Friday, December 21, 2007

Theo's pictures of sand dunes. As has already been mentioned one of the best things about this part of Brazil is the proliferation of sand dunes. Theo took some ace photos, two of which are here. The first is of Natal's most famous landmark, the Morro de Careca (bald man's hill). The second is from a place called Maracajau. At Genipabu beach you can hire a buggy+driver to take you out on the sand for a rollercoaster experience and a chance to sample the extraordinary scenery and views. Ruth Leckenby described her experience like this. Anyway, I've added two videos to my YouTube account to give you guys an idea of what it's all about. Video 1 is the view from outside the buggy. Video 2 is the view from the inside. See if you can spot a yelling Theo and Tom in the back seats on the latter.

Christmas survey. This Christmas I will be without these usual British Christmas things a) mince pies and mulled wine b) cold weather c) the Queen's speech d) Boxing Day. None of these things exist in north-east Brazil. Of course, we have church and a chance to celebrate the real reason for Christmas, so I'm happy. But, which of those things would you say were (nearly) essential to giving you that Christmas feeling back home? Go on, vote!

Things I miss about England #60: Toilets don't block so easily, and you can flush toilet paper. Guests to Brazil from the UK or USA are often horrified to find that when you get here you are not supposed to put used toilet paper down the loo. When you're doing a number 2, and after you finished your business, any toilet paper you feel you need to use to... well, you know... has to be wrapped up and put in the bin. In part due to the visit of Tom and Theo who carried out the necessary toilet procedures in thoroughly British ways, and in part due to our forgetfulness while on the john and also the erroneous assumption we harboured that by living in a house as opposed to an apartment we were somehow more exempt from this sanitary protocol, our toilets - actually, one in particular - became thoroughly blocked last week. With rubber gloves on, a small and ultimately useless plunger in hand and a peg on my nose, I attempted to fix the stench-inducing problem. My best efforts resulted in little more than the discovery of a cockroach under the rim of the bowl so we had to call in a man. In the man came, and he fixed all our upstairs toilets (all 3 of them) saying that the other two were reaching the point of no return too. So, it's all sorted and we won't be flushing paper down the loo no more.

Things I love about Brazil #54: cheap labour. The cost of our toilet repairs: R$100 (about £25). A small price to pay for fully functioning commodes, I guess... The low cost of labour makes service provision very cheap in Brazil. This week we've had to rely on it in different ways. For example, apart from the toilet episode, we were able leave Nelson at a playgroup with a babysitting for half an hour at the shopping centre so we could get our Christmas shopping done (cost R$4 or £1). Rachel got our car totally cleaned inside and out (cost R$10 or £2.50) and Nelson has been constantly impressed by the small army of brass band players performing Christmas hits, the clowns, chaps on stilts, the Father Christmas', the Santa's little helpers all on hand to entertain him and his young colleagues at the shopping centre (cost to us zero!).

Christmas away. Tomorrow Rach, Nelson and I drive to Joao Pessoa for festivities proper with all Rachel`s extended family. Nelson`s great great granny Bemvinda is celebrating her 90th birthday too and a Brazil vs Rest of the World footy match will be taking place at some point to commemorate this. After Christmas we will be by the beach at a resort with Rach's immediate family. Anyway, the upshot of all this is I think I will rest the blog until after new year... it`s in need of a bit of a rehaul too, so watch this space in January for a new look, swisher blog. In the meantime, why note vote on the new poll to the left. Have a wonderful Christmas whoever you are, wherever you are, and a blessed New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Things I miss about England #100: the weather. Most of the time I do not in the slightest bit miss the English weather, the constant threat of drizzle, the slab of gray that covers the sky for most of the months between August and May and the fact that it'ss dark when you go to work and dark when you get home and worst of all that feeling when you're in bed that one inch either side of your already shivering limbs will touch iceberg-like bed sheets. Put it this way, in Brazil I have never had to turn my car headlights on at noon as I once did in York. OK, but sometimes I do miss the variety of the seasons and especially at Christmas I feel the season's festivities aren't quite complete when you can't genuinely sing "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas". Here, the shopping malls are full of fake snow in their Santa's grotos, but the only white Christmas we're getting is a dusting from the nearest sand dune.

Things I love about Brazil #6: the weather. I love tropical weather, I feel better, healthier, fitter, more productice (cit. Radiohead), I see more clearly (seriously, I hardly wear my prescriptions), I get up with a spring in my step and the cold water coming out of the shower first thing in the morning is a refreshing treat, not punishment for sins, as it is in the UK.

Things I miss about England #95: mince pies and mulled wine. For most of the year I wouldn't notice this small luxury, but mince pies and mulled wine are conspiciously absent from my consumable Christmas options and this is a shame.

Things I love about Brazil #25: informal dress codes. I've just come back from the end of semester Christmas do. I was MC-ing the event in English with Amy doing the Portuguese. I was the only man there sporting a tie. Brazilians are relaxed, and from a small town like Natal, even more so. I'm glad I didn't pack a dinner jacket, bow tie or any such regalia when we moved out here. None of that faff would ever see the light of day round here.
Football details as noticed by Tom Reeves. When in Recife with the boys, we all went to watch Nautico play their final game of the season against Flamengo (like watching Fulham vs Chelsea in Brazil terms). Well, the underdogs won 1-0 which put a smile on my father and brother-in-laws' faces. Being his first experience of a Brazilian league match Tom noticed these details which we may have missed. Firstly, one Flamengo fan in a wheelchair was so keen to see the match from a good vantage point with his mates that he got them to lift his chair to the top of the block and back down again! No ramps, no lifts, just good mates. And, the other detail I think is hilarious. Referees in Brazil are escorted on and off the footy pitch by riot police. It was doubly important in this game as one of the linesman was a woman (i.e. a lineswoman) and was liable to get gyp at the slightest twitch of her flag. During the game the death squad got front row seats by the goal. It's just that their rock hard image as Brazil's toughest law enforcers was somewhat tainted by the nice little red children's chairs they had to sit on.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Theo and Tom back home. Rach and I and Nelson have had a fairly uneventful weekend by our standards after we said goodbye to Tom on Thursday. It's been great fun having the boys around. I think, if they don't mind, I'll use some of their pictures - taken from the perspective of people who don't usually live in Brazil - to add a bit of spice to this blog. Here's the first one from Theo. The view at night from Rachel's parents' 21st floor apartment in Recife looking back over the city.

It's the end of the semester as we know it (and I feel fine). This last week I've been saying goodbye to my students, some of whom I've taught for a year. It's a strange thing - you spend 2 and a half hours each week for 10 months of the year with these people talking about everything from personal life to interests and hobbies to politics and beliefs and then its over so abruptly, and I probably won't teach them ever again and some I won't ever see again. This is a sad fact as they really all are wonderful characters, or "figuras" as the Natalenses say. Fortunately, they all passed their courses and did well. I hope their year with the "gringo" improved their speaking and listening of English. They certainly helped me with my English grammar.

Nakedness: a cultural comparison. Somehow at one point last week the conversation with Tom, myself, Amy and Rachel's cousin Hebinho turned to the topic of Brazilian versus English perceptions of public nakedness. Brazilians are a funny lot - their view of nakedness seems somewhat paradoxical. Being a Catholic nation and up here in the northeast quite a conservative people, public nakedness is out of the question. Topless bathing is illegal, and the idea that somebody would streak at sports event or cycle naked through university campus (a frequent occurrence in York) or moon a politician is out of the question.

