Friday, December 24, 2010

Witness the Christmas

            The temperature was 38 degrees Celsius in the Centro area of Rio de Janeiro just a few days ago. Summer has merely begun to warm up the massive oven called Brazil. What better time to go hunting for prezzies and the spirit of a holiday that thrives in the harsh winter conditions of more northern climes? This activity will be pursued after frolicking in the waves and drinking a good number of half-frozen cervejas on the beach over the next six hours.

            If you are here and writhing in desperation to see something related to Natal (Christmas in Portuguese), then simply wander over to any ol’ shopping center or department store.  In some of these places you can pretty much forget that you’re not at Yorkdale Mall or the Eaton Center.  However, do not buy electronics or clothing because your wallet will get a thorough milking.  Turn on the television. It won’t be long before you find a seasonal flick, a heart-warming show that involves Jesus, or someone in an elf costume encouraging everyone to make a purchase.  You may also head over to the Lagoa, Rio’s large lake, to marvel (half in awe, half in disgust) at the 85 meter, floating metallic Christmas tree.  It’s not really a tree, of course, but it does emit a lot of light and colour.

            Centro is a portion of the city that can instill a more genuine sensation of Christmas upon one’s soul.  When exiting Carioca metro station, there is sometimes a gentleman who wields a saxophone and honks out familiar carols with an admirable amount of proficiency.  His between-carol laughter and indecipherable commentary make the package complete.  A few blocks away, a mechanical Santa is perched high on a ledge above the hoards of humans bustling and sweating down below.  He rotates and waves happily enough, but if the real Santa decided to come here wearing that outfit, he would be lucky to continue living for more than thirty minutes.  Not too many steps away from the robotic Santa, an inflatable Rudolph stands on a mound of cotton inside a giant plastic sphere and looks to the next shop, which has undressed, fake pine trees out front.  In this place you can track down all the decorations, cards, presents and personalized wrapping you could possibly require.  It is a busy and lively spot that is made better by being able to haggle with the vendors to save a few reais.
             Around our home, in the upper parts of the Santa Teresa neighbourhood, it is also possible to identify significant evidence of Christmas.  Outside a small bar, a woman is demonstrating how an advent calendar functions to her chums and a car tootles by not long after that which contains an elderly gentleman pumping out an instrumental jazz version of Jingle Bells.  We also witness a plump lady with tight-fighting garments strolling around with the family dachshund.  This pooch is not bothered by either it’s red and green boots or it’s Santa hat. Looking to the distance behind the festive dog, you can view the favela (slum) of Prazeres and see that even in the poor, run down communities, Christmas lights attached to homes are a fairly common sight. 

              In short, as soon as you try to seek out Yule, you’ll walk right into it.  This country is heavily Catholic, and the people here have had a long time to figure out how to do Christmas when most of the population has never encountered snow.   In addition, It must be tremendously difficult to feel sorry for someone in Brazil during Canadian winter.  The woe of not having quality time with family or receiving presents can be dismantled by hiking through a rainforest to gorgeous waterfalls or gawking at the skimpy swimwear many humans wear to the beaches of paradise. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More Music Than You Need

Just to save you some of the work you wouldn't have done, here's some recent mixes all gathered in one place.  Pay attention or ignore them at your leisure.

This is a mix called The CR8 APEscape for the top notch and musically aware people at Invisible Friends/Cr8Apes that just went up today.  With your permission, I'd love to toot my own horn on this one.–-the-cr8-apescape/
Mogpaws – The CR8 APEscape

This is a mix put together for Laid Back Radio out Belgium, a big thanks to them as this has already garnered more than 1500 listens.  They host a whole lot of really quality music, worth some clicks and attention.

The mandatory Christmas mix.  There is another few days where it may sound good, but on the 26th you'd probably rather vomit blood into your own eyes than listen to all these seasonal jams.

