Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things I miss about England #1 and Things I love about Brazil #1: pals, friends, amigos. We’ll miss the ones we’re leaving behind, but we can’t wait to see the ones we’ve been apart from.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Things I love about Brazil #76, 78, 79: Churrasco, Picanha and Meat. I will really miss Brazilian barbecues (churrascos). The quality of the meat is so good and they have a cut, picanha, which doesn't even exist in European and Northern European butchers! It's like the primest of the prime steak and it's fantastic.

As a continuation of the post TILAB #19, I should add Things I love about Brazil #91, 92, 96: Condominums, Salao de Festa and Sweets. Brazilians love parties and they love condomoniums full of apartments and they've combined their loves into the perfect set up: the salão de festa - a room on the lower floors all set up for parties with kitchen, (sometimes) stage, games rooms and swimming pool access. It`s a cheap and efficient away to hold a party. It serves the purpose of a pub function room.

As it happens though, we had our most recent party at a mall. One of our friends noticed a picture we took of all the sweets available for the kids and noted how different this is from the UK where carrot sticks and tomatoes are the order of the day for the health-conscious Mum. Like Rachel said in response: "Your comment is so funny for so many reasons". Parties are about tanking up on sweets and no dental hygiene or child health expert is going to tell Brazilians otherwise.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things I miss about England #2: My family. Of course, I miss my family a lot. I was so pleased Mum and Dad and cousin Dad made it out to Brazil. Everyone else was very generous, sending things by post for the kids and creature comforts we missed. We hardly ever get post though, and when we do it's sometimes several weeks late and has been re-routed through Thailand (as was the case with a recent packet of tea). Things I miss about England #4: The post. I'm looking forward to having the post back in England which leads to Things I miss about England #18: Cards in the post. Brazilians don't really do cards, and that's a shame. If the post works, it also means I can order more stuff online (Things I miss about England #53: buying things online). It's just too risky and inefficient to do this in Brazil. The country has one of the highest rates of internet fraud so people are very wary of giving out their details online. Brazil's computer networks, and our school's computers, are unfortunatley riddled with viruses which are proving stubborn to get off. Things I miss about England #17: Not so many computer viruses.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Things I miss about England #39: Bounty Chocolate Bars.
Things I miss about England #24: Grey hair. Thanks to my Mum for noticing this - dying your hair is very common, especially if you're a woman of mature years looking to hide the aging process. Mum, who has never dyed her hair, felt a bit conspicious with her "unsightly" grey.
Things I miss about England #37: Log fires.
Things I miss about England #19: Duvets. It's just too hot and many people don't have them.
Things I miss about England #40: Spices and Herbs. There's just not a great option of fresh spices and herbs. Coriander, Oregano, mixed herbs - that's about it.
Things I miss about England #42: Rafi's Spice Box. How miss thee oh curry packs (see TIMAE#9). Even when they get sent, the post doesn't always deliver.
Things I miss about England #26: Trees. Oh, they have trees, but they always come second to pavement and sand. Fortunatley, we have one good park in Natal with great trees.
Things I miss about England #54: High-brow Political Satire. Slapstick gets the most laughs in Brazil. Mr Blobby would be a sensation here.
Things I miss about England #66: Carpets.
Things I love about Brazil #17: Guga the Turtle.
Our pet turtle has been handed onto a new owner, Teacher Dyego. We will miss Guga. Gloria will have nothing to throw a sponge at, Nelson will have no creature with which to terrorise, Rachel will have no critter to ignore and I will have no small animal with which to forget to feed.
Things I love about Brazil #18: The Pernambuco Flag. Down there on the right hand side. Stunning.
Things I love about Brazil #22: Tiled floors.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Things I love about Brazil #32: Great Wall Art. That last photo is very bad, I took it out of the back window of the car as I couldn`t really stop. But, the reason I took the photo is to remind me of the group of artists I saw painting this mural. Presumably sent over by the council (who have, it has to be said, a good eye for presentation) several blank or grubby walls have been turned into works of art. You can just about make out some of the themes in the piece above - pollution, war, colour.

Things I miss about England #43: Museums. There are museums in Natal, but they're not very good. One famous one is the blue angel gallery (pictured above) which is around the corner from my house. I`ve never been but I haven't been able to find the door behind the monstrosity in the front yard. A great museum can be found at Parque de Cidade (Things I love about Brazil #38: Parque da cidade). It's a state of the art museum at the top of an impressive piece of architecture which looks like an eye on a pole (pictured above). We've been several times. Only problem is - when the new town council were elected they didn't spare funds to keep the museum open. A crying shame! In any case, I miss museums. There are hardly any up in the north-east of Brazil.

