Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Belo Horizonte!

Belo Horizonte turned 114 years old on Monday, December 12th.  I'm sharing this video not just to showcase this city we call home, but also because there is a shot of the cachaça fountain at the Mercado Central.  I took my sister there in July, and couldn't find it (the Mercado Central is a maze of little shops), and the last time I went I still couldn't find it.  But if any of you readers decide to come to BH, let me know, and I'll find the cachaça fountain for us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Acerola Tree

We have a nice little patio area behind our apartment.  It was pretty much the reason we decided to move to this specific apartment.  This was a picture taken before we moved in, and it really doesn't do it justice, but it gives you an idea. 

Today, it is raining like crazy, so it is Lake Kelzenberg.  Seriously.  We have 4 inches of standing water.  There is a drain, but I have to get up the nerve to go out and clean it out.   That tree that you see in the picture, is an Acerola Tree.  Our empregada Irene told me a few months ago, and I was really excited.  I have a lot of saudades for my little garden that I had in the US, and I miss being able to eat oranges, lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, eggplant, chard, snap peas, and even the occasional pomegranate and fig from my neighbor's back yard. 

I would try to open the window to take a picture of the fruit on our tree, but I'm not interested in getting soaked.  Did I mention that it's raining?  One of my co-workers at school lost her car on Monday night because the street where she had parked it turned into a raging river, and the car washed away.  Crazy.  But back to the Acerola.  Here's a picture I found from this website:

It's also called a Barbados Cherry, and kind of looks like a type of cherry.  They are VERY sour, and really only used for their juice.  They have LOTS of vitamin C, and lots of anti-oxidants.   Very good for you.  Right now the fruit on our tree/shrub is just starting to turn red.  Unfortunately, we won't have the opportunity to make fresh acerola juice, because we are leaving for the US in 2 days, and we will be there for 7 weeks!  But I'm sure we can make up for it by drinking lots of cranberry juice, eating grapefruit, enjoying eggnog, and having a marvelous time with our family.  I have a few posts that I've started that I'll probably finish while I'm there, but you won't be hearing much from me for a few months.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


A few weeks ago, I was doing some baking, and I had the pleasure of hearing my downstairs neighbor talking on the phone.  Very loudly.  For over an hour.  At 10 pm at night.  As I was overhearing her stories about jelly, doctor's appointments and many, many other things, I got to thinking about neighbors (and I remembered Danielle's post ).  Getting to enjoy all the idiosyncrasies of your neighbors is not an experience unique to Brazil.  The thing that I find unique is that most Brazilians living in cities live in apartments, which are surrounded by other apartments and other apartment buildings full of other people.  We live in very close proximity to people, so we get to know all their odd behaviors and hear their weird noises and arguments.  I'm sure that the crazy American family with the cellist and screaming children offers lots of fodder for conversation for our neighbors.  And we have had the opportunity to enjoy some of the following:

-Papa Bear.  In our old apartment, we had a good view into the neighboring apartment building's kitchen windows.  We were on the 4th floor, and we had a very good view into the neighbor's 3rd floor apartment.  There was a nice family of 4, and we liked to call the father Papa Bear.  Why?  Well, Papa Bear was quite a fuzzy wuzzy kind of guy, and was a little on the stocky side (not fat, just broad).  And Papa Bear enjoyed the comfort of his own home by usually walking around without a shirt on.  So, we had the privilege of seeing Papa Bear do all sorts of domestic activities without his shirt.  For Brazilian standards, he was quite helpful around the house (he did dishes, sometimes laundry, fed the kids, cooked pasta).  There were a few occasions when he would walk around in his underwear--yikes! 

A few weeks before we moved out, Bea's friend Julia (from our old apartment building) had a birthday party.  It was a big birthday party, held in the salão das festas (party room) of our building, but complete with bouncy toys, lots of food, and lots of beer.  Beer is the way the adults survive the birthday parties here.  We were sitting at a table with some other neighbors, enjoying our salgados and beer, the kids were running around in a sugar high mania, and I suddenly saw someone very familiar.  I felt like I really knew this person, I'd talked with them before, someone I saw on a regular basis.  Our eyes met, and I could tell that he didn't know me at all.  And then I saw his kids and his wife, and I almost yelled it.  "Papa Bear!"  I hadn't initially recognized him because he had his shirt on.  I thought about introducing myself and striking up a conversation, but I just couldn't get over the awkwardness of it. 

