Saturday, May 23, 2009

How Brazilians see the British. It so happens that we've been talking about national stereotypes in some of my English classes. How do Brazilians see themselves? How do they see other nations? Interesting questions. Brazilians perceive themselves as happy, fun, relaxed but students quickly cited laziness and dishonesty as being typically Brazilian traits. I actually think those last two have more in common with a trait I've noticed in Brazilians - paranoia and a general feeling that the world is against them. Firstly, Brazilians are not lazy. They know how to relax and celebrate but they work long days and they seem to me to be generally conscientious and hard-working. Nonetheless, Brazilians perceive North Americans, Europeans and especially the Portugese as looking down on them as inferiors. They imagine themselves as a third world country and while that's true for much of the interior of the country, Brazil is definitely "second" world when it comes to its megacities and in recent years proving to be a 21st Century economic power house. "You think you're third world?" I sometimes provokingly ask my students. "You haven't been to Chad".

But, I'd suggest that Brazil has in recent years been a very popular place - both in the imagination and in reality - for us Brits back in the UK. From the football shirts to the carnival holidays to the music and the film, Brits have generally received with open arms anything coming out of this giant-sized country. The exotic, the bright colours, the tropical beaches, the uninhibited desire to wiggle one's hips - all of this is very un-British and so we envy it and secretly want to be it.

And the Brazilians? How do they see us Brits? My students often shirk back from coming out with anything too stinging against their British teacher, but over the last couple of years I think I've got the general idea. Brits are polite, educated, cultured have a dry sense of humour but are a bit cold and reserved. Maybe, though, the best expression of how a Brazilian feels about us Brits should come from the mouth of one of their finest poets and musicians Caetano Veloso. During the 1960s, Caetano fled the dictatorship here and passed some years in 1960s London. And during that time he wrote this song, in English, about the nation's capital:

Here are the lyrics to London London. You can see the tune right here being performed recently by another Brazilian artist, Paulo Ricardo.

Im wandering round and round nowhere to go
Im lonely in London
London is lovely so I cross the streets without fear
Everybody keeps the way clear
I know, I know no one here to say hello
I know they keep the way clear
I am lonely in London without fear
Im wandering round and round here nowhere to go
While my eyes Go looking for flying saucers in the sky

Oh Sunday, Monday, Autumm pass by me
And people hurry on so peacefully
A group approaches a policeman
He seems so pleased to please them
Its good at least to live and I agree
He seems so pleased at least
And its so good to live in peace and
Sunday, Monday, years and I agree
While my eyes Go looking for flying saucers in the sky

I choose no face to look at
Choose no way I just happen to be here
And its ok Green grass, blue eyes, gray sky, God bless
Silent pain and happiness I came around to say yes, and I say
But my eyes Go looking for flying saucers in the sky

Nevermind the bits about the flying saucers (whatever that might mean - but this was the 1960s, you know) and putting aside the rather on-the-nose rhyming in places, we can see that Caetano is expressing a sense of dislocation from his native land while at the same time highlighting elements in his new city of residence which he warms to and likes.

Security, quiet efficiency and order seem to be some of his themes. When I saw the lyrics I chuckled at the lines about the police. To a man in exile from the murdering special forces of his own nation, polite bobbies on street corners were obviously a strange enough sight to comment on. The British police - the best in the world. That may have been one stereotype that Brazilians signed up to for a few years. And yet, after the death of one of their own - Jean Charles de Menezes - at the hands of a British agent, you can't help but imagine that this positive reputation and stereotype of the British force by Brazilians may have died alongside the young man shot in the head on that London underground train in July 2005.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What's going on!? And I say... For some inexplicable reason, our local radio station has started playing The 4 Non-Blondes song "What's up?" on heavy rotation (despite being over 15 years old). So, I've had that chorus going round my head "What's going on!?". A quick wikipedia search reveals the singer-songwriter is a one Linda Perry who is actually half-Brazilian. Maybe that's why she's especially popular out here.

