Saturday, February 19, 2011

Brazilian Beats

Above all other things, above the beach and the bikinis and the beach bodies, Brazil has come to mean music to me. Brazil has an incredible variety of different styles of music and I love it all: samba, samba rock, funk, sertanejo, axé, forró, pagoda, MPB. Thursday night I attended a live performance of a samba/ samba rock band. Dancing with my Colombian friend was helpful because he knew how to transform salsa steps into samba steps. Every time I moved my hips he said, “That’s salsa,” and next demonstrated “This is samba.”

After the samba rock band, a samba school performed. Rio de Janeiro made samba schools famous with its Sambodromo, the stadium where it holds Carnaval every year. Other cities, like Floripa, have copied it with their own samba schools and local Carnavals. Carnaval samba and “normal” samba, the samba that people dance in samba clubs, have little in common other than the basic footwork. Carnaval samba is characterized by the batukada, its frenzy of percussion that makes everyone listening want to dance, even if they don’t know how. As the drums beat an intense rhythm, my friend and I furiously moved our feet and the director jumped like a man possessed. The Carnaval beat is impossible to resist, your body moves without your volition.

The following night I met my friend at my favorite samba club, Varandas. A local band performs samba de raizes (“roots samba”) there twice a week. This time I finally started to get the basic steps down. I was pleased when a friend of mine told me that I was dancing well.

Saturday I attended a concert of Jorge Bens, samba rock legend. Most of his songs are from the 1960s and ’70s, but he’s still incredibly popular. My CouchSurfing hosts decided it was their duty to educate me the morning of the concert, and had me listen to several of his songs. The Brazilians I got a ride with continued my music education. By the time I saw Jorge Bens up on stage, I was singing along with the rest of the crowd, “Moro…no país tropical.” Now, every time my CouchSurfing host breaks out his guitar, I request songs by Jorge Bens.

The next day was a free concert at the beach by Zelía Duncan, a MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) singer. My friend described her as an artist of “doubtable quality.” Once I heard her songs, I had to agree. Still, I could feel the energy of the Brazilians in attendance who sang along with her songs.

On the way back home, we stopped by the main square of town to listen to the local samba school perform. It was the same group as Thursday night, but Sunday night the area was packed with people and Carnaval fever was in the air! I sang along like any local to their song, which tells the story of the Cuban Revolution. The fact that I knew the words surprised my friends. I explained that whenever I forgot a word I simply yelled out “Liberação,” “revolução,” or “igualdade” (liberation, revolution, and equality). They explained that, truth be told, regardless of their them, samba schools always used those same words (well, not revolution): “liberação,” “o povo,” “meu coração” (liberation, the people, and my heart). At that, they burst into a rousing reprisal of last year’s Carnaval song by the same samba school. I was astonished; they used almost the same words last year as this year.

On Tuesday, I returned to Varandas with my CS host and friends from his neighborhood. I greeted several people I had met during previous samba events around town. My integration into the local samba scene, far above and beyond anything my friends had achieved, astounded them. I danced with several of my friends that night and did surprisingly well. I finally felt like I could hold my own amongst the Floripa samba crowd. When my friend said flabbergasted, “I never though that a gringa could dance samba,” I retorted, “I’m not a gringa.” He corrected himself, “That’s right, you’re Brazilian.”

Finally, there was Wednesday night five-hour jam session of my CS hosts and the neighborhood boys. The guys sing everything from samba rock and MPB to American alternative music and rock to Brazilian funk and hip hop. I can’t decide whether my favorite moment of the night was them singing the samba classic by Jorge Bens “Mais de Nada” or my CS host crooning Britney Spear’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”

It was beyond a doubt, a fantastic week of music, music, and music. A majority of my cultural learning takes the form of music appreciation. For me, whenever I reminisce about Floripa, the music is what will come to my mind.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Days 12 & 13 in Paradise (?)

Summary: I had my ass handed to me by the waves (and just when I thought I was getting to be a deecent surfer), was stung on my ankle and butt by jellyfish, burned my leg on a motorcycle when my friend off-roaded and we fell, took the wrong bus turning my 1.5-hour commute to the beach into a 3-hour commute, lost my cellphone, waited an hour for another bus, and returned to the bus station and found my cellphone loooooong gone.