Lastly, a set recorded in L.A. for Dublab by our chum Will Holland a.ka. of the most talented and prolific producers/musicians currently crafting sound.  I avoided putting the interview we did with him up because I didn't like the sound of my voice in the beginning, but I'll do a little editing and hook you up.
New n' Old, afro-latin-brazilian funky business

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Short Tale of Favela Claus

It's sad to say, but jolly Santa probably skips many houses of poor kids who live in neighbourhoods where fat white guys are targets for criminals.  This is just a kind of unintentionally morbid Christmas poem crafted while thinking about a Santa alternative who could relate better to impoverished communities, specifically the favelas of Rio.  Trying to sound like Batman in the recording was deliberate as my true dream is make the following list a reality.
Adam West 
Michael Keaton
Val Kilmer
George Clooney
Christian Bale
James Bamberger

The Short Tale of Favela Claus

Saint Nick, this fat man surely you know, he resides in a land with
Numerous reindeer and ample snow

He takes but one night to cover the Earth… to bestow, on all, gifts
And the sensation of mirth.
But peer rather closely, soon you’ll notice some gaps….
The poor kids get squat from within Santa’s sacks.

One man from Brazil did notice these flaws and attempted to become
a new hero, one aptly called Favela Claus.

Red & white were the choice of his garments & he stole a small
Van from the fire department.  He spent 1 year thieving toys
From kids with more money, he procured remote control cars
And cute, little stuffed bunnies.

This story is short & very much broken, dear Favela Claus
Would never become a holiday token.  Wished as he did, he could never ever commit, intentions and reality are different, you must admit.

On the joyous eve before Christmas, he was highly pressured to party,
By an unsavory human the locals called Marty.
They sang baile carols & danced real dirty, they stayed up late til much
Past the hour of 4:30.
Favela Claus didn’t go round the slums like he planned, instead he got so stoned
That he could not hardly stand.

He lay next to a woman with significant thighs, something displeasing
To her husband, a man twice his size. 
Before the sun came up, in the head he got shot, out came blood,
Not a little, but a lot!
The curb was a colour, the same as his suit, but the heavy rain fell
And made it dilute.

When the kids awoke later that morn,  they found nothing at all
And became depressed and forlorn.  Thus no gifts did they get that
Year or others, but not really due to Favela Claus nor their fathers
or mothers.

While looking for information on Father Christmas's influence on the favelas, I came
across this Globo article from a couple years ago.  It's in Portuguese, though.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Terrace Primates

The last two days were spent ill at home. While in bed, scarfing down Pepto Bismol & groaning to nobody, several of these little monkeys (micos) appeared outside the window. Jasmine was at class, the house was empty and I knew the ripe bananas in the kitchen could be my only hope for some kind of encounter with another life form that day. Fortunately the stereotype of monkeys liking bananas held true.  

The attitude towards these monkeys for many people here is similar to the view we have on squirrels in Toronto. 

Toronto: "Why the hell would you want to capture the moment of a dirty rodent gnawing on an old muffin wrapper?" 
Rio: "Why the hell would you waste perfectly good fruit & risk getting ebola from one of these annoying scavengers?"

This smaller species actually comes into the urban areas while the larger species just hang out in the national park (which we can still see whenever we want because our new place is right next to the entrance of the park)

I'm sorry, but being from a monkiless country makes any form of primate pretty awesome.  Their little faces and nimble fingers, their public fornication and thieving nature are truly awe-inspiring things that act as a reminder that we are in a tropical environment (the 30+ temperatures, rainforest, beaches, exotic fruit, subpar transport, slowness, frequency of beer intake, shirtlessness, giant insects, pictures of cold people back home etc.... are also reminders)

So, here's just a small video of our two new friends, Wagner & Wilson, who consented to being put on the internet the moment they accepted my offering of ripe, peeled fruit.  It sure did take them a long time to eat a single banana and they refused to hold it themselves, the lazy bastards.  

Duration: 53 seconds
Music: Azaxx - Lounging Place (feat Larry Stabbins) from the great new Shapes 10:02 compilation on Tru Thoughts

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trem Do Samba (Samba Train)

"Transportainment" (n.):  The merging of pastimes or leisure activities with a vehicle in motion.