Anyway, although Brazilians don't condone outright nakedness they seem to draw the line at about 1 inch shy of nakedness. Some of the bikinis and speedos round here leave little to the imagination, let's say, and nobody has any problems with this. One amusing example what I'm talking about presented itself this Saturday. On TV was a Samba dance-off - in the style of American Idol or X-Factor. Scantily, and I mean VERY scantily, clad women came onstage and strutted, and I mean REALLY strutted, their stuff for the judges, the audience and the viewers at home. During one performance one such lady's bra thing/ boob holder - which consisted of some delicately balanced threads - came loose and more or less fell off and she finished her performance clutching her chest. Oddly, she didn't appear in the slightest bit embarressed about it. The male presenter joked, "anyone here want to help her put that back on?" Now, you may be wondering, why I, a married Christian man, would be watching this sordid display? Well, the truth is, the show was on a widescreen TV close to our table in a family restaurant beamed to us as we ate our lunch. According to Brazilians, a 99% naked samba competition is clearly all-age viewing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas lights on Brazil's biggest Christmas tree. We live about 200 yards from Brazil's biggest Christmas tree. It`s not real, it's basically a big pole with Christmas lights hanging off it (see pic downloaded from today's local paper). This being "Natal" (which means Christmas in Portuguese) the city prides itself on being, and it's tourist industry is pleased to advertise the fact that it is, the best, most bright place in Brazil for the yuletide season. A huge Christmas tree used to reside in an open space near our house. It was taken down a few months ago. According to the neighbours - who know everything there is to know about everything - Rio de Janeiro recently erected a larger Christmas tree. And so, Natal not wanting to be outdone, pulled its own tree down (again, not a real tree) and stuck it over the other side of town. In it's place, the gargantuan monstrosity we see today. The thing really is huge. I have some video and pictures I'll try and post on here at some point. Last night, after the big party and official switch on, our bedroom, several streets away, was filled with the glow of flickering neon lighting. Natal won't be needing a lighthouse anymore.

Natal's golden gate bridge. Natal's townsfolk have been buoyed by several things in recent weeks. The promotion of ABC football team to the Brasilian Serie B, the new Christmas tree and also the completion of a huge suspension bridge over the bay. It is an awesome sight. I've driven over it, Theo walked over it. According to the newspaper, a drunk has already met a tragic end by falling off it. It is an impressive sight, although some Natalenses are disgruntled by all these expensive gimmicks - the tree, the bridge. It's an example of populist politics - keep the people entertained and happy and they won't notice the real problems of society. South American governments do not have the monopoly on this though - millenium dome and London eye, anyone?

First Certificate in English. The most popular English test for non-native speakers in the world is the Cambridge FCE. Today, I had to be invigilator for the students sitting this exam who I had lovingly nurtured toward this goal. It's not an easy test. You need to be close to fluent and have Advanced proficiency to do well. Put it this way, Nelson will be going to university by the time I can do in Portuguese what they do in English. The test takes two days to do - and we had a small administrative glitch when a 7th Day Adventist refused to do the test on Saturday. But, this bring Brazil, a way round was found... During the invigilation to keep myself from nodding off I got stuck into a novel that Theo had left for me. The surreal tragi-comedy "Confederancy of Dunces" by JK Toole. Anyone read it?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Goodbye Theo. After a fun packed two weeks that have flown by, big Theo Georghiou heads back to the UK today. We plan to send him off with a beating on the go-kart track this lunch time. It's been great to spend time with my ol' school chum who I haven't had more than a passing chat to for the best part of 10 years. We still have Tom Reeves here, so fortunately Natal's supply of diamond geezers is still ample. Not that Tom and Theo are that similar. Theo is tall, thin, erudite, polite and sophisticated. As for Tom... well...

Hello Guga the turtle. For a while we'd been thinking of getting Nelson a pet. After the unfortunate demise of Perry the kitten, Rachel thought we should get a small turtle. Nelson has already expressed his preference for this kind of creature, pointing it out in books and on TV, and he does a good job of saying "Tartaruga" in Portuguese - "tataooggooggoogoggooggooggg GUGA!!". And, that phenomenal phonemical construction inspired the name of the 4 inch diameter creature. She (the turtle) was bought at a market in Recife by Rachel's Dad who, not being one to wait on a good idea, jumped at the idea. I came back from a morning out with the boys to find we had a new pet. Nelson loves the little creature and is constantly trying to feed her biscuits.

A small legal note: Many laws exist in Brazil for what can or can't be kept as pets. In part, so my students tell me, these laws are concessions to 'the global north' and help create an image of Brazil has a modern and concerned country. In reality, illegally owned pets are very common and the police have better things to do than knock on everyone's door trying to find rare captive spiders. However, some turtles are illegal. One of my students explained that a turtle should have accompanying signed paperwork when it is bought. (This same student has a turtle which her friend brought her from another South American country smuggled in the inside pocket of an overcoat). So, after the arrival of Guga I asked Rach if our new friend was legally acquired. "Yes, this is a legal turtle". OK, so where's the paperwork? "What paperwork?" came the reply. Rachel says if the police come snooping (which they won't) she'll dob in half the neighbourhood who have illegal menageries of parrots and exotic birds. All I can say is that, for Guga's sake, her previous home was some grubby water in the bottom of a cut-away plastic coke bottle. At least, now she has her own mini-aquarium complete with plastic castle and pebbles, space to paddle, and she has the undying affection and love of an 18 month old boy.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Weekend of fun. Drove the 5 hours back from Recife today after a long weekend there with the family and special guests Tom and Theo. We knocked off our to do list with gusto 1) eat-all-you-can meat 2) watch local team Nautico against Flamengo in the last game of the season - the right team won 1 nothing 3) plenty of beach 4) visit Recife Antigo, the old part of the city...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thanks Ruth. That's the last of the guest entries from Ruth, hope you enjoyed them.

Samwise Gamgee. Tom "looks like Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings" Reeves arrives tomorrow to join the merriment. He says he's only bringing speedos and sunglasses which is a scary thought. That, and enough money to stay holed up in the eat all you can carvery.... Tom made a name for himself as a lover of red meat the last time he was in Brazil (2003). And, various members of Rachel's family still think his real name is Sam Wise.

Nelson's progress. Nelson has managed to learn how to say "yes" and "no". With a serious look on his face, a shake of the head and a stern "no" he replies to questions such as "would you like to brush your teeth?" in the negative. And a Brazilian "eeehhhh" with cheeky smile is what he gives for yes. The problem is when we try to make him do the opposite of what he has already expressed an opinion about, he gets quite frustrated. In fact, sometimes I think he's read the dictionary and is trying his best to demonstrate the definition for "tantrum". On the plus side, Nels is now big enough to give a football a good wack after a run-up, hold his hands up and say "goooaaalllll". Now if that's not progress, I don't know what is.
Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "Praise God!!!"

There were a lot of praise god moments but I think the whole of the last day, the Monday that I flew back to England, was probably the time I said it most. The day after going getting back to York I was to fly to Italy for a family holiday. It turned out that I had a 16-hour turnaround so I felt like being a bit packed and ready would be useful! My plan was to wash and dry, and then pack all my things for Italy in a bag that Rachel had given me this would then leave room in my big bag for the many presents I had bought! So I woke up early and got one load of washing on and then the heavens opened and a huge Brazilian rainstorm poured its contents on my high spirits! But there had been a few occasions that the rain had only lasted a short while so I tried not to get too despondent. Due to contacts at Cultura, Rachel had obtained some free tickets for a boat ride in Pirangi, the coast south of natal so we headed of nice and early to avoid any traffic. Basically to cut a long story short, we arrived at the boat early so got the hour earlier trip which due to another couple of passengers and their imminent flight, was half an hour shorter, meant that we had a very relaxing enjoyable boat trip and also had time to look around the market at the worlds biggest cashew tree. We got home to find that the sun had well and truly dried everything and my clothes were now crispy and ready to be packed. This also meant that Rachel and I had time to visit the shop around the corner, I still cant remember the name of it [Palader Setanager - Ed Dave] and generally enjoy a relaxing afternoon. Altogether it felt like Gods hand had just been guiding us so smoothly throughout the day and getting on the plane in the evening I felt so relaxed and ready to take on anything that life threw at me next. Later that evening as I walked through the security gate at the tiny Natal airport with Rachel waving and little Nelson waving, blowing kisses and giving his version of thumbs up, to me, I praised God for the immense time I had had in his wonderful country! Standing there thinking about what I’d done in the 6weeks, almost to the hour, of arriving, I got quite overwhelmed, at the beauty, the tastes and sights and sounds, and the immense welcome I had received from Rachel, Dave, Nelsio and the whole extended family. I cried a little, which prompted a little lady in front of me to pat my arm and say a few reassuring sounding Brazilian words to me, another simple act but so comforting and calming!!! A flipping good holiday I’d say!!!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "I miss this from York…"

There were also number of times I thought back to good old England and missed a few things about it. Probably the biggest thing was feeling safe on the roads! Brazilian drivers tend to be fairly horrendous! On a dual carriageway there may appear another one or two lanes from nowhere so along a 2 lane stretch you have 4 cars side-by-side! And the quality of Brazilian roads is a somewhat lesser standard than English roads!!! Potholes all over the road, speed humps on the main ‘motorway’ that usually aren’t signposted, dogs and children running about in the road, discarded bits of coconut or building materials or bits of car to avoid! Driving is not for the faint hearted!!! Getting back in the car with my dad at Gatwick airport was a comforting feeling and I was able to chat to my sister the whole way back without stopping to catch my breath following the latest death defying occurrence, every few seconds!!!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "I wish they had this in England!!!"

