Friday, August 29, 2008

One thing or another. It's probably going to be a busy weekend so I thought I'd write a short update now. Life's been pretty full on for us - but rewarding at the same time. My students are coming up for their first assessments next week. I still haven't learned all their names yet. Mind you, one group of 20 or so teenagers has an annoying mixture of people with very similar names - Gabriel/Gabriella, Graça/Jessica, Isadora/Isabelle, Marcia/Marcella, Joao Vitor/Joao Henrique. I mostly just point and say "you there!".

Olympics over but Paralympics anyone? Brazil did moderately well in these Olympics - they lost a bunch of finals to the Americans which they were pretty sore about but their women's volleyball team managed to get gold against the States, prompting scenes of delirious jubilation on the podium. See here for an awesome interactive medals table from all Olympics up to and including 2008 as done by the New York times. Also, Brazil won their first individual women's gold medal ever when Maggi leapt 7.04 metres in the long jump. However, Brazil were denied a chance to even attempt for a medal in the women's pole vault when the ladies coach misplaced the poles after qualifying. The competitor had to borrow somebody else's pole but it didn't work out too well - it was like something out of Cool Runnings.

The Paralympics start at the end of next week and we'll be keeping an eye out for two possible medal contenders - Adriano Lima and Clodoaldo, both from Natal. The first is a student of the language school and I met him and interviewed him last year and wrote a post about it here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Things I miss about England #38: Match of the Day. So, the English Premier league has started again. Another season and another chance for me to miss all the goals. "If only I had Match of the Day!", I've frequently cried. Hansen, Lawro et al. may not be your cup of tea and you may think their razor-sharp analysis is as sharp as a toothbrush but they're a fair bit better than coverage here in Brazil. There are programmes which show the British goals. Only problem is you have to watch 2 hours of talking for 10 seconds of clips. And there's no consistency about when the programmes will even be on (TV guides may have been invented but it doesn't mean anyone has to stick to them!) or when in the programmes the goals will come. Even when they do show goals from the Premiership the editing is pretty shocking resulting in a speeded up 2 second-clip of a wonder goal followed by a 30 second repeated slow-motion clip of the referee falling over.

The absolute best (or worst) example of this dodgy editing came this very evening when my father-in-law was listening to an online radio commentary of a game involving his team Nautico (think Reading) playing at home ot the league leaders Gremio (think Chelsea). With 2 minutes left of the game and with Nautico winning 1-0 the commentator had to cut to a party political election broadcast. Left high and dry without commentary, Steve managed to get text commentary from a website only to find his beloved Nautico had let in an equaliser in the 90th minute. It was a double sucker punch (or should that be "soccer punch") for my already frustrated father-in-law.

Thank goodness for the internet which allows me to at least see the Arsenal goals (that's if they're ever going to score any!) from a dodgy, grainy Arabic website.

Things I love about Brazil #68: Football commentators. It's not that Brazilian footy commentators are good. It's more that they're just funny. They don't seem to take themselves or their jobs as seriously as Messrs Motson and Tyler. There's much more banter, much more speculating about what's actually happening, much less clarity about who is who... my top 5 Brazilian commentator moments so far:

1. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLL. I have to admit, the way commentators announce a goal being scored is very handy. You can be anywhere in the house and know somebody has scored. It's a great way to make sure you don't miss the replay. If you're watching a game involving Brazil (in any sport), a goal for the mother country is not only announced with the customary drawn out shouting of "GOL" but a techie in the sound-box will put on a cheesy sound-clip of somebody (Rachel informs me it's Galvão Bueno) saying "Brazil-zil-zil-zil-zil!" occasionally followed by a 10 second clip of Brazilian samba music. It's truly extraordinary and one of those things that can only be fully appreciated if you're there at the time. But, thanks to the miracle of YouTube you can be. Click here to see what I'm on about.
2. The commentators of a Carling Cup match didn't know that the game would go to extra time. On seeing two teams who had just finished a match line up against each other for more, they were incredulous: "This didn't happen last year! What's going on?"
3. For half an Arsenal match, the commentators confused Eboue with Adebayor and vice versa.
4. The commentators pronounced the Birmingham player "Jerome" as Jeremy. For a short while, I though the former Chelsea player "Geremi" had moved to Birmingham. I was very confused. The pronunciation and intonation of some football teams is also a highlight: "PortsMOUTH versus FulHAM".
5. Commentating on the women's football in the Olympics, the two commentators on duty couldn't help but push their commentary to the edge of political correctness. Their commentary deviated from, well, commentating to the occasional piece of advice giving or melodrama. "Calm down! Calm down! Take your time. You didn't need to boot it out of defence!". And when Brazil conceded a penalty: "My goodness, that was a clear penalty! I have never seen such an obvious penalty in all my life! That was bad!".