Things I love about Brazil #37: Orange. Orange (see above) is an amazing establishment. It's a diversified video store. It includes a kids play area, a fast food restaurant, a bar and a takeaway service. It's definitely the closest thing we have to "a local" (see TIMAE#10). We're now friends with the staff and they know our kids by name. What I really like about Orange, though, is their brand is a great example of how Brazilians encorporate English and then surround it with Portuguese. The Orange menu is full of such delights as "Orange dogs", "Orange Eggs", "Orange pizza" and even "Orange juice". At least its better than their local rivals Pittsburgh who offer "Pitts Chicken". Hmmm, yummy. Or, several hundred yards away their other rivals "Playburger" (see above). Eeewwwww. It's amazing to me that in the age of multinational brands, there are a few homegrown Brazilian brands which are fiercely resistant and continue to draw the custom of the local population.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Things I miss about England #83: People are not SO obsessed with Disney. We’re about to leave for 2 weeks in the States. In order to get direct flights from Recife to Miami (normally you have to add about half a day onto your trip going via Sao Paulo) we’re flying with an agency called Arituba who fix package tours for teenagers to go to Disney. Worryingly, some of my students will be on the flight. Even more worryingly, is the news that everyone will be so excited that the whole flight is set to basically be a din of sweaty, spotty, Brazilian adolescents freaking out at meeting Mickey.
Sometimes, I think Brazilians are the ones single-handedly propping up the entire Disney empire. They may not buy a lot of original DVDs (pirate copies are more readily available) but they do arrive in shed loads to Orlando’s Magic Kingdom.
It’s a rite of passage to go to Disney. If you can afford it, you’ll do it. And when you’re there you buy, buy, buy and probably need another airplane to ship the lifesize models of Pluto, Snow White and Bambi back down the continent. I was in a waiting room the other day and so picked up one of those celebrity mags. The top story was that a TV presenter (for her 60th birthday!) had chosen to go to Disney with 50 of her close friends and families. I was treated to glossy pictures of plastic-surgeried Brazilian b-listers riding carousels and having their pictures taken with Nemo.
Really, the final straw for me was when I had to go to a launch event put on by Arituba in order to retrieve some "essential" (read: promotional) info for our journey. Arituba had rented a conference centre had everyone was crammed into a huge room decked from head to foot in Disney gumpf. The man was giving safety instructions to the masses, but the promise of food and a post-talk party could be seen everywhere with stuffed toys, games, competitions and heavily-made-up excited teenagers brimming with electric excitement. I asked the lady if I HAD to stay and when she said I didn’t I took my promotional flyers and scarpered. What I realised then was that Arituba are selling a dream – a dream that starts and finishes at your door and is 100% Disney all the way.
Although we’re buying into this dream, we’re not wholesale buying into it. After much argy-bargy with Arituba we’re only going to be in the parks for 4 days ("What? You can’t possibly see everything in four days!". "Really? That’s good! Maybe we don’t want to be trapped inside a fictional dreamland inhabited by Brazilian pre-adults!"), preferring to use the rest of our time in Florida to visit both my and Rachel’s family in St.Petersburg. I don’t want to sound too high-faluting when I say this – and we will enjoy Disney, especially the Pixar Cars attractions (imagining an unleashed Nelsinho at this point) – but isn’t visiting another country about spending time with the people from there, eating their food, learning about their lives and experiences? That’s the way Rachel and I have always and will always do it.
Flying to the Disney Parks in Orlando is really not about flying to America – it’s about flying to another planet, another universe, full of animated creatures. And, as far as I can see, that’s exactly what all Brazilians, their tour operators and Disney want.

Things I love about Brazil #86: Turma de Monica. Brazilians have their own cartoon characters. For Christians, it's Smilinguido the ant. For everyone else it's Monica's crew aka. Turma de Monica. We watched a cartoon of theirs this morning - a bit less PC and gory than standard North American kids TV, loved it! They even have their own theme park in South Brazil although it's not a patch on Disney.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Wherever I've lived, I've always had a bunch of blokes around who've been good value for banter, advice, fun and if Chrisitans, prayer and support too. In no particular order here are five Brazilian versions of those:

1. Fernando - teacher at Cultura, upstanding Christian and all-round good egg.
2. Dyego - teacher at Cultura and fellow film, comic, PS2, guitar, writing and YouTube geek.
3. Paulo - Computer guy at Cultura, believer and fellow lover of açai and guitars.
4. Artur - Private student training to be a diplomat: for debates on current affairs and international politics there was no better person to while away a couple of hours (and get paid for it!)
5. Rach's Dad Steve - always up for a beer, a banter and the chance to watch football.

And an honorable mention to Adriano Lima the disabled swimmer (see pic below) who, along with his wife and daughter, have become very good friends of ours in the last few months.

Monday, June 22, 2009

...things I can do now which I couldn't do when I arrived in Brazil.

1. Speak Portuguese
2. Explain the structure of the English language
3. Body-board (a bit)
4. Drive on the right with confidence.
5. cope with a house reverberating to the sound of TWO screaming kids.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Things I love about Brazil #3: The Brazilian flag. It's a global symbol, it sums up the colour and optimism of a country, it's unique and unlike any other national flag, it can only be the Brazil flag - the famous green background, yello diamond and ble orb with "Order and Progress" written across the middle surrounded by stars, one for each of Brazil's 28 states.

