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I returned to Brazil on Monday after a wonderful vacation in Greece and a short but sweet trip to visit my brother and sister-in-law and their 3 little girls.

Now that I am back I will once again be publishing regularly, there will be something every Wednesday, and for quite some time a lot of things in between there as I catch up on the last few days in Brazil before my holiday and share many wonderful stories of Greece. So you will likely want to check in regularly or maybe consider finally subscribing so that you get an email whenever I post something (it is simple to do, just enter your email address in the box at the top left of my page and click the “Sign Me Up” button).

To get things started let me share some thoughts on being back here after a month away.

I must admit, while I was in the US, in the middle of what seems to be shaking out as a gorgeous summer, I was not completely thrilled with getting on a plane and heading to winter again. It had been very nice to see my friends and family and to get some work done in my condo. Plus there were some things that just didn’t happen, for instance despite trying hard I was unable to get out sailing (hopefully when I return in September there will be one or two nice days and I can tick that off of the list then).

In addition, I was getting very tired or packing and unpacking, and packing and unpacking, and packing…. not to mention spending time on airplanes. So sadly before I left home one of the highlights in my mind was that I would at least be in the same place for a couple of months. And because of some of the loneliness episodes that I had the last time I was here, despite having a great time in many many ways, I packed a few more things to lug along to keep me busy.

Thankfully, in the first two days back I am finding out why I really do like being here despite the things that I have given up to do so. When I walked into the office there were greetings and smiles galore and as I started to talk to folks they want to find out all about Greece and seem genuinely glad that I am back.

And then there is also the work, preparing and running training sessions is a great opportunity for me. Not only do I enjoy doing it, it also allows me to work on some skills that will help me do my normal assignments, writing code for our customers, that much better.

That’s about it for now, as I don’t have any photos from the past two days. Don’t worry though, there will be many in the next few weeks as I share my many tales of Greece and continue to explore Porto Alegre and other locations of Brazil.

Tchau,

Wendy

I left Brazil a few days back for a brief stay in the US and am now off to Greece tonight for a vacation.

I was hoping to get the stories of our wine tasting trip and the lesson in how to BBQ out before leaving and that just didn’t happen. Don’t fret, the material will still be there for the writing when I return on July 1st. Until then, the page has been left intentionally blank.

Tchau,

Wendy

As I mentioned in my teaser post, Rio (pronounced He – Oh here, as the “r” is spoken so far back in the throat that it pretty much sounds like an “h” – somehow I missed this one in my post a few weeks back were I talked about language) was fantastic. We left work a bit early on Friday to catch early evening flights, mine was at 6:02 arriving in Rio  at 8:04. After claiming our luggage we grabbed a cab to our hotels and freshened up a bit before meeting up with others for dinner. Sarah and I were staying at the same place, the Copacabana Rio Hotel, which was pretty decent in my mind and nicely located at the end of Copacabana near Ipanema.

While freshening up, Sarah and I both independently grabbed the mini-bottle of sparkling from our mini-bars for a pre-dinner drink. It was awful (and came complete with a straw), neither of us was able to finish ours. Soon enough we hooked up with folks on other flights and arranged to meet in front of the Marriott across from Copacabana. Immediately it was obvious that we had changed climates, as it was around 10 PM and still 23 C outside, nice.

After getting the whole group in one place, we headed off trying to find Fagulha Pizza Bar and Grill. We wandered in a circle for a bit and eventually found our goal, and it was well worth it. Brazil seems to have a passion for buffets and variations on buffets. Anyone who has eaten at a Brazilian restaurant where waiters bring huge skewers of meat to you table should be able to picture this quite well. This night we found a new variation on this, a pizza buffet. Not the kind where pizzas stand for hours under warming lights waiting for the right consumer. Here, the pizza was fresh and brought to the tables just like the meat on the skewers. I think this is a concept that could catch on in the US. In addition to the pizza buffet they also had the standard walk up and fill you plate option which a couple of folks opted for. Being a pizza place they had a decent wine list, including a Malbec in the half bottle size and I was able to get the taste of the awful sparkling out of my mouth.

