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!