There are a few things I wish they had in England. I really enjoyed not worrying whether I’d need a jacket or not as the weather was always hot enough to not need anything!!! I wish there was a more carefree attitude. It may have been because I was on holiday that I felt the attitude as very relaxed or it may be that its just too hot in brazil to get rushed and in a fluster. But whatever it is, I loved it! I came home with a much more relaxed chilled out attitude which I think can only be a good thing!!! There are a few consumable things that I wish we had in England. Guarana, a soft drink that at first taste I wasn’t too keen on, but by the end of my stay found it the most refreshing drink there!!! I also wish we had some of the abundance of fresh fruit, fruit that may have travelled a couple of miles from the plantations, not thousands of miles so its shrivelled or artificially enhanced!!!
Things I miss about England #5: Being in the loop. Funny story this weekend. I had been itching to take Theo to watch a bonefide Brazilian footy match and several weeks back I spotted that America RN's last game of the season was on Saturday at home. Just up the road in other words, to watch America (relegated and looking up the table at everyone else) play Gremio (fighting for a place in the Libetadores South America Cup). In English terms, it would be like watching Derby County vs Everton, based on present form.

As Perry Groves frequently says in his biography: "Job Done". Or so I thought. We built our day around the 17.10 KO and came back from the beach early to make sure we didn't miss anything. We made the 5 minute drive from our house to the stadium with half an hour to spare. Down at the Machadao I parked nearby. Hmmmm, no trouble with spaces today and where's that guy who usually wants money for keeping an eye on the car? We saunter over to the stadium and, oddly, nobody is there. I'm expecting to be bothered by touts anytime soon. We wonder round the edge of the desolate stadium. Have I got the wrong day? I must be going mad. No wait, stewards are guarding the entrances, the police horses are out and what's that? Some of the away support are banging the gates to get in. They can't have shut the doors already? This game would never sell out. America can barely fill one block in this 38,000 capacity megolith. In fact, we're early. But why is it so quiet outside and, more tellingly, inside?

So, using my finely tuned Portugeuse I asked the nearest steward what was going on. He told me the game started two hours later and that the stadium was closed. Huh, I'm sure the website said 17.10. Perhaps it's something to do with the TV station deciding to broadcast at a different time.

And perplexed, we went off home so as to help Rach put the little one to bed. I decided to check the TV and internet to work out what was going on. Strangely, the internet was running live coverage of the game - and it had already started - at the time I thought it would: 17.10! Rach started frantically searching google for more news, and we called Rachel's brother to find out what was going on.

Eventually, this is what we discovered: America RN supporters had got into trouble with the CBF (Brazilian football authority), probably for throwing things on the pitch, so they were banned support at their last home game. The fixture was taking place behind closed doors in complete silence, but they still needed the police there to check nobody attempted to get in. I wondered if Theo and I should go down and explain: "We're tourists, we just want to look around the stadium. We promise not to look at the football if you don't want us to! Just let us in. We won't be coming back ever again and we certainly weren't the people throwing things on the pitch!".

As for those away fans banging ont he doors to get in? All I can say is, I hope they didn't drive from Gremio for the showdown only to be denied entry. Gremio is in the state called Rio Grande de Sul (big river of the south) and Natal is the state called Rio Grande de Norte (big river of the north). The two cities are at opposite ends of the country, Gremio being just a stones throw from Argentina and Uruguay. It would be like a Turkish football fan travelling all the way from Istanbul to Aberdeen only to find the match was called off because of snow. And, as for the steward I asked giving me mis-information? Well, probably he was speaking the truth and I just misunderstood him say 7.10 and not 17.10. When he said the stadium was closed, he really meant it was properly closed for the whole night...

This all illustrates my point. If I had more football-loving friends around, if I listened to the radio as much as other Brazilian football supporters, if I checked the right internet sites, if I had known it was possible for the support to be denied entry but the game to continue, If... if... if I was in the loop I would be less prone to making gaffs such as the one I made. Being in a foriegn country is all about being out of the loop to an extent. Sometimes it felt like that in York, and I was just a Londoner! So, Theo will just have to wait until next weekend to watch his football match when we go down to Recife. Rachel's Dad is lining us up to watch the local side Nautico play in their last league game of the season. I think we'll double check to see if their support are banned from entering before we set off, although I suspect Steve will have his finger on the pulse a bit more than I did.

(A small footnote to finish this tale. If you were an America RN supporter you were doubly gyped on Saturday. Not only were you not allowed in your own stadium, but you had no way to watch the game on TV either. The match was broadcast nationally but blocked in the home state of Rio Grande de Norte - the point being to discourage people from sitting in their beach huts watching the game on the box when they could be at the game live and in person. But, seeing as "watching live" was no longer an option, the genuine hardcore fans were caught between a rock and a hard place, between not watching it live and not watching it on TV. Well, at least they had the radio...).

Things I love about Brazil #5: If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air... On Sunday, as if to make up for the dissapointment of the football or lack of it, we all had a terrific day in Maracajau, a beach village further north. Rachel and Nelson went to the Ma Noa waterpark and Theo and I went snorkelling (see Ruth's last blog for details of the same expedition). After a glorious lunch Rachel and I decided to settle an old bet about sand dunes, and this is how it happened.

When we first visited Maracajau I spotted an inviting sand dune a short way off the road and suggested I would like to run up it in 10 minutes. Rach adamantly suggested that the distances were deceptive - the dune was miles away - and climbing sand was virtually impossible. In short, Rach reckoned I'd be lucky to do it in less than half an hour. Well, we found the sand dune in question, Theo was official arbitrator and time recorder and so off we went. I'm happy to report I scaled the sand dune in 8 minutes, with time to spare for Theo to take a few pics on the way up.

But actually, when we topped the peak of the sand dune we were greeted by a glorious vista of miles of Brazil's interior. In the other direction, the rich blue of the Atlantic ocean. With no soul for (what seemed like) miles around we ran like madmen over the lunar landscape. It was the most exhilirating, refreshing, dreamy, surreal thing. I was falling about with the reckless abandon of an 80s pop icon shooting a music video. It was therapy for the soul. The white sand was totally undisturbed, it looked like computer-generated snow. If you ever get the chance to take a few hours off to sit by yourself or with a pal in the middle of some sand dunes, go for it. All worries will float away. I think you'll only really grasp this if you actually do it once. Running on sand dunes. Definitely one of my favourite things about Brazil.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "I'm utterly exhausted!!!"

I spent a lot of team at or near the beach in Natal, which I absolutely loved. There were 2 incidents that I feel could fall under the statement: “I’m utterly exhausted!!!” The first was at a snorkelling trip to Maracajau. We were taken on a little catamaran about half an hour from the beach to a little reef were we snorkelled about and looked at the abundance of pretty fish, and some darn ugly ones too!!! The thing I noticed as I splashed off the boat was the strong current, you couldn’t bob about in one place without moving, either you were swimming to stay still or you were drifting off across the reefs! I let myself drift for a while, watching the fish, then decided I should head back towards the boat. It took about 5 times as long to get back to the boat as it did to drift! And there were times that I thought…ah, it’d be easier to drift back to the shore, I’ll just bob back!!!

The second incident I felt utterly exhausted was on my last full day. It was father’s day in Brazil and we went to Pipa! I absolutely love Pipa and think it’s the most beautiful beach, and quirky little town I’ve ever seen! We had a great day eating and relaxing but I think I’ll remember mostly for the size and power of the waves on Praia de Madeiro. I’ve been to Cornwall a couple of times to surf but never seen or felt anything as strong as these waves!!! The force of them was just crazy! I’m struggling to find words to describe it!!! The undercurrent was so strong it pulled my feet from underneath me and the curling waves would push me over from above, creating a summersault effect. There were a few times this happened and I had to put my hands out to stop my head getting hit into the sand. Looking back on it I don’t know how safe it was, especially as at one point I saw a fairy sizeable tree trunk being tossed about like a twig. But I felt I should get the very most out of my last day. And I certainly did. The exhilaration I felt from riding some enormous waves on a little body board was something I’ll remember forever! And when I got into the car on the way home I thought…”I am utterly exhausted!!!”