Before moving to our next destination had dessert, usually this is nothing special to think of, here again we ventured into something very Brazilian, dessert pizza. Basically take a thin pizza crust (think southern Italy and southern France thin) and add chocolate possible with some fruit as well, or frosting, or bananas coated in brown sugar or something similar and voila, you have dessert pizza. I think this is also something that could catch on in the US.

At this point the night was young, at least by Rio’s standards, as it was only a few minutes past midnight. So we grabbed a couple of cabs and headed to the Lapa neighborhood to one of the most famous night clubs in Rio, Scenarium, some people say that it has become so popular that it is not the best place to go any more, I must say that didn’t bother me, it was quite fun and we didn’t leave until a bit after 3, which is not normally my style, so score one for Scenarium.

After taking advantage of the included breakfast buffet, as late as possible given the time we ended the night before, Sarah and I headed out towards Ipanema beach figuring we would meet up with the others later. After walking a while in the gorgeous sunshine we actually ran into Jimmy. And he had already been in touch with Udit, so we headed towards the water to wait for Udit and just chill a bit. I hadn’t planned on swimming on this outing so had to accept just wading in a bit getting my feet wet, the water was quite nice.

As we were hanging out there, quite a commotion arose and we realized that there were some folks swimming who needed help and they were getting it. Quite quickly a number of members of the life saving team were paddling furiously towards those in need of help. It was hard to keep track of things as they developed so we had to patch pieces of the story together.

First one woman was brought to shore who looked quite tired and was immediately helped by what I assume were her friends.

A bit after that, someone was waving a red flag a bit off shore, and shortly thereafter we found out the reason. It was a member of the life saving team flagging in a rescue helicopter from which another team member jumped and then to which he escorted the man in trouble to be taken to the beach in the rescue basket (note in the photos below it is one of the rescuers alone in the basket, not the man who was in trouble). It as pretty amazing how close to people on the beach the helicopter was able to maneuver during the operation.

During the rescue, a boat came in a dropped a net, at first I thought it was a fishing boat, Udit suggested that it was a net to make sure folks didn’t get pushed further from shore, in the end I think he figured it out. Apparently, there can be up to 200 of these rescues on a busy weekend, so I guess they are well trained.

After a lot of debating, well more like indecision, the four of us (Jimmy, Sarah, Udit, and myself) decided to head to Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) and take the cable car for what promised to be some fantastic view of the area.

There are actually two cable cars, one to a mid-point landing where one can relax, shop, eat, etc. and even embark on a helicopter ride. While waiting to buy tickets and again on the ride to the plateau we heard from some other members of our group and decided to wait for them at this mid-point and proceed to the top together.

In addition to folks getting some food and water, Sarah and I each bought a pair of Havaianas, or Brazilian flip flops which seem to be for sale just about everywhere in Rio.

The views from the mid-point gave us a feel for just how big Rio is and how it is nestled among many hills with so many bays that it is no wonder it is famous for its beaches.

As with any coastal city, it has its share of harbors full of boats and what seemed to be a fairly activesailboat racing community as there was quite a large flotilla visible for most of the day which had all the indications of being boats on a race course. Of course this also served as a reminder that I will be missing the entire racing season this year, well, I might be able to pick up a race or two on my break in June/July.

The second is much higher and affords even better views. From the top you could get a view of both Copacabana (near beach) an Ipanema (in the distance). While I don’t think I can pinpoint the exact location of our hotel in the photo, suffice it to say we were 2 blocks from the Copacabana beach and about 10 blocks from the Ipanema beach, so essentially close to the end of the point that you see, a bit more towards the Copacabana side.

In addition to a more complete view of the entire area, there was a trail that ran down and around in a wooded area that afforded a bit of a break from the sun.

On the way back down, a few folks stopped for the helicopter ride which I passed on in order to save at least a little money towards Greece. We were also considering hang gliding the next day, so I was keeping my options open for that instead.