-Farmer blows/hocking loogies/excessive nose blowing.  Someone in our new apartment building must have a SERIOUS congestion problem.  Or maybe it's allergies, and they live with a cat or dog that makes it worse.  Because we hear them clearing out their nasal passages MANY TIMES A DAY.  And it's not a gentle little blow into a tissue.  It's a full on honking, coughing up mucus, disgusting, farmer blow.  It sounds like this:

-The Smoker.  Our downstairs neighbor is always so nice when we see her.  She ogles over the children, asks us if we like Brazil, and is so friendly.  And she smokes.  I'm not opposed to smokers, I have friends who smoke.  It's not a bad thing in and of itself.  But our neighbor likes to smoke in her courtyard, which is at the bottom of the building, underneath everyone's laundry areas and kitchens.  And because she's at the bottom, the smoke rises up and comes into everyone else's apartment and makes our apartments smell like smoke, including the drying laundry.  Not very nice.  Our sindica (the person in the building who helps resolve problems) came over one day, and I said something to her about, and the sindica said she's lived there forever, and she's always done it.  Now, the American in me thought that I should just go downstairs and politely ask her to stop smoking in her courtyard.  But this is Minas Gerais, and people don't do the direct confrontation here.  So, my husband came up with another idea.  We decided that every time she smoked in the courtyard, we would talk about the smell, the danger of smoking, the risk that second hand smoke poses to our children, and about the importance of being polite and thinking about others.  So passive-aggressive, yet so effective!  She doesn't really smoke there anymore!  And yet she's still polite to us!  So strange, but it got the job done. 

The thing that amazed me about this situation is that our other neighbors have been suffering and quietly complaining to each other for years about the smoke, and yet they never did anything.  I think that is what happens far too often here.  There are problems.  People don't like the problems.  They want something different.  But for whatever reason, they feel helpless or unable to solve them (because of past experience, because it's far too often the reality).  So they just learn to live.  They suffer through the stink, and resign themselves to living with second hand smoke.  I feel like a lot more could be written about this phenomena.  But I've got to go bother my neighbors...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

an example of what it is like to drive here

The other day I was returning home from the store, and I had a driving experience that is very common.  I want to start out by saying that I'm not amazed by the kind of bad driving that I encountered, but by the fact that it didn't phase me.  I didn't honk.  I didn't get mad.  I didn't yell, or even talk to myself.  There is a kind of dance, an elaborate choreography that goes on in the streets of Belo Horizonte, and I think that I've finally joined in.  In a way, it's kind of beautiful.  It is quite amazing there aren't more accidents, but if you consider the movements (and don't think about the size and weight of the participants), it's almost artistic.  Let me illustrate:
There are actually more streets at the intersection (gotta love the 7 way intersections), but my drawing abilities are not so keen.  So I'm keeping it simple. 

Now, here are three cars stopped at the stop light at the intersection.  The blue oval in the middle is me, in my Fusca (VW Bug).  
We're sitting at the light, and here's what everyone is thinking about doing:

You see the problem.  I tried to recreate this on a video with my children to post, but my children kept crashing their Hot Wheels cars and cracking up.  But in real life, it is something to behold.

The light changes to green, and then the beauty starts.  The yellow van in the far left lane decides to make a right turn onto the Contorno (in front of me).  But at the same time, the light blue truck is making a left turn from the far right lane.  But light blue truck has already anticipated this, and starting driving before the light turned green. 
I'm pretty proud of my driving abilities.  But I'm a little nervous for our trip to the US.  We're leaving in 2 weeks for a 7 week visit, which will involve plenty of driving.  I'll just have to remember how to drive like an American, and be a little less aggressive.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

O João me deu bolo

***update*** After consulting my dictionary (oops, should have done it first) and reading comments and then talking to our housekeeper, I've learned that this kind of "bolo" does not bring to mind cake.  Even thought the highly educated coordinator at the school told me it meant cake, I stand corrected.  But I'm keeping this post, mainly because I like the picture of the cake.

