Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Spring!

Since surfing class was cancelled today (I don't know why the instructors thought someone of my talent and ability couldn't handle the crazy waves after several huge rainstorms, but that's another story), I have devoted my day to reading Amor de perdição. I'm supposed to have read it by Monday, and I'm on chapter 2 (out of 20), and I have to give a presentation to my class on chapter 18 on Wednesday. And since I read the chapter and a half that I have read on the bus, I didn't look up any words and thus have only a vague idea of what's going on (it's kind of a Portuguese version of Romeo and Juliet, though written in prose -- and I feel like a Shakespeare reader who only two years ago didn't know a single word of English). So obviously that's going well.

Hence today's post. I've been promising it for a few days, and you all know there's nothing I like better than a little procrastination.

The last day of winter came this week, while I was busy recovering from an unfortunate attempt at an obstacle course (more on that later). I have officially spent, what, six months in winter in the year 2009? And since I'm planning on leaving Brazil on December 16, I'll be out of here before summer even technically arrives. So in all of 2009, I'll have spent approximately two weeks in summer (and less than one in autumn -- and can you really count December in Maine as autumn?). What a year!

The first week of spring started off with a bang: a presentation in front of my Brazilian Literature class. And since, for reasons impossible to understand, no Brazilians wanted us in their group, five of us Americans in the class made our own group. And guess what? We owned them (besides the speaking correct, grammatical Portuguese part of course).

My part of the presentation involved talking about how different authors reacted to the modernization (most French-ization) of Rio de Janeiro at the turn of the century. Since being French was very chic and à la mode at the time, the government decided to build several institutions, like the Municipal Theater and the National Library, based on French architecture. Even the Avenida Rio Branco, a main avenue through centro, was styled after the Champs-Élysées (the names link to a cool comparison of old postcards). The authors I discussed pointed out that there were bigger problems to deal with in Rio, and that most of its citizens couldn't even  afford to benefit from things like theater. The title of our presentation, a quote from Orestes Barbosa, was "Há, sem dúvida, duas cidades no Rio." There are, without a doubt, two cities in Rio.

Things aren't much different today. There's the city I live in -- tall apartment buildings, some quite beautiful, many on the beach; chic hotels; cars with tinted windows -- and there's the other city -- the favelas. Rio is known for being quite distinctly divided between the two. The poorer people live on the hills, os morros, while those with more money live "on the pavement," o asfalto. The visibility of the favelas was startling to me when I first came to Rio, but after a few months here it's easier to see why most middle-class Brazilians seem to pretend they don't exist (except when complaining about crime) -- they have become part of the natural landscape of the city.

(I don't know who took this picture; I found it when googling "morro asfalto Rio")

It's harder, however, to ignore the young boys sleeping alone on the sidewalks with plastic bags stuffed in their t-shirts to keep warm, or those who chase after you shouting "Tô com fome, tô com fome." I'm hungry, I'm hungry. And then on the other side there are my classmates at my private university, the guys in polo shirts and the girls with long, straight, light hair, who play on their iPhones during class. So yeah, I'm with Orestes on this one: Há, sem dúvida, duas cidades no Rio.

But I'm getting too deep. Let's rewind to last Saturday, when I went with a group led by the international office at PUC to a eco-tourism farm. Though I can't say I really had it together the whole day (I just hope I didn't represent the U.S. too badly), it was tons of fun.

It started off at the delicious and bountiful breakfast with which we were welcomed to the fazenda after a two-hour bus ride. As the line wound around a large table of food in a tiny room, someone backed into me -- while I held a cup of hot coffee. I didn't burn myself, but I returned to the table with a huge stain down the front of my t-shirt. I went to go wash it off (leaving my t-shirt completely wet but not actually completely clean) and came back only to have a friend tell me that I also had coffee on the back of my shorts. Not sure how that got there.

So I was already soaked when we went off on our trek through the Mata Atlântica, the Atlantic rainforest. While we were protected from the sun for most of the hike, it was incredibly humid, and let's just say there was some sweat involved. The views were beautiful though, and the hike ended at a pond where a donkey was tied up next to a cooler of water. 

As we sipped our water, we were given an option: we could walk back, or wait for the raft to arrive and go back on it. There were quite a few of us there, and we wondered if we would all be able to fit on the raft. It's big, we were told, and we voted for the water route.

When I imagined a balsa in my head, the raft that we soon saw another group of students paddling around the corner towards us was not exactly what I had in mind. I'm not sure I can even use the word "paddling." When someone pointed out to Linda, the international coordinator at PUC who was with us, that those were in fact not oars but simply bamboo sticks, she cried out (in English), "Of course they're bamboo sticks, you're in the jungle!"