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "It’s been a pleasure meeting you!!!"

Ok, I think this was one of my favourite experiences that just seems to sum up the attitude of the Brazilians I met, towards English people. I really love visiting supermarkets in countries I stay in; I think it gives a good picture of the area you’re visiting.

One afternoon, Rachel, Nelson and I had gone to pick up some bits and bobs and were chatting away, walking up and down the isles, laughing at the random names for stuff, picking the things that looked nice. As we went down one isle, an assistant came up to us and asked in very broken English if there was anything he could help us with. We replied no thanks and he said “please, one minute, please” and then scuttled off. A few minutes later he returned with a smart looking chap who said something to Rachel before turning to me and saying in flawless English…” can I help you with anything, is there anything you need or don’t understand?” I shook my head, all I was doing was shopping! He went on…”that is good, really good. Well I would like to welcome you to my shop and to Natal and to Brazil. Are you here on holiday, I hope you have a wonderful time, do you like the country, it is a beautiful place, I hope you are very happy and enjoy your stay. Please, if you have any questions do ask me or one of the staff. Please do not leave with any questions. Have a nice stay.” He then chatted with Rachel for a bit and left. I was stunned! It was so nice, to be welcomed that way and in a supermarket!!! I thought later about how a foreigner would be treated in an English supermarket?! I doubted they’d get the same welcome!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "Could someone please tell me what’s going on?!!!"

O the joys of speaking about 10 words of Portuguese!!! This meant I was frequently asking or thinking this phrase!!! I found this particularly in shops. The second your foot steps on, or even hovers over the threshold, the shop assistants stampede to you! They usually start uncomplicated enough with a “ola!” or a “bom dia!” maybe even a “tudo bem?” Then they start chattering away presumably saying something like…”can I help you?” but I had absolutely no idea and so the phrase I used the most was probably…”desculpe nao fala Portuguese” (sorry I don’t speak Portuguese) it didn’t usually stop them though and they’d trot off around the shop pulling out random items they thought I might like and speaking in a torrent of Portuguese with the occasional word of English! They sold with such enthusiasm, rarely seen in the UK. It was really fun!!!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "Yummy!!!"

There are so many things that I could tell you about that were yummy!!! Shrimps are very popular and readily available in the northeast. I enjoyed some delicious dishes, the taste of them and the way they were beautifully presented, sometimes in pineapples or coconuts. I also really loved the availability of fresh fruit, and how this fruit is turned into juices. If you ordered pineapple juice, they aren’t going to open a carton, but take a fresh pineapple, blitz it up, add some ice and sugar and serve it like that!!! As mentioned above I tried to try all but didn’t quite manage it!!! Passion fruit was my favourite and I made that a couple of times. With passion fruit as cheap as they were, 6 big juicy ones for the equivalent of about 50p, it was hard to go wrong!!! .
Football update. Oh dear, we probably better not talk about this. I watched the England debacle on ESPN here and had to endure some extremely smug American pundits hamming up the story this morning on Sportscenter news. At least Brazil won 2-1 against Uruguay in Sao Paulo. Steve and Celia were at that match and I'm glad they saw a victory for the men in yellow. But even within Brazil all is not well. Brazil only chugged to a 1-1 draw with Peru earlier this week (the same Peru who were taken apart 5-1 by Ecuador in their next game). Argentina are looking good, especially Juan Riquelme and Lionel Messi. The former has scored astonishing goals in the South American WC qualifiers - three direct free-kicks and another one after good work from Messi. Watch these here and here.

Happy Thanksgiving. My American Mum and my half-American self will be celebrating Thanksgiving in some shape or form today.

Theo on the plane. We're all excited about Theo coming to stay. He's on the plane right now, all being well...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "I’m not eating that again!!!"

I had a few weird culinary experiences whilst in Brazil!!! The worst was a meal made for the teachers at Cultura Inglesa, that gave us all food poisoning!!! But that was totally a one off and despite trying some weird and wonderful dishes, I certhianly thought I’d be ill after it but I don’t think any of them were too traumatic!!! Some of the things I tried were not too appetising to start with but grew on me after a while!!! Manioc chips were one of those things, they are like potato chips, maybe a bit more starchy and less taste to them but sprinkled in lots of salt they weren’t too bad. I think the thing I felt most strongly about was mungaba juice. I was pretty determined to try every type of juice on offer (and it was a challenge, as there are a lot!!!) so on the last day I was there I tried mungaba juice. The first sip was ok, a kind of apple-y taste, but the after taste was how I’d imagine the taste of oak to be, bleurgh, I didn’t like it at all but Nelsio did so that was ok!!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shopping update. I don't know why I feel compelled to write about my shopping experiences in Brazil. It's like I'm filling you all in on an extremely dull soap opera. Anyway, today, fan my brows, I had a brand new trolley - I mean absolutely spotless. No squeaks, wobbles or grime - it seemed a shame to put anything in it. One of life's little pleasures this must be, I thought to myself this morning as I glided effortlessly about the aisles. This is up there with being the first to put a spoon into a new tub of peanut butter or having the opportunity to lick the beaters that've been stirring the cake mix.

ps. today I avoided the baggers. Help end world hunger and increase your vocabulary at the same time. Sound strange? It is, but it's quite a smart and addictive little website this. Check it out here and see if you can get above a Vocab Score of 36 (my current best).
Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby
The time I thought: "Booooring!!!"

It’s a long way to Natal from England, and the journey home took about 24 hours door to door. I was with TAP so was well looked after but after an hour or so sleep, I was very fidgety and with out a TV, the one thing wrong with the flight, I amused myself playing peek-a-boo with a child who looked and acted very similar to Nelson. He’d look at you and then point at some random part of the plane as though expecting an answer or an explanation of what it was!!!

That wasn’t particularly related to my time in Brazil but I think the journey back was the only thing that fitted into the category of boring!!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "That was somewhat surreal!!!"

The first morning in Natal, I was woken by the sound of a man coaxing a reluctant donkey up the street. The donkey was pulling a cart laden with fridges and front doors and bits of chairs. Seems like he was the local recycling service, or maybe the fix it man! A short time later a car drove up the street with a loud hailer strapped to the roof of the car and a man driving and shouting out of it. Again I had no idea what he was saying but the car was busting at the seams with fresh fruit and vegetables in all shapes and sizes. The local green grocer isn’t a shop but a car with very cheap fruit!!! They came around most mornings so after a while I started to recognise certain words, maracajau (passion fruit) coco (coconuts) laranja (oranges).

My favourite thing to do in the mornings was to sit on the balcony reading and waiting for the bin men. I used to sit by the window on bin day when I was little and waved to the driver who usually looked up and waved back. But the Brazilian way of doing bins is far removed from the slow amble and general disdain to bins that the English bin men show. In Brazil rubbish collecting seems like a sport. The truck drives at a steady speed, and not particularly slowly, and the men run along behind picking up the bags and hurling them at the back of the truck as it trundles up the cobbled pot-holey road. All the while that they are doing this they have a chant going, I’ve no idea what they were saying but it sounded motivational!!! They were enchanting to watch, and could certainly teach the English bin men a thing or two!!!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Guest blogger: Ruth Leckenby. Ruth stayed with us for 6 weeks a few months ago and we miss her lots. I asked Ruth to pen some of her thoughts about her time here - as somebody who had not been to Brazil before and as somebody who had not lived in a Maclure household before. It took her several months to get her write-up to me (evidentally she had a lot to cover with her psychiatrist when she got back). Ruth has a passion for wildlife, guarana and exclamation marks and I have not edited her entries. So, every day for the next 12 days, I will post a contribution from her. And here is the first...
Guest blogger Ruth Leckenby.
The time I thought: "Arrgghh!!!! I'm going to die"

There were times in Brazil when I thought this but I think it was one of the most amazing parts of my trip. My comfort levels were pushed way beyond anything I thought I could deal with, and yet I came back fine, better than fine in fact. A lot of my friends would probably have described me as a bit of a control freak before I went, when we went out for the day or evening I was the one counting everyone, making sure we were still all there, that everyone had sufficient food and money and generally keeping a watch over. Then the second anything went mildly wrong, I’d get in a flap and become Miss Neurotic. However over my time in Brazil, this attitude got chipped away at until I was Miss Laid-back! I got into the habit of when I was scared, when the thoughts “Arrrgh I’m going to die!” popped into my head, I’d question them. Why are you scared? What is actually going to happen? You’re not actually going to die are you? And this pattern of thinking calmed me down a lot.

