foothills, the ride to the food coop, and the view from the porch of the cabin.

Historically, I have not dealt well with these transition periods and have completely broken down. I am trying to avoid this behavior this time. My inspirational life coach (aka my closest friend here) has been propping me up with positive energy.

So that is my mantra--take advantage of this time and do everything possible. It is not the time for regrets, but for moving forward and doing new things.


Too Comfortable

Just when you get comfortable here, something jars you back into reality. Tonight Sam and I got home at around 6pm, left the bikes in the front, sat down at the table for crackers and water
(dinner!) then the dogs started to bark, and looking back it was a very different bark than usual.
Sam got up and looked around outside, hushed the dogs and brought them back inside the house and shut the door. We were back at the table chatting when the clinking sound I had been hearing started to register only after Sam is up out of his chair and out the front door. He turned around and yelled, "The gate", grabbed the keys and was off. I knew immediately that someone had stolen my bike. I chased after him out the door and down the street, when he turned around grabbed his bike and took off down the street after whoever it was with my bike.

By this point, my heart is racing and I am freaking out because he is chasing after someone who might have a gun. I know that he will not find them, but it wasn't a chance I wanted him to take. I ended up just standing at the end of our street waiting, and luckily a friend walked by and I had a chance to chat and distract myself from darker thoughts. Sam came back in one piece, we finally actually looked at the gate, and there was my bike, hanging off the metal spikes on the wall. A few serious scratches and a punctured tire, but it is still my bike. I was so mad to have lost my transportation with only 3 months left here; it was almost funny that we never even looked to see if the bike was there. Next to the bike was a pair of purple flip-flops tied together with a piece of fabric. That also made me sad. I bet they were his only pair.

The worst is the feeling in my chest, that someone was in my yard, that they could have come in the house, and that we are always vulnerable. The neighbors saw us out there, we told them what happened, and then they started telling their stories about being held up in their house by 3 armed boys and about the woman who climbed up to their second story and tried to get in through the window in the middle of the day. I have been left with a general feeling of weakness and a prickling in my chest.

I guess we are going back on lock down. Bikes are always in the "cage", locking the cage when we are home, adding a padlock to the gate, and keeping the front door closed and locked. We quit leaving the bikes out over night because someone tried to steal our house sitter’s bike in the middle of the night, so now they are coming in at 6 pm. We had only been home for about 20 minutes, so it makes me feel like they were watching.

The thing about these situations is that you always read more into it than there really is. They were probably some kids looking around for a good opportunity and saw the bikes. Nothing more, nothing less. It is interesting that the dogs knew what was going on, but we didn't get it. I will remember that bark in the future.



I have returned from the land of the lost...actually, it wasn't that bad. I ate and drank lovely things and spent time with some wonderful people. As always, the idea of the US has nothing to do with the reality. I have to keep reminding myself of that for the move home. I witnessed so many expressions of creativity of action and thought--things that could only happen there. I feel extremely lucky to know artistic expressive people who are willing to go against the grain, who are challenging the status quo with their everyday actions. It will make the transition better to know that still exists.

In some ways, I think that you are freer to be different in places like the US and Canada, it is much more difficult to go against the grain here, but at the same time, I am constantly questioning this "freedom of expression.” It seems like everyone in the US is trying so hard to be different they end up all being the same. High school is all about who you are and who you are not. Identity formation by subtraction. Just in the 2 years that I have been gone the term "hipster" has taken on a completely new meaning. In the quest to be different, hipsters are now the norm--just like in the quest to be punk you end up wearing a uniform (quote courtesy of Sam). So, is this apparent freedom of expression really freeing or just another way to sell cool? We define ourselves by our difference and not by what we share in common. How does that shape the way we see and interact with each other?

In Brazil, most people want to be "normal," everyone dresses the same, follows the same codes of cool, and listens to the same music; people are not trying so hard to be outwardly different. There is even a term for it; it is called "normose," the disease of normalcy. Everyone wants to be so alike that they lose the quirks and the individuals who innovate and challenge traditional ways of being and thinking. Brazil is a very homogeneous society with very diverse cultural roots. This homogeneity leads to less conflict and outward angst, and in some ways, I wonder if it allows more individual freedom. Sometimes it seems that when you are not trying so hard to be different and to define yourself as "something" that you can just be yourself. You aren't constantly trying to be, you just are. Where is the balance between normose and the freedom to be who you are?

I remember feeling like I never fit in because I fit in everywhere. I didn't have a distinct style or group. I was always a little envious of my hipster friends who had the style, the music--the elements of cool. I look at the teenagers I deal with everyday in Brazil and they seem to have much less angst than American teens. I also think this is because they are accepted members of society here; they are included. Two different times on our trip in the US people told me that they didn't carry certain items because they didn't want "the kids" in their stores. Teens are not accepted as members of society--they are alienated and left out. When I was working to establish a youth center in Albuquerque there was a general outcry because the neighborhood didn't want teens in their community center. Ponder that for a minute. If teens aren't allowed in, then who is part of their community?