Details: The American guy I had met at the Creamfields concert over the weekend invited me to go on a hike with him on Monday. He picked me up early in the morning on his friend’s motorbike. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how inexperienced he was at driving a motorcycle until I was already sitting on back of the bike. Despite his limited knowledge of Florianopolis and my inexistent direction sense, we managed to find our way to the trailhead. The problem was that to reach it we had to drive through a neighborhood marked by hill after hill after hill. Hills are scary, to say the least, when the driver doesn’t know what he is doing. We reached the end of the neighborhood and turned onto a dirt road. As we continued on, the road consisted of less dirt and more rocks. Just when I was at the point of telling my friend that I would get off and walk, we hit a rock and the bike, he, and I all went tumbling down. As my bare leg hit the exhaust pipe, I felt a sensation that is regrettably all too familiar, the feeling of burning flesh.

With my leg burning and my hand bleeding, I limped behind my friend most of the trail. The trail wasn’t so much a trail as a path of slippery rocks which we had to scramble over to reach our destination, Costa da Lagoa. Costa is located on the far side of the Lagoa da Conceiçao and is known for its overpriced seafood restaurants and nice views. It is only accessible by two modes of transportation, a two-hour trail and a boat. My friend had not properly calculated the time it would take us to reach Costa, thinking it would take 45 minutes maximum. I have never seen anyone rip off their clothes that fast before. My friend sprinted to the end of the dock and jumped into the water. I followed suit. As he had to catch a flight later that day, we barely had time to go for a dip, eat, and catch the boat back to the trailhead. I joked with my friend that only an East Coaster could manage to transform a relaxed day outing into a rushed adventure. I opted to take the boat all the way back to town. There was no way I was getting back on that bike!

After my morning mishap, I decided to hit the waves at Praia Mole. I didn’t realize that Praia Mole is where the professional surfers go. I was knocked down by wave after wave. I could hardly keep my board above the jagged water. I struggled to hang on but the waves threw my board in one direction while pushing me under the water. The only thing I managed to accomplish in an hour was swallow a gallon of sea water.

The next day I decided to return to the beginners’ beach, Barra da Lagoa. Little did I know that because of the rain, Barra was not going to be a picnic that day. The waves were similar to those at Praia Mole the day before. I managed to stand up on the board a couple of times but rapidly lost my balance on the bumpy water. Meanwhile, the freezing cold water had attracted jellyfish. I thrashed wildly as I felt my ankle burning. To add to that, the rain had filled the water with debris that pricked my skin like thousands of splinters. After an hour in the water, I felt awful.

I accidentally boarded the wrong bus on the way home. I had already taken the wrong bus that morning, doubling the time of my commute to the beach. I was exhausted and the only thing I wanted to do was go home. I got off the bus and realized that I didn’t have my cellphone. I had to wait for an hour for another bus. By the time I reached the bus station, my cellphone was long gone. It was a definitely a día de azar (day of bad luck). I’m still glad to be in Floripa though, because in spite of everything, I still got to spend two days at the beach sitting on the sand and staring at the waves.

Week 2 in Paradise

I didn’t realize how spoiled I was until I left my first CouchSurfer’s house. Everything in Florianopolis is a ten-minute drive by car, that is, if you have a car. If you are unfortunate enough not to have your own transportation, you must hitch a ride or rely on city buses which take forever. It took me 1.5 hours to reach the beach!

I decided that Floripa would be the place to learn samba and surfing. I went in search of an instructor at Barra da Lagoa, the novice surfers’ beach, and found André, a blond-hair, blue-eyed Brazilian who tossed out terms he had learned while surfing in Hawaii. He gave my Argentine classmate instructions in portunhol and me instructions in Portuguese with the occasional “Hang loose” thrown in there. He would position me on a wave and yell, “Rema, rema, rema! Sobe!” (“Paddle, paddle, paddle! Stand up!”). Unlike during my Peruvian surfing experience, this time I stood up several times on the board. It was an amazing feeling being able to ride the waves.

I returned home exhausted but exhilarated. I was proud of my success on the waves. Even though I was ready to hit the sack, I had to first spend some time with new CouchSurfer. Honestly, I was a bit weirded out by her. She had a thick carioca (Rio de Janeiro) accent, which made it difficult for me to understand her Portuguese. Worse, she didn’t understand a single word in either English or Spanish. We mostly just stared at each other during dinner.

A couple of days later, I was on a bus to Barra when I spotted a boy with purple hear with a cloth bag that said, “Seu consumo muda o mundo” (“Your consumption transforms the world”). He was busy chatting with an Argentine hippie with juggling pins in her backpack. I nudged myself into their conversation by asking the guy about his bag. The three of us had an interesting multilingual conversation, with the purple-haired guy trying to speak Spanish, the Argentine hippie trying to speak Portuguese, and me switching back and forth between the two languages. My head was about to explode from the effort!