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More supermarket stories. I did the family shop today and Nordestao. Honestly, I've not come across a better supermarket anywhere. (Rachel calls me a big girl when I talk like this, but it's true!). The other day, for Father's day, they put on free live music (a man on an electric keyboard) and provided free breakfast. And that was at 8am on a Sunday morning! Today, I chuckled to myself at the checkout when the lady behind the counter suggested I use the toblerone-shaped devider-y thing between my pile of shopping and the lady's in front of me on the conveyor belt. Every supermarket in Brazil has them, but I've never seen anyone use one... until today. I wiped away a small tear. It was just like being back in Tesco.

All that glitters isn't gold. The nation mourns that neither the men nor women footballers will take gold away from the Beijing Olympics. The women's final was extraordinary. Brazil did everything but score and then they let one in to the Americans in extra time and lost it 1-0. Now, I hold an American passport but I can tell you I was cheering for the yellow and greens. The men's team went out under a cloud after a lacklustre display against Argentina in the semis, but the women showed real fighting spirit for 120 minutes. When they lost most of them collapsed on the field in tears. The cameras panned to the crowd to show their mothers weeping too. As the commentator said afterwords: "There has never been a more beautiful silver medal won by Brazil!".

Rachel's cousin Ren and her family have been in Beijing catching the Olympics. She's written some interesting entries on her blog about her experiences there if anyone's interested. Click here for those.

Maclure blog banned in China. OK, this was a weird story coming out of the blogosphere this week. MADDOGS&ENGLISH, just one of my many random blogs, has been blocked by the Chinese authorities. Even more surreal was that the person who notified me about it was a Mr.Thor May. Thor May is quite a name in the world of English Teaching and somebody I read and cited in a recent ET seminar I gave: I was astonished! I'm not sure what the point of this story is - it's just another yarn on how the internet is making the world a smaller place.

Learning from my students. I have a good set of students this semester and I'm excited about teaching 2 guys who are working towards the test to join the Brazilian diplomat service. One of the guys, a Mr. Daniel Dantas - a lawyer, wrote such an exceptionally good piece of writing about the problem of internet piracy that he not only convinced me my views were wrong, he used practically flawless academic English to say so.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Busy life and more people to stay. I seem to have a fairly packed teaching schedule again as the semester is really underway. I didn't realise until this week that one of my private students, Rafael, is the Governor's Grandson. His Mum also wants private lessons. With the local elections coming up, including Governor of the city, it will be interesting to see how interested the two of them are in an hour of English grammar when maybe they're expected to be making themselves busy electioneering.

Rachel's brother and girlfriend have come up to visit this weekend. It's been great to see them and we'll probably hit the beach this weekend. And with the football season starting back home, and a few more days of Olympics, there's plenty of ways to keep busy... oh, and I have to give a talk at church today in Portuguese. So, that's on my mind too.

Brazil shows Brazil. Natal has a large convention and conference centre situated on top of a sand dune overlooking the ocean. Rachel found out about an event there and we decided to get along as a family for an hour. The event was a fair, supposedly about informing Brazilians about the products their land exports. In other words, "educational". But, instead of a display of havaina flip-flops or a presentation on the export of Soya, the whole event, we realised as we got swept along by a tide of bargain-hunters, was actually a free-for-all time for sale shopping. Furthermore, we saw some decidely un-Brazilian things on offer - Nike T-shirts on discount, pirate DVDs of Hollywood films and most bizarrely some plastic, flashing, dancing crucifixes made in China as sold by an authentic Chinaman! As Rachel and I made our way back to the car after an hour of walking around we agreed - it was worth doing, but still the old addage remains: in Brazil always expect the unexpected.

Brazil @ the Olympics. I've never been out of the UK or the USA during the Olympics and it's interesting to me to see what the Olympics means to Brazilians and how it differs to being back home. Frequently over the last few days Rachel has been heard to exclaim to her friends and family how happy she is to be back here for this Olympics and not in the UK (in a holiday home in Cumbria to be exact) as was the case with Athens 2004. She says things like, "No more rowing! No more cycling! And thank heavens they don't show all 4 hours of the marathon like those Brits do!".

I, for one, would love to see a bit of the track and field but coverage of that has been reduced to the Jamaican Bolt taking the World Record in the 100m. Instead, the Olympics for Brazilians are about team sports and not individual performance - men's and women's handball, volleyball, beach volleyball and football occupy the most hours. The weight of expectation is on the men's football team who have never won Olympic gold - the only thing missing from Brazil's glistening record in football. Swimming and Judo make up the rest of the time. In the Judo, Brazil already garnered some bronze medals. In Swimming, Brazil won their first gold of these games in the 50m freestyle when the 21-year-old Cesar Cielo raced across the 50 metre pool in 21 and a half seconds beating his rival by 2 hundreths of a second or so. He, (blubbing away through the medal ceremony and for many hours afterwards) and his parents have featured endlessly on Brazilian TV stations since the impressive achievement. According to an article I read, President Lula himself called through to register his congratulations.