After a short rest in the hotel we met up for some drinks and snacks before checking out a concert we had seen them setting up for on the Copacabana beach. It wasn’t quite the size of the Rolling Stones appearance but it was quite popular with a reasonably sized spill over crowd in the street. It turns out that we had stumbled on a Concerto Especial – Praia de Copacabana by Orquestra Simphònica Brasileira. After much searching online upon returning to Porto Alegre, I was able to find the program to share with you.  There were printed versions floating around that evening, however we were unable to obtain any and that made the search that much more difficult.

29 de maio, sábado, 20h
Praia de Copacabana
PREFEITURA DO RIO E O GLOBO APRESENTAM: AQUARIUS – ‘A MÚSICA DOS GRANDES MESTRES’
Celebrando os 70 anos da Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira
ROBERTO MINCZUK, regência
GABRIELA PACE, soprano
EDINÉA DE OLIVEIRA, mezzo-soprano
ATALLA AYAN, tenor
SÁVIO SPERANDIO, baixo
Shostakovich Abertura Festiva
Haendel Aleluia (Messias)
Vivaldi Quatro Estações – Primavera – 1º movimento
Bach Aria (da Suíte Orquestral nº 3)
Jesus, Alegria dos Homens
Mozart Sinfonia nº 40 – 1º movimento
La ci darem la mano (de Don Giovanni)
Lacrimosa (Réquiem)
Berlioz Sinfonia Fantástica – O Baile – 2º movimento
Verdi La Donna è Mobile (de Rigoleto)
Bizet Abertura de Carmen
Puccini O Mio Babbino Caro
Wagner Cavalgada das Valquírias
C. Gomes Protofonia (de O Guarani)
Tchaikovsky Pas de deux (de O Quebra Nozes)
Villa-Lobos Melodia Sentimental
Trenzinho do Caipira
Stravinsky O Pássaro de Fogo – Final
Beethoven Sinfonia nº 9 – Ode à Alegria – Movimento Final

As the finale started, we decided to head out to find a place to eat given that it might be hard to keep track of each other as the crowd dispersed and nearby restaurants would likely get overwhelmed very soon. After walking a few blocks to again do our own version of crowd control we stumbled upon a Mediterranean restaurant which was a good find as the food was good and this is a good option when you have a vegetarian and a vegan with you.

After the late night the night before, Sarah and I headed back to our hotel leaving the guys to head out for some night life. Before parting though we made a plan for the next day, meet at Ipanema in the morning, starting at the separation between Copacabana and Ipanema, walk along the beach looking for the fist place renting chairs, grab some and text the others to let them know you are there.

It worked like a charm, Sarah and I arrived first after a short detour through the Hippie market (for Portuguese speakers) where I bought a beach bag to replace the hotel plastic laundry bag I had stuffed my beach stuff in. Upon arriving at the beach, a bit away from the junction we headed back towards Copacabana, we noticed things were getting more crowded the closer we got so we stopped a bit early and rented some chairs. Thankfully we also noticed that the chair vendors had numbers on their booths so it was quite easy to direct the rest of the folks to our location.

As the day progressed everyone eventually showed up and we took turns swimming and taking breaks to find food.

We spent a lot of time on the beach that day, so much in fact that we had to ponder the question of where to find a public bathroom more than once. It is truly bizarre, miles and miles of beach and not a restroom or port-a-potty in site. It turns out that there are facilities at each life guard station where one can pay R$1, a price worth paying. However, even this seems inadequate as each station only had one stall, so there was a bit of a line, and we were there during off-season.

Other than for the aforementioned bathroom, once you are on the beach there is really no reason to go anywhere, other than maybe for a swim. Vendors walk passed regularly selling anything from sunblock to various food items and beverages. And if you don’t like what they have you can venture up to the carts right next to the street to find a few more options.

My favorite was the toasted cheese, no this was not a grilled cheese sandwich, it was a piece of white cheese sprinkled with oregano that the vendor had on a stick and toasted on a little grill that he propped in the sand while we worked. We also walked to the stands for some caipirinhas, a local drink of fame.

Before the day ended I also bought a new swim suit from one of the vendors walking passed. Kind of a bizarre thing to buy without trying it on, yet it seemed like one of those when in Brazil do as the Brazilians do sort of times, though in actuality they probably don’t buy the suits on the beach.