Brazilians are in love with their flag and celebrate it, along with their national anthem and their country or, at least, the promise their country holds. The flag is ever present in Brazil. I took the top photo recently of just one flag flying at a junction. I only noticed on my way home that every half a mile had another flag flying. In that respect, Brazilians are not unlike the Americans and their love for the star-spangled banner. However, whereas Americans display their patriotism in displaying their banner on their car bumpers or front lawns, Brazilians attach the flag, in other ways - perhaps to their clothing, their shoes (the flag is an integral part of the Havainas brand of flip-flops) and even their supermarket wheelchairs (see above).
Sports, though, is the sphere where the flag is most known. Adriano, my paralympian friend and student, has the flag on his swimming cap (and that of his daughter, above) but it's the volleyballers, the capoeiristas and above all the footballers who display the countries colours so prominenantly. Before 1950, the Brazilian football kit was all white. When they shockingly lost the 1950 World Cup on home soil the national crisis was such that it was decided a new kit should be designed, one which would give the players pride in their country. Ironically, it was a Uruguyan (so says Alex Bellos, a British journalist, in his book Futebol: The Brazilian Way of life) who won the state-sponsored competition to design the kit. His yellow shirt with green trim, blue shorts and white socks are now the stuff of legend. The yellow top, worn by football fans of any and all national backgrounds is the most well-recognised sports design in the world.

And it was all based on that extraordinary flag.

Things I miss about England #30: the radio. I can't really say I miss the Union Jack, and even though it's been hjacked by parties of the right wing, I think it is a stunning flag. It's just that I am surrounded by the thing on a day to day basis in a language school which uses the British flag as one of its strongest marketing motifs. So, instead, I'll say here that I miss the radio in English. IN the car, in the kitchen, in the supermarket. I'd just like some good old-fashioned English radio.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Nelson turns 3. I'm writing this post later than Saturday the 20th June, but Saturday the 20th was Nelson's birthday. He's three and the two of us held a joint party at Gamestation arcades at Natal's Midway Mall. A great time was had by all especially us who enjoyed the unlimted access to the games for 3 hours. Our party was VW Beetle/Fusca themed. Pictures here for a limited time only.

The day was fantastic, but it looked briefly like all would be doomed. We arrived at a little before 9am (the party was to start at 10am) with all our decorations and food. And what we found was that where there should have been a door, there was now a wall. Three chaps were gainfully employed plastering a wall and there was dust everywhere. The party organiser showed us the "new" entrance to the party room, a metre-wide space between two ancient arcade machines. The only problem was that there was a metal bar loaded with electricity wires running across the gap at about a foot high. Perfect tripping height for anyone, but especially children and how was our wheelchair-bound friend Adriano going to make it past that? (Caz, if you're reading, we wondered what your reaction would have been if this was a party for one of your kids and whether you would have preferred to have the party in the multi-story car park - at least you know where you are with a car park!).

The party lady assured us it would be ready and (remembering my recent blog posts on what people say is not necessarily what you get) I was thrilled to see the bar removed and the opening widened. Masking tape hid the unsightly cracks in the floor and all party guests seemed happy and at ease.

The only notable incident occurred just before 10 when a huge POP reverberated around the arcades. I saw a flash of light to my side and after a lot of murmuring and checking everyone was alright, it seemed like the dodgy electrics (TIMAE: #7) hadn't hurt anyone this time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Another story based on last post`s TIMAE #6. Steve and Celia will keep renting our flat after we leave. Indeed, my good friend Tom Reeves is coming out to teach English and will probably live in the place. Steve wants Sky TV installed so he can watch his football. A simple matter? So, we were told.

The guys came to install Sky TV and then discovered that no other apartment on our building had Sky TV so they would have to put a dish on the roof and a wire down the wall and into our flat. To get permission to do this we needed to speak to the head of the Condomonium committee who in turn would need to speak to the residents. Rachel dutifully did this on her Dad`s behalf. First thoughts were, seeing as everyone uses another cable operator, probably Sky wouldn`t be an option. And then came back the news. The committee would like to consider installing Sky in every apartment in the building as maybe it`s better. We rolled our eyes. How long would this take to decide? 3 weeks, 3 months?

And all my father in law wanted to do was watch football!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Things I miss about England #6: What you hear is what you get. I`ve got to be careful here, because what I`m about to say could be taken the wrong way by Brazilians. So, a disclaimer: I`m not saying Brazilians are liars, I`m just saying that, despite their best intentions, what is said and what happens often seem to have almost no relation to each other. And this is perfectly normal and accepted.

One reason for this, as I`ve already mentioned recently, is that Brazilians tend to say what they want the other person to appear especially when it comes to accepting invitations. But, more than this, and I have dozens of stories about this, plans are made in all sincerity but with some unspoken small print that this may not actually happen the way we said it would. For a Brit this can be exasperating.

A small recent example: we enjoyed a lovely evening with our church group on Sunday. We made plans to go out for acai (see below) afterwards. The rain was pouring down. In the car I asked my good friend and fellow-acai fan Paulo where we would go to eat. He told me the place, which I knew and so I asked my question:"But, surely there won`t be space for everyone inside the small shop because nobody will be outside in the rain?". He barely batted an eyelid. "Of course there`ll be space!". And, when we arrived there wasn`t space...