One more strange person: the under-cover cop. Last night, we took Rachel's brother and girlfriend to our favourite little tapioca place near Ponta Negra beach. On this occasion, we approached the establishment with extreme caution to see if we could spot the small, slightly chubby and extremely hairy man who had caused us a bit of grief at that exact same time and spot a week earlier when Ruth was here. If he was there I think we would've moved on, but he wasn't so we stayed.

There are many details to this, but the basics are...

Last Saturday as Ruth, Rach and I and the kids sat down for a tapioca we were joined by a man who wanted to practice his English with me. At first, we mistakenly imagined he was the restaurant owner welcoming us, but as time went on his manner went from very friendly (he invited us to his house for barbecue) to talkative (we covered some geography and politics and religion and Jesus) to oppresively talkative as he recounted intimate details of his life (he was a single Dad, his father had just died) and never stopped to listen to our responses.

The short story is he turned out to be an undercover cop (although, he kept assuring us he was a fair and honest cop, not given to taking bribes) and he was here to bust a night club on the street where there was a supposed paedophile stalking. He warned us not to stick around too late with the kids - we should take them to the "safety" of our home (don't worry, officer, we didn't fancy taking our kids to a nightclub where paedophiles stalk anyway!). He then emptied his utility belt on the table, stopping at one point to tell us he had a gun, then proceeded to under-pay his bill (the waiter didn't argue - they were more interested in getting him out of there as the restaurant had emptied!) and finally, we drew a line under our "friendship" when he called for police back-up and got up from the table with his badge to arrest a bloke seemingly innocently walking past outside.

Ruth, Rachel and I talked a while about how to respond to a situation like that. And I've been praying for the guy in question - he is obviously a bit lonely, very emotional (who knows what he witnesses/does as part of his job) and if he has had tragedy in his life recently then maybe he is struggling to deal with it. Even so, when his behaviour started to turn sour bordering on aggressive and there was a discrepancy between his words and actions (I am an honest cop / I won't pay all this bill!) and he has a gun - then, of course, getting us and the kids out of there has to be a priority, doesn't it? I think I still have his card - should I contact him? I probably won't. But, what would Jesus do?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The strange people we left behind: part 3. Above is a picture of Hugh, one of the Gillum lads who visited us this July. Hugh is the one nearest the camera, a rugby-playing, 6-foot-something, university student. He was accosted by a "strange" (read "drunk") person near our house when he was here. The fellow in question saddled up asking for money. But, before long, the older guy's earnestness gave way to a toothless grin which barely masked the stench of alcohol... Clad in a flourescent yellow football shirt, he positively embraced the bewildered Hugh exclaiming: "Zidane! Zidane! Ess aqui e Zinadene Zidane!". Well, in as much as Hugh was a tall foreigner, he was Zidane. Hugh says it's because the guy saw him play football.

Anyway, this example of another strange person reminds me of the man at the end of my road who was also occasionally inebriated and also had some severe dental problems. The chap in question did not seem to have a regular job, or rather, a job that earned money. As far as I could see, it was his "job" to pace up and down the street without a shirt on, occasionally have a tipple, then open his burger bar in the evening. By this I mean, he would wheel out an ampley-sized trolley from his house which had a hot plate attached. He would power the trolley (and a small TV too) from an extension wire that ran 20 yards up the road into his house. And at the corner he would pass the time between about 6 and 10 serving burgers to passers by. I never once had one despite frequently "promising" him that I would - I just couldn't risk the hospital bills. I later concluded this guy was some sort of big shot in the local mafia as everyone who was anybody eventually ate burgers at his bar. Perhaps he had a protection racket and this was how he earned his dosh. It felt like eating a burger from his bar was some sacred rite of passage into greater prestige and fame. Either way, we will be moderatley sad to say goodbye to him.

Round the corner from our friend's burger bar was a fantastic little restaurant called Matalao. I honestly regret not discovering this gem earlier - they served a buffet lunch of traditional Brazilian food at a fair price and before we left we were practically in the habit of going down there once a week, for lunch on Saturday. Nelsinho for one was a fan of their beans and farofa. The people there were utterly un-strange it has to be said - the place had the feel of a family business and everyone was efficient and courteous. It was the guy outside who was a little old. He was by far the best dressed "car shepherd" I had ever seen, at least from the ankles up. He set about ushering vehicles in and out of parking spaces with customary rigour. And, as an older man, with a suit and shirt and havaiana flip-flops, one couldn't begrudge him his 1Real even if he hadn't really done a lot to deserve it.