Ex. i) Cocktail party on a yacht bound for Costa Rica (Yachts mustn't be docked or anchored)
      ii) Watching a football game with friends while riding a horse 
      iii) High-stakes poker tournaments on hovercrafts 
      iv) Live samba groups in every car of a train destined for Oswald Cruz station, Rio de Janeiro

Please draw your attention to the 4th example of transportainment, it is the pertinent example for this blog post.

Hopefully when we put the words "Samba" & "Train" together, you can make some kind of mental picture because there's really no time or willingness to explain those terms further. An audio recording mixed with photos & a video have been included to grant you a more vivid overview of the experience.  

There was a mild, throbbing excitement to do a thorough review of "Trem do Samba"  because it was utterly fantastic... but something recently crept into the room, came up behind my motivation and slit open it's throat with a machete.  Now, the only energy left is reserved for watching funny animal videos on Youtube, like the one Jasmine showed me where a mother duck and ALL her ducklings get blown away by the wind.  Heart-breaking and hilarious, just like life.

So, instead of wasting everyone's time, let's just say 90% of this event was completely phenomenal and you should go sometime. I'll wrap up the post by telling you about the 10% that was not so brilliant.

1) At the meat place, you'll see it in the video, you're led to believe that the meat is delicious, plentiful and cheap.  It ended up being mediocre, inadequate and expensive.  We're not sure if it was expensive for everyone or we'd been hit by the "gringo tax" that seems to rear it's head semi-frequently.

2) We met a friendly, older gentleman who conversed with us at length in Portuguese.  We liked him.  The peculiar part was when he introduced us to his daughter like this....... "this is my daughter, she's 13, she has a baby." She then fetched the infant, which had probably been born 15 minutes earlier. Why was it so floppy and pink? The awkwardness left when they did.  I joke because it's the only way not to cry (seriously!)

If you get through the first 1:30 of video and sound, then be prepared for a special treat at the end.  It's included because some things are just too sexy to keep locked away from the world.  Also enjoy the unrelated duck-blowing video that is the main culprit for causing a mediocre blog post.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

O Som Das Armas

When the gunfire started up last week in Prazeres, we stood by the window and absorbed sounds that through our lives have only come at us from televisions, radios and cinemas.

My Edirol R-09 digital audio recorder is never far from reach and it captured some of the bursts of shots over the two most active mornings.  We were still drinking our coffees at about 10:30am when people started pulling triggers.  See the divshare link at the top of the post

Truthfully, I was hoping to hear those sounds before coming here.  After listening back to the recordings, I don’t care to hear them again.  Out of all those flying bits of metal, how many hit a target?  Did people just die over there?  Did kids just kill other kids?  That’s fucked up.  Of course, whatever happened over here was nothing compared to what was happening in other parts of the city, and thus it wasn’t covered by any media.  I don’t know if we would’ve learnt much if it had.

I doubt it’s everyone’s feeling, but 4 or 5 people we’ve spoken to said that what happened last week in the city was a good thing because it showed the police actually doing something. They were able to finally take over a big swath of drug dealer territory and the tanks/soldiers signified that the federal government was collaborating with the local forces to assist with the clean up.  They said it was maybe the first step they’d seen towards making Rio a suitable place for the Olympics & World Cup.  They also made it quite clear that they were  avoiding too much optimism.  

While recording the bouts of gunfire, a putrid aroma arose that Jasmine blamed on me, but I'm pretty sure it was just the eggy scent of gun smoke wafting in the window. We couldn't make the post too serious now could we? Apologies to relatives and loved ones who interpret the proximate sound of weapons discharging as something dangerous to our well being.

Photo 1:  Us bewildered at the window, recording
Photo 2:  Jasmine’s brass monkey’s opinion of the situation
Photo 3:  View of Prazeres favela from our yard
Photo 4: More professional photo of Prazeres from a great website dedicated to the favela existence

Friday, November 26, 2010

New Abode brings us closer to the Big J, and the Favelas.