The time I had to use this rational thinking the most was the day we went on a sand dune buggy ride. These are little buggy cars that drive the sand dunes that line much of the coast of Rio Grande de Norte. The first thing that I found disconcerting was that we had to stop for fuel as our driver told us, the fuel-o-meter, has broken, its corroded from the salt like a lot of the other parts of the car!!
The ‘ride’ took us into the government-protected sand dunes and we headed up a nice little bank. It got steeper though and to our left and right were very high, near vertical drops. Up ahead I saw that we were heading for a clump of shrubs, I thought “This is going to be a tight squeeze!” but I didn’t have long to think about it as, just before we ploughed through the middle of the cacti, we veered sharply to the left and plummeted down one of the previously mentioned vertical drops. My heart was in my mouth, I started to scream before realising that I was actually too scared to scream! We got to the bottom and headed for a sand bank that had tyre tracks in it, I thought…we cant be going up there can we?! And this was where the logical thinking kicked in. my thought process went something like this: “Oh my goodness, we’re going to die. Hang on, why would the driver put herself at risk. If we die, she dies too. She’d probably been doing this a while. And also, we have nelson in the car, she wouldn’t want to have the death of a one year old on her conscience. We aren’t actually going to die are we?! And I think if we were, we already would have done, so shut up and enjoy it!”

So I did and there began my way of dealing with the “Arrrgh I’m going to die” thoughts. These stopped me from being scared of finding myself disorientated in a heaving shopping mall, snorkelling when I didn’t think I had enough strength to swim back to the boat, being at the top of a flight of concrete staircase with a jubilant football crowed trying to push past me! Ok, so some of these may have been a little dangerous but with the power of prayer and a little logical thinking, I didn’t die, obviously! And I came back with a much more relaxed, care-free attitude!!!
The results are in. Thank you to the seven people who voted in my little survey about whether or not you buy pirated DVDs. 5 of you said you never have, never will. 2 of you said you do rarely but feel guilty. A straw poll of my students revealed the opposite set of results. Most always do, and scoffed at the idea they should feel guilty (those people in Hollywood don't need more money!), while some did occasionally, but one person felt slightly guilty about it all, especially when they buy a Brazilian film (the implication being the producers and actors need the money more than Europeans or Americans). So, thanks again and I'll put up another poll in a few weeks time.

The first Inter-Cultura Games. Early yesterday morning Rachel, Nelson and I and a bus load of rowdy students made the journey to Joao Pessoa for the first ever sports competition between language schools from the north east cities of Natal, Joao Pessoa and Recife. As usual, the mastermind behind this venture was Rachel's Dad, who, in typical fashion, pulled off a fantastic event which looked doomed in the weeks leading up to the big day. But, if I've learned one thing from Brazilians it's that 1) they love sports 2) they love gatherings and 3) they leave everything to the last minute. So, of course, everything was fine.

I played for Natal's Futsal team. Sadly, we lost 5-3 and 5-0 but I was pleased with my contribution in the first fifteen minutes of the first match when I scored a goal and set up another... after that, my severe lack of match fitness took it's toll and I wobbled around the pitch like a sweaty pink sausage. As a supposedly impartial gringo I was roped into refereeing the final between Recife and Joao Pessoa. I gave a contentious penalty in the first half but the game was drawn at 2-2 by the end and went to penalties, Recife eventually taking victory. I crawled off the pitch in a state of near exhaustion and refused to play handball (the next sport) as I didn't know what it was and I no longer had complete control of my legs... just as well, as those that did play knew what they were doing and came away with gold medals.

Nelsinho had a great day too. He loves ball games and always wants to compete with adults - he seems oblivious to his evident lack of size, strength of coordination. But, with a little help from his 6'4" Uncle Nelson, even the little fellow had the opportunity to slam dunk a few balls on the basketball court. We all slept well last night, I can tell you.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another holiday. We have the day off today and I don't even know why exactly. And there's another holiday next week for the patron saint of Natal, whose name I can't remember.

Nirvana - Smells Like an Unlikely Story. 16 years ago Nirvana's song Smells Like Teen Spirit was top of the Rock Charts in the USA. I'm showing my age when I say I can remember that... unlike some of my students who weren't even born. Anyway, for the benefit of some of the rock fans in my classes I played the video of the song, the excellent parody from Weird Al Jankovich and also the extremely bizarre Paul Anka swingy jazzy version. One of my students piped up after I played the song and said, "Oh, I saw this band in concert!" I was stunned, and also secretly quite jealous. How? "I saw them in concert in 2003", she continued. "Uh-huh", I said "Are you absolutely sure?" The suicide of the Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain 1994 has generally been accepted by historians as the moment the band ceased to exist. After a bit of mirth and confusion, it turns out she saw another band, whose name she forgot, who played Smells Like Teen Spirit as a cover. Either that, or Kurt Cobain, along with Elvis and Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon are touring the Brazilian NE in some kind of phantom super-group... I'll let you know if they come by here again.

Brazil has more oil and Spider-Man. A big story that has people excited here is that a new oil field was discovered off the coast of South Brazil. This huge reserve will make Brazil one of the top 10 oil producing countries in the world. I teach a group of Lawyers from the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras who are the chief stakeholders in the enterprise. These Lawyers were beside themselves with excitement. One of my teenage students studying geology declared his intention to work on the new rigs that will be built. Another story from Brazil that made it into international circulation was the tale of the 5 year-old boy dressed as Spider-Man who saved a baby from a burning house.

Peru v Brazil. The Brazilian national team are back in the country from their clubs in Europe. I couldn't believe it when 2 (of the 5!) sports channels on our cable package had dodgy, unending camcorder footage of the team's training session before their weekend World Cup qualifier in Peru... Ronaldinho and Kaka may be the best players in the world but they do sit-ups in much the same way as anybody else, in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More amusement at the supermarket. Regular readers of Maps and Legends will know that I have a thing about the supermarket employees who bag groceries here in Brazil. I've just come back from the weekly shop. Today, my bagger was "Soccorro". This strange and popular name for women in Brazil is actually the common word for "help" or "aid". So, it was somewhat ironic that the somebody called Soccorro helping me with my bags turned out to be, frankly, quite unhelpful...

Soccorro, a lady in her 50s probably, bags very vociferously as she possibly attempts to simultaneously break the number of plastic-bags-per-item-of-shopping record and tries to win the Nordestao bagger of the month award. Half-way through the routine she noticed a small packet of curry powder I had bought. (NB. Brazilian curry powder is so mild you have to empty the whole lot each time you want any flavour in your cooking). Soccorro was convinced the curry packet had a hole in it. She picked up the small plastic envelope and proceeded to pummel it repeatedly against the till counter to demonstrate. The cashier was mildly unimpressed when, after a dozen smacks, the bag gave way and curry started flying around the vacinity. I don't know if the packet really had a problem to begin with, but after such rough treatment, it wasn't entirely unexpected that it would split. In any case, I would happily have taken the curry packet home to use as it was (before the beating) but now there was nothing left to do but wait as Soccorro summoned for help.

She called over one of the guys on rollerskates who stocks the shelves to bring a new packet of curry. But, he was busy sorting out a problem at a different cash register (possibly caused by another overly-keen bagger, who knows?). So, after waiting for five or ten minutes with my paid and heavily bagged (ready for nuclear fallout) shopping, Soccorro herself sprinted off to find me another packet of curry... and she came jogging back spouting many "desculpes" and handed me the curry packet (which, of course, she had bagged). Problem solved. But, my question, was there ever a problem in the first place?

I shouldn't be too harsh - I suppose. These guys really care about customer satisfaction and they do work very hard for very little pay. It's just that maybe it's possible to be helpful to the point of unhelpfulness.