Brazil seems to have space for everyone. When you go out to a restaurant or bar, you see people of all ages interacting and relating to each other--teenagers are part of society and are not included in the "other" category. Because of this, I see a lot less angst in my students than in US teenagers, but they all seem to have dropped out of a mold where they have been programmed "to do the best for my future." The normose disease strikes again!


Missing Brazil

I have been in the US for the past week and it makes me miss Brazil. There are a few reasons for this--weather, coffee, cars, and weather. It has been cold, rainy and gray since we have been here. It is utterly uninspiring to leave the house. It is great for drinking coffee and snuggling under down comforters--too bad the coffee sucks! Actually, I had a great cup this morning from our host's french press, but every other cup of coffee has been horrible. Now keep in mind I just told my Brazilian friends that they are arrogant about their coffee (for good reason) so I shouldn't be throwing any stones.

I have also realized that I do not enjoy travel by automobile very much. Getting out of NYC involved numerous gasps, clutching at the door handles, and eye covering. Luckily my husband was amused and didn't want to kill me. It just feels scary. Good thing my driver's license expired so I won't be able to partake in this "liberating" activity.

And again, it is cloudy and gray outside and I am freezing sitting here--heat is expensive, but luckily I have a hat!

Being here just nags at me. Where do I want to live? What do I want to do? How does this work with Sam's life?



It started out slowly and has been getting worse and worse as time goes on.

I am now officially addicted to coffee. I blame Brazil. This is a coffee-infused country where the cafezinho is king. It all started when our friends stayed with us for awhile and brought the coffee filter--basically a little cloth bag and a funnel. The rest is history.

It started slow, coffee on the weekends or on days when we had a late start to the morning, but then it got more frequent. A thermos of coffee every morning, numerous mochaccinos mixed with espressos at work from the machine, iced coffee from the morning leftovers, little coffees at restaurants after lunch, little coffees at stores, little coffees in the grocery store. The cafezinho is everywhere.

I now NEED my cafezinho. I have never been an obsessive coffee drinker. I used to have coffee at weekend breakfast, but most of my caffeine came from tea (ahhh, the soy chai). I now love coffee. It is not a good morning without some coffee to start the day. I think it also has to do with my schedule. I do not teach in the mornings, so if I don't have a meeting, the morning is usually spent with coffee and the computer. Coffee has also become a food substitute. I have been working really long hours for the past couple of weeks to get ready for two conferences in the US. Editing video lends itself to staying holed up in the Digi-lab and only moving to get to the coffee machine in the hallway. I think I may have lost some weight due to the recent coffee diet, of course the brown teeth don't do any wonders. As the rainy season starts, the coffee intake goes up. I am beginning to sympathize with all those people in Seattle.

This is one habit I don't want to bring back with me. Can I trade US coffee for Brazilian fruit?


Getting Older

I am not settling into this phase of life very easily. I am a homebody, but I don't want to be, I am a party girl that doesn't party, I am a social person with anti-social behavior, and I am a traveling spirit trapped in my house. This doesn't bode well. I am crediting these changes to age. I am at a point when I do not want to go out and party all night, but I feel like I should want to, and then I feel guilty for not going out. I have been creating a mental list of "you know you are getting old when...

staying out drinking in the street with people you don't know doesn't sound like fun.

you have no idea what the latest band is and do not care

you will not travel anywhere to see a show or do anything to get backstage

you stand at the back of the crowd

note: some friends came over and interrupted the writing of this post; we stayed up until 4:30 in the morning. I might have to rethink my list a little.



I have been thinking a lot about peace lately. The plea for peace in the daily chaos, peace in the middle east, peace in Iraq, peace studies, peace linguistics, paz em 2008, peace in numerous global conflicts, and peace in the Brazilian favelas.

Who benefits from peace? Equally important, who benefits from conflict?

It never occurred to me to question the idea of peace as part of the status quo until a woman in my human rights class at the UFPE brought it up. We were discussing peace education and a project that was instituted at one of the public schools here in Recife. Everyone was praising the project and inevitably, the discussion turned to the previous day's headlines of violence, assaults, general terror, and mayhem. You could smell the fear being generated within the room. I have written about the fear circles before, and this was no different. It is always someone is a situation of privilege talking about being terrorized.

As the conversation built on what we do with violence in the schools, violent children, and educating in this setting, she said something to the effect of, "And just exactly who are we asking to be peaceful? The students who have nothing? Who are marginalized? Who are victims of our society? How can we ask them just to accept the situation and be peaceful about it? PEACE FOR WHOM?"