...but one enterprising waitor put two tables together, wiped them clean and said we could squeeze under the awning. As soon as we sat down the other waitors told us we couldn`t sit there as it obstructed their passage out of the shop (bearing in mind nobody was out of the shop as it was raining). My wonderful wife took the opportunity to teach them a lesson or two about customer service but when they failed to budge we walked off to find the next one. Strange, I thought, but hadn`t that first waitor said we could sit there?

Later, back at our friend`s apartment, we were told that there was soup that Gloria could eat. But after a few minutes word came to us that there was no soup, it had been finished. So we quickly took a starving Gloria home to give her food there. Most of these stories weren`t the fault of any person or individual but rather the roll of circumstance in Brazil which somehow invariably leads us to unusual situations far removed from what we had imagined earlier. Sometimes its annoying, but I guess the main thing is to view it as an adventure.

Things I love about Brazil #9: Sao Joao. Many foreigners know Brazil for its festivals of carnaval. However, for many Brazilians, it's the June harvest festivals that people reall look forward to. Carnaval has come to symbolise extravagance, sexuality and at times a reckless disregard for order. Sao Joao is about folklore, traditional food and costume and dancing. Our kids are going to various Sao Joao parties over the next week and so are we. I need to get my costume sorted so I can dance the quadrilia (vaguely like a barn dance) with my rather excited wife.

Things I miss about England #85: Horlicks.

Things I love about Brazil #13: Acai. I mentioned and described acai back on this post. I`ve grown to love it. It may look like an oil slick, but it`s heaven in a bowl.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plastic surgery continued. An interview with a plastic surgeon. As I mentioned in my last post, I teach English to a man called Tony who is one of Natal's top plastic surgeons. Over the course of our 40 hours together we've talked a lot about his profession. I confess to having a lot of unresolved questions about Tony's choice of career and I've tried to put that to him off and on over the weeks and months. Rapport with Tony hasn`t been easy but after 3 hours a week together over several months we have become something like friends. Here are excerpts.

D - Tony, how do become a plastic surgeon?
T - You go to medical school, work in general practice and then train to be a plastic surgeon.

D - Have you operated on anyone famous?
T - A Brazilian actor (my friend) and the president of Portugal.

D - If you were married, would you let your wife have plastic surgery?
T - Of course, why not?

D - Do you agree with Ivo Pitanguy that your job is to restore well-being to people by giving them the appearance they want?
T - Yes.

D - Don`t you think that the solution to a problem like that, though, is pyschological and not physical? Shouldn`t we all be content with the body God has given us?
T - If I meet a person who wants plastic surgery for unhealthy reasons or has expectations way beyond what I can do then I won`t operate.

D - Do you find your job stressful?
T - Yes, very stressful.

D - Why?
T - Because my clients have the highest, impossible standards. And my standards are even higher.

D - Is there an optimum age for plastic surgery?
T - No, we operate on people of all ages although its easier with younger skin.

D - Would you undertake cosmetic surgery on children?
T - Yes.

D - Would you undertake cosmetic surgery on teenage women who maybe aren`t at ease with their bodies yet and perhaps don`t know what`s really best for them?
T - (shrugs shoulders). Yes.

D - Don`t you think that with all of Brazil`s problems with poverty and the inefficiency of your national healthcare system that producing so many plastic surgeons who operate on aesthetics is a waste of talent and a distraction from the real medical problems of your country?
T - No. I think there are many people who suffer from low self-esteem. We need more plastic surgeons.

D - What is beauty, anyway?
T - Beauty is created by our capitalist society. It is different across all societies and is changed every day so that people buy more cosmetic products.

D - Er, are you not saying that...
T - Yes, it`s a contradiction. I admit that my job only exists because of capitalism even though I am against this form of social organisation.

D - So, in a perfect world where everyone was content with their bodies and their appearance we wouldn`t need cosmetic surgery?
T - That`s right.

Post-script. As a Christian I cannot endorse all of Tony's conclusions or contradictions. Equally, I cannot judge him. For, although spending my money on plastic surgery for my wife is an idea that disgusts me (and fortunately it disgusts my wife) I can hardly say I am free from reinforcing unhealthy social norms concerning image. I am also a victim of capitalism's construction of beauty and often feel insecure about my appearance although never to the extent that I would want to change it under a surgeon`s scalpal. This is a complex area, but even so, I have to go to God with my one request - teach us the secret of contentment in all circumstances.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brazilians and Plastic Surgery. There is really so much to say about this I don't know where to start. It may explain why I`ve left it late in my time here in Brazil to try and write something that makes sense of Brazilians undying fascination with aesthetics and feminine beauty. Brazilians love plastic surgery; especially, but not only, women. I think I always though plastic surgery was for the slightly mentally unhinged, people with too much money and not enough sense. But, here in Brazil people I know, trust and respect want plastic surgery, and some have even had it.

One man who has done more for plastic surgery in Brazil compared to any other is Ivo Pitanguy. I read an article about him as preparation for the CELPE-Bras exam I did a few months back. He calls himself a restorer of well-being, bringing together the image people want for themselves and the reality. Here is a great article over at Brazilmax.com about his work and why plastic surgery is so popular in this country. Pitanguy is the father of plastic and cosmetic surgery in Brazil and has numerous world-renowned clinics and schools, and he has treated the rich and famous from Europe and North America.