Whatever, "What's going on!?" Well, let me tell you. Gloria turned 1 and we had a big party down in Recife for that. Rach's sister and bro came up over and surprised Celia as it was Brazilian mothers day as well. I came back to Natal to teach and spent a week here "sozinho" (alone) as Rach stayed in Recife with the kids and her family and then went down to a conference in Porto Alegre of which more in another post. Now, we're all back together our routines are in place, more or less and we're trying to get to the end of the semester in one piece so we can start to think about our move back home.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Brazilian rugby. The other day I was astounded to see that the sports channel ESPN was showing coverage of a Rugby World Cup qualifying game between Brazil and Uruguay. It was in Montevideo, Uruguay, the attendance seemed to be in hundreds (if that!) and not the thousands and, of course, I knew none of the names of these Brazilian "stars" of the national team. The Brazilian coach was French too which perhaps points to the dearth of experienced Brazilian mangers (is this the case with the English football team and Capello?). The commentators reported that Brazilians had lost 79-3 to Chile in their opening match. So, I sat back and waited for the action to begin. Within 3 minutes the Brazilian backs were knocked over like bowling pins and they were a try down. Uruguay went onto win 71-3, which if you look at it positively, is an improvement on the score against Chile. Argentina have the finest team of course, followed by Chile, then Uruguay with Brazil quite a way down the pecking order.

I'm afraid we won't be seeing the men in yellow at the Rugby World Cup in 2011 but on one level they are already the winners of another competition. Before the match against Chile both teams sang their national anthems. The Uruguayans mumbled the words to their anthem under their breaths. The chaps from Brazil bellowed their rendition with such gusto that I felt generally heartened to their cause and for a split second wondered how they couldn't possibly win.

Things I love about Brazil #28: The national anthem. My first exposure to the Brazilian national anthem came when I was dating Rach and visited Brazil in 2002. The national soccer team had just won the World Cup and although we were about to watch a different sport - live Volleyball - the national fervour was clearly spilling over as everyone in the arena, clad from head to toe in yellow, stood up and with arms outstretched boomed out the anthem. As a gringo wearing blue who didn't know the words, I stood out like proverbial sore thumb.

I once heard a BBC radio presenter comment that it's no wonder Brazilians feel so good about themselves and their country and it's no wonder they excel at football - just take a look at the words from their anthem. If this doesn't get you up in the morning, nothing will!

Here is a translation of the complete thing (and they even manage to get the phrase "star-spangled banner" in there) which I picked up from this website:

First Chorus

The placid banks of the Ipiranga (river) heard
the resounding cry of a heroic people
and brilliant beams from the sun of liberty
shone in our homeland's skies at that very moment.

If we have fulfilled the promise
of equality by our mighty arms,
in thy bosom, O freedom,
our brave breast shall defy death itself!
O beloved,idolized homeland, Hail, hail!

Brazil, an intense dream, a vivid ray
of love and hope descends to earth
if in thy lovely, smiling and clear skies
the image of the (Southern) Cross shines resplendently.

A giant by thine own nature,
thou art a beautiful,
strong and intrepid colossus,
and thy future mirrors thy greatness.

Beloved Land amongst a thousand others
art thou, Brazil, O beloved homeland!
To the sons of this landthou art a gentle mother,

beloved homeland,Brazil!

Second Chorus

Eternally lying in a splendid cradle,
by the sound of the sea and the light of the deep sky,
thou shinest, O Brazil, garland of America,
illuminated by the sun of the New World!

Thy smiling, lovely fields have more flowers
than the most elegant land abroad,
"Our woods have more life",
"our life" in thy bosom "more love".
O beloved, idolized homeland, Hail, hail!

Brazil, let the star-spangled banner thou showest forth
be the symbol of eternal love,
and let the laurel-green of thy pennant proclaim'
Peace in the future and glory in the past.'

But if thou raisest the strong gavel of Justice,
thou wilt see that a son of thine flees not from battle,
nor does he who loves thee fear death itself.

Beloved Land,amongst a thousand others
art thou, Brazil,O beloved homeland!
To the sons of this land thou art a gentle mother,

beloved homeland,Brazil!

Things I miss about England #32: Singing hymns in English. I can't say I really miss our own national anthem, but I do miss singing belting songs and hymns in English when I'm in church.