I had never thought to stop and question the very idea of "peace" and whom it benefits in an unequal and unjust society.

Peace means telling these people to accept their situation and through their submission and non-confrontational practice, they will find peace. Acceptance or submission is the price of peace. These kids are coming from the violence of their daily lives, the fight just to get through the day, the symbolic violence against them in the media, the physical violence of the police, and we ask them to be peaceful. Peace fits the status quo. Peace does not rock the boat. Peace does not change the system.

Their fight is disrupting our peace. Their agitation against the system makes the middle class' lives a little less comfortable.

I had already written a draft of this post when I read a comment on my friend's blog about the riots in Mozambique over a bus fare increase. This fare increase would literally have left the majority of the population working only to pay for taking the bus to work with nothing left over. The comment someone wrote about the protest was to the affect of "why can't they just be organized and peaceful?" Something about that idea just made me uncomfortable. I obviously believe in non-violence from my privileged perspective, but can I demand the same of people in an obviously less privileged situation that literally determines if they can feed their families? Do I have a right to project my "peace" upon the people the system is marginalizing?

We are taught the non-violence is the solution to conflict and through non-violent action, we can change things. I am starting to become a little more doubtful. In a system that is inherently violent how do people make changes? I know the standard answers education, unity, etc., etc., but what is really changing?

I still believe in a world without violence, I just wonder who sacrifices for that peace.


Carnival Cold...again

I spoke too soon. On Saturday night I started to feel the sore throat and brushed it off as screaming, drinking, and partying too much, but on Monday it became all too clear that yet again, I got the Carnival cold at the beginning of Carnival. I can't quite understand it. I could explain the first two years of the Carnival Cold because I had been in the US during January and could blame the difference in temperature, new germs, etc. This year I have no excuse except that I am allergic to Carnival. Yes, this could also be a very intense allergy attack. It feels like allergies, like Juniper allergies in New Mexico at their very worst. The force of the sneezing actually shakes my body and resembles something out of the Exorcist.

I have often said that I am allergic to Recife, and this just proves the point. While traveling the last month along the coast, I was fine, no problems, and as soon as I get back to Recife the allergies come and I feel horrible. My allergies have been getting worse since I got here; I think that it could be the super chlorinated water that makes your eyes burn in the shower, the air pollution, the dust that seems to coat every surface with fine black powder, or just general city living.

There is also the option of psychosomatically induced sickness to Carnival, but who would do that to themselves? This has been listed as an option, but I am going to overrule it.

So, I have been sitting in the hammock reading Love in the Time of Cholera (again), drinking coffee, and generally enjoying the complete silence of normal city noises. It is almost eerie how quiet it is. The entire city outside of the Carnival areas is shut down; I haven't even heard a car pass by in the past few hours. If you don't like Carnival (a surprisingly big population), you go to the beach or the country, and if you do like Carnival you are in the folia day and night when not sleeping so the rest of the city is a ghost town. It is like being on a retreat from the chaos in the middle of it all. I have said before how my house is a little oasis in the madness--full of birds and flowers with a great hammock on the porch, and now it really is, complete with the silence of the city sleeping.


Carnaval 2008

Carnaval Multicultural

Recife/Olinda has one of the best carnival parties in the country for being the "Carnaval de Todos." In Rio, you only get to samba with enough money to buy a costume or a ticket and Salvador is equally exclusive because you have to buy a shirt ($$$) in order to parade with the Trio Electricos, but in Recife everyone heads to the street dressed in crazy costumes or everyday clothes to brincar (play) carnival.

Carnival in Recife is also amazing because of the diversity of music you will hear. In Rio and São Paulo samba is the thing, and in Salvador it is all Axe, but Recife has such a diverse variety of music there is no way that I can list it all. Recife is currently celebrating 100 years of Frevo and it is by far the most common music you will hear during Carnival. The word Frevo comes from "ferver" which means to boil. I can only describe it as a frenetic clown dance with leaps and squats all done with a tiny umbrella and a giant smile on your face. I took a couple of frevo dance classes, but I couldn't hack it. It is too much bouncing around for me and my bad ankle.

The streets are also filled with the rhythms of Maracatu, Caboclinhos, Coco, Afroxe, Samba, Electronic music, Mangue Bit (or Beat), Hip hop, Rock, etc. On Friday night, we went down to Marco Zero to see Silvério Pessoa with Manu Chao, Paulo Miklos and Fernando Anitelli do Teatro Mágico. It was a great show and an amazing opportunity to see Mano Chao. I had never seen him live and we were right up front during the show. I have been trying to find out if he was going to have a show other than the Marco Zero appearance, but I had no luck, and then I met him and asked.