After hours of sun and a bit of sunburn we decided to venture on as the sun was starting to dip below the buildings. Our plan to head up to the Christo Redempter statue was foiled since not only was it covered in scaffolding (we knew this ahead of time) the tram to get to the top was also closed. So we changed direction and headed to yet another beach to catch the sunset, some drinks, and dinner.

After a dinner of Sushi and other Japanese fare we planned to meet again in the Ipanema neighborhood for drinks. There we found a nice outside table where we sat for a couple of hours simply relaxing. Again Sarah and I headed to the hotel as the guys headed on for what turned out to be an all nighter culminating in watching the sunrise. Though I don’t think it could have been that great of a sunrise as the next day dawned windy and wet with a temperature more than 5 C less than the day before.

At breakfast Sarah and I decided to head to the Cathedral. When we pulled up we were both wondering why we had decided on this as neither of us had envisioned the modern site that greeted us, and then we wandered inside. It was quite amazing to see the light that had broken through the overcast sky steam through the plethora of stained glass windows.

Given that we still had a bit of time before we needed to head back to our hotel and eventually to the airport we looked in our guide book for something else in the neighborhood and discovered a tram that left from near the Cathedral and wound it’s way through the hills of the neighboring area. It turned out to be pretty cool, starting off by crossing the roads below on an 18th century aquaduct. It was a bit of a rickety ride across yet pretty cool. Come to think of it the entire tram ride was a bit rickety, it just adds to the excitement.

After crossing we wound through streets, up and down hills, and saw some interesting architecture and art.

On the people side we had some interesting passengers. Shortly after we started out we were joined by a young man you was quite the acrobat. He started out just skating the rails as show in the picture and by the end was doing hand stands holding on to the hand rails on the outside of the car. At the midpoint of the trip we were joined by many children apparently on their way home from school as the tram becomes a school bus when there is room.

There were also just some views of life in the town and a view of a castle off in the distance.

We had wanted to tour a favela that morning and were not able to since the tour was sold out before we tried to sign up. It might have been a good thing in the end given how the weather turned out and we can always come back another time, it is only a 2 hour flight from Porto Alegre. We did have a view of one from the top of our hotel.

So that was Rio. All in all a great weekend with two lovely days of temps around 30 with lots of sun and lots of good food. There are many places to see in Brazil, yet I can see going back again, it’s kind of like Goa in India, not somewhere that you only go once.

Of course I can’t complete this post without some notes on my thoughts of the Olympics being hosted in Rio, and no this is not me being a sore loser since Chicago didn’t get them, I had mixed feelings about that happening.

In general I think it is great that 2016 will be the first Olympics in South America. That said, Rio might disappoint some Olympic viewers who are used to more western accommodations when attending the games. And if folks are not used to being approached continuously with people selling their wares that may also lead to some discomfort as can the views of poverty that are not hidden away. First and foremost, as with just about any Olympic city there is going to be a traffic issue. We were there during off season and sat at times in traffic that was moving quite slowly. There is a subway but it is not extensive and I don’t know what the plans are for expanding it before the games begin. I wish them well, and I am almost interested in trying to attend the games to see what they do, yet I might have to rely on TV coverage and hope that it is close to accurate.

Tchau,

Wendy

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, this past weekend a group of us headed to Rio for some rest and relaxation, and most importantly some sunshine. The short story is it was fantastic!

Unfortunately I won’t have time to share all of the pictures and the details of our time there right now, so check back in the next day or so for the details. Suffice it to say, there was more than enough surf, sand, and sunshine to make for a great mini-vacation before my actual vacation to Greece in a couple of weeks.

Tchau,

Wendy

I found it interesting, one evening when I was cutting paper and taping stuff to index cards in preparation for a training session that I was leading in the upcoming days to reflect on learning and the timing of things we learn. And how, as Robert Fulghum stated a few years back, we really learned just about everything we need around the age of 5.

For starters, as I mentioned in a previous post our Brazilian office is located on the PUCRS campus in Porto Alegre. We have a couple of large workrooms and some conference space on the 7th floor of the Computer Sciences building.