We separated when we reached the beach. André, my surf instructor, taught me how to ride the waves in both directions. He would yell in his American surfer’s accent, “Front side!” and “Back side!” As I rode the waves to the shore I would whoop with delight. As I was doing so well, André let me have a chance surfing “sozinha” (“going solo”). I caught two waves by myself. Of course, when he left the water and gave me time to free surf, I didn’t pegar a single onda (catch a single wave). Surfing is much more difficult when you have to paddle for yourself.

As I was leaving the beach, I ran into Vinicius, the boy from the bus. Instead of waiting for the bus, he wanted to walk back to town. We started walking back together when we ran into Marisol, the Argentine hippie. This time all three of us spoke in Portuguese. For me, the fact that two Spanish-speakers were communicating with each other in Portuguese because neither of us could remember our Spanish amused me.

Friday, my CouchSurfer had planned on going for a boat-ride to Costa da Lagoa as she only had to work a half-day. Unfortunately, it started pouring that morning. She whined, “At least you got to go to the beach every day. I’ve been waiting all week to go to the beach!” Not having anything better to do, we went to the mall with the CouchSurfer I had met for lunch. That’s the downside of life in paradise; the only thing to do when it rains is go to the mall. I didn’t mind though, as I’ve spent little time during the past two years in malls (apart from the movie theaters and food courts in the Asunción malls). It was a typical girls’ outing at the mall. My new CS friend phrased it the best way, “We’re going SHOPPING!” Why is that you put a group of women together and eventually they will go clothes shopping?

Guess who I ran into in the mall? My new friend from the beach, Vinicius. He’s hard to miss with the purple hair. I said, “Isn’t this funny, running into each other at the mall?” “Not really,” he replied, “when he rains, everyone in Floripa goes to the mall.” True.

Sunday night, my CouchSurfer and I went out for a late-night pizza after a day at the beach. Over dinner, my CouchSurfer and I not only managed to communicate, but we had a decent conversation. After several days of staying in her house, my Portuguese had improved significantly to the point where I could now respond with complete sentences and even paragraphs.

Brazilian pizza is known for its weird toppings, like bananas and cinnamon, chocolate and strawberries, etc. My friend sweetly let me pick the flavors. We order a half-banana pizza, a half-who-knows-what pizza. The savory half reminded me of the Brazilian hot dog I had eaten, while the sweet side completely blew my mind. Sweet pizza, what an incredible idea! And what a great end to my first full week in paradise.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 2 in Paradise

I awoke feeling like I was in a Hindu household. The Ganesh tapestry on the wall, the incense “altar,” it reminded me of home. India is popular in Latin America, especially Brazil. One of Brazil’s latest big budget soap operas was “Caminho da India” (“The Path from India”). My first morning in Brazil I breakfasted on fresh fruit and granola prepared by my Couchsurfing host.

After showing me around Lagoa da Conçeica, a popular area on the eastern side of the island, we ate lunch at ShivaVeg. We ate an organic spinach salad, organic cabbage salad with fruits and raisins, brown rice, and a vegetable curry with shitake mushrooms and drank watermelon juice with coconut water. After I finished one of the most delectable meals I’d ever eaten in South America, the waitress asked if I wanted more. My friend explained that if I wanted more of anything, she would serve it to me for free. I almost cried out of joy.

As my friend had to meet her parents, she left me to wander around Lagoa. I, of course, had to cross of the first item on my agenda, “Buy a Brazilian bikini.” That was easier said than done. In Brazil, a bikini is more than an item of clothing to be used during the yearly summer beach trip. Brazil is replete with world-class bikini designers, rendering a person like me who has lived away from the beach for 12 years, confused and clueless. Luckily, my Brazilian friend was able to resolve my dilemma. Brazilians know their bikinis.

Shopping for a bikini was a fun language and cultural learning exercise my second day in Brazil. I had to speak in Portuguese to all the shopkeepers. I loved the fact that they considered me a fellow countrywoman; in Brazil, I’m Brazilian until I open my mouth. I learned lots of useful vocabulary as well, including causa (bikini bottom), tanga (bikini bottom), and bojo (bikini top), which are important words to know in Brazil!

In the cool of the evening, we walked the five minutes from my friend’s house to Praia Campeche. Living five minutes from the beach must be heaven! I went for a run, stretched, and did yoga because Floripa seems like a great place to get back in shape. I swam while my friend bodysurfed. Every Brazilian we passed on the way back to the house asked about the waves. My friend responded “As ondas sâo massa!” “Altos ondas!” and “Sâo legal!” (the waves were awesome, awesome, and awesome!). A community of surfers that use more than ten words for cool, was I in Brazil or Hawaii?

