Current date: Tuesday, June 10, 2003 3:00p.m. (Sao Paulo)
Current Itinerary: Still teaching and enjoying it. We will change apartments this week...same barrio, different street about 10 min walk from where we are now. I can't believe I have already been in SP for over a month! Time is flying by.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Arrived in Brasilia from Manaus at 7:00 a.m. It was different to travel by plane for the first time after taking so many buses. Tell you the truth, I'm not sure it was all that much more comfortable...but it was certainly a lot faster. It was weird...for the first time in over a month, I was completely on my own again in a city. Not for long though...a major reason I even came to Brasilia in the first place, besides wanting to check it out was to meet a friend of Doug McLean's, Juliano. I got myself oriented and found the tourist info booth in the airport. It was too early to call Juliano so I figured I would go and find a pousada and sleep for awhile and then give him a call.
I got a bus into the city. My immediate impression was that it was VERY modern in comparison to what I had seen in the rest of Brazil...ESPECIALLY in comparison to north of Brazil, which I had gotten used to. Wide, very nice roads with no pot holes or bumps. Also, vitrually no trash on the sides of the road or buildings or houses falling apart. It was very clean there and I could immediately see the economic diffence between the country's capital and the rest of it. One big difference though is that Brasilia is only barely over 40 years old, which is very young for a major city in a country that was colonized almost 300 years ago. It was also apparent to me that the city was quite spread out...sort of reminded me of Houston.
A seems appropriate to give a little history here. In 1956, the Brazilian president elect Juscelino Kubitschek came in to office on a platform that he would build a new inland city and move the country's capital from Rio. The amazing part of this was that he had only his four year term to find an appropriate location, design, and build an ENTIRE city. The cities architect, Oscar Niemeyer, came up with a design where the city layout was basically the shape of an airplane, with the government buildings lining the front of the fuselage (the cockpit), metaphorically flying the country into the future. If you see a map of the city, it is really quite impressive...the multi-lane roads and many large grass areas do give the city the appearance of an airplane, with the east-west running fuselage dividing the cities north-south "wings" where the residential areas are. The intricate planning involved is evident as you are driving through the city. I remember hearing that DC was also a planned city...and you can tell when you are up on capitol hill, but once you leave that area, it seems far more haphazard...this is not the case in Brasilia and the feel is MUCH different than any other city in Brazil. Anyway, it amazing to think that the infrastructure of the city, all the goverment buildings, and housing for tens of thousands was all constructed 3 years and one month after the plans were unveiled. Since then, many of the gaps have been filled in, but construction of entire neighborhoods still continues today as the capital grows.
When I got to the area I wanted to be in, I was confronted with the dubious task of trying to understand the numbering system of the streets so I could find a pousada. It is systematic atleast, unlike many other cities, but if you don't know the system, it can be difficult. With some help from some people in shop, I was pointed in the right direction. Walking in Brasilia is somewhat similar to walking in any city USA...it is not really designed for pedestrians...more for driving. The distance between each block is very large and there is not much to look at along the major avenues outside of grocery stores, pharmacies, and things of the sort.
I finally checked into a pousada at about 9:30 and I was ready to crash! I gave Juliano a call but the maid told me he was sleeping...so I figured that was a good time for me to do the same.
At 2 when I woke up, I decided to take a shower...and it was PURE bliss!!! My first HOT shower in over a month!!! I mentioned before that the cold showers up north were absolutely killing me and I was REALLY sick of them. It was so nice to have hot water I must have just stood there for 20 minutes. Being without the simple things certainly makes you appreciate them.
Afterwards I went to meet up with Juliano at the shopping Brasilia. We ate in the mall as I explained my travels up to that point and we got to know each other a bit. Afterwards we went back to his house, where I briefly met his mother who was heading out to Natal that day for the holidays. Later I met his brother, Fabiano. We hung out in his room, listening to music and chatting. There were two items in Juliano's room that brought a big smile to my face...one was a hammock. Since I spent the previous 2 weeks sleeping in a hammock, I had grown quite accustom to them and as I mentioned before, almost preferred them over beds. The other item was a computer...with DSL connection!! I was finally going to be able to catch up with journals and my website! But the joke was on me, the DSL broke that night and since it was the holidays, would not be repaired the entire rest of my stay. Still, I was able to get some things done, but with no internet connection I was pretty limited.