After the hike came a delicious and filling lunch, but not before I made the ultimately tragic decision not to put on my bathing suit before eating. We ate right next to a pool, but after I finished I found that the room where we were keeping all of our stuff was locked. So I went to play soccer with a couple of friends instead.

I returned sweaty and gross to the pool area, and saw more friends waiting in line at the obstacle course. "Come over and do it with us!" they shouted. "Do I need my bathing suit?" I yelled back. "No!"

This obstacle course was over a pond, and there were two different routes. We made fun of some Brazilians struggling over the easy route, and decided to go for the hard one. When it was my turn, I set out barefoot and without a helmet or gloves (which the Brazilian group had been given). I bet you can guess what happened next.

I fell into the water after making it maybe a quarter of the way through the course. Fully-clothed, of course. My arms and legs were exhausted and my feet were cramping and I decided the pain was stronger than my pride, so I let myself fall off the metal triangle section of the course (and no, I was not the only one to fall off). So I'm going to delay my plans to audition for the next season of Road Rules or Fear Factor or Wipeout or any of those shows that are actually a lot harder than they look, ok?

Since my bathing suit was actually my dry change of clothes by this point, I decided I might as well go down the water slide completely clothed as well. And then I put on my bathing suit and wrapped myself in my canga, completely exhausted for the bus ride home.

Friday, September 11, 2009

O Último Capítulo

Today was a special day in the country of Brazil. The last episode of Caminho das Índias, the novela that has entranced all of Brazil (or so it seems) for the last nine months, was finally aired, and I watched it.

How could I not? The novela das oito, the prime-time soap opera that doesn't actually start at 8, despite its name, is a cultural phenomenon here. Not even Survivor or American Idol at its height could have ever competed with the novela. At least three of my professors, if not all of them, have mentioned Caminho das Índias in class. And not just as in, "Hey, did you see the episode last night?" (it's on every night but Sunday). More like, "blah blah blah characteristics of psychopaths are as follows: blah blah blah. You know Yvone from Caminho das Índias? She's a perfect example of a psychopath because blah blah blah." It's a teaching technique -- and one that works, because everyone knows who Yvone is.

Apparently this novela has increased Brazilian interest in India, where approximately half of the action takes place (the other half takes place here in Rio). Though I had seen some episodes previous to tonight's, it was never quite clear to me what the link was. Why are these Indians (well, Brazilians dressed up as Indians) all speaking Portuguese and what is their relation with these Brazilians? At least one Brazilian was married to an Indian, but that's as far as I got. The ridiculous thing was, the Indians didn't even look Indian -- because they were Brazilian. The women were usually dressed in saris, but when the men wore suits, it was impossible to tell who was supposed to be from which country. I don't think that would fly as well in the U.S.: a TV show about India whose actors aren't actually of Indian descent. 

The Brazilian with whom I was watching was crying within the first fifteen minutes, as were most of the characters. I didn't cry, but at least I didn't burst out laughing, as I had felt like doing in most of the other episodes I watched. If I had cried, it would have been during the epic scene when Raj came into the house with Maya, who had just avoided getting her hair cut off (???) and said, "As you can see, I didn't die," and everybody started crying. The father (I don't exactly understand whose father) kept sputtering, "Explain this; what is all of this" (he was as confused as I was). But since Raj and Maya's baby had just come home as well, and someone's sister or brother had also just announced that the baby would soon have twin cousins, and the father-figure joyously cried, "My whole family has returned" (some from the dead, apparently), it was a nice moment.

I don't really know what else happened, besides that Raj and Maya realized that they had "built a love" (in a scene set to Frank Sinatra's "I'm in the Mood for Love") and that the final scene had them say "I love you" at the same time, and that Maria Bethânia (a very famous Brazilian singer, and the sister of Caetano Veloso) randomly showed up to the red-head's wedding reception (I seemed to be the only one surprised by this), and that it was revealed that this random old guy was actually the father or grandfather of pretty much everyone on the show (instead of the dead old guy whose portrait everyone was always bowing to). Some of this, however, I actually already knew because it was on the front page of the paper a few days ago. No kidding.

Luckily I can leave all that confusion behind in just a few days. The new novela das oito starts Monday! It's called Viver a Vida and it looks promising. It seems to take place in Paris and Jordan and perhaps some other random locales (do they pull them out of a hat?). Since I'm starting this one from the beginning, hopefully I will be slightly less confused. I will finally feel like I can fit into society since I will understand more of the references. And maybe it will even help me with my schoolwork as well!