The campus is quite beautiful with lots of greenery and a very interesting grandiose sculpture and fountain just passed the front gate.

Since I don’t have any photos that correspond directly to the rest of this post, I am just going to scatter the campus ones throughout to hopefully keep things visually interesting. I have included photos of both the greenery and the buildings as well as some shots of the fountain.

I believe I previously mentioned how the washing machines here can be quite frustrating to operate and how most of use believe that one of them is actually broken. I tried to be a good citizen and help my fellow travelers by mentioning this to our office manager so she could call the hotel and advise them of the situation in Portuguese. A few of the staff there speak some English, enough to get most of what we need accomplished, and this was just not in that category. So she called them and they wouldn’t believe her that the machine was broken and instead agreed to give me lessons on how to use it. Yes, it is in Portuguese, but there are pictures next to the words that mean you can pretty much figure out what the buttons mean. Anyhow, I agreed to be taught, kind of that kindergarten them of being humble.

Interestingly enough, when the women from the desk went to show me the operations she started speaking with one of the cleaning people and she told her that the machine was broken. Of course I smiled and chuckled, and it just proves that even when you know you are right, sometimes it does make sense to just go along for the ride and let the other person discover what you already know.

Last week went by quite fast as I started running training sessions for people in the office who have been working here for several months and this meant fitting them around their project schedules. Thus I would have a session from 8-10 one night followed by another from 8-10 the next morning. In addition to that I still have a few modules of content to flesh out.

All in all it turned out to be a bit of a rough weekend. I was extremely tired from the week so I went right home from work instead of going out to dinner with folks. It was relaxing, yet some loneliness set in and kind of stuck there for two days. Calling my friend Barb at home helped, thank goodness for Skype, yet I was still just missing my friends and my stuff.

And it didn’t get any better when I held my weekly battle with the washing machine again on Saturday. While they had admitted that the one was not working a few days earlier, I had no way of knowing whether or not it was fixed so opted to use the one that had a better track record. Of course, having slept in, someone had beaten me to it so I had to wait for their stuff to finish before starting my load. While I was waiting the staff wandered in and figured I must be having problems, when in fact I wasn’t, so I wound up trying to explain why I wasn’t using the other washer, and that didn’t go very well.

All in all it left me feeling as if they were treating me as stupid just because I don’t speak Portuguese. Yes, I wish I knew more of it, and I don’t. That doesn’t mean I am dumb, it just means it is hard for me to communicate here. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what they did that made it seem as if they thought the former, it might have been insisting on showing me how to push the washer buttons while pointing to the recently written out English instructions. Yep, that was probably the biggest contributer. And it left me, I’ll just go right out and say it, “p***ed off”.

So please, take this lesson away, when dealing with a non-native speaker in your own country, realize that they are likely just as educated as you, and also very frustrated by the fact that they are having a hard time communicating. It is not easy to learn a new language, even when you are immersed in it every day, and especially when folks around you seem to want you to speak perfectly before trying to understand you.

Just as you would with someone at the tender age of 4 or 5, give the person support and be ready to give them space if they seem frustrated. They are likely just overwhelmed and need your support.

By Saturday night I wasn’t feeling much better and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go out to a co-worker’s birthday party. Another co-worker convinced me to goand it was probably a good thing. Although I should have gone home after the official party which I got to around 10 pm. I am not sure exactly when it started since the invite didn’t actually include a time, which is really not surprising to me after having been here as long as I have. The clock just isn’t quite as central to things here as in the US, it seems a bit more central than it was in India, however, only a bit. It has been really hard to get folks used to a training class that starts at the time it is scheduled, and getting people to RSVP with any kind of advanced notice is equally grueling.

Anyway, back to Saturday night, I knew folks would be arriving at various times, and not wanting to be the only English speaker there I had a couple folks call me as they headed out so that I could arrive around the same time. That actually worked quite well. Of course, then I had to figure out what to drink. I wound up with a gin martini (with Tangueray, ok, not great) and olives (with pits – sorry dad, no blue cheese). I am not sure how much if an Vermouth was in it, so I sipped it very slowly as I had already had some wine with dinner. And I would have stuck with wine if they had been selling it by the glass, though given my experience with wine here, maybe it was a good thing that they weren’t.