Later that night, Fabiano, Juliano, Tilsa (Fabiano's girlfriend), and I all went out for a drive around the city. First we grabbed my stuff from the pousada and then they showed me around. We checked out many of the government buildings, including the president's house (which incidentally had a very cool, modern look). The city has a lot of nice modern archeticture since it is so new...including a really futuristic looking church and a beautiful suspension bridge. We stopped at one of the very large man made lakes and walked along the boardwalk for awhile. There were MANY shops/restaurants along the lakefront that were really nice...again I can't stress that enough how similar it was to the USA.
Back at Juliano's we had dinner and a few beers. We went out to a bar very near to his house called "The Gates Pub". There was a huge line to get in so we had to wait about 45 minutes. It didn't matter though (this is on my list of my favorite things about Brazil) because right outside the bar there are people selling beer and food. It is perfect...there are tons of people milling about the area and everyone is really doing the exact same thing that they will be doing in the bar. It is good for so many reasons...you are waiting in line, but you can't really tell because it is like a little party out there anyway. Also it gives you a chance to check out the crowd that is going in and you always inevitably meet the people that are in line with you, which can be quite advantageous if they are attractive females:) Incidentally, I think it is pretty funny the bond that can form between strangers whenever they are in a situation where they are waiting for something, particular in a line. I think it is a great way to meet people. You already have something in common with the other person...you are both waiting. All you have to do is use the typical move where you act very annoyed that you are being forced to wait and then make a comment like, "how long is THIS gonna take" as you roll your eyes...the feeling is almost always recipricated so then all you have to do is say something funny and BAM...you are in. I say forget dating services, if you want to meet somebody, just go wait in a line somewhere.
SO, while waiting in this line, I was a bit concerned...there seemed to be an inordinate number of guys. When we did finally get inside, it was painfully aware of a huge difference between Brasilia and the rest of the country...it is the ONLY city (where I have been) where guys outnumber the girls (by the way, I have been told that the country on a whole is about 4 to 1 girls to guys...not sure of the validity of that, but it certainly seems that way). I had gotten so used to it that I was forgetting to appreciate it...man, I felt like I was back in Houston. Not surprisingly, that same night I met probably the first unfriendly girls that I had encountered in Brazil. Luckily everyone was not that way, and we met some really cool folks and had a great time anyway. We danced until 4:00 a.m. and then headed for home.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
Around 1 I finally woke up and had "breakfast". Juliano had to run some errands so he dropped me off at the internet place for about an hour. Back at home, we watched a GREAT Brazilian movie (with subtitles) called "Avril Despedacado". It actually won a Golden Globe last year for best foreign film and I could see why. It was absolutely spectacular! Anyone looking for a good foreign film to watch, I strongly recommend it.
Later on we went out to the store and bought some groceries so Juliano could show off his superior cooking skills. We cooked, drank and listened to music for several hours and it was great. In the end, Juliano was too tired to go out. I was going to head out alone but Fabiano decided to join me. We went to a pretty cool bar that had a better ratio than the place from the previous night...but there was a different problem, a very common one here. Everyone sits at tables which severely limits the mingling. It was all good though b/c we were having a pretty good conversation about women (what else do guys talk about?). We stayed there from about midnight until 2 and then headed for another bar on the north side of the city. It took awhile to find it because the way the city is designed, every single block looks the EXACT same...anyone who has been here knows what I mean. Drank there until 4 and finally headed home for some Z's.
Friday, April 18, 2003
Woke up around noon. Juliano wanted to give me a tour of the city so off we went. Brasilia is a fairly large and spread out as I said before, but taking a daytime drive around made it even clearer.