Brazilian rugby: a footnote. The ESPN coverage of the Brazilian game I mentioned didn't last long. Within about 15 minutes they switched the transmission back to football!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gloria at number 1. Today is the first birthday of little Gloria. We took her out for ice cream this afternoon but proper celebrations will be occurring in Recife this weekend. Unfortunately, she looks a bit like someone's been using her as a baseball bat (I promise we would never do that! Please don't call social services!) as her head is covered in bruises. Basically, she's been exercising her new found freedom to walk by careering off into the nearest wall or doorpost or fence or whatever. Steering has yet to be mastered.

Anyway, we're so grateful to God for a great year with her despite the health scare in January. This was the post I wrote when she was born last year. Rach posted a cute picture of Gloria over at her (Rach's) Mummy Club blog.

Two special videos. Rachel (and the kids) were on a local TV show promoting the Mummy Club recently. They all did excelently. We've got the short 2 minute TV clip and wacked it on YouTube. So, this seems as appropriate a way as any to celebrate with Gloria today - by viewing her first (but perhaps not last?) official TV appearance.

Another video which really made me laugh. The football club Corinthians (who now have Ronaldo playing for them) won the Sao Paulo state championship. The ridiculously large trophy was given to the captain who was then (along with a few other dignitaries) raised up on a platform to parade the prize before the crowd. Streamers, fireworks, sparklers, smoke were wafting through the air... well, you'll just have to see for yourself what happened next. Let's just say it's a miracle nobody got hurt. Even more astonishing - once the platform was lowered, everyone just picked the trophy up and started the party again. This just goes to prove three things that I have oft repeated on this blog: 1) Football is a drug that stops Brazilians seeing the problems immediately before them 2) Brazilian health and safety is not all that great 3) Brazilians know how to party OR, that is to say, Brazilians will probably be the ones obliviously dancing away when the 4 horseman of the Apocalypse gallop into town.

For more info see: TILAB #19. TIMAE #7. Thanks to Danny Byrne for first drawing my attention to the video.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

How I got to and back from CELPE-Bras: a mini-Adventure. Last post, I mentioned a bit about the CELPE-Bras test I took. Getting the paperwork sorted and getting to and from the test were not entirely straightforward processes. I couldn't do the test in Natal - the nearest federal university was in Paraiba, in the next state, in Joao Pessoa. Being a 3 hour drive away, I had to take a day off work drive down the night before, stay with Rach's family so I could be on campus for the insanely early start of 7.30 am.

The drive down took a long time. I had my Portuguese CDs blaring out dialogues through the stereo and when we stopped for half an hour because of road works I could even get my grammar book out and revise the 2nd and 3rd conditionals while we waited. At one point a whole village had come out to oggle us in our cars while we waited - I couldn't even see a reason for the stoppage: my best guess was that a tree had fallen across the tarmac. They are widening the road between Natal and Joao Pessoa but it seems to be a case of things getting worse before the get better for now, with traffic being fed through one lane at points on the route (Things I miss about England #97: motorways). We're into Natal's rainy season now (or winter as they call it) and so visibility was quite low in places slowing the traffic down further. I enjoy the drive though, not least because for stretches of it you feel like you're driving through the middle of nowhere (Things I love about Brazil #97: The Outback) and, even though the ride might not be as picturesque as the TILAB #40, it gave me plenty of chance to exercise the TILAB #'s 51 and 52.

Although they don't have Welcome Break service stations here (Things I miss about England #96: road-side services) they do have grilled corn for sale by the side of the road (Things I love about Brazil #12: grilled corn on the cob sold by the side of the road). As it was coming towards evening the enterprising lady with her corn sold me three cobs for 2R so I could clear out her box. A sure bargain although it was quite hard to work my way through 3 corn on the cobs. My jaw muscles ached the next day too - those husks were husky.

I stayed the night with Tia Claudia, Rachel's aunt on her farm with her family and horses, dogs, fish and othr critters. I love being out there - it's so peaceful and quite a contrast to the beach-centric side of Brazilian life. Having said that, the wet weather caused a surge of mozzies (Things I love about England #13: not so many mozzies) which had me slapping my ankles every 5 seconds as I tried to cram for the test. Also, I panicked at one stage as I realised I had forgotten to bring any tea with me. I'm partial to a cuppa and while in Brazil often have a longing for TIMAE #'s 8 with 16. Despite a couple of years of being cold turkey on tea, Rach and I are now back on the habit and if we don't get our early morning fix of PG tips it can leave us with some nasty migraines by lunchtime (Things I miss about England #15: readily available tea). I was not looking forward to having splitting headaches through my written paper so, mercifully, Tia Claudia found a box of Twining's Blackcurrent tea which made a nice brew and seemed to have done the trick.