Oi Gente,

James & Jasmine here; update from Rio is that we've recently moved a couple of days ago - still in our beloved Santa Teresa neighbourhood, but this time way up in the mountains, on the way to the famous Corcovado - or 'Big J' as we've taken to calling him.
     Our move has brought us closer to some favelas; from our bedroom window we have an excellent view of both big J, the mountains, and Prazeres, the closest favela. The first few days we were here were somewhat interesting; lots of intermittent gunshots throughout the morning. Then Tuesday, a whole slew of them. Later, we saw the 'BOPE' (the police force dedicated to infiltrating the favelas) go in, and then go out.
     Since then it has been quiet over there, although today is Friday, and we expect to hear some crazy loud Baile funk blasting from there later on tonight! Our housemate Aglaia, tells us that since buying the house, there has been very little disturbance from the favelas until now.
It was later that we started hearing about all the police forces invading the favelas in the north zone of Rio, and the subsequent retaliation by the drug gangs they are trying to drive out of the favelas. Military tanks have been going in, cars and buses have been burnt, highways and major roadways blocked in Vila Cruzeiro which the BOPE is trying to pacify, and a few incidents in the wealthier Zona Sul area, and in the Centro
     The tally that they have been reporting is as follows :23 deaths, 96 burnt vehicles and 192 injured 25 dead, and over 100 people arrested. Rest assured friends and fam, besides what's mentioned above, we haven't seen any burnt cars, or been affected by what's been going on - we too are just seeing the images and video on the news. We're safe and sound; and planning to stay that way!
   To go back to our new digs, we are very happy about the place - although we are only renting a room only now, we are with a very lovely Brazilian couple, and an equally nice Mexican Photography Student. The house is large, old and charming, and up in the hills with great views, breezes, and with a feel of real-life in Rio. Take a look at the pix below and see for yourself!


Excursion to Buzios

The last long weekend (feriada), we abandoned Rio, snagged a bus and aimed ourselves at the expensive but lovely beach town known as Buzios.  Despite not having more than 12 minutes of sun and an abundance of soggy precipitation, the excursion was a positive one.  The Buzios tourism website describes the place thusly……

 Just 105 miles from Rio de Janeiro, a pleasant 2-hour trip takes you to the peninsula of B├║zios, whose more than 20 magnificent beaches and crystal-clear water contrast with the exuberantly sculptured landscape and exotic vegetation, which a prodigal "Mother Nature" has privileged with a wonderful year-round summer.

To alleviate some potential financial pain, we decided to lodge ourselves in a 6 person hostel room.  
(pretty decent place run by Argentinians)
We crossed our fingers and hoped that the other 4 inhabitants wouldn't be youngsters wishing to self destruct, scream and fornicate while us oldies were trying to get some quality shut-eye.  They turned out to be decent human beings, although one individual’s feet provided an aroma that inflicted great anguish on our innocent nostrils.  The only feasible explanation for the smell was that he’d cut open the carcass of a decaying mule, stuffed his feet into the putrid innards and marinated them for a week before coming to the hostel.

Buzios Highlights:

    1)  Scooter Rental
Jasmine's idea to rent a scooter was the best thing in the world despite it eliminating my goal of renting a horse.  The name of our trusty metallic steed was Lord Scootsalot and our love for him was palpable. We scooted not just hither, but also thither.  We felt the spatter of the elements on our faces as we cruised to beaches and up the hills to take in the smashing vistas.  We made people drive around us due to our inadequate velocity.

    2) Boat Tour
We took a boat tour.  The tour involved caipirinhas, tootling to beaches & islands, going for little swims and talking to an old Chilean guy about the good seafood in Santiago/how sailing is beautiful because there’s no sound of motors.  The scenery engulfed the senses. Thumbs up for boat tour.