He shot to fame in a story which should be made into a film, if it hasn`t already. A fire in a circus in 1961 caused a tent to fall on 2,500 spectators. Pitanguy worked for weeks in an emergency capacity operating on skin wounds and burns. It was there, he says, that he realised that physical appearance was critical to living. He saved the life of a young burn victim, successfully grafted new skin onto the boy's body and the lad recovered and went on to be a plastic surgeon learning at Pitanguy's own school. For Brazilians, a story like that puts Pitanguy in a category along with all the greats this country has brought to the world. Pitanguy to his credit is a philanthropist and offers cheap or free surgery to the poorest of the poor.

But, not all are so quick to praise him. "He's not talented. He's just lucky". So says one of my students, a quiet, reflective private English learner who is also a plastic surgeon and a very important one at that. Tony Maloney (as we call him) fixes the problems other plastic surgeons make. He is 40 but aims to retire when he's 45 having made his fortune. Then, in his own words, he can stay at home, read and watch films. More on Tony's views of plastic surgery tomorrow...

Monday, June 15, 2009

...extremely common mistakes Brazilians make when they write English.

There are many reasons why my students get things wrong in English writing. Sometimes its ignorance, sometimes its bad luck, sometimes its laziness, sometimes its because their language skills are not great in Portuguese so they lack the skills to transfer them to English. For example, a sentence without a verb has often more to do with not forming sentences in any language than a misunderstanding of English. And then, and this is where my students draw my sympathy, its because they try to create a construction in English but their Portuguese (whether consciously or not) interferes. This, as the pros call it, is L1 interference. And here are 5 very common examples that I've noticed in my short-lived career as an English teacher.

1. My sister borned in Sao Paulo. In English, unlike Portuguese, we use the verb "to be" before born: He will be born, I was born etc. Also, students typically guess the pass tense as ending in -ed, hence "borned".
2. I got an information and a research about a good weather. Uncountable nouns. Information, research and weather are all countable in Portuguese, but not in English. When I teach students we can have "a piece of" uncountable things like luck, luggage, furniture, information and research they are always totally astonished.
3. The taxi was late and I lost the plane. In Portuguese the verb "perder" means both lose and miss. Its just one example of several verbs which don't map exactly to English (see also: know/meet).
4. His mother was arriving soon - he was waiting for your mother. In Portuguese, we have "seu/sua" which cover the bases of all of "your, his, her, their" - context usually helps decide who is being talked about. Unfortunately, students often try, as in Portuguese, to just use one word to fit and they usually choose "your".
5. I was deceptionated and exausted. This is really two problems rolled into one. In Portuguese, to be "decepcionado" means to be disappointed (and has nothing to do with being decieved). This is an example of a false cognate between the two languages and students who don't realise this will often try and paste across the Portuguese word with an English ending (=deceptionated). Also, English spelling his highly irregular compared to Portuguese, so having to spell words like exhausted which includes an erroneous silent "h" is asking a lot.

When students get these wrong frequently, I blame the teacher!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

...Brazilian legends that are largely unknown outside Brazil.

1. Xuxa. Children's TV presenter.
2. Ivete Sangalo. Pop singer.
3. Garrincha. Played alongside Pele and some people say better than "the King".
4. Santos Dumont. Brazilian who allegedly beat the Wright brothers in the race to invent the airplane.
5. Sebastiao Salgado. Actually, this is in reverse. One of the world's best photographers and he is still laregly unheard of in his home country.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brazil 2 Paraguay 1. The last and only other time I saw Brazil play was in 2002. It was just after they had won the World Cup, it was their first friendly on home soil and a chance to show off the trophy. Unfortunately, the players were largely hung over. Paraguay won 1-0. And despite being a small (both in population size and in stature if their players are anything to go by) nation, Paraguay play sharp, tough and effective football and look set to, yet again, qualify for the World Cup. I had all this in mind as we touched down in Recife to go the match. And, as if to focus my thoughts even more, Recife's tourist board had contracted a spotty teenager (who reminded me of the Simpsons character "Puberty Boy" - see below) to do keepy-ups and tricks while we all waited for our luggage in the arrivals terminal. Very strange. Very Brazilian.

Rachel's Dad had kindly bought me tickets for my birthday, and we even managed to wangle it for Rach to come along with various cousins and Aunts staying at home to help Granny with the kids. Rachel's Dad hired a bus and a load of us went down together. We made our way to Santa Cruz's stadium (which had been given a fresh lick of paint although, unfortunately, no new toilets) and into the stadium some two hours before kick off. We found an excellent spot but the downside was we had to stand as we waited. In actual fact, there was another complication: the cake.

