Tag Archives: Patriotism

Everybody speaks wrong!

Where the Portuguese speakers are

As our cab inched toward Sao Paulo on my first day in Brazil what now seems like
many years ago, my friend pointed out the city’s old train station and the neighboring Portuguese language museum. He enthusiastically recommended the museum but advised me to consider waiting to go since everything is written in Portuguese. Thus it wasn’t until almost exactly three months later that I finally found myself back again on a Monday morning, emerging from the complicated underground network of Luz station and arriving in front of what felt like my ultimate test and reward for learning a new language. I snapped pictures of street signs, the Jardim da Luz across the street, the small plaque in front of the museum, everything I could think of to commemorate this most momentous of occasions. As I approached the gate, the security guard informed me that the museum is closed on Mondays.

The museum being closed wasn’t all bad (Parque-Luz)…

IMG_3942With approximately 4,000 things to do and only two days left in the country, it felt like a significant setback. Still, I doggedly headed back the next day, determined to cash in on my Portuguese language-learning efforts. As some consolation, Tuesday is free admission day, and a quick elevator ride later, I was confronted with a large, dark room, with screens wrapping around each wall. These turned out to be audio-visual presentations on Brazilian cultural themes such as football and samba. As a non-native speaker, the music and the interviews seemed disjointed and were difficult to follow so I turned my attention to a large timeline. Here, starting in 4000 BC, Brazilian Portuguese’s roots are elucidated as three separate timelines of African, European and “Amerindian” languages, which begin to merge at the beginning of the 16th century upon the arrival of Portuguese explorers and the beginning of the slave trade.

The heart of the story begins, as all good ones do, in the 3rd century BC when the Roman Empire finally subjugated the Phoenician city-state of Carthage, in what is now the Iberian Peninsula. Common or “Vulgar” Latin quickly replaced any languages previously spoken in the region, and over the centuries that followed, efforts at linguistic fraternization, first by invading Germanic tribes and later by the Moors, were continuously rebuffed. Thus it was that a brief soaking in unique nasal Celtic vowels here, a sprinkling of Germanic fighting words and Arabic agricultural terms there, that Portuguese emerged, largely unscathed, some 15 centuries later.

Portugal’s history is, of course, an interesting one, particularly in the way it explains the diversion of Portuguese and Spanish—hint: Portugal ain’t got no answer to Spain’s alhambra. But the museum knows it’s not fooling anyone; no one’s here to learn about Portugal. We came for the Brazilian Portuguese! And as the 16th century panel proudly states: “from this point on, it is no longer possible to talk about the Portuguese language without talking about Brazil.”

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They say you can’t go home again

Brazilian Santa wears havaianas of course! I didn’t learn until my last few weeks that Oscar Freire (and not Avenida Paulista) is Latin America’s true 5th avenue analogue. I think that’s probably for the better…

I wanted to write something upbeat on January 1 to usher in the new year and contemplate the many things I learned over the course of a challenging 2014. Instead, I woke up, made a feeble attempt to bid farewell to my last party-goers and spent the rest of the day musing at the irony that after a year of feeling like I had no voice, I would ring in the next in its literal absence. It was in this way that I also discovered that I had unknowingly made a tacit promise to myself to never blog when I was upset. On the other hand, it’s also possible that when I was in Sao Paulo, I viewed everything as an exciting and “novel” experience that I could blog about, allowing me to view even the most frustrating of encounters in a positive light.

I’ll admit, not having to aliquot drinking water from this monster has been nice!

Here in NC, that’s a little more difficult. Of course, it was easy to come back and re-adjust to the luxury of having my water glass constantly refilled at every bar and restaurant. It also wasn’t that exciting to once again have access to my full wardrobe—it turns out I only wear about three different outfits anyway. And I immediately took it for granted that I had a car to take out at 11pm and buy as many groceries as I wanted at the 24/7 Harris Teeter. These were the simple things, and they seamlessly integrated themselves back into my life.

Other things have been harder. I bump into someone on the street and instinctively, murmur, “ah! desculpa!” Similarly, sometimes when mentally formulating an e-mail, I get several lines in before realizing that I am writing an American and can (well, probably should) write in English. Before, I never understood it when my Brazilian friends would tell me that they missed speaking English. “How can you miss having even the simplest tasks being made more difficult?!” I would marvel. When I came home from studying abroad in Sevilla many years ago, I remember feeling as if a shroud was being removed and the sites and sounds around me were finally coming back into focus. There were certainly no feelings of saudades that time when I ordered my first meal back in English.

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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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Change Brazil

It’s been drizzling all day, never convincingly, but always just enough to give you hope that maybe it will all-out storm, finally making a dent in refilling the Cantareira water system that is currently at 3% of its capacity. All day today you could feel the air buzzing, everyone waiting for the election results to start rolling in. For the past month, people have been tuning in to presidential debates, usually with some mixture of interest and disgust. On the street, campaigners have been handing out stickers and waving giant flags, eager to persuade even a non-voting Gringa. I have learned there is no use trying to avoid it, especially with your advanced English students. Every conversation inevitably reverts back to Brazilian politics. Months of anticipation finally culminated today around 8pm, when Globo TV posted an update with 95% of the votes counted. Immediately after, we could hear people shouting in the street and car horns blaring. In one of the closest elections in Brazil’s history, the sitting president, Dilma Rousseff had won.

Though disappointing to many, this was a surprise to none. Dilma had been projected to win for weeks. Among the poor, especially in the country’s Northeast region, Dilma was the favored candidate, due in large part to her party’s welfare programs like the “Bolsa Familia.” Here in São Paulo, however, where people tend to be wealthier, Aécio, of the more centrist PSDB was far and away the favorite. Brazil’s economy has all but screeched to a halt, and inflation has increased as of late; as any good American also knows, who better to blame than the current president? Aécio, a former governor of Minas Gerais state, is staunchly pro-business and against the more interventionist policies of Dilma’s Worker’s Party. He was therefore the logical choice to steer the country’s economy back on course. And then there was the assertion that Dilma, as a former member of the Board of Directors, was involved in a major scandal involving the state-owned oil giant, Petrobras. Although many people weren’t extremely excited about Aécio, the election seemed like a good opportunity to start afresh after the Worker’s Party’s 12 years in power and let someone else make the mistakes for a while.

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Born in the USA


I can’t pretend to be the model citizen who diligently writes my senator to voice my opinion (sorry, Mom), researches every election down to the last city council member, expresses my frustration through music or art, or even really uses my background in biology or toxicology to actively engage with my community. As an idealistic high schooler back in 2003, I did take a bus to NYC to protest the war in Iraq, but aside from this one glimmer of activism, I’ve remained your pretty standard American who prefers to kvetch about bad foreign policy and the theft of women’s reproductive rights, from the comfort of my own home, preferably only with people who I know will agree with me.

Still, when I left to study abroad in 2005, I was extremely frustrated with my country. To my mind at least, we had entered the war in Iraq with little justification other than our anger about the Sep. 11th terrorist attacks and the need for a scapegoat, accompanied, quite conveniently, with a desire to oust Saddam Hussein. That’s not to say there weren’t important things I truly appreciated about the US, like peanut butter and oh, maybe some of the people, but overall, I felt pretty ready to escape the “Patriot Act” mentality.

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