Things I miss about England #41: The drive from York to Grange-over-sands in the Lake District. I must have driven that route a dozen times with international students, with my parents and even for a stag weekend, but it was always a gorgeous drive the two hours through Harrogate, over the dales and moors, and up into Cumbria past lakes, pubs, sheep and the best of the glorious English countryside.

Things I love about Brazil #40: The drive from our house to Tataruga Guest House on Tabintinga beach. On Sunday, Rachel and I, her folks, Amy and Herbinho drove out to our favourite little spot to relax - a Norwegian-owned guest house facing the sea about half an hour drive from Natal. The drive is stunning and I always reach for the car keys before anyone else to be the one to take us there. The journey starts as you skirt Natal's most famous and populated beach - Ponta Negra - with a view of bald man's hill and then past the ABC football stadium and down the coast. Once past the police check, the road takes you through a string of quiet seaside towns with quaint Catholic chapels and brightly painted shrimp restaurants. Cruise past the stunning Cotovelo, Piringi and Buzias beaches on the left and mountains of lunar-like sand dunes to the right. At one point, you have to hit the breaks as you nudge past the world's biggest cashew tree (it really is the biggest - this is not a figure of speech) which has grown to such an extent it encroaches on the road. As you approach Tabitinga beach, the road rises sharply and you are left with a postcard view of the Atlantic ocean. Just before the turning to the guest house you can stop at Dolphin view, take pictures and try to spot any fins peaking out of the water. The guest house is off the main road, and so you have to take the car out onto bumpy red soil for half a mile before you get there. I love this final stretch, it reminds me of driving Dad's LandCruiser in Chad.

The view from the Andes.
Chile is a very strange shape. It's like a sliver, a needle, a hockey stick on the western edge of the continent (see outline above). To drive the 2400 miles from the icey southern regions to the desert-like border with Peru is meant to be thrilling. I would love to do this one day, perhaps on a motorbike like
Che Guevera. Chile is split into 13 states positioned head to toe, like the back of a dinosaur skeleton down the side of the Andes. The States are named, in true military fashion, from north to south, State 1, State 2, State 3 etc. According to Bob, most of Chile's population live in the central regions around Santiago - States 5 and 6 or so. Administering this bizarrely-shaped country is a nightmare and the government is trying to encourage people to spread out and populate the extremities by offering tax breaks so as to put less pressure on Santiago which is expanding and becoming more polluted as it houses over 50% of the country's 11 million people.

And there concludes the According to Bob series... thanks to the main man Roberto Troncoso for his razor-sharp insight.

Shorter posts please. If you've read this far, you're a saint. I keep getting carried away with my posting on here, and some of these entries are getting obscenely long. Shorter, to the point posts, I promise.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Happy Birthday Mum! I won't divulge her age...

Don't forget to vote. Go on, humour me and answer the question on the left. 4 votes so far? C'mon we can do better than that!

SPECIAL POST: The Catholic church, God, religion and everything in between. I've been meaning to post something about religion for a while, but just haven't got round to it. In short, religion is extremely important here but has a very different flavour to society back in the UK. Yesterday, I was reminded of this again when Rachel and I went to sort some papers out for Nelson at a grubby little public registration office at the back of a shopping mall. In there were various other people looking for solutions to their bureaucratic problems, including a Muslim couple. RELIGIOUS FACT #1: Muslims in north east Brazil are very rare! This was the first time I had seen one here. Privacy not being what it is back at home, anybody waiting can overhear the conversations at the booth. So, we found out that the Muslim couple in question had met in the States - she a Brazilian, he an Arab (from somewhere with a green passport) - and they were trying to get their marriage recognised in Brazil. A north east Brazilian marrying a Muslim? I imagine her Grandma must have been shocked...

Of course, most people call themselves Catholic. In our neighbourhood we stand out for being the family who don't attend the local Catholic church. Last Sunday morning, after I had taken Nelson for a walk in the park, I strolled back up our road only to see the surreal sight of the whole neighbourhood returning to their houses after mass. RELIGIOUS FACT #2: Catholics in the north east of Brazil are not rare at all. If you're reading this and you're not a Christian you may think it's petty of us to ignore the Christian presence on our doorstep, shunning it because of our tradition and doctrine. After all, this church seems active in the community and popular with young people. So, is it all a question of semantics? Well, it's impossible to ignore the theological lines that mark our beliefs from this brand of Catholicism. A poster hanging outside the chapel recently declared: "Men's group series: Mary is the way to find Jesus". That pretty much strikes at the heart of the differences between the Protestant and Catholic Christian traditions and it is a division that cannot be papered over easily. My Evangelical Theology that takes the Bible as it's authority is hard-pressed to arrive at that doctrinal conclusion...

Beyond this, I think I find it hard to accept the superficial nature of belief for many of the Catholics I meet. Maybe, that is a gross generalisation - I have met some outstanding, concerned, reflective and dedicated Catholic people, particularly among my students. But, here's the other side. After some interesting discussions with one of my classes about the place of religion in making us "happy" I decided to give them a belief survey, similar to the kind of thing I would use back in York during YSO. The results were interesting. The university lecturer in my class was the only person remotely close to the position of an atheist. RELIGIOUS FACT #3: To be Brazilian and atheist is as unlikely as being Brazilian and vegetarian. Actually, when pressed about it he turned out to be more of an agnostic. When he declared this to the class he was rounded on by the other students - all Christians of various shades with one self-proclaimed Buddhist thrown in. Of the Christians, two were Protestants and the rest Catholic. Of the Catholics there was a rainbow of "secondary" beliefs behind the label Catholicism. Students believed in reincarnation, in nothing, in science, in spiritism and a lot else besides. They had no notions of eternal destinations, of knowing God or even if God existed, all of which I found very sad. To the question, "what would you ask God if he was in the room right now?", one Catholic student wrote "I want to know if you like me".

The main thing is to get baptised as a baby, and married and burined in a Catholic church. Of course, you could find many so-called Christians back in England who hold the same view in the Anglican church. RELIGIOUS FACT #4: Nominal Catholicism is the base line most Brazilians use to measure the religious devotion of themselves and others.

Actually, the two serious spiritists (who both have first hand experience of contacting the spirits of their dead ancestors) I've met from my classes seem to have the most integrated and complete spiritual witness. They speak clearly and calmly about their beliefs. And - as a Christian I find this challenging - these two have a very finely tuned moral uprightness and commitment to social action... RELIGIOUS FACT #5: Spiritism is not a fringe belief or practice. For instance, Globo the largest TV network in Brazil promotes spiritist ideas through the belief systems and stories of the principal characters in their soap operas.

I teach English to a class of pastors at Cultura Inglesa and they have become quite good friends. We pray before each lesson (Lord, help me with pronuncing the ordinal numbers!) and they are a lovely bunch of people. Their aims are to learn English so they can preach in English, and explain their faith to tourists who come to Natal from English-speaking countries. RELIGIOUS FACT #6: Talking openly about issues of belief and faith openly is much more common and accepted here than in British society. British society seems very stifling and bound by political correctness in comparison. And, with Christian Directors and Christian and Catholic teachers in the language school it looks like religion, Jesus, God and the big issues will be talked about for some time to come.

ACCORDING TO BOB: The view from the Andes.
According to Bob the Catholic Church has perhaps even more hold on society than in Brazil - certainly, the Protestant Church is relatively smaller there. Indeed, according to Bob, the Pope has intervened directly in international disputes between Chile and Argentina, favouring Chile's claim to some islands back in 1979. Chileans have remained faithful ever since. Bob grew up in the Catholic tradition, attended Catholic schools and universities and has worked for Catholic institutions. But for him, institutional Catholicism has a lot to answer for and he and his wife see themselves as becoming increasingly secular in their outlook.

Mary statue, Santiago, Chile. When in Chile, Roberto drove us up a hill to a statue of Mary overlooking the city... it's like a smaller counterpart to the Jesus statue in Rio. Many people had left prayers and promises written (on anything) at the foot of the statue. Pics above.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Subject: Bye, Bye BRA. I got this email from Rachel's Dad Steve. He had recently, (against his daughter's best advice) booked an internal flight with the loathsome BRA (see last post and here for background info on this story). Steve sent this email which I've copied here.