Rachel's Dad, always one to think up an extraordinary plan, had decided we should bring a cake and some paper plates and plastic spoons into the stadium so that all of us could eat cake and sing happy birthday to Nelson (Rachel's brother) who was in the UK. Steve was to make a video of this and put it on Youtube. After procuring the help of his daughter to get the item past stadium security (the guards let out a chuckle as a chocolate cake sailed past them), Steve had a change of heart when he realised how crammed the stands were. Messy cake? Paper plates? Napkins? Everyone split up and sitting between strangers? I don't think so. And so, operation "penguin" commenced - or operation "how do we get the cake out of the stadium in one piece". I say "penguin" because for Rachel in the first half and for me in the second half we had the cake delicately placed between our legs in the style of a male penguin looking after his egg (see picture below). The stadium was heaving with people (57,000 in fact) and, despite the jam, the snacks vendors continued to wrestle through the crowds to try and sell their goodies. So, as you can imagine, it was with a sense of relief and a feeling of a job well done when we collapsed back on the coach with the cake in more or less one piece save for a minor bruise to the edge.

As for the game itself, Brazil were unlucky to concede the first goal (via a deflection) to the Paraguayan no.10, who is probably the shortest, chubbiest, rolly-pollyiest international footballer since Sweden's Tomas Brolin. Brazil rallied and Robinha and Nilmar, on his starting debut (see pic below), bagged the goals in the fight back. Robinho should have scored more after good work from Kaka, but the result was the right one for Brazil and the right one for us supporters.

One final highlight of the evening. Its not common for Recife to host a match of such importance so the red carpet was really rolled out for this one. The national team were treated like gods by their adoring fans. (See this video which features the team arriving at the gym next door to Rachel's family's apartment block). For Steve, the icing on the cake (metaphorically speaking) was the fireworks display that accompanied the reading of the starting XI by the stadium announcer. Extra special cheers went up for the current favourites Kaka (who had just been bought by Real Madrid for 60 million quid), Robinho and Pato as fireworks lit up the sky above the arena. Very celebratory. Very Brazilian.

ps. I must add that I experienced another thunderous rendition of TILB #28.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Have you ever seen the rain?" So asked Credence Clearwater (pictured at the top), but, by all accounts, Brazilians really haven't. They're scared stiff of the stuff. Things I miss about England #35: people know that a little rain won't kill you. We had a moment on our way into a football stadium yesterday where I wondered if we were going to have a rain-related disaster. Somehow, from walking into the stadium (when it was bone dry) to passing our tickets through the barrier and pacing over the terraces, the heavens opened. In a stadium with no overhead cover there could only be one result. Everyone outside the stadium crammed to get in and everyone on the terraces scrammed to get off. We were in the middle. Fortunatelty, as often happens in the north east of Brazil, a quick tropical downpour often gives way to more dry, hot weather so we were spared a people squash.

But, this isn't the first time I've found Brazilians running from the rain. A few memories stick in my mind of Natal's population viewing rain as pretty much falling poison from the sky. If you stay out in the rain for more than 10 seconds, so the thinking is, you're subjecting yourself to every kind of disease known to man. Back at our old house, I was once walking a very little Gloria home from the shop when, unexpectedly, I got caught in a shower. I cuddled Gloria close to me and walked briskly the last 50 yards to our house. Old women were falling out of neighbouring windows berating me for the wickedness of taking a little child out into such fearful weather.

Another time, we were at the hospital and I had Nelson with me. I was coming out and there was alight drizzle. It was just a short 50 yards to the car so I grabbed Nelson up in my arms and started to slow jog towards the vehicle. Out of nowhere, an umbrella holder (see this blog post) appeared alongside me running. I knew he wanted a tip for the service he was offering and I knew I had no change so I said to him in Portuguese - "don't worry about it. The car's right here!". He gave me a look that suggested he thought I, when it came to callousness, was right up there with vampires, and then mouthed, almost in slow motion: "But the boy! What about the boy!? WHAT ABOUT THE BOY!!!???".

One final yarn on this... several weeks ago Rachel was away and I was home alone over the weekend. I spent Sunday with friends from church and ended up going swimming in my clothes in their pool as it was raining. Very liberating and a good opportunity to pretend I was Andy Dufrense from the Shawshank Redemption. Anyway, afterwards, my good pal Paulo - certainly as much of a "lad" as the next guy - challanged me to run in my wet clothes and dive on the wet grass in the rain. I dutifully did (as I had done on numerous occasions in my misspent footballing or otherwise youth). With gob wide-open he said: "I was joking. Be careful spending so much time in the rain like that. You'll get ill". I waited for the punch line, but it never came. Natal's people are, in this respect, not unlike the Gauls from the Asterix books. They both believe the end will come when the sky falls on their heads.

Things I love about Brazil #35: open air swimming. They're everywhere! What fun!

PS. There is an explanation behind the other photos on this post. All will be revealed tomorrow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Things I miss about England #57: English banter.

Things I miss about England #58: Pianos.

Things I love about Brazil #59: The Brazilian national team (for beating Paraguay when I was there to see it).

Things I love about Brazil #100: Umbrella hats (which I'd never seen before last nights football match but which Rachel tells me have actually been around for ages and come from the States...)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The trees have eyes (or the eyes have trees). The local council have stuck eyes into several trees at strategic locations around the town to encourage people to take notice, adopt and sponsor a tree. The council make a bit of money, a tree gets looked after, and you or your business get a signpost in front of the tree describing who you are. Nice idea. Full marks for Brazilian ingenuity.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

...of my favourite not A-list Brazilian footballers.