    3) Muqueca in the mouth
Food here was mostly pleasing, but reading the menu prices sometimes made us soil our undergarments.  The Muqueca (a traditional yummy fishy, shrimpy, spicy coconut stew + rice & farofa) at one spot, name forgotten, was likely the most delightful thing we have nourished ourselves with since arriving in Brazil.  The fact that the meal was fairly priced boosted the pleasure of the experience.

 Buzios Weirdlights

     1) Festa de Buzios
Buzios had a music festival that weekend.  This excited us… but shouldn't have.  We ended up being a group of drunken gringos wielding big cups of alcohol in the middle of an evangelical pop rock concert.  It took us ten minutes to realize that we were the only ones drinking, and that the singer was preaching about sins and how we needed to fully dedicate ourselves to the Lord.  We absorbed the surrealism for about 15 minutes until things got too awkward and we started to worry that the crowd would end our lives with a pelting of rocks.

      2) Mammoth Snails
The size of the Buzian snails is startling.  They weren’t on any menus, which is something a savvy restaurant owner could capitalize on.  3 of those things with a little garlic butter would be enough for a meal.  You could easily charge like 10 bucks, too!  Stepping on one would be disgusting!

       3) Nightlife
Surely there are cool, little spots to visit with good music in Buzios, but they alluded us.   For such a pretty place, it provided a massive buffet of sonic vomit that made us want to weep.  Some songs from the bars gave me the same feeling that I got as a child when my parents told me our cat, Snowy, had been crushed and deleted by a 4-wheeled road monster.  I won’t get started on the club, Pacha, that was charging 80 reais ($50!!!) to walk through it’s doors of mediocrity.  We didn’t go in, but a lot of people did.  Maybe if one were younger, single & desperate for action, you could find yourself in a mind state to pay such a fee.

Suddenly, all interest in continuing the blog post dissipated and was replaced with an urge to look for the possum (gamba) that lives in the garden.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Brazil - Who knew?

In Brazil there are cute shops in the malls called 'Jelly' by Melissa. Here you can find awesome, all-plastic shoes - think Jelly shoes circa 1980's but with much cooler designs, patterns and styles. 
Jelly Shoes are all the rage here - at first I was not so into them, but like all things, after a while I found myself wanting to get a pair! In Rio it rains quite a bit, and the streets are pretty dirty, so if you have sandals on, your feet get pretty grubby and so do your shoes - plastic therefore makes perfect sense, as you can wash them easy-peasy.

I have yet to buy some, so I went to browse online. Upon some research, I realized the Jelly shoe was in fact invented by the Brazilians, who knew?! They were apparently first brought to America in 1982 at that year's world fair, by a company called Grendha, which was a new business joint venture between an already existing Brazilian company called Grendene, and an American businessman. 
Another Brazilian company 'Melissa' these days creates the more stylin (and more expensive) Jelly shoes as mentioned above. Here is list of designers that have designed for Melissa (Zaha Hadid even!):
Jean Paul Gaultier

So next time you see me folks, I will most likely be sporting neon moulded plastic shoes -jump on this Jelly revival train with me!

Religious practice from the Amazon - Psychedelic Santo Daime

For this episode of Samba like it Hot, we wanted to recount a topic the we had never heard about before until recently. In a discussion of plans for Christmas, a friend told us some friends of hers were coming to visit from California, but that one of them wouldn't be around as she was going to be participating in a week-long religious ceremony that involves preparing a hallucinogenic tea made of the combination of amazonian vines and leaves. What craziness is this? We asked her. She was surprised we hadn't heard about it before. I was immediately intrigued. For some reason, stories of strange religions and cults have always sparked my interest - but strictly for curiousity only - the idea of becoming involved with any such group gives me the heebie-jeebies! 
She proceeded with an explanation of The Santo Daime religion. It originated in the Amazon by a Brazilian guy called Mestre Freire who was given the tea Ayahuasca by indigenous  people there. This tea with it's psychedelic properties has been used by Amazonian peoples for ritualistic purposes throughout Peru, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador. The tea is extremely powerful, leading to visions, and psychological passages and purges. One interesting fact is the tea's properties are only reached by the combination of a particular vine and the leaves from another shrub - each alone do not produce the same effects as when they are combined. 
Later, Freire founded a religious community and the religion has spread worldwide - there are factions throughout North America, Europe, Latin America and even Asia! Santo Daime is a mix of Folk Catholicism, African Animism, and South American Shamanism.  The ceremonies of Santo Daime involve the making of the tea which they call 'Daime', and the imbibing of it,  the singing of hymns and dancing in geometrical patterns, accompanied by marracas and some other instruments  and bouts of silence for inner meditation. 'Dai-me' means give me, in following the main dictums of the religion which says 'Give me strength, give me Love'.   Ceremonies last for as much as 15 hours, often from dusk until dawn! 
Anyways, I have attached here a couple interesting videos found on you tube; give them a looksie if you too are now asking yourself, 'what is this crazy amazonian practice'?  The dress itself  - with all dressed in white, with crowns and sashes and stars is alone, fascinating! Also note the symbol of a cross with 2 horizontal bars instead of 1. Enjoy!