More on the BRA saga. As of tomorrow, they will cease to exist:

Fortunately, two days ago, I phoned them to ask about the status of my flight (which was going to be tomorrow), and they told me it had been "re-scheduled" from 5 AM to 2:45 PM. "But why didn´t you inform me?" , "Ah we were certainly going to inform you - isn´t the flight only going to be in two days´ time?".

That was it. No more BRA. I quickly proceeded to ask for a refund, and bought a TAM ticket instead. This evening the news was broken. It will all be in the papers tomorrow. Moral of this story? Always suspect an airline that sells 2 tickets for the price of 1.


Friday, November 02, 2007

All Saints Holiday. Another Brazilian public holiday and another trip for us Joao Pessoa to be with the family. The day takes a predictable course: 1) arrive at lunch time 2) eat lunch at 3pm 3) chat/snooze/banter with Rachel's extended family and eat cake 4) go and get ice cream or milkshakes from a special choice outlet 5) stand around the cars talking about leaving 6) leave for Natal in the dark when all day we thought we would leave early so as to drive in the light 7) pray we are not stopped at the police check 8) arrive late and exhausted and thanking God we survived the trip on the unlit main road...

Tropa de Elite. A film has come out in Brazil which has everybody talking. It is based on a book which in turn is based on interviews with the real Tropa de Elite of Rio. Tropa de Elite (Elite troop) is a police force who are attempting to reign in the crime and drug trafficking in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The film portrays extreme violence and the brutality of life in the favela as seen through the eyes of Captain Nascimento and his armed men. The trailer is on YouTube and you can watch it here if you want to, but you have been warned!

But, here's the rub. According to Wikipedia a staggering 11 million people saw this film before it's official launch date. This was made possible by some workers from a subtitle company leaking the English version of the film into the informal market. Up and down the countries illegal DVDs were sold in streets before the movie even hit the cinemas. One of my students even brought it in to show our class. This controvesy has only boosted the films popularity and notoreity and the cinemas are packed with people seeing this film in its "official" format. By all accounts it is very good, although it's portrayal of violence is stark and senseless. According to one of my students, it is MORE violent than City of God - a film which, if you have seen it I think you'll agree, pushed the envelope for on-screen violence in its portrayal of gang warfare in Brazil's desperate inner city communities.

All this raises the thorny question of legality in distributing arts - be it film, music or some other medium. Our British ethical codes, and some might say our Christian ones, leave us in no doubt that we should pay a fair price for a product so that the government, the shops and the producer get their cut. Brazilians are much more hazy on this issue. One student even wrote an essay for me about it - she pointed out that for many of Brazil's poor the only way they can participate in a culture of arts is by buying illegal because the RRP is too high. This underlines a social trait which us Westerners find hard to understand - individual gain is always prized above the public or national good.

Others see the informal market as a far more efficient form of distribution (especially to regional places such as Natal) which ultimatley only raises the profile of a film which in turn will bring rewards to the makers (Tropa de Elite being a case in point). And more than one person has told me that they see the Police buying illegal DVDs - and if the Police are doing it, why can't they? Finally on this, a scandal hit a couple of years back when it was revealed President Lula himself, who of course publically decries the distribution of pirated material, watched an illegal DVD on his private jet... so then, what are we to do?

What do you think? I'm slowly learning that there is more that blogger can do than just simply posts for blogs. For example, I've found a funky "widget" that allows me to ask your opinion in a survey (to the left, to the left <<<). So, what do you think? Please answer, it will make my day!

ACCORDING TO BOB: The view from the Andes.
According to Bob, the Chilean police are not corrupt - at least, not on the level of interacting with civilians. If you attempt to offer a bribe to a Chilean policeman who has pulled you over for speeding he or she will be very unimpressed (be warned you Brazilians). It is beyond me how the Chilean police, who were the strong arm of the Pinochet dictatorship, have turned out to be, in just a few short years, reliable and trustworthy with respect to their own people and a model of descency and transparency for the whole of South America. If I had had the time, I would have asked Bob more about this...

According to the lady over the road with the bug eyes and the poodle... the reason we had a power cut on Wednesday night was because somebody drove a car into an electricity post in our neighbourhood. We had another power cut on Thursday morning and I'm sure she has a theory for that one too. For a short while, it felt like we were back in Chad visiting my parents where powercuts are two a penny.

BRA, an update. To conclude this already long-in-the-tooth entry, we've been chortling to ourselves at reports in the Brazilian media about the debacle that is BRA - the airline I flew to and from Europe with this summer. Diario de Penarmucano (read by Rachel's Dad) posted a series of reports, which became something of a soap opera. Some customers had been stranded in Recife airport for 24, then 48, then 72 hours waiting for a BRA flight. Their plane had mechanical problems but BRA had no way to transfer any of their 10 aircraft to Recife to assist the passengers as all 10 aircraft were in use elsewhere. The Brazilian Aviation Authority have banned BRA from selling tickets for international flights as a result, tee hee hee.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brazil 2014! Rachel is beside herself with excitement at the thought of Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup. We've done the maths: Nelson will be 9, just the age to be fully immersed in the wonder of an event such as this (I remember bawling my eyes out when England lost in the 1990 World Cup semis... but this is Brazil, they won't lose). Rachel is adamant we will be going to a game from wherever in the world we will be living at that time.

I spoke with some of my students today about this. They are all very happy with the news, but the debate for them is whether Natal will be selected as a host city. On the plus side Natal is safe, has a thriving tourist industry and an international airport. Some architect has already drawn up plans for a new stadium of 65,000 but if they have a stage in the north east it may well be in Salvador, Fortaleza or Recife - the bigger capitals.

Other Brazilians are concerned with the cost and investment in sports when the country has other more pressing concerns over education, security and healthcare. But, as another of my students - a university lecturer - pointed out, the money for infrastructure will come from FIFA and the project will create jobs and hopefully aid technological development in security as well as increase the profile of Brazil internationally.

Life is life. We've all had a bit of illness lately, Rach especially with the killer morning sickness. And for me, I have been gingerly putting on shirts and strapping on seatbelts after I got thoroughly lobstered at the beach on Sunday. It's also quite a busy time at work. As my Dad would say, life is life.

ACCORDING TO BOB: The view from the Andes.
According to Bob, Pinochet remained remarkably popular in Chile despite his despotic ways. Still, today the country has a very right wing, conservative bias. There is a socialist government led by a woman, but the opposition is storng and the most widely read newspaper in the country is ultra-blue. During Pinochet's time inflation got out of hand and the currency sky-rocketed. 1000 Chilean Pesas is 1 English Pound. Which means, that the Chilean version of "Who wants to be a millionaire?" is actually only (at least in English Pounds) "Who wants to be a thousandaire?"

Friday, October 26, 2007

We're expecting another baby! This picture shows an 11 week, 4cm long baby who, if God wills, shall keep growing and pop out next May. And that jagged line represents the beat of a tiny heart pumping. Please pray for Rach who has real bad morning sickness and for all us making an adjustment to a family of four.

101. Just a small note to say that this post takes us past the 100 entries mark on this blog. Thanks to those of you that read it and take an interest in our lives in Brazil. We miss you all!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I've not been feeling myself, I'm a bit run-down and worn out and in need of some sleep to recharge my batteries. I've been teaching some Advanced student English Idioms for health - such as the above. Strangely, I've spent most of the week feeling "a bit out of it" with a cold, nose, cough "bug" that everyone seems to have. But, "I'm on the way up" and will be "back in shape" in no time, I reckon.

Brazilian GP. So English sports took up it's usual place in the also-ran column of the record books. Rugby, Formula 1 - close to winning but not quite. Brazilians follow F1 very closely, especially when it's in Brazil. They have a sparkling history in the sport - Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna are the heroes. Ayrton Senna's high speed death on the track in 1994 produced a reaction in the country similar to Diana's high speed death in 1997. After a few years in the wilderness cheering for the ultimately unsuccessful Rubens Barrichelo, Brazilians have their own young star - Felipe Massa. But even here, Lewis Hamilton is well known and popular. But if you want a British youngster to cheer at the moment I suggest plumping for Hamilton-lookalike Theo Walcott. The 18 year old became the youngest Brit to score in the Champions League earlier this week. He actually scored 2 and made 1 in Arsenal's 7-0 thumping of Slavia Prague. Watch it here.