1. Giovanni. A kind of wanderer who seems to have played for just about everybody but never ended up being chosen for Brazil or particularly making a name for himself. But, has scored some timely goals - his efforts gave Man City a win over Man Utd at Old Trafford and Hull City wins over Arsenal and Spurs away.
2. Grafite. The Bundesliga's top scorer.
3. Thiago Neves. One of my favourite players and something of an anti-hero. Scored 4 goals over two legs in the Copa Libetadores only to see the game go to penalties at 5-5. Neves scored his penalty, but the keeper complained and the ref made Neves take it again. Neves missed and his team Fluminense lost. Ouch.
4. Hermanes. Centre midfielder for Sao Paulo and a really important player for Brazil's most successful club of recent years. Probably could have had a glamarous career in Europe but chose to stay put.
5. The two unnamed Brazilians who speculatively sent their CVs to a Welsh football team and managed to get trials. They were hopeless. The Welsh team let them train for a few months and then paid for their tickets home.

Monday, June 08, 2009

...Brazilian habits that we all should adopt (or do more!).

1. Clapping during happy birthday. It makes it more cheerful.
2. Celebrate everything.
3. Use your horn to communicate more (and not just to convey aggression)
4. Hold, cuddle, coo over other people's babies.
5. Pose for photos like you're a supermodel even if you're not. This last one is amazing to me - Brazilians love photos and many have a standard photo smile (and corresponding "best side") which they immediatley turn on whenever a camera is in sight. Maybe they teach it at school. But, they take so, so, so many photos of themselves draped over whatever is lying around (especially when they're in a new place) and just keep on smiling through. I was laughing at the farm we visited the other day. Two ladies, (no spring chickens I should add) frolicked, posed, preened and prostrated themselves in front of a bunch of flowers for 20 minutes taking innummerable and seemingly identical photos all of which, I would wager, were to end up on Orkut (a popular social-network site) faster than you could say "Your knickers are showing in this one". The thing is, it's kind of cheesey, but you've got to love a people who are so confident, forward and full of the love of life - us Brits with our stoney faces and Victorian positions take note.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

...Brazilian habits that (to put it nicely) should be left in Brazil.

1. Cycling the wrong way up a street. For safety, of course, to see the cars that might hit you. But for the driver it adds an otherwise unneeded dimension to the already hair-raising experience of driving in Brazil.
2. Motorcycling barefoot. I don't use motorcycles so I'm sure this shouldn't annoy me, but it just makes me squirm thinking about putting nice fleshy feet on fast-moving, fritty concrete. I had to crack a smile though - in torrential rain, seeing a man dressed from head to ankle in an anorak but wth his feet nicely exposed to the elements as he rode his motorcyle past was a sight to behold.
3. Saying what you think the other person wants to hear. This applies mainly to two areas of life 1) party invitations 2) asking for directions. In both cases, Brazilians are loathe to say "I don't know" or "no, I can't". Better to lie (or flavour the truth, at any rate) and say you're coming / able to give directions. Result: nobody knows how many people are coming to any event. Nobody can be trusted to tell you the way if you're lost in a Brazilian city.
4. Why are so many of these connected to driving? Not letting people in to lanes. The other night I was coming back from the school and I tried to switch lanes, I indicated, slowed down and everyone in the other lane flashed at me and accelerated into the potential space. I didn't make my turn and I had to take a significant long cut home. (Interesting that when cars flash in the UK its to let traffic in. In Brazil, it means much the opposite - here I am, get out of my way!).
5. Everything is always so LOUD. Right now, this applies mainly to the church on the corner. On average 4 nights a week they drudge out Brazilian worship music which makes me want to roll over and die (and, therefore, arrive in the skies where the worship music will be better!). Questions Rachel and I have asked as we our TV competes with the din from yet another all night service: "Do you think they ever experience burnout?", "Why don't they do some evangelism on the streets (away from here)?", "Why are there only two volume levels in Brazilian music - loud and louder?" Whatever happened to the quiet contemplative number or the pause in silence?" (Come back St.Mikes, all is forgiven!). But, its not the churches that are loud. Its everything from the cars to the fireworks, from the music to the neighbours... FOR CRYING OUT LOUD STOP BEING SO LOUD!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

...unusual Brazilian first names.

1. Jamaica. And her brother Israel, and sisters Argentina and Libya. True story.
2. Keith. For a girl. I talked about this in my blog several months ago.
3. Everton. One of the students at Cultura is Everton, as in the football team.
4. Various male names beginning with J - Jurandir, Jaelson, Joris, Jaibelerson, JurIraeldson and so on... (I find several new variations on this every time I go to the supermarket and read the shop assistant name tags).
5. Madeinusa. Rachel told me about this one. Named after the place where an item of clothing was manufactured. Although, in recent years this could well have resulted in the name Madeintaiwan. That's almost as bad as Beckham calling his son "Brooklyn..."

Friday, June 05, 2009

Africa at war. Today, I gave a lecture to the International Relations dept at UNP (basically, Natal’s second university) on the subject of Africa at war: reflections on Somalia, Sudan and Chad. One of my students, Artur, is training to be a diplomat and we’ve struck up a good friendship. I suggested it and he made it happen. He also translated for me and did a good job of it too.