After the beach we showered and dressed up for samba. We went to a place called Varandas where every Friday night a group performs samba live. My friend explained to me the differences among samba, samba rock, and chorinho and taught me the choruses to the songs. I sang along in my beginning Portuguese attempting to be like any other Brazilian. As the night wore on, my tipsy friend grabbed me and started dancing samba with me. She scolded me repeatedly for shaking my hips. When I dance salsa I’m told that I don’t move my hips enough, but when I dance samba I’m told that I dance like a salsa dancer! I was surprised by how closely couples dance samba. Americans believe that latinos dance salsa too closely. They`ve never seen Brazilians dance samba before. After my friend instructed me several times, “Mais juntos” (“closer together”), I finally screamed, half-joking, “There’s no room for the Holy Ghost!”

The night ended at the barracinha de cachorros quentes (hotdog stand). After my friend had told me about the vegetarian hotdogs available in Floripa, I had bugged her all day that I wanted to eat them. She had replied, “Later, later. We’ll eat them at 2 AM.” Around 2 AM I told her, “Cara, tou vesga de fome! Tou morrendo de fome!” (“Dude, I’m so hungry I can’t see straight! I’m dying of hunger!). Brazilians put weird toppings on their hotdogs. In addition to the regular condiments, they add peas, potato sticks, mashed potatoes, and a whole host of other ingredients I can’t remember. After 15 years of not eating a hotdog, I dug into my bread covered with toppings. My friend was right about eating the hotdogs at that time of the morning. I had no clue what I was eating, I just knew that it was 2 AM and it was gooood.

The sand dunes of Praia Joaquina

Lagoa da Conceicao (which I am now living next to)

Hot dog toppings

My first hot dog after 15 years!

Day 1 in Paradise

I had hardly arrived in Florianópolis when my Couchsurfer started speaking to me in Portuguese. She took me to eat and then to her house. I thought I was going to have a chance to rest. Not at all. I didn’t even have a chance to lay down before she asked, “Que vamos fazer? Vamos andar de bicicleta uma hora para a Lagoa do Peri o vamos a praia? Mas vamos sambar amanha de noite então é melhor ir para a Lagoa hoje.” (“What are we going to do? Are we going to ride bikes for one hour to the lagoon or are we going to the beach? But we’re going to samba tomorrow night so it’s better to go to the lagoon today”). “The lagoon I guess…” I responded, not really having a choice in the matter. We rode for half-an-hour and relaxed at a viewpoint of two beaches, Morro das Pedras and Praia da Armaçao. They looked like the same beach to me, but my friend explained that even though beaches may be connected, in Floripa they receive different names depending on their characteristics. Floripa has 42 beaches! Although it would be impossible attempting to visit all of them, it is worth getting to know several of them. “Why? A beach is a beach,” you might think. Brazilians are with beaches what Alaskans are to snow (Alaskans have more than 50 words for different types of snow). As my friend explained, every beach has a different personality, like a human being. And every day, it’s different. Sometimes it’s calm, sometimes it’s angry, and sometimes it’s on its period.

We rode down a backstreet and entered the woods. It reminded me of my jungle expeditions to the local swimming hole in Paraguay. My friend told me that we were going to a part of the lagoon that only locals knew about. After a swim she took me to Nutri Lanches, a restaurant which in her opinion had the best açai in the world. Açai is a berry found in the Amazon which Brazilians eat in the form of juice or açai na tigela – frozen like icecream with fruits and granola. I was surprised to see empanadas integrais on the menu, empanadas with integral flour filled with vegetables instead of meat and baked instead of fried. They also had vegetarian sandwiches. All of their dishes are natural and organic. Healthy, organic, natural food in South America? Wow! My friend told me that Floripa is a vegetarian haven.

I expected to pass out the minute we arrived home. Instead, we stayed up chatting until late about Brazil, life in Paraguay, English, Portuguese, everything. My friend took one look at my itinerary and said, “Forget Lonely Planet, here’s where you need to go.” She planned out my entire trip for me.

When we had to restart Word and look for my document, I told her to open the one marked “Auto-recuperado.” At that moment, I knew I had officially left the Spanish-speaking world and arrived in Brazil, as I pronounced it auto-hecuperado. 24 hours before, I would have pronounced the r an r and not an h like in Portuguese.

By the time we finished, it was already 2 AM. She told me that if I was looking for one place to live in Brazil, Floripa would be it. I’m beginning to think that wouldn’t be a bad idea…