Homeward bound!

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It’s time to go home

I woke up yesterday morning, ready to accomplish my last round of errands: pick up a paycheck at the Callan school, cash it at the bank, make one last souvenir-run at Shopping Vila Olimpia, and finally, rush to the luggage store to buy a vessel capable of transporting it all. However, my to-the minute itinerary was thwarted when I realized upon arriving at the Vila Madalena metro that I had forgotten my passport, which I needed both for entry into the Callan school building as well as cashing my paychecks at the bank. Wearily, I slogged back uphill to the apartment, slowly perceiving that I had an even bigger problem; it was suddenly becoming very difficult to stand upright, never mind walk without feeling like my stomach was seizing up.

When I finally arrived back at the apartment I collapsed onto my bed, unable to move. I tried to sleep it off, but every few minutes, I felt a deep, slashing pang, like my kidneys were trying to eject my stomach through my ribcage. All I could think as I lay there was, why, after managing to stay healthy over three months of inconsistent eating and sleeping habits, did I have to get food poisoning the day of my flight (not to mention, what the heck did I eat?)?! Clearly I wasn’t meant to leave the country. I focused on revising and prioritizing my previous plan. Maybe I should just forget about the money. The most important thing was to be well enough to make my flight later that night.

Still, miser that I am, I really wanted to leave the country with all the money I had earned running around town in circles at the cost of my own health. I will spare you the gory details of the interim period, but feeling a bit better and knowing the banks close at 4, I finally forced myself out of bed around 2:30 when Samantha very kindly brought me a carry-on to use and some medicine. I also took a shower, and, for the first time, the water cut out at the end. Maybe it was time to go home after all?

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50 ways to piss off your cleaning lady

IMG_3189As I imagine some of you may have noticed, Thursday was Thanksgiving. It’s not exactly recognized here, but I still wanted to do something or, at the very least, not be alone. Almost on a whim, I messaged Olivia, my one American friend here, and we decided to do an 11am “dinner” since we both had to work in the afternoon. Then I realized Maisa would also be free since she had (voluntarily) been included in her company’s last round of cuts, and it was the perfect excuse to finally meet Frika, an Indonesian woman I’d only ever talked to online/via whatsapp. Everyone agreed to come, and suddenly, 90 degree weather aside, things were beginning to feel a bit more festive.

Then, predictably, came the stress. I always get very excited to host special events, and then the reality, in this case that I’ve never cooked a whole bird before, never mind in a foreign country, sets in. Serendipitously, Maisa was going to the store on Tuesday, so I jumped at the chance to share a taxi with her instead of trying to make the humid, two-mile journey with apples, potatoes, a turkey, and who knows what else, hanging from my shoulder. I also appreciated the chance to have a São Paulo supermarket expert in tow for this all-important trip. My biggest concern was the turkey. I’d seen plenty of chickens but never a whole turkey. Maisa seemed confident that “Chesters,” whose name was coined by a major brand, are ubiquitous here, and I should have no problem finding this specific kind of turkey. However, we were out of luck at the upscale “Pão de Açucar,” only finding one brand of giant R$55 pre-seasoned turkey. I decided for the first time in my life to pretend that I know how to go with the flow and to buy a small frozen whole chicken instead. It turned out to be the right choice since I later found out that Chester is actually chicken anyway!

The rest of the shopping trip went smoothly. I found green beans (vagem), apples, Yukon-like potatoes, and plenty of baking materials. For a moment I contemplated making my mom’s world-famous pumpkin bread—the Japanese post-doc in my former lab said it was the best pumpkin bread he’d ever had, the wording of which made me curious to know how much pumpkin bread people in Japan eat–but I decided that, in the absence of canned pumpkin, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take on hacking apart and pureeing a pumpkin on top of all the other new experiences awaiting me (our lack of a bread pan may also have quelled my enthusiasm a bit). Also on the list of nearly impossible-to-find Thanksgiving must-haves are cranberries. There’s a chance the Mercado Municipal has them, but I decided it wasn’t worth traveling across town so that I might increase my potential to have the opportunity to spend hours trying to make them palatable.

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Two left feet

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Above: non-traditional Jabuticaba Caipirinha. Below: an international blur representing Spain, Brazil, USA, France, Russia and Germany.

Despite the popularity of samba and the “balada” here, I’ve only been out on the town a handful of times. My first few were laid back weekend afternoons at the boteco with Bruna or Tammy and some of their friends. This usually involves sharing a giant Coors-lite like beer from a bucket of ice in the middle of the table along with some fried appetizers. Although I love the camaraderie, this approach is particularly dangerous when there is no free tap water and the waiter is constantly refilling your glass from a seemingly endless supply of communal beers he is bringing to the table. Add to this the fact that you’re a gringa and everyone wants you to try a Caipirinha—Brazil’s national drink for stupid tourists—and you’re toast.

I have also had the pleasure of crashing several of Maisa and Bruna’s girls’ nights. Although they certainly don’t happen every week, “the girls” told me Brazilians will use anything as an excuse to celebrate. When a particularly rambunctious one happened to fall on my dad’s birthday, they assured me that they were most certainly celebrating him. I’m a bit skeptical, but I won’t begrudge an evening to drink wine and eat biscoito de polvilho and some of Bruna’s excellent cooking.