First we went to the military zone of the city which sounds uninteresting, but was pretty cool. There is a large open plaza there and a cool fountain. The highlight, however, is this structure outside the main building that is an acoustical delight. If you stand in the middle, and speak, there is a very cool reverberating echo (BCM people-sort of like that spot in Alkek on the 3rd floor outside of N315...but times 100). You had to be there but it really was neat.
Afterwards, we checked out several other "tourist" spots in the city. It was funny because since it was a holiday that day (Good Friday) there were several visitors in town and we kept on seeing the same people over and over again at each stop we made. Another notable stop was the church in town that has a very futuristic design.
Back at home, we had lunch with Fabiano, Tilsa, her sister and sister's husband and daughter. Afterwards we watched the movie, pi (as in 3.14) but I pretty much slept the whole time. I spent several hours working on journals too.
Later that night, we all just hung out listening to music and dancing. I put on some merengue tunes and danced with Tilsa. I have been surprised how many Brazilian's I have encountered that like salsa/merengue music, especially since you almost never hear it down here. Later, Leo, Juliano's other brother showed up. He was super cool and was pretty excited to be able to go out that night because he has an 8 month old son and does not have many free nights. We all went to "The Gates Pub", the same place we had gone the first night. The band was really good that night and I met some really cool girls that I talked with most of the night. Time flew by and before I knew it, it was 4:00 a.m. again! Home to sleep but not for long as we were going to Goiana the next morning.
Saturday, April 19, 2003
Finally the day had arrived that we would go to Goiana. Nothing like a fun day trip, I always say.
It was tough but we were up, showered and ready at 10. We met up with Tilsa's sister and husband and we were on our way.
Goiana is about 2 hours away from Brasilia. Juliano was born there and grew up there until he was about 12. They then moved to Brasilia for four years, backed to Goiana for 5 and then BACK to Brasilia. They have family there and know the city pretty well so that was why we went to check it out. The drive was really nice and scenic.
We got to Goiana around 1. We drove around for awhile and then went to one of the malls as the girls wanted to do some shopping and I wanted to stop and check e-mail quickly. We spent awhile there and I was slowly learning why Goiana is reknown for it's women. Good lord this is a great country!
After the mall, Juliano took me to his favorite spot for suco in the city (forgot the name) and it was cool. After that, we dropped off the girls at a market and the four of us went to play pool. It was funny to me that there was this sort of traditional split...girls to shop and the men to drink beer and play pool. It sort of resonates the attitude here in Brazil which is indeed a bit machismo. Pool was pretty fun but I don't think the brothers Miranda have much of a future as pool sharks:)
We went back to the market to pick up the girls and while we waited I decide to walk around the market to check out the "merchandise". No question about it, Goiana is filled with beautiful women. I would have liked to visit there a few days to get to know it better. Perhaps I'll go back.
We got home around 10:30 and we were all pretty wiped out from the day. I worked on journals and went to bed early.
Sunday, April 20, 2003
Juliano, Fabiano, Tilsa, and I all went over to the Leo's in-laws for an huge Easter lunch. Several other family members showed up and it was cool. Before eating, we all hung around talking and playing with Leo's 8 month old son. He was the only person there who knew less porteguese than me so it gave me something to feel superior abour:) Seriously, what was cool was that both the mother and grandmother of Leo's wife were there so including the son there were four generations. That is always impressive. The grandmother was so cool. She was telling us all the story of her great grandmother and how and her husband had immigrated to Brazil from Italy in the mid 1800's!! She even had some pictures (well, portraits) which as wild to think about. She had pictures of every generation from that point forward actually. Not many people have stuff that goes back THAT far.