ACCORDING TO BOB: The view from the Andes.
According to Bob, the Andes separating Chile from Argentina are a cultural as well as a physical barrier. Whereas, Argentina and Brazil historically and culturally draw from Europe and in some cases Africa, Chileans have tended to look out to the massive expanse of the Pacific and their closest neighbours in the north Peru and Bolivia. A small example of what this means: Santiago was conspicuously lacking in racial diversity. I did not see a single black person in our visit there.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wireless and Bean. Brazilians love Rowan Atkinson as Mr.Bean... and the fact that he hardly speaks means nothing is lost in translation. It's just good old fashioned slap-stick with a whiff of British nerdiness thrown in. Oh, and thanks to a new laptop with wireless connection (courtesy of Rachel´s folks for her birthday) I can write this whilst sitting in front of the tele watching Mr.Bean, hey hey! It's an ancient re-run - Mr.Bean at the pool - which I last saw about 15 years ago.

Things I miss about England #11: asparagus, avocado and tea. It's not that I enjoy these things mixed together, but they are three great consumables which Brazilians don't really "do". They have them alright, at a price, but the quality isn't so good. Asparagus once appeared at the local supermarket and so I bought up a packet instantly, only to discover it cost twice as much as the fresh beef I had bought as well. Chileans on the other hand, now they grow aspargus and avocado and they drink tea, good tea, by the bucketload. Our first meal in Chile was a shared asparagus omlette with an avocado and beef sandwich washed down with two cups of tea. Cracking stuff.

Things I love about Brazil #70: the travelling circus. Two of Nelson's favourite things at the moment are bicycles and monkeys. These two things were unexpectedly brought together today when we went to visit the Koslov Circus which was in town.

Travelling circuses are largely consigned to the history books in England, with the likes of Alton Towers, theme parks and a score of other family attractions proving to be more spectacular, corporate and popular. In Brazil, it seems running off to join the circus is still an option - especially if you're a woman with a beard, or you don't mind having knives thrown at you. The low cost of labour and the lack of too many competing local attractions in the vast expanse of the country seem to me to be possible reasons for the maintainance of this quirky sideshow of the entertainment industry.

So we took Nelson to see the spectacular this afternoon. There were the usual attractions - a father and son trapeze show, some strange animals (a small cow and a llama) and the clowns who did a routine with some kids from the audience. Nelson was mildly interested until the final act which really caught his attention. A big monkey, dressed in a pink dress (with pink bloomers on underneath) was brought onto the stage and cajoled into performing tricks such as walking on stilts and dancing to forro music. The grand finale was the monkey riding a bicycle round the stage. I was genuinely impressed, which is to say nothing of Nelson's reaction.

ACCORDING TO BOB: The view from the Andes.
According to Bob, apart from asparagus and avocado, Chile's primary exports are Salmon and wine. Most Chilean wine is grown in the central region of the country and some of it is made exclusively for export. While we were there we bought a bottle at the local supermarket priced for the equivalent of UK1.50 pounds. Talk about value for money.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

ACCORDING TO BOB: The view from the Andes.
Introducing a new little series of posts based around the observations of my good friend Roberto Troncoso (pictured) who we stayed with in Santiago. Roberto is a thoroughly interesting fellow with plenty to say about South America, Chile and conditions therein. So, here's the first one. According to Bob... the 29th of every month is gnocci day in Argentina. This roughly corresponds to workers' pay day and it is apparently traditional for Argentinians to spend their first cheque on gnocci at an Italian restaurant. Is this really true, I ask myself? Well, it is according to Bob.

More flight anecdotes. I'm not about to write a multi-thousand word diatribe (see posts in August after BRA flights) about flying around South America. However, we do still manage to find ourselves regularly embroiled in anecdote-inspiring situations. On the way to Chile, our flight out of Sao Paulo was delayed (it was a national holiday after all). Finally, we board at about 11pm and sit on the runway for some time. I doze off. I stir at the sound of the engines roaring into action and then out of nowhere my seat starts to jolt back and forth and suddenly I'm getting some wiry fingers jabbed into my ribs and, worryingly, it's not Rachel. I'm not sure if it was then or later, but at some moment I came to the realisation that on a flight of some 200 passengers I, with a stunning bolt of sheer poor luck, had found my way to the one seat directly in front of the absolutely crackers old lady.

Senhora Maria (as we discovered her name was) had taken off her seatbelt and stood up at just the time the plane's wheels were leaving the runway. She was muttering in my ear: "Chegou em Santiago? Chegou em Santiago?". In other words, the pause on the runway, the engines firing up had confused our elderly friend. She was under the impression we were landing in Chile. It took the rest of the four hours to convince her otherwise. Rachel seemed to be the only person, passenger or otherwise, who took the time to talk to her and settle her down in her seat. She would stay put for a whole 10 minutes perhaps, before springing up with youthful vigour from her chair to announce to those of us nearby that she wanted to exit the plane for we had surely arrived in Santiago. Each time she did this, I would get my hair tussled, an elbow in the eye-socket, or most amusingly a handbag dropped on me (a sleeping me, I might add) from a considerable height. Eventually, after running round the aisle after her nephew (a man in his 40s who seemed oblivious to her plight) she did what baby Nelson would have done - she sat back down and fell straight into a deep sleep for the rest of the journey. God bless the old dear, but I was praying she wasn't going to be on our return flight and, thankfully, our flight back from Santiago was devoid of bonkers women.

But, on our return we did however get delayed again, missing our final connection to Natal. (In fact, the delayed flight featured candidates from a "Mister Rio 2007" competition. With biceps the size of watermelons, I figured they would be the best guys to operate the emergency doors in the event of an emergency). So, it wasn't until lunch on Wednesday (and after one of my lessons had been cancelled) that we touched down in Natal. But it was worth it, every penny, every minute. What a great holiday - I promise some more detail of Chile next post.

Oh, and one more thing. We sat next to a chatty bloke on one flight who wanted to practice his English with us. He was from Sao Paulo, a consultant. He told us that BRA (that insufferable airline that so gyped me) approached his company to do consultancy - however, his company declined. The reason? BRA were not able to provide an account of their financial situation. Sensing they may not ever be paid, his company quite rightly pulled out.

Amusing uses of English. Continuing the theme of flying on airplanes, I'm constantly amused by the efforts of some Brazilian air stewardesses to deliver announcements in English over the airplane tannoy. I suspect they're reading off a card, or from rote, but aside from the dodgy intonation and pronunciation sometimes they mix up whole sentences.

My two favourites: "Please return your seatbelts to the upright position". Ah yes, we can't be having any seatbelts reclining noncholantly across our laps. Presumably we will have to buckle our tray tables too.

And from this most recent trip: "Please refrain from smoking cell phones until inside the terminal building". I guess the newer models are fully equipped with every mod-con... I'm just not sure which end to light up.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Casa Roberto and Paula. We managed to link up with Roberto by phone shortly after my last post. On Saturday morning he, along with his wife Paula, picked us up and drove us over to Valparaiso - just over 100kms away from Santiago, and on the coast facing the Pacific Ocean. The drive was beautiful, the roads excellent and the day turned out to be sunny and crisp. We stayed at a chalet belonging to Roberto´s sister - the views of the busy town, beach, sea and orange sunset from her patio were stunning.

Sunday we investigated the town and neighbouring Vina del Mar, sampling some local seafood and beer along the way. The beach was decidely colder than Natal. Most Chileans were fully clothed, huddled together, lying flat on the sand in order to duck out of the way of the stiniging breeze. Some foolhardy sorts, (they reminded me of my Dad) were in their swimming costumes taking a dip in the icey Pacific waves. In actual fact, swimming and surfing on most beaches on this stretch was not permitted. The beach drops away into deep and swift ocean currents and it´s considered very unsafe. In the evening, we met up with another of Roberto´s sisters and her family and their gorgeous house just around the corner for some wine and chit chat.

Apart from these small excursions we have mostly been sleeping which can´t be bad. 1 year and 4 months around young Nelson has left a sleep deficit which we are only now managing to replenish. However, we have had ample time to chat to Roberto and Paula (he speaks English, she Spanish but understands Portuguese well). I did my MA with Roberto in York and he is a quiet and thoughtful fellow whose insights into Chilean and South American society, culture and politics has given me enough material for 6 months worth of blog... watch this space for more from him.

We are back in Santiago now at their apartment. Tomorrow morning early, a taxi will take us to the airport for our return flights.