On Saturday we were in Olinda and our bloco, Eu Acho é Pouco, stopped for one of its breaks and he walked right by me. I looked at Sam and said, "Is that Mano Chao?" Sam confirmed and I ran after him tapping him on the shoulder saying "licença, licença, você é Mano Chao?" and he stopped, confirmed that we was in fact Mano Chao, and I asked him about more shows in Recife (negative) and told him I really enjoyed the show the night before. He said that he would probably be back at the end of the year (damn) and then I quit bothering him. Wow.

That alone was enough to make the night great, but we ran into lots of friends, danced and had a great time. So far, Carnival is going well...and I am not sick. This is the first Carnival that I haven't had the Carnival cold. Carnival cold is really common due to the excessive abuse of alcohol, lack of sleep, and lots of tourists bringing new germs, everyone gets Carnival cold on Wednesday, except me, I get it before and during Carnival. So being healthy this year helps a lot too! I have been dosing vitamin C for the past week in preparation.

Off to Recife Antigo for more Carnival!


In defense of American underwear

I have had the need to defend American women's underwear on a few occasions, and now I am ready to make my case.

My Brazilian friends were complaining about not being able to buy underwear in the US because it is either enormous, as in, covering the entire bottom, or it is a thong, as in, string up your ass.

Brazilian underwear is somewhere in the middle. It is high cut across the tush essentially dividing each cheek in half--the same cut as the famous Brazilian bikini. While I fully support the Brazilian bikini for making your butt actually look smaller instead of encasing it in a sack, I cannot get behind Brazilian underwear for the following reason:


I have never scene such flagrant panty line abuse in all of my travels. When I explained to my Brazilian friends about why the thong exists and why American women are so paranoid about not letting people see their underwear from outside of their clothing, they all looked a little shocked and fully admitted to being in constant violation of VPL.

Brazilian underwear squeezes each cheek and due to its small size leaves a sizable indention in the tush, made all the more visible by tight polyester pants and spandex. Brazilian women are known for working what they got, and unfortunately prominent panty line goes along with it. In Brazilian underwear's defense, obviously panty line isn't a big deal here, so who cares? Let those lines show and be free! But alas, my culture does not feel that way and I am a product of my environment and cannot exhibit such freedom.

Now, the case for American underwear:

If you are wearing jeans or some non-tight fitting bottoms you can wear your big sack underwear, it is comfortable and no one in going to see it, but if you are wearing something form-fitting you have the option of a thong to minimize the VPL. It is about options, but of course, you have to know when to exercise those options and many woman simply fail at this step. American underwear doesn't stand the middle ground--it is all about extremes, but at those outer edges its job is being accomplished.

I rest my case.

The Sky is Falling

Sam has divulged a minor paranoia that he has been harboring during our time here in Brazil that has got me thinking and maybe a little paranoid as well. Basically, he is afraid of getting brained by some large falling object of the fruit variety, and when you look up at the trees here, you realize that he has a point. If you are going to sustain an injury from falling fruit, it is going to be here. We are constantly hearing giant thuds and smacks as fruit hits the cement, our roof, and the parked cars around the neighborhood. I wonder if insurance covers fruit damage? After Sam confessed his paranoia, the next day while walking down the street he heard 3 consecutive thumps of Jambo hitting the ground where he was just standing.

Guava, Jambo, and Cashew are of the baseball size variety, you might feel a little pain, but you will not lose consciousness.

Caju (Cashew--the nut come from the brown cashew-shaped thing on the bottom)
Then you have Mango, Avocado, Graviola, Papaya, and Breadfruit that could do some significant damage. These are heavy fruits and some of them come from very tall trees. Our neighbor has a Mango tree that has hundreds of Mangoes on it, and he also has a little clandestine restaurant with lots of customers sitting under the tree. Just waiting for tragedy to strike. Luckily there are always people cruising the streets with a cut off 2 liter plastic bottle tied to the end of a stick removing mangoes from other people's yards. Who knows the chaos that could instill if this "service" didn't exist?

Bread fruit

Graviola (Guanabana in English, who knew?)

I haven't even mentioned what I consider the one of the most dangerous fruits of all--Jack fruit (Jaca in Portuguese). Jack fruit is frightening due to its sheer size and weight--it can weigh more than 15 kg (more than 30 pounds) and it is a little spiky. They aren't too common in the city so the danger of getting knocked out by a Jack fruit is small and would be your own fault for standing under such a large piece of fruit. Jack fruit is also delicious in small quantities--there is a reason that they sell it cut into small pieces.

But then there is the coconut. When we think of the coconut tree, we picture the quintessential idyllic beach scene, a nice place to sit and ponder the enormity of the world, and yet, so dangerous. Just hearing the sound of those delicious cocos hitting the ground should send shivers down your spine.

All I can say is that I am looking up a little more lately.