Thursday, March 06, 2008

Things I miss about England #10: the pub. The pub is such an important institution in England - a warm and generally safe communal gathering area, now free of smoke. And they serve PINTS of beer at pubs, something Brazilians don't do on account of the hot weather allegedly warming the beer before you've drunk it.

Things I love about Brazil #89: Sitting outside on the street on lawn chairs. This particular social trait is more common in Natal than many other Brazilian cities. But, in the cool of the evening, you can stroll around the neighbourhood to find everyone - from grandparents to sleeping babes - propped up on lawn chairs, the awake ones having a natter. It may not be the pub, but I reckon it's the Natalese equivelent. Walking past people sitting on chairs outside houses is how you make yourself known (I imagine if I wanted to join the Natal mafia this would be how I would make a name for myself). One old lady who can always be found passing her rosary beads through her aged fingers occasionally takes it upon herself to barrage with me confusing stories in Portuguese. I take that as a sign of acceptance. Sitting on chairs in the evening is also a sure way to get the latest gossip and nobody is better positioned to do this than the bug-eyed lady with the poodle. I was passing a group of Brazilians huddled in their white plastic seats at the bottom of our road just the other night. I greeted them warmly and walked on. A few yards past I heard one old lady ask, "Quem é?" (Who's he?). And back came the response from the bug-eyed, poodle-owner "É o pãe do galeginho..." (He's the Dad of the little blondie). I chuckled as I walked up our hill. I may not be a somebody in Natal, but I am Nelson's Dad and that's good enough for me.

Three surreal things that happened to me at the supermarket. I did the weekly shop this morning. On my way in, I noticed that we had live acoustic music piped around the shop (surreal thing number 1). It wasn't the first time, but with his tambourine and harmonica to boot Mr. Natal (as likes to be known) was crooning away for the benefit of the happy shoppers. The 8am to 10am slot on a Thursday morning at Nordestão supermarket may not be headlining Glastonbury, but it's a start I suppose.

In the banana aisle I bumped into one of my students, a 20-something Master student called Alexandro. He was a sight - he had a large shopping list in one hand and an open bottle of beer, nearly finished in the other, whilst nudging an overflowing trolley with his elbow (surreal thing number 2). He explained he was in there doing the groceries for his Mum. I felt like asking him if the trauma of it all required the early morning alcohol intake. It seems to be more common in Brazil than in England (where it's just not proper!) to start consuming your purchases before the checkout and then passing the empty packets or bottles through the till. Sometimes I see people pick off a yoghurt from the cooler section and quoff it down on the spot. Even so, I'd never seen someone drinking shop beer at around 9.30am.

Out in the car park and as I was putting my bags in the car, I was accosted by a little lady who kept blowing me kisses (no joke, surreal thing number 3). She had a prepared speech and it seemed to suggest she wanted to sell me a small turtle for my son (she had seen the car seat). I was about to explain that we already had a turtle when she reached into her bag and offered to show me one. I raised my eyebrows, understandably - you mean, you have an aquarium in your handbag? I've seen many-a-thing stored in a lady's handbag but never a bunch of amphibians in a paddling pool. Well, it turns out I had missed the part of her spiel where she said "stuffed-toy" and "used to prop the door open". The item in question was a turtle-shaped, door-stopper. I politely declined at which point she blew me another kiss and told me to "stay with Jesus". I think she had spotted the fish logo on the back of our car and decided that she needed to use the religious angle to promote her product. Very odd, but perhaps it's something to tell the people on the lawn chairs.

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