Lunch was unbelievable. Many different sorts of pasta, veggies, and meats. I really am living the good life with Juliano and his family. I ate like a pig and stuffed myself like one too. I mean, I love meat on a stick as you all know, but it has been great having so many wonderful home cooked meals! And as if the food wasn't enough, we had possibly the best dessert I have EVER eaten. It was a two layer cake, white and chocolate, with some sort of creme filling and cookie crumbs and peaches on top. My previous favorite dessert was pastel Basco that you can find in northern Spain and southern France, but now there is a new king. It was somewhat metaphorical actually...I think Brazil is overtaking Spain as my favorite country I have been too. Of course it is not a fair contest...I have not traveled in Spain nearly to the extent that I have traveled here. I imagine at some point I will be able to spend an extensive amount of time in Europe and be able to make a better assesment. Ironically though, many Brazilians I have encountered have told me that they absolutely love Spain. I think the cultures are quite similar in that they both are very open and sociable and proud of it. My experiences with the people in both countries have opened my eyes to so much though and I love them both.
After the huge meal it was time to head back for the obligatory nap at Juliano's. Nothing much better than following an incredible meal with a nap in a hammock. We lounged around for pretty much the whole evening. Finally at 9 we got motivated to go out to see a movie. The theatre was kind of far away and be the time we got there, the last set of movies had already begun. Since we had gotten up and out of the house finally, we decided to head back to a bar near Juliano's house. It is a perfect neighborhood type bar with lots of tables outside and it seems to always be packed. There weren't any tables left so we were forced to sit at the bar. It is weird but that does not happen too often in Brazil...usually people are at the tables. In many places, there are not even stools at the bar.
Anyway, after awhile a guy heard us talking in English and he came over to us. He was an American guy who's parents work at the American Embassy in Brasilia. He was pretty cool, but even cooler was this older Brazilian guy he was with. It turned out that this guy had worked in the States for many years. He was a bodygaurd for the daughter of the guy who owns Pepsi. His story was pretty amazing. He was literally working as a clown in a traveling circus in the States in the late 80's. Well, at one of the shows, a young child wondered into the path of an elephant and this guy grabbed the kid out of the way just in time. It turned out that the child was the grandson of the guy who owns Pepsi. He was so grateful that he decided to hire the guy right there on the spot...and just like that he was working for one of the richest men in America...living in his house in the lap of luxury. He eventually was put on the daughter's security team where he took care of here for 12 years...through grade school, highschool, college. It was not easy...he had taken five bullets for her in a few kidnap attempts. Pretty scary, but he made it...he was able to have a family and provide very well for them over that time.
Well, as it turned out, when this guy first arrived in the US, he happened to live in South Bend for the first several years and he was a huge ND fan. He loved everything about it. When it came time for his son to go to college, that is where he wanted him to go...and it happened. You could see in his face how proud it made him that he had started as an immigrant there in South Bend and had done so much that he was able to send his son to ND. It was a great story that obviously touched me greatly but here is the really cool part (well, for all domers anyway).
There is house on the corner of ND Ave. and Angela, just at the south entrance to campus. Pretty much everybody knows it because it is the one house near campus that everyone envisions as the ideal place to live. I would venture to say that many alumni have dreamed about owning it, if nothing just to stay there when returning to campus. It is really the only nice house on ND ave. and it is big enough to fit many people. It used to be rented out to strudents several years ago, but not anymore. When this guy's son was poised to go to ND, the owner of Pepsi asked him what he wanted...he said THAT house and BAM it was a done deal! His son is a senior at ND and lives right there in that house, owned by this Brazilian guy who 15 years ago, was nothing but a clown. Hell of a tale.
Got home around 3.
Monday, April 21, 2003
Woke around 10 and I was very excited. We had decided to make it an excercise day and I was going to get a chance to go biking...which I enjoy immensely and really had not done any since my bike was destroyed in the accident back at the end of September. They only have one bike so Juliano was going to go and do some walking in the city park while I biked around.
I decided I would detour by the internet place on the way to the park to see if it was open (Monday after Easter is a holiday in Brazil so I was not certain) so we split up. Biking around the city was cool...although Brasilia is a lot of concrete and not specifically scenic as I said before, it does have many open lots with small trails that are good to ride on. It felt great to actually get some excercise...something that was severly lacking from my routine. It is next to impossible when you don't have a homebase though. I was very winded early but my body settled in.