That said, the birthday boy’s wife was drinking a local sparkling wine and asked me if I wanted to try it, and surprise of all surprises, it wasn’t half bad, so after my martini I switched to that. And that is where I should have let the evening end, instead I opted to go with folks to the night club after we left the bar. OK, I’ll admit it, I’m too old to enjoy going to a club at 2 am that is smokey and there is no space to move, yet you are supposed to be “dancing”, if you call getting stepped on by someone is heels while you try to avoid stepping on someone else with your heels dancing. No, I’m not bitter, I just didn’t last long, mostly I was tired and I had a hard time breathing with the smoke that had nowhere to go given we were in a windowless room. Maybe this is another pre grade school lesson, know your bedtime and respect it. Of course the time will have changed since those days of being shorter than everyone other than your younger sibling(s), but there is something to be said for listening to your body and trying to get enough sleep, even on the weekend.

And another early life lesson that I often reflect on here, seat belts. Well, maybe not so early life for me given that I do recall standing in the back seat next to my brother for some road trips, but as it is said in Anything Goes, “Times have changed“. I am confounded as to here, as in India, how folks just don’t seem to see the importance of seat belts. Those of you who were on my mailing lists back in the India days recall my talking about how we often had to beg and plead when renting a car for the weekend to make sure it had working seat belts. Here, they seem to be operational about 50% of the time, at least in the back seat of cabs. The ones in the front seem to work, though not all the drivers use them. There is one driver that we get regularly who just loops the belt as lightly as possible as he can over his lap before approaching the check point that we pass each day on the way to work. Most of the other drivers slip the belt on for this and off again later. Not sure which is worse, both are bucking the system, and the second group is only protected for a small amount of time at a well known check point.

Sunday had promised to be an adventurous day of heading out to wine country and given the weather we had it would have been spectacular. However, we only had one Portuguese speaker slated to go with us and when she had to cancel last minute we had to postpone the trip. Hopefully we will be able to reschedule for the weekend before I return to the U.S. At least I finally have found two reds at the grocery store which are not fruity, so I can enjoy some wine with dinner.

Where the theme of learning comes to bear most is in what I am here to do, and that is to facilitate training for the ThoughtWorkers being hired into this very new office. Doing that has gotten me to reflect on the things we are teaching and how they too are really things we learned at an early age. Of course there are new twists and applications otherwise there wouldn’t be anything to teach. Given that we are a consulting company, while we focus on technology at the end of the day we are providing solutions for clients and that means we are consulting, a lot of what we teach focuses on consulting. Here again it is wrapped in other concepts, all of the things we need to do to build software. Yet, in the end, it all builds on creating and nurturing relationships. This is otherwise known as playing well with others and is something we each do, unless we are living in a cave, everyday of our lives.

There is one thing that makes it harder here, and that is consulting in a second language. It is tough enough to be on your best behavior when at a client site when you and the client speak the same native language. When you are a non-native speaker avoiding the simple mistakes such as misspelling words in an email is much harder and requires constant vigilance. Add to that avoiding talking about inappropriate subjects, something else we all learned early on, where the subject list can vary by culture and you have a very tough assignment. And the list goes on and on.

I may have mentioned that one of my Brazilian co-workers was headed to Paris for his honeymoon and asked me for recommendations. So a couple weeks back I dusted off an old email that I had sent to someone else for their trip to Paris (this was quite a feat as the email was in our old crusty system – Lotus Notes – run away) and polished it a bit with some updates. He returned to work this week raving about Maille mustard and Veuve Cliquot. It feels good to have been able to show somebody something that you like so much and have them appreciate it, not the same kind of things that we shared with each other in kindergarten, but still a show and tell when it comes down to it.