I learned a helpful phrase last week.  I was talking to the coordinator at our school, and I asked her about microphones for the upcoming presentation.  She told me that the sound guy had called her Monday, scheduled an appointment for Tuesday, and never showed up.  She said he gave her cake, thinking that it meant the same thing in English.  Huh?  So she explained that if someone says they will come to a meeting/show up for an appointment/fix your leaky faucet/meet you for coffee and they don't show up, you'd say, "ele me deu bolo," or literally, "he gave me cake."  I like this image, taking an unfortunate, far too common experience, and making it "sweet."

I wish that I didn't have so many opportunities to use this expression, but you remember the leak in the bathroom that I started mentioning back in September?  Well, finally the source of the leak was repaired.  Then we had to wait for it to dry.  Then we had to wait for the painter/repair man to come.  Then he came, but he has to come back to do another coat of paint.  Well, during the past almost 3 months, we'll just say that I've had LOTS and LOTS of cake.  And that was just vazamento (leak) cake.  I've not mentioned anything about pest control cake.  Or broken faucet cake.  Or João cake.  João from the rental company gives me the most cake of all.  I should start calling him the bolo man.

Which makes me think I've got to make my list of people to call tomorrow to try to haggle them to show up or fix problems.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

And our shoes are still wet

The sun came out for about 5 minutes, and my first thought was to put Sebastian's shoes outside.  We went to a birthday party at the Ecological Park in Pampulha on Saturday, and it rained.

And rained.

And rained. 

We accidentally parked in the parking area that was quite a trek to the covered area.  We had 3 umbrellas for the 4 of us, and I made the mistake of wearing my "nice" shoes.  But I carried Beatrice, so we were ok.  It wasn't so bad walking there, because it was only raining, not dumping (yet).  The party was fun, including candy, yummy cake, brownies, and a piñata.  At the end of the party, it the dumping rain arrived.  I was too tired to carry Bea, and Sebastian just wanted to walk in the grass (without an umbrella), which I foolishly conceded to.  We trekked back to the car, getting totally soaked.  It was so wet that it was dripping inside my umbrella.  It was so wet that water had soaked my orthotics.  I wish the story ended there, but it actually gets better.  We piled into the car, forgetting that there is a leak in the passenger door, so Sebastian stepped into a lake of water.  I shut the door, and then our wet shoes, wet hair and wet clothes started fogging up the windows.  Unfortunately, 1983 VW Bugs don't come with air-conditioning and it was getting pretty steamy.  I used the flannel rag that I keep in the car to wipe off the windows, but then my glasses started fogging up.  I decided that we just had to go, and the good thing is that usually the traffic tends to lighten up when the torrential rain comes.  We crept along at about 20 kilometers and hour, but missed our turn and ended up going the "long-cut" as I like to call it.  I am good at taking the scenic routes.  The flannel rag got soaked, so I had to take off my shirt (I had a tank top on underneath, don't worry) to wipe off the window.  Forty five minutes later, we made it home.

And finally today, 5 days later, I think that Sebastian's shoes are almost dry!


I went shopping at the Sacalão (fruit/vegetable store) the other day, and saw this:

I've seen it before, but never bothered to look it up or ask what it was.  One of my favorite workers was there, and I asked him what it was, and he said "mu-she-she."  He was surprised that I'd never had it before.  I don't know, but there's something about the spikes that just doesn't say "try me! I'm tasty!" 

But it was R$1,90 (about $1 USD), so I decided to go for it.  I came home and showed it to my husband, and he was so excited.  It is so wonderfully Muppet looking, isn't it?

A little research (thanks Flavors of Brazil), and I've learned that it's named after Maxixe, Mozambique.  It was brought to Brazil by African slaves, and is very common in the northeast of Brazil.  They are related to cucumbers (and zucchini?), but best when they are cooked.  It's frequently cooked with okra (another very popular Brazilian veggie). 