After a short stint at the internet cafe, I was back on the bike whizzing through town. I eventually made it to the large city park and it was GREAT. Since it was a holiday, it was completely packed with people. It was MUCH bigger than I thought. There is a small fair there with rides and lots of people jogging/biking running on a trail that goes around the park. Many people were there laying out in the grass, catching some sun. It was funny to me and sort of reminded me of back home in Illinois in the spring when there is that first day that it is remotely warm and everyone goes out to the parks, just to be outside and work on their tans. The poor folks in Brasilia are a million miles from the nearest beach, as in Illinois, so laying out is not necessarily associated with the ocean or a pool...which is sort of funny to me now. In Houston, there are pools EVERYWHERE and it is relatively close to a beach (although I use the term "beach" loosely when refering to Galveston) so in general, if people lay out, they are near water. People really don't go to the parks to layout. I did not consciously realize this though, until that day in the park...as the strong Illinois memory came to me and I had to think about why it reminded me of there and not somewhere else. Just an interesting observation.
I biked a 6km path around the park (there was an 11km path...which is a fairly big circle and gives you an idea of the size of the park) and really enjoyed it. There were some cool lakes to check out and some nice trails to ride on...nothing like Memorial Park in H-town though.
Finally I headed back to Juliano's and I was pretty exhausted. I had biked a fair ways and spent a couple hours going around the city. My poor legs were ready for a break. We got a great lunch at a by the kilo place and then pretty much lazed around for the rest of the day. I got in some quality hammock time, listening to tunes and doing some work on journals.
We felt pretty mellow so we decided to head for the movies that night. Juliano suggested Carandiru, a new Brazilian movie that was just released. I was a bit intimidated by watching a movie in Porteguese with no english subtitiles but I figured I had reached a level where I would be able to follow okay so I decided to give it a shot. The movie was very good! It is based on a true story about a prison riot in Sao Paulo that happened in 1992...over a hundred prisoners were murdered in cold blood by the police. It was HUGE news here but I had not heard about it...which I think gave me a different perspective than the Brazilians who have seen the movie. Juliano was cool enough that he did not tell me anything about the movie before we got there. Another movie I give a good recommendation. It is funny, because by Brazilian standards, the movie is very violent and many people caused an uproar about this. It really wasn't bad at all too me, which shows you a difference in the measuring stick of violence in the entertainment world between the US and Brazil. That is something to think about.
Went home after the movie and went to bed.
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
We got up pretty early so I could head to the federal police station to get my Visa extended. In Brazil, bureacratic things like this tend to take time so you have to get a jump on them. We got to the police station just as the passport office opened. (Incidentally, thanks to one of my favorite Doug McLean anecdotes, I had the forsight to put on pants before heading for this ordeal...not that it would be a problem for me anyway as I am well aware that men wear pants...heh, heh) Once I was there and the process was begun, Juliano took off to do some things...for him, life was returning to normal that day...with the holidays over, work and school were back in the mix. The whole process of extending my Visa was actually pretty expeditious. It took about an hour and half but I had no hassles. Cost was only $R22 for anyone who is wondering or needing to do the same. I was now officially legal to stay in Brazil until the end of July! Rock on. Not sure if I will stay THAT long but we will see.
From the Visa office I went straight to the internet place where I spent the ENTIRE day getting the website back up to date and starting to roll out the serious backlog of journals I had written.
Back at Juliano's house around 7, I had enough time to shower and pack and it was finally time to head to the bus station. Leaving Brasilia was a bit sad. I really enjoyed my time there with Juliano and Fabiano. As they left me at the bus station I couldn't help but to feel touched by the extreme openess and kindness of the Brazilian people and their culture. Juliano opened the doors of his home to me and really went out of his way to show me a good time. We literally covered ALL of Brasilia in my time there and even had the day trip to Goiana. My serious thanks to Juliano and Fabiano for all they did for me during my week there. Also, as if I don't owe the guy enough already, a shout out goes to Doug McLean for putting me in contact with Juliano. Because of him, Brasilia was a fantastic experience.
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