It would be unfair to say that the wacky people in our neighbourhood were just Brazilian. Brazilians don't monopolise randomness, I think they're just not ashamed to display it publically. Whatever, behind us and parallel to us lived Bob - a British man, easily in his 60s who ran a massage parlour and taught English on the side. I would sometimes pop round to chat to him as he seemed to appreciate somebody to speak English too. Generally, I found he didn't have a lot positive to say about anything and he inherited a 1950s political correctness which has never gone away. This is because he left the UK during that decade and has never been back once. Instead, he seems to have stumbled across half the world (he started out in Australia) making and losing and pilfering the cash he needed to live until he got to the place where he his now. He, like several missionaries and English teachers I have met, is an example of that strange animal: the ex-pat Brit who has a faded and twisted, but nonetheless prominant, version of Britishness which is carried and displayed with pride. God bless, Bob.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The strange people we left behind: part 2. We finally hand over the keys to our old house today and so it was with a forlorn wave to Rua das Violetas that we say goodbye. You already met the woman called Keith (scroll down two posts) who works in the shop near our old house, but it's also the colourful characters who lived on our road who, while we may not consciously miss them, we will certainly never forget. Above, holding Gloria, is Percia, the mother of Jercia (the other little girl in the photo). Jercia's Grandma is called Mercia. All 3 generations of -ercia's lived in the house opposite us.

Further down the road was the woman with the bug eyes and poodle (see here for a mention of her) - font of all knowledge on the street. Her wild and woolly stories to Rachel were often the stuff of legend. An excerpt: "Did you hear that a baby was left on the door step of a house on the next street!? The owners of the house took the baby in, but the next week my friend says she saw a mad woman roaming the streets looking for a lost child!". We never had anyway to verify the provenance of her stories, and we were always left a little unsure as to how to continue conversations... "É mesmo? Não acredito...".

Up the road was the small, quiet, whispery man (he featured in this story). Despite first impressions that he was a bit touched he turned out to be surprisingly lucid. I recently once chatted to him in the street much to the consternation of several of the neighbours who, with gaping mouths had all paused mid-whatever-they-were-doing to eye-ball the spectacle of a gringo speaking Portuguese. At the end, I turned to walk away and I think the whispery man felt that he should at least try to bring God into the conversation. The context for this being that our household was the only non-Catholic stronghold on the street and most of those around us assumed we were at best heathens and at worst devil-worshippers. Anyway, the small whispery man whispered after me as I turned to walk on: "Vai com Deus"(Go with God). Maybe he didn't expect to be heard (he must be used to this after years of whispering) or maybe he was surprised I had a response - but I turned around walked right back, placed my hand on his shoulder and said: "Vai com Deus, tambem" (You go with God, too). All I could hear as I turned to leave once more was the soft thudding of half-a-dozen jaws hitting the pavement.

Funnily enough, close to the whispery man lived a Sr. Wilson - a very friendly man who would barrel over to our plot, often sauntering through our gate to tussle Nelson's hair and have a chat from time to time. First impressions were - here is a pleasant and clearly on-the-ball man. However, he never learned our names (nor Nelson's) despite repeatedly being told and he never seemed to remember I was a foreigner. Every time I spoke to him he retained the same look of utter horror as the realisation dawned on him I wasn't Brazilian. We expected it was he, and not the small whispery man, who was in fact a little touched.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Ruth is out there (and now she's back again). We're very pleased to welcome back Ruth Leckenby after her 4 week mission trip in Olinda. Ruth was a very welcome guest last year (see her excellent guest blog entries on here) and now with Portuguese phrase book under one arm, a plate of beans in the other she is confronting Brazil - and her fear of frogs - like a seasoned traveller. After an exhauting and at times hairy few weeks working with Brazil's most disadvantaged, Ruth is recouping (we hope) in sunny Natal. Ruth very generously brought us a bevvy of gifts from the UK, including specially selected food items based on the "Things I miss..." section of this blog. So, as the picture above testifies, I was able to have a more or less English breakfast with the essential ingredient of Baked Beans.

NB. Brazilians are very curious about the famous Heinz Baked Beans because Brazilians take their beans very seriously. Generally, on tasting them, Brazilians don't rate them too highly preferring to rapidly reach for a pot of their famous feijão instead. In other words - it's just like English football: We hear a lot about it, but the quality isn't a patch on the home grown variety.

July pictures. July was a packed month with a lot going on - some pictures here if you're interested. (Facebook people will already have seen these).

Nelson sleeps to 6.54am shock! By cutting our son's daytime naps down we have induced a spate of post-6 lie-ins. And, given that Gloria doesn't trouble anyone until 7.30am, my sleep silos are slowly being replenished, praise God!

Welcome Isla Kippin, sister to Esme and Scott. More baby girls in the Maclure side of the family. Congratulations to Anna and Richard!