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.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Santiago. We made into Santiago last night and crashed into bed at 4.30am in the morning. Some hilarious stories from our flights which I´ll recount later. I´m typing this from a grotty internet cafe keyboard near our hotel. Out the window - a clean and bustling Santiago, blue skies and the Andes dominating the sky line. It really is stunning here. Tomorrow, if we establish contact with my friend Roberto OK, we should be off to Valparaiso... more news later.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This time tomorrow... we will be on a plane out of Natal on our way to Chile on holiday. Next blog entry will perhaps be from Santiago.

It is a holiday because... Friday is another national holiday in Brazil, this time for the Patron Saint of Brazil, who is - nossa senhora aparecida - that is to say Mary the mother of Jesus. (I was thinking that as Protestants who don't have saints, we should lobby for our own holidays. For example, we definitely need a holiday or two to celebrate the Protestant work ethic). Also, Friday is coincidentally children's day, (like they need another special day in their honour!). I got the fright of my life this week in our supermarket when I was accosted in the nappy aisle by a shop assistant dressed as a clown trying to sell me toys in commemoration of this illustrious occasion.

Next Monday is another holiday for us, as it's national teacher's day. Now, that's what I'm talking about! And, if my proposals for a national "husbands of Brazilians day", "gringos in Natal day", "rice pudding eaters appreciation day" and "Arsenal supporters day" come to fruition I won't have to work until next March. So all these holidays create the space we need to jet off to Chile on 90% reduced air tickets thanks to a TAM promotion...

The distance from Natal, NE Brazil, to Santiago, central Chile, is... more than the distance of Natal to Lagos in Nigeria. Surprising, huh? And it's also 500 miles further than the distance from London to Timbuktu. Thanks to http://www.mapcrow.info/ for the stats.

Between now and tomorrow... we have to do sooo much! Taking a holiday mid-semester is a bit cheeky and we are cutting into our working week either side of our long weekend. This means extra planning for teachers that cover lessons and Rach has to get a presentation of the school's accounts ready by tomorrow. We'll need a holiday after the week we're having, and then we'll need another one after our holiday.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Rugby. England take on Australia in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup tomorrow. Surprisingly, as Brazilian sports interest usually stretches no further than football, volleyball and tennis at a push, there's been quite a bit about rugby on the sports channels here. Several students have told me they've watched some televised games recently. Two guys tell me they are even playing a bit of rugby at the university. It seems like a French guy is training them... Brazilian rugby is on a par with Brazilian cricket (which according to my Father in law is on a par with Brazilian wine) as something that Brazilians don't do very well. Don't cross your fingers for Brazil being in the next rugby world cup.

Hugby. The other thing that amuses me about all this talk of Rugby is that there are some words in Portuguese that are directly transported from English but adapted to the Portuguese pronunciation system. In particular, Brazilians pronounce R as H, especially at the start of words. (Incidentally, I'm sure this happens in reverse - the Japanese are probably amused at the British pronunciation of sushi, judo and kimono). Even Brazilians with excellent English pronunciation will still fall back to the Brazilian way of saying these words: Hock n Holl, Poppy Hocky and Hap music. The footballers Wayne Hooney, Thierry Henhy and Tomas Hosicky. And, finally the sports Hally Hacing and Hugby. When it starts with an "h", Hugby sounds a little less masculine than it usually does...

Rear-ended again. You may remember I bumped the back of somebody's car a few weeks back. Rach was taking Nelson to school last week when she was rear-ended in the same car. Again, our vehicle had not a scratch and the other guys was a wreck. It was entirely his fault so, after checking our car was OK, Rach drove on and got on with her day leaving the poor chap to get his car repaired. The car we are using right now is quite a large Ford Echo - they are very popular in Brazil, a sort of mini-SUV for town. Normally, I'd be opposed, on environmental grounds, to having such a big town car but in Natal it pays to have one because the driving is so erratic. A big car = genuinely less damage and more safety to you. On average once a week we notice the traffic is held up because somebody has switched lanes too fast and pranged the car in front of them.

Rach back today (hooray!). I think us boys have survived at home relatively well, but it just isn't the same without Rach around. She gets into night and we'll all be pleased to see her again.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rachel's 21st birthday (again!). Today is Rachel's birthday. Coincidentally, it was also another Brazilian national holiday so we were able to have a lie in and spend time with friends and family. But, it has been quite a surreal day. We spent the morning at a hotel saying goodbye to our good pals Mariano and Barbara, and their two kids Miguel and Sophia (pictured above at Miguel's first birthday party). The family are on their way to Seattle where Mariano has a new job. As I write they are currently in the air going from Natal to Sao Paulo to New York to Seattle. We thought moving to a new country via one direct flight with one baby was tough. With two kids, and for that long, that is one obscene journey our friends are taking. Mariano starts work within a week of getting there too. They are in our prayers!

Anyway, after the tearful goodbyes Rachel and I and Nelson headed off to Camaroes, our favourite seafood restaurant for Rachel's birthday. Nelson can't sit still for more than a fraction of a second so when the three of us go out to eat the usual routine is one of us chases around the premises apologising to waitors and customers who Nelson barges into or tries to impress with his numerous tricks. (But, as has been mentioned before on this blog, Brazilians are quite fond of babies so usually there is no problem). When the food arrives we take it into turns to eat, scoffing our delicious main courses down as fast as possible so the other parent doesn't have to go hungry for too long. Despite these shenanigans it was well worth doing.

And then I drove to the airport for the second time that day to drop Rachel off to get a plane to Recife as she is flying to Rio tomorrow morning for meetings. So, I'm home alone with Nelson. My skills as Dad are certainly being pushed to the limit without Rachel around. But, so far, everything has gone more or less according to plan... not counting putting his nappy on backwards, setting the fridge on fire, putting his ear drops in his eyes, etc. So, it's been a good day if a little rushed. I think Rach has had a good time which is the main thing.

Augusto the football player. Yesterday, one of my students, a fairly shy, short, wiry teenager who lives in our neighbourhood, came into class as usual, sat down and whispered something to his friend in Portuguese. His pal, an outgoing chap, promptly announced to the class that this was to be Augusto's last day in Cultura Inglesa! Now, it's unusual to stop attending a course mid-way through the semester so we pried a little further and this is what we discovered. Augusto is moving to another state (Piaui) further north to play football professionally. Apparently, he had already been turning out in Natal for ABC 2nds and 3rds and had even played a game at the Machadao stadium before. Now he has been offered the chance of first team football at Piaui Esporte Clube. He will have to say goodbye to his folks and move to a new city several hours drive away. He will be paid (I don't know how much) and he will continue his education and perhaps his English there.

I asked my brother in law (who knows a thing or two about football) if he had heard of this team and he said he hadn't. A wikipedia search reveals them to be ranked as the 128th best team in Brazil. There are probably as many football teams in Brazil as churches (that is to say, a lot!) and Augusto will be one of thousands of young men who hope to make the big time. But, let's hope he does well. At the end of the lesson we quizzed him about his chosen career. He said his dream is to play for Brazil and perhaps in Europe. So, keep your eyes open for the thin midfielder from Natal - you heard it here first.

Gringo Maclure reporting. Speaking of Brazilian football, let me finish with a shameless plug. One thing I've enjoyed about being in Brazil is I have had more time to write (as you can tell!). I do bits and bobs mostly online. I recently joined a community of webloggers who write about football. My name is Gringo Maclure and I try to provide the South American angle to the beautiful game. My first post went up last week. You can read it at http://www.reallifenews.com/.