Early the next morning Elyn (Rach's cousin) drove me onto the University Campus. I arrived before 7am to see sleepy students and professors overloaded with folders trudging in. The early start to the day suits me though and the sunshine at the time of the morning is glorious (Things I love about (the north east of) Brazil #55: All-year morning sunshine). I enjoyed being back on campus. I felt a strange longing for Heslington and the university of York. Perhaps there is some sort of essence of campus which doesn't change across the world: the pro-marijana posters, the students sitting around picnic tables, grafitti in the toilets, pokey offices belonging to eccentric lecturers whose doors are plastered with flyers for this and that conference, the prevalance of cats... Wait a minute? Cats. This was definitely a novelty for me. Whereas we had ducks in York, Paraiba university has loads of cats around the place. I guess they keep the vermin down. Anyway, I like cats and I appreciated them being there - it gave the whole campus a very homely feel (Things I love about Brazil #94: cats on campus).

After my written paper it was lunch time so I went for a walk to find a supermarket to get some lunch. By the time I got there and back I had probably only been walking for half an hour but I was as hot as a pig on a spit. Now, I'm a fan of the hot weather hear as much as the next man but in the middle of the day it can get unbareable (Things I miss about England #81: not needing 3 cold showers a day to stay fresh). So, a rather sticky me took the oral test in the afternoon, then I drove off to find Rach's family. Rach had driven down with the kids so they could see their cousins Mel and Johnny in JP. She came with her folks in another car and again I found myself thinking how great it was that child safety laws were slightly less stringent than in the UK (Things I love about Brazil #83: kids don't have to use car seats up to the age of 11!) so that they could all fit in one vehicle with the kids sitting on laps. I'm all for child safety, don't get me wrong, but I think the UK laws need to be rolled back a bit in favour of letting parents take their own common sense decisions on this (hear, hear!).

We all met up for a great meal at Mangai, our favourite restaurant for regional food and then piled back to Rachel's Uncle's house for the night. Unfortunately, there were several city-wide power cuts which made for an interesting drive home (no traffic lights working) and a pretty broken night as we tried to keep the kids cool without air conditioner (Things I miss about England #25: less power cuts). The next day we visited several of Rach's relatives and made our way back together. But, all in all, the whole couple of days were excellent and worth doing - mainly because, when all's been said and done, I've really enjoyed learning the language of my wife and her family (Things I love about Brazil #7: Portuguese).

Monday, May 04, 2009

CELPE-Bras. This time last week I was in the middle of a gruelling 3-hour writing paper for the government Portuguese exam, CELPE-Bras. I decided to take the test to give myself something to work towards to improve my Portuguese before we left. With a reasonable result, I hope my certificate might also provide something to stick on the ol` CV. The test itself was OK - I had prepared for it fairly well, utilising all the techniques and strategies I've been trying to teach my own students taking English exams. I had memorised idioms, set phrases, useful collocations, linking devices and I frequently used strategies in my oral test to buy time and stall if I didn't know how to express my answers.

Generally, I think the writing went OK. The oral test was hard as I was being interviewed by someone I'd never met before I wasn't used to their voice. The hardest section of all was the listening - a woman was talking about a restaurant. After the test, I heard two other candidates talking about the listening part - "Did you manage to get the address for the restaurant?". "Not all of it", came the reply. Meanwhile, I was in the background with eyebrows raised thinking "what address?!!!".