If you happened to miss any of the 203 episodes of Caminho das Índias, don't worry: you can check them out on YouTube here.

UPDATE: Of every 100 TVs turned on in Brazil during the last episode, 81 were tuned to Caminho das Índias. According to Wikpedia, the American program that comes closest to this in terms of market share is the Academy Awards of 1970, with 78% (the finale of M*A*S*H is next, with 77%). 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

O Português Brasileiro

Recently I've been thinking a lot about Portuguese -- specifically Brazilian Portuguese -- as a language. I guess that's what happens when you take a Portuguese language class, an English to Portuguese translation class, a Portuguese literature class, and a Brazilian literature class all at once.

So here's the deal: I've come to understand that I didn't really speak Portuguese before I came to Brazil. Well, I spoke written Portuguese, but apparently that's so different from spoken Brazilian Portuguese that some people consider it a diglossic language

For example: no one, and I mean NO ONE ever uses the future tense. It's just not done (you use the "going to + infinitive" form instead). Likewise with the pronoun "lhe." I've never heard it used outside of the classroom.

Similarly, no one ever uses the standard third-person objects either. Instead of saying "Eu o vi," you say "Eu vi ele" (I saw him). As you can imagine, this rejection of almost everything I ever learned in Portuguese class was a little confusing for me, but it actually makes for a much easier language to speak.

One of my problems while learning French was remembering to put the direct and indirect objects before the verb. I'd arrive at the end of a sentence and realize I had left out most of the meaning. And once you've said the verb in French, it's usually either awkward or downright impossible to turn around and add your objects. One of the first times I realized that Portuguese would be easier for me than French was when I learned you could just say "Tenho três" (I have three... cookies, pillows, plates, whatever), you don't have to add that pesky little French pronoun en: "J'en ai trois." 

In my translation class, the professor is always reminding us not to forget our mid-sentence prepositions ("It was the book on which I wrote an essay"). As someone who already struggled with this problem in French, and someone still unfamiliar with the limits of the rules of written Portuguese, at first this seemed like a ridiculous and unnecessary reminder to me. But I'm coming around: If I can get away with forgetting to add in a preposition in the middle of a sentence, why not? Half the time I don't even know which preposition to use! 

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I quite often misplace my prepositions when speaking in English (that is something up with which I will put -- though I do try to avoid it in writing). And of course the French take all sorts of shortcuts in casual conversation as well (for example, avoiding the "nous" form -- which Brazilians do too). Every language definitely has a difference between its written and spoken forms. But it seems to me that Brazilian Portuguese takes it to an extreme.

The guest professor in my translation class today gave this example: If a Brazilian is talking about toothpaste, he'll call it "pasta de dente." But let him take out his shopping list, and he'll write "dentifrício." When the professor pointed this out, my Brazilian classmates nodded in agreement and laughed as if they suddenly perceived something that they had never before realized. Really?

The reason he was discussing this was to explain why Brazilians have such an awful time writing dialogue. I haven't read much Brazilian fiction yet, but apparently the dialogue is horrible and stilted, and it's only started to improve in the past 30 years. Spoken Portuguese has such a stigma here that it's hardly ever actually put to paper. 

Writers in English, this professor continued, are able to write fantastic dialogue because they actually write what people say, and the way they say it. Think of how often you read a person's accent transcribed almost phonetically into letters and words -- though they might not be words that appear in any dictionary. He gave the example of Huck Finn and Jim, neither of whom speaks Standard English, but whose two different dialects are quite evident through the written word. Brazilians just don't have the capacity to handle this in writing.

Though the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil over 500 years ago, Brazilians have been extremely slow to distance their written language from Continental Portuguese. On the other hand, according to this professor, the first strictly American dictionary came out just five years after we declared independence. And yet spoken Brazilian Portuguese has strayed even farther from written Continental Portuguese than American English ever did from British English. (Brazilians often have an extremely hard time understanding people from Portugal, who also have a really funny and ugly accent.)

Thankfully, Brazilians have given up on some weird quirks of the Portuguese language (like joining two objects -- lhe + os = lhos (instead they just leave one for after the verb) -- or putting the objects inside of verbs in the future or conditional tenses -- falaria para ele ("would speak to him") = falar-lhe-ia (no joke, that's really what they do in Portugal!)). And they've completely mixed together two whole forms of the second-person, leaving only one way to conjugate a second-person verb, which is really all I care about (it happens to be the same way to conjugate a third-person verb, which just makes things even easier). So it's definitely an easy language to speak -- now if only Brazilians would accept that they can sometimes write that way too. Though, like I said, such writing has become more and more accepted in the past 30 years, due in part, according to my guest professor, to the popularity of the novela, or soap opera. Which will be a topic for later in the week.