My experiences are few and I’m no alcohol expert, but in general, it seems that beer is the drink of choice at bars here, and there is really only a choice of two different companies, Brahma or Skol (and they are actually both owned by the same company). I’m told that microbrews do exist somewhere in Sampa, but most people are happy to partake in something relatively cheap and light that can be drunk in massive quantities. A friend told me that when they went to the US they were shocked by how little beer they could drink because it’s so heavy and hoppy. For my part, I was shocked to find that Tammy’s Guinness look-alike Brahma Black was actually extremely sweet and cream-based. Hops do not seem to have reached Brazil, and I am totally fine with that. What saddens me more is that I have yet to drink wine outside of the house. It is extremely expensive, and Brazilian wine is not considered to be very good. I think Maisa and Bruna usually bring back an Argentinian wine for upwards of R$25 instead.

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Why I’m thankful for Thanksgiving

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Some Niemeyer architecture overlooking the beach

Here in Sao Paulo, there are three November holidays: Day of the Dead on November 2nd, Day of the Republic on the 15th, and something that  translates literally as “Black consciousness day” on the 20th. This last I originally interpreted to be an ancient religious holiday, a day to atone for your sins perhaps. It turns out it’s a recent creation that is recognized only in Sao Paulo state and is actually somewhat akin to “MLK Day” or “Civil Rights Day.” No one could really tell me much about it, although one student did say it’s sad we still need this holiday, given how many black people there are in Brazil. Still, especially since the other two November holidays fell on weekends, everyone is happy to have the day off. In fact, because this one falls on a Thursday, a lot of people have Friday off as well. There is even a Portuguese verb specific to this method of extending the weekend. My students were surprised to find that no such verb exists in English and, unlike in Brazil, it is not standard to have 30 days off (plus holidays) in the US.

All this is a long way of saying that things have been quite busy. Because today (Thursday) is a holiday, many of my students moved their classes to Mon-Wed, so between that and my poorly-timed decision to pick up a particularly difficult editing assignment in the meantime (think, a French manuscript barely google-translated into English), I was working nonstop from 7am-10pm the past few days. Needless to say, I am quite relieved it’s finally Thursday. I went out for a beer with co-workers last night and even slept until 7:30!

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Where the party’s at!

I also had last Saturday off thanks to the Day of the Republic (Independence Day #2?), and Maisa brought me to her hometown of São Vincente, a small coastal town in São Paulo state. There, she introduced me to her family, and everywhere we went, we ran into another sister or friend. When I remarked on how popular she is, she just shrugged and said, small towns are that way. At night, we went to her friend’s birthday party, which was held at an open-air bar overlooking the ocean, and because the bar is closed on Saturdays, we had the place to ourselves. It was pretty cool. Here, birthday parties (and probably parties in general) are more family affairs. The bar was filled with 20/30-somethings, their parents, and young children. At first it felt uncomfortable seeing young children running around in a bar while people were getting sloppy drunk, but it is a normal part of the culture here. To my benefit as well (no one asked, “why the heck is this Gringa here?”), everyone is included in everything. At one point I was talking to someone when we were interrupted by the arrival of his mother and aunt who he immediately called me over to meet.

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Some crazies we picked up along the way

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And now for something completely different…

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At the Mercado Municipal: view from above; sanduíche de pernil (pulled pork on left) and de carne seco (on right); and testing out the fruits of the world—only walking quickly away stops them from giving you more samples.

While I am something of a perpetual, unintentional tourist here, learning something new about Brazilian culture every day, my stay has been disappointingly lacking in formal tourist activities. It’s a shame too because Sampa is filled with art, Samba (and the now oft-derided, pop-like “pagode,” which my student described as music about nothing), museums and landmarks. One of my few touristy ventures has included a Saturday afternoon trip with a coworker to the Mercadão or mercado municipal, a giant indoor market in the centro (old downtown) of the city. The Mercadão, which opened its doors in 1933, is comprised of 100’s of stalls of exotic foods including fruits and spices from all over the world. In fact, aside from my touristy inclinations, one of the reasons I wanted to go to the market was to buy garam masala since I couldn’t find it in a traditional grocery store. On the second level, the Mercadão houses several restaurants famed for such favorites as pastel de bacalhau (a cod pastry), and sanduíche de mortadela (Italian sausage sandwich).

Near the market is the famed Rua 25 de Março. On Saturdays in particular, theIMG_2467
street is packed with people buying and selling knock-off designer athletic apparel, electronics, toys, and clothing. It is known as the best place in São Paulo to score a great deal while simultaneously being mugged. We didn’t linger long, but I was happy to find a fabric store selling cheesecloth so I could make my first attempt at homemade paneer (again, impossible to find here—I asked for “gaze tipo queijo”). Instead, we headed to peek into the 400-year old São Bento monastery. Though very pretty, it turned out we’d missed the real highlight of the day by hours: the monks singing Gregorian chants at daybreak.

Continue reading And now for something completely different…