Twenty or so of us took the test in Joao Pessoa. I was the only Brit/American. Several other Latin Americans were there (not fair, I thought, as Spanish is so similar to Portuguese). Some candidates were definitely European - French, Spanish and I think. With test centres all around Brazil and the world, the CELPE-Bras seems to becoming increasingly well-known and sought after. Before my oral test I chatted to one of the helpers for the test - a university student studying literature. My conversation with her went a lot better than my oral test, I felt, and she had a lot to say about university life in Brazil. She explained that for many people the CELPE-Bras is their ticket to a new life in Brazil. Some companies, professions and many university research or teaching positions will require the certificate if you are to make a living here (similar, to be fair, to all the university-entry English tests I prepare students for back in the UK). In actual fact, she was teaching 8 Congolese refugees (who did not know French - so for them, Portuguese would be a whole more alien than it was for me!) who were going to win VISAs if they passed the exam. I felt humbled - my reasons for taking the test were rather low-key in comparison. For others the stakes were much higher.

One final note - a further question to the student from Joao Pessoa. Whenever I meet anyone who isn't studying to be a lawyer, doctor, engineer, nutritionist or computer scientist at university I always have to ask them how they're managing. This is because I've come to realise that many parents and families exert pressure on their kids to do courses that lead to certain traditional, high-earning careers which often comes at the expense of art, music, history, literature or philosophy. So, when I asked the young lady studying literature how her parents reacted to her course choice, she gave me a weary sigh as if this was a topic that frequently came up. "All I say to people is that the biggest and best thinkers - the people who changed society - came from studying the arts and humanities. That's what I'm aiming for". As someone who spent an inordinate amount of time in the York university library hunched over tomes on the Politics and History floors, I couldn't agree more!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Guest photoblogger: Nathan Rockley. A bumper final offering from Mr. Nathan. Four more photos from their time in Fortaleza, including an appearance of Smilinguido (the famuos Brazilian Christian ant painted on the walls of Gabriel's home) and also a young chap who Nathan befriended. A big thank you to Nathan for his photos. They've certainly brightened up my blog. All we need now from the ever-talented Rockleys is a contribution from Priya which, Paul assures me, is in the pipeline. In the meantime, I leave you with Nathan's top ten experiences in Brazil:

1. Meeting Gabrielle
2. Walking through the jungle (That is, the Eco-sanctuary at Pipa)
3. Sand dune buggy ride
4. Ma-Noa (The waterpark)
5. The fabulous beaches
6. All the piscinas (yes, it is fair to say, Nathan and Priya road-tested many swimming pools during their time - Ed).
7. Nature park
8. Plane flights
9. The heat
10. Crazy road train at Fortaleza. (I wasn't there for this - you'll just have to ask Nathan to explain next time you see him)

Friday, May 01, 2009

May Day round up.
We're enjoying another national holiday - I think its the third in recent weeks. We had our new friends Sam and John over with their three boys. Nelson was so excited he was QUITE LITERALLY bouncing off the walls. He (Nelson) also found a stash of new undies that his granny had bought him. He changed in and out of various pairs 5 times before 10am.

Blog round up. This is the 300th published post on this blog. While the Rockleys were here we passed the 5,000 hits mark as well ( = just under 17 hits per post). Thanks to everyone who reads!

Footy round up. I wrote an article over here about Ronaldo - not Cristiano, THE Ronaldo who has scored more goals in World Cups than anyone else. He is starting to cause a stir back in Brazil as he's now playing for Corinthians.

Guest photoblogger: Nathan Rockley. Another installement from Nathan, two pictures from their trip to Fortaleza: it's the Rockleys with Priya's Compassion sponsored child - Gabriel!

The internet wasn't working here recently which is why we got behind on his series - sorry Nathan! Also, another question - this time one that Nathan asked me. The thing is, Natal hosts the biggest cashew tree in the world. It's something the local tourist board are very keen on and they've done quite a good job even since we've been here of putting in walkways, drumming up interest and creating nice publicity. Having lived here for 2 and a half years, I feel the cashew tree is something of an amusing joke. I mean, it's just a tree. It's also very wide, not very tall. It just looks like an overgrown hedge. It's the sort of thing guests are keen to see (yippee!! The world's largest cashew tree!!!) then after 3 minutes they sort of look slightly bemused (oh, right... ok, then... well, let's go to the beach). So, with this in mind, I tend to downplay the cashew tree when visitors are here. But, on our last day, I took the Rockleys to experience the wonders of the tree for themselves. A couple of hours later, having had time to ponder the merits of the foliage, Nathan had this to ask me while we were in the car:

Q: Dave, why do you say the cashew tree isn't very good? It's amazing!