Friday, November 19, 2010

The Mock Robbery of a Bamberger

Particular films, news articles and unnecessary comments from loved ones made me believe that a person like ol' Jimmy McWhiteflesh here would be devoured the moment after leaving the airport in Rio de Janeiro.
"You'll have to use mirrors on the ends of sticks to check around every corner" they would say.  
"They will steal your skin and passport, then fly to Canada to live as you." The kids would chant.

Although the poverty is right up in your face here, the threat that was foretold has not, touch wood, contacted us
directly.  The odd barefoot child has requested change for food and some streets at night get us all freaked out, but there ain't a soul
who has tried to do us harm.  Oh...well, there was the time our credit cards got copied at an ATM machine and thousands
of dollars were taken, but that’s not worth mentioning, really.

At any rate, a few days ago the fear I'd been anticipating finally presented itself, kind of.  
That afternoon, myself and two other kindly folk, let's called them N-stro & J-town to protect their identities, were strolling towards
Flamengo station as the day strolled towards being uneventful.  We were engaged in chatter, forging a bond, preparing to split off towards
differing afternoon trajectories and inattentive to the two characters ambling along in front of us.  Those characters, of course, created a reason for a blog post....but first..

Across from the Metro station, no, above it, 
there's a strange and random little forested area that seems to be a campground for a particular group of homeless people.  
It has fire pits, wandering chickens and strewn bits of enfilthed clothing/garbage.
The only live chickens we've come across in RJ thus far have been located here.  See photo.

So, one of these aforementioned characters, likely from that forested camp, suddenly turned swiftly towards me.
Peripheral vision informed the brain that a metal object was pointed towards the belly and the important guts behind that belly.

He muttered something about dinheiro (money).  My heart picked up it's pace, packed it's bags and tried to escape.  The higher cognitive functions melted and turned the controls over to my fat, out-of-shape instincts. Real fear, how unfamiliar!!  The fellow was clearly from well below the poverty line, he stunk like piss, sweat and dirt.  He was wearing filthy blue shorts, and an even filthier striped-shirt with long sleeves.  Shoes?  I don't think so.  His equally fragrant companion had a muddy blanket draped over his head, that's all all recall about him.

Within a second, though, my eyes realized the metal object sticking out from his sleeve looked neither knife nor gun-like and
Mr.Stinky was grinning like an unattended fat kid with an open bag of marshmallows.  I had just been fake robbed at small-metal-pipe point.

"Foi uma brincadeira, cara!, uma brincadeira! heheheheh" he laughed
"It was a joke, man!  A joke! heheheheh"
Then they wandered back their bush lair.
End of altercation.

Afterwards, the three of us briefly discussed how unfunny that joke ended up being, but after a few hours of contemplating the fragility of life......I changed my mind and decided that the joke was funny after all.  The situation had been invigorating, no money was lost and it helped give a bit of joy to some of this country's lost souls.  All in all, I wouldn't mind being fake-robbed again some day.

These stick figures drawn on the back of an envelope should help
visualize the scenario.