I forgot to ask the housekeeper to make it today with lunch (oops, I'm a little too busy-end of the school year!), so we have yet to try it yet.  But I'll let you know how it is!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My thoughts on grocery shopping

When we lived in the states, I did most of the grocery shopping.  I honestly really liked it.  I was one of those crazy coupon ladies, stock piling coupons, matching them with sales and promotions. It gave me this strange kind of thrill to come home from the grocery store with 4 boxes of cereal, a box of Capri Sun "drinks," and 2 boxes of fruit snacks for $4.  I think I saved the receipt on that one for a while.   That was a good deal.
I continued doing the grocery shopping when we moved to Brazil.  Except it made me SO grouchy.   First of all, it was expensive.   There are no coupons here.   And the stores advertise "ofertas" which usually mean that the regular price is R$5,99 and now it's on sale for R$5,79.  The price of food has gone up a lot, even just in the past year.  I don't like spending so much on groceries.  I'm really lucky if I can make it out of the store and only pay R$150.   And then of course, back then we didn't have a car.  I liked to stock up when going grocery shopping, and it was not fun to come back from the store lugging groceries for a week for a family of five in one of those little wheely carts. Uphill.  I have fond memories of sweating profusely, trying to avoid the dog poop on broken sidewalk or navigating the lack of sidewalk, a bag of milk breaking open and leaving a trail all the way up Rua do Ouro, and the stares from all our friendly neighbors, who were wondering if I knew that delivery existed, or that I could send my empregada/house keeper to do the shopping.  Ah, memories.
My husband got tired of all my whining, and finally offered to take over the chore of grocery shopping.  It has been a gift.  Thank you dear husband.  And he frequently comes home perplexed by the many challenges of grocery shopping in Brazil.  The most recent confounding situation is the fact that the stores will be out of staples for weeks at a time.  I have encountered this too.   I go to buy cornflakes, and they are out.   I go back a week later, still no cornflakes.  Now granted, cornflakes are not a part of most Brazilians diet, but you can pretty much find them at all the bakeries, the drugstores, and the fruit/vegetable stores.  Other times we've not been able to find tonic water, Cera incolor (the wax we use on our floors, makes them actually look clean), and vinegar.  My friend Corinne said she went to the store one time and they were out of sugar.  Hmmm…
The other strange that happens is that we find a brand of a certain product that we like, we get used to buying it, we enjoy it.   And then one day, it's gone.    We found some granola that we really liked, and about 2 months ago, it disappeared.  This has led us to do some odd hoarding.  When we find Rap 10 (something somewhat like a tortilla) we buy several packages and freeze them, even though we have a TINY freezer.  It’s usually got some Rap 10.  If I Dorito's Dippas (corn chips), I buy a bunch of bags.  Because of the odd nature of supply here, it's quite possible that I will have a hard time finding these products again.
But the whole reason I started this post was because my husband went to the store to pick up a few things today.   He actually came home with everything on his list (milk, fresh milk for yogurt, cilantro, eggs, popcorn, frozen French fries, granola, and 2 cans of tonic water), and it only cost him R$30.   Needless to say, he was very happy.  And it's such an unusual occurrence that I thought it deserved it's very own blog post. 
Now I'm off for a very American night.  I'm cooking the last box of Macaroni and Cheese that my sister brought for us back in July, make some Roasted Salsa to go with our Dippas, and then watch a movie with the family (did I mention that you can now get Netflix in Brazil? It's amazing).  Happy Saturday night to you!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Filarmônica para Todos

My husband plays cello with the Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais. They have quite an amazing camera crew, and they make some great commercials, videos and documentaries. I'm posting here a video that brought me to tears. First of all, it's just beautifully done. Secondly, it captures Belo Horizonte. There are scenes from the Mercado Central, and a very friendly newspaper vendor who works there. They capture a taxi driver and some of her routes. Then a dentist and a tattoo artist. And then there's the "story:" they found 4 people who had never attended a classical concert, and filmed them as they were getting ready, traveling to the concert and filmed them watching the concert. But before I give too much away, here it is:

I love the idea, and I love the images. The newspaper vendor flagging down the bus and singing Mozart's Symphony No. 40 on the bus, the dentist with the serious biking "hobby," the tattoo artist on the motorcycle. It just caught me as so Belo Horizonte, so Mineiro...and the newspaper vendor said he would never forget the experience in his entire life. Just beautiful.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Escape from America Magazine write up!

