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 Búzios, 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.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brazil - Who knew?

5. Portuguese is a curious language! I knew it was similar to various other romance languages, but I didn't realize what a mixture of vocabulary  from Spanish, French and Italian that it had! Generally it is closest to Spanish, so a lot of words are very similar but may be pronounced differently. Then there are words that are completely different! 

English : dog.  Spanish: perro. Portuguese: cachorro.  (What the?!)
English : window.  Spanish: ventana. Portuguese: janela.
English : to forget.  Spanish: olvidar. Portuguese: esquecer.
And on and on.

Here are some French similarities:
English: waiter.  Portuguese: garçom.
English: vegetables.  Portuguese/French:légumes
And many more.

Italian Similarities?
English: I can.  Portuguese/Italian: Posso.
English: 'Bye.  Portuguese: Tchau. Italian: Ciao.

there are more I can't think of them right now!

See links below for 

Favelas, Baile Funks & Fotografia.

I may have mentioned to some that we had attended a festa in Rocinha, one of Rio's largest favelas. We thought it was going to be a baile funk - meaning a big neighbourhood party in some sort of gym or empty lot of sorts where  funk carioca music would be played, attended by many, and put on by local drug gangs.
Well anyway, it was a smaller party in a kindergarten to raise money for the kids I presume who attended the kindergarten. We went with a bunch of people from my Portuguese Class. First we went to Favela Babilonia near Copacabana to have a drink at our Danish classmate's place - I understand the hit flick 'Tropa de Elite' was filmed there! Anyways, after a subway ride and some walking and climbing the hill to Favela 1, we took a 'combi' which is a small privately owned white van that transports people along various routes. This took us as far as the foot of Rocinha, and from there we needed to take 'Mototaxis' - which is just as it sounds - taxis in the form of motorcycles which usually transports someone up hills and narrow alleys etc. It was a thrilling and exciting way to see Rocinha by night; as we whizzed past (there were 6 of us!) we saw bars open to the street, pool halls, stores, children playing, other motorcycles going by, general friday night life in this favela of about 200,000 people! Sounds and smells (not always good!) and lights saturating your mind as you are holding on for dear life (btw - you're only supposed to hold on to the back of the seat behind you, it is not common to hold onto the driver). Basically lots to take in!
The party was fun, lots of foreigners there actually, and many in costume for Halloween. Highlights of the party were the kids dancing on a nearby roof (really well actually!), and the kids down on the street as well, dancing quite promiscuously I must say, to the heavy pounding beats of the baile funk!
Getting back was similar, although more difficult to find mototaxis, and we were advised not to walk far from the party as foreigners in a favela at five in the morn. is not exactly the best idea. Anyhoo, we got back safe and sound, and we had only seen 1 guy (not police) with a machine gun on a motorcycle going by.

Below I have linked a website to some pix by a Brazilian Photographer called Pedro Lobo, who has done much work on Favelas. Check them out, they are quite beautiful.

Pedro Lobos Favela Photography

Lastly, tomorrow I go with an American friend (another classmate!) to her photography class that she is teaching in Rocinha. Should be pretty fun to hang out with some Brazilian kiddie-winks and try and teach something about photography in Portuguese! Will report back about how it went!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

xx S xx O xx U xx L xx

After six weeks, it finally seems new humans are conquering the moat surrounding our Castle of Solitude (Thanks to Jasmine's portuguese class!). There are phone numbers now stored in the memory of the cell phone that lead to social situations when called. Playing sports at the beach no longer consists of kicking a ball into the ocean and watching it drift away, alone, to nowhere. has led to conversations and the sentiment of wishing to craft tunes rather than stitch together the handiwork of others.

So this mix will be one of two offerings for the next while. The hour has come to refocus the energy canons at activities which do not reside on the web (except for Skyping family and ensuring fresh blog posts hither n' thither). The first mix was to be a big dose of reggae & dancehall, but upon the discovery that Jamiroquai had a new album, hearing 'Fool For You' off the new Cee Lo album and being impressed by John Legend/The Roots take on some soul classics...this melange of tunes was born. As this is a Brazil-centered blog, of course some tracks have been included to satisfy that component in the form of Dom Salvador & Tom Ze!