I found this article on Brazilian Portuguese  really interesting and informative (though according to Wikipedia it "has multiple issues"). Check it out if you're still interested.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pão de Açúcar x 2

I was talking to my parents yesterday, and they had a few requests for my blog. Since they are my parents, I decided to appease them. However, let it be known that if any of you have a request for a blog topic, I just might fulfill yours too.

My mother, though she willingly listened to another long-winded story about horrible Brazilian bureaucracy (her reasoning for why Brazilians aren't standing in line to be my friend: they're all too busy standing in other lines), wanted me to write about the things I actually like about Brazil. I could write a book about the things I like about Brazil, but I enjoy blogging about things that make me angry (pretty much I just like complaining), hence the last few posts. But here goes:

Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the most beautiful city in the world. It is also, according to some research published by Forbes today, the happiest. Those are two pretty good qualities for a city to have (though I will also point out that Portland was recently named by Forbes as America's most livable city, and Brown is of course the college with the happiest students). Though I don't have any hard data that points to Rio as the official most beautiful city in the world, I will try to prove it to you through a few pictures.

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I took the bondinho up to the top of Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf, one of Rio's famous peaks, where we watched the sunset. First of all, let me just say that it's nothing like the Sugarloaf you Mainers know and love. People will be skiing down Rio's version when hell freezes over. But check out this view:

That crescent of sand on the left side of the photo? That's where I live. Oh, and did I mention that there are monkeys hanging out on top of Pão de Açúcar? We weren't lucky enough to see any (though I have seen some out my classroom window at PUC), but we did see plenty of these signs:

We did, however, get to witness a spectacular sunset. I managed to take over 150 photos in less than 2 and a half hours. Most of them look something like this:

Those spots flying in front of the mountains are birds, and the Cristo is standing on that tallest hill, to the left of the radio towers. This view is to the right of the first photo, and the harbor pictured is Botafogo.

As the sun went down, we watched the lights come on around the city. Here's a photo of the tall office buildings in Centro (on the right side of the photo), where all the business/financial stuff goes down (this photo is of a view even further to the right of the previous one -- these three photos pretty much fit together as a panorama):

I think Rio has the perfect balance of beach and mountain. Oh, and it's in the middle of a huge rainforest, the Mata Atlântica, as well. There's always some natural beauty to look at, no matter where you are in the city (and some say that it has the most beautiful people as well).

While coming back down from the top of Pão de Açúcar, I heard a Frenchman describe it like this: "Paris c'est joli, mais Rio c'est beau." Paris is pretty but Rio is beautiful.

Moving on to my dad's request (everybody who isn't a supermarket nerd can stop reading right about now). Supermarkets in Rio aren't actually that different than they are in the U.S. There just seem to be a lot more of them. And believe it or not, one of the biggest is actually called Pão de Açúcar. It's not quite as beautiful as the natural landmark, but I do know of a huge 24-hour one where they actually sell real American peanut butter. (Though when I went to go buy some, I didn't have enough cash on hand to do so -- it's not exactly a cheap import.) Why don't other countries like peanut butter? Dad, if you can get Delhaize to take over a Brazilian supermarket company, that's going to be one of my first requests: cheap and easily available peanut butter.

Zona Sul is another big supermarket brand. They have tons and tons of locations, but they aren't always big enough for my needs. The one that's on the block next to my house is always too dark and crowded, and I can't find everything I want (remember, though, that I'm comparing everything to the Hannaford standard, so nothing is going to compare). They also are really into making things cheaper only if you have a cartão Zona Sul, which I do not have, so I'm not a huge fan of that. I'm used to no cards, no coupons, no hassles: low prices every day.

What Brazil does very well with, however, is fruit. There are literally whole supermarkets devoted to fruits and vegetables, with some other basic necessities way in the back. And fruits are cheap, too. The other day I got a huge avocado, three apples, and three bananas for about 2 American dollars. Avocado on toast is definitely one of my favorite foods to eat here.

So, Dad, I will do some more research for you, and maybe even take some pictures of various grocery stores. If anyone out there wants to suggest any topics for future blog posts so you aren't subjected to my dad's lame ones, go ahead.