Check it out!  I got a chance to do a little blurb for Escape from America Magazine.  It's pretty much stuff I've already written about on this blog, but it's fun to know that others find my writing interesting and want to "borrow."  Enjoy!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Retiro das Pedras

I celebrated my 2nd Brazilian birthday on Saturday.  Yay for turning two!  I told the husband that I wanted to drive out of the city and talk a "hike" with the family.  Brazil is beautiful.  And parts of Belo Horizonte are beautiful.  But it is a big city, and in my heart of hearts, I'm a country girl.  I need my mountains, my trees, my wide open, natural spaces every once in a while.  This is part of the reason why I commute to Alphaville for work once a week (it's a 40 minute drive one way).  I like getting out of the city and taking in the green, the deep red soil, the big trees, the potholes and trash....oh wait, I digress.

I thought about posting about Retiro das Pedras last year, but I didn't because I wanted to keep it a secret.  But I don't think that it's a secret for Brazilians, and there were LOTS of people there on Saturday.  So I will share.

View Larger Map

Here's a map, with the route from BH Shopping.  You have to go out of the city on BR 040, which is the way that you would go if you wanted to drive to Rio.  You go up a few hills, and past São Sebastião das Aguas.  Take the exit at Jardim Canada, and go past Verde Mar on the access road that runs alongside the highway.  You'll come to a stop sign where you can enter back on to the highway, and there is a sign that points to the right.  Go right, and up the cobblestone road.  You'll drive for about 5 minutes, and eventually come to the gate for the entrance for the condominium.  If you are facing the entrance/gate for Retiro das Pedras, you'll see a Banca de jornal (those little newspaper stands that are everywhere here, that sell magazines, candy, umbrellas, toys, stickers, and many, many other things).  You can park pretty much anywhere around the Banca, or along the street; just obey the parking signs.  The start of the walk/hike is to the left of the Banca; there is a little gap in the fence, and you can walk through there.  From there, it's a gentle slope up to a radio tower, a little rocky but mostly just dirt.  Watch out for the mountain bikers and the biting bugs (I have a HUGE bite on my leg). 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Motion detecting lights

The very first day I set foot into Brazil was a tad bit overwhelming.  I remember trying to take in the city, the traffic.  I remember reading the signs, the heaviness of the humidity, and trying to make sense of everything I was encountering.  Our friends Marcio and Luiza hosted us at their apartment, because the hotel room provided by the Filarmonica was pretty small and only had 3 beds.  They drove us to their building, and when the garage opened, it was dark.  But as the car entered, all the lights clicked on.  Then we went up the elevator, and when we got out at their floor, it was dark.  I remember thinking it was so odd, but then all of the sudden the lights clicked on.  My husband had to explain the motion sensors on the lights.  And now a little Google researching, I've learned a little about why there are just so many motion sensors here.

In 2001, there was a very bad drought in Brazil.  Brazil at that time got 90% of it's electricity from dams.  The drought and the increasing demand for electricity caused HUGE problems, and government stepped in with a campaign to conserve energy.  Gas stations were closed at night, lights were turned off in some neighborhoods, some night time concerts and sports events were cancelled, and electricity was rationed.  Those individuals who reduced their energy usage by 20% were given a cash bonus, and companies that significantly reduced energy consumption were able to sell their savings to other businesses.  So, there was a lot of motivation to find ways to save energy.  Hence, motion sensor lights became the norm. 
I think it is brilliant (ha ha).  Or as a fellow blogger says, "Brazilliant." 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sleeve Juice

My friend and co-worker sent me this picture, and in the "mango" spirit, I had to post it.

Give us this day our daily sleeve, neh?