I didn’t really have nerves, even when Artur was 45 minutes late for our agreed meeting time. I used to break out in a cold sweat over lateness of that magnitude but I’m accustomed to it now. When the Director of the International Relations dept appeared (15 minutes late) I was astonished to find that he was the jovial chap who lived on the 11th floor of our apartment block. Lots of hugs and back-slapping ensued. I recognized several of the 30 or so students that were there for the talk. Had they been students at Cultura? Time to move on, I say, when you begin to feel you know the whole city.

Natal 2014. I mentioned a few days ago that Natal will host some games from the World Cup, the city has been abuzz with people vocalizing their thoughts on the momentous occasion. The current Mayor is pushing for everything to be completed by 2013 – one year early – so she can be the one to milk the praise before her term finishes and someone else comes in. This being Brazil, I highly doubt it will be ready one year early, however. The local newspaper estimated R5 billion (UKP1.5 billion) will enter the city in the lead up to the World Cup. Various people I know are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of work, business opportunities or simply getting to watch a football match. Generally people are very happy Natal was chosen and hope to see a corresponding improvement in transport, health and sports facilities. Steve, my ever-enterprising father-in-law, is already thinking of how to market the services of the language school to Natal’s population as a preparation for the arrival of English-speaking tourists.

Life lesson learned: don’t let a stranger take a photo of you sleeping. On Sunday, we visited a fantastic mini-farm on the edge of Natal which has events for kids as well as the usual animals to see. Cultura had a stall there so we spent the whole day in gorgeous weather enjoying the facilities. Late in the afternoon, Gloria fell asleep on my lap and I nodded off too. A picture of my daughter and I having our nap has since appeared on the farm’s official site. D’oh!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

...things I still haven't done in Brazil that I need to put on my "bucket list".

1. Visit the interior/amazon. I've spent most of my time here on the coast and have hardly ventured inland (except to Chapada Diamentina in 2005). There are various interesting aspects to Brazil "no interior" within this state, including the quaint villages that are the perfectly places to be when celebrating the June harvest festivals. And of course the best thing about going inland is that the ecology changes dramatically with mountains, plains, unusual geological sites and ultimately you eventually get to the Amazon which is like no place no earth. Also, Brasil's capital is inland - Brasilia. A tour inland: something for next time with Nelson when he's a bit more grown up.
2. See a football match at the Maracana.
3. Visit the south - foz de iguacu, Florionopolis, Porto Alegre.
4. Go to a forro concert. It has to be done, just once. I want to see one of these forro bands that are so popular up here in the north-east - Deseja de menina, Avioes do Forro etc. - and I want to see them live. Think cheesey country music for chavs.
5. See an historical passion play. There is a famous passion play every year in the interior of Rach's home state, Pernambucano. We never made it to that. Something for next time.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

...unusual ways to make a living in Natal.

1. Joke teller. At the crossing for a ferry once, everyone arrived hawking their wares. One enterprising guy however proceeded to tell Rachel several jokes and ask for money!
2. Shopping Mall Nappy Changer. Enough said.
3. Car Shepherd. A very common way to earn a bit of cash. Stand around the street and wave vehicles into spaces and back out again. In theory, these guys are "security" for your car but if a guy with a gun turned up and threatened to break in, I`m pretty sure the car shephereds would scarper very quickly.
4. Umbrella holder. When it rains (more about this in another post) a bunch of people with umbrellas suddenly appear and walk around protecting you from every drop... for a price.
5. Flag holder. Not very glamorous, but a lot of the large car and property companies pay people to hold flags for the day. I heard that they even give you a free lunch but only provide it at the end of the day in case you don't come back to work.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

...footballers who played in Euro 2008 but were actually Brazilian.

1. Marcus Senna. A contendor for player of the tournament, playing for Spain, born Sao Paulo, Brazil.
2. Deco. Playing for Portugal, born Sao Bernando de Campo, Brazil.
3. Roger Guerreiro. Playing for Poland, born Sao Paulo, Brazil.
4. Kevin Kuranyi. Playing for Germany, born Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
5. Eduardo Silva. Should have been (but was injured) playing for Croatia, born Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Natal in the news. Today, Brazil and Europe have been rocked by the missing Air France Airbus flight from Rio to Paris. No news is not good news in air travel, and Brazil looks like losing up to 60 of its citzens in another terrible air diaster to follow the TAM disaster of 2007. The Air France plane last showed up on the radar a several hundred kms out to sea off the coast of us here in Natal.

Natal has been in the news for much happier reasons lately. Our little city was awarded a venue for the 2014 World Cup. I've been gleefully poring over the designs of the new "Area das Dunas" complex which will replace the current delapadated Machadao stadium. I'm not sure where we'll be in 2014, but Nelson will be 8 and I would happily take some unpaid leave to be back over here for that. What fun!

And Natal also has the prettiest and most talented ladies, clearly, as Brazil's entry to the Miss Universe competition has just been chosen, and the winner - a Larissa Costa - hails from our little town up here in the north east. I assume she speaks English. If so, who taught her? This could be great publicity for Cultura Inglesa...