I finally wore the Inter shirt that I mentioned in my last post to the office on Tuesday. Luck would have it that the first folks I ran into post training session, where I think people might have been too focused to care what I was wearing, were Gremio fans. One even had the nerve to send me an IM asking if all of my clothes were dirty. Of course I replied that the opposite was true, only the best ones were clean!

Up next, a weekend in Rio!

Tchau,

Wendy

Or actually your d’s, t’s, e’s, ….

Now that I have been in Brazil for a little more than a month, I felt that it was time to write a bit ab0ut the Portuguese language, more precisely about Brazilian Portuguese.

I figured that it would be a little bit easier for me to learn Portuguese as an adult than it would be for some others since I am already an intermediate French speaker, which I also learned as an adult. Thus the part of my brain that is used to learn languages, the part that shuts off if we don’t exercise it by the time we are in the middle years of grade school, has been turned back on. It may not have the capacity to process a full stream of information but at least there is a trickle of activity.

In some ways I was right, and I will get to a bit more on that later, yet the lack of time ahead of the trip and the lack of time once I have been here to really study the language has been the biggest hindrance. I really feel badly that I was unable to at least learn a basic travel vocabulary before I arrived, as I really feel much more comfortable in a location if I can communicate at least somewhat in the native tongue. And I feel that I am being disrespectful of the place I am visiting to have not found the time to do this beforehand. Note to self, I must remember that in about a month I will be in Greece, another location with another language that I don’t know, so I must learn some basics before I fly there.

That said, I am making some very slow progress in building a minimal vocabulary. And I am basically able to communicate to navigate around with my minimal set of words and lots of pantomiming and pointing.

What I didn’t expect was to find as many similarities between French and Portuguese as I have found. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since they are both romance languages. And I had seen a number of similar words during the little bit of investigating I did before leaving the U.S. For example, the numbers 11 (onze), 14 (quatorze), and 15 (quinze) are spelled exactly the same and 12 (douze – doze), 13 (treize – treze), and 20 (vingt – vinte) are similar.

Of course, the similarities end with the spellings. The pronunciations are as different as those between English and Portuguese. Some of the things that I struggle with daily are

  • “d” is sort of pronounced ch, I think it is really more dch and find that quite hard, for example
    • bom dia (good morning/day) pretty much sounds like “bom chia” with the m sort of swallowed as many ending French consonants
    • Lucas de Oliveira (the name of the street where I live) pretty much sounds like Luca(s) ch’Olivera or Luca(s) ch’wallivera
  • “t” seems to pretty much be similar to “d” in that it becomes a “ch” (at least when it is in the middle of a word), for example
    • continuar (which actually means what you think it does) comes out as con-chin-u-eh
    • vinte comes out as vahnch
  • “e” at the end of a word is pronounced, sort of like the vowel of “le” in Alleluia when singing, for example
    • onze is basically onz-eh
    • quinze is basically kin-zeh

I have less trouble understanding the locals when they use Portuguese pronunciations for English words

  • they almost always pronounce the “ed” at the end of the word, for example
    • worked becomes wor-ked
    • helped becomes hel-ped
  • they also pronounce t as “ch” in English words, for example, when folks were flying to San Francisco for the project they talked about their connection in Char-loache (Charlotte)

Related to this is an observation that a few of us were discussing over the weekend.  It seems as if we have a much easier time understanding English spoken with Portuguese “mistakes”, or for that matter any other accent that someone visiting the U.S. has, than folks here have understanding our incorrect Portuguese.  Likely this is because we have been exposed to more people attempting to speak English that the Brazilians have been exposed to people attempting to speak Portuguese. And that also likely extends to when I massacre French in France yet they usually understand what I am saying.

Of course that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when trying to get home after work and the cab driver just doesn’t seem to recognize the street name, and if they do eventually recognize it they seem to pronounce it differently than the driver the night before did, and the driver the night before that…. Thankfully the hotel where we stay is named Bela Vista and this is pronounced pretty much as one expects and even if the hotel itself is not that known the whole area near there seems to be known as Bela Vista. And if that doesn’t work, there is another hotel a few doors down, The Blue Tree – can you guess how to pronounce that – that just about every cab driver seems to know.  The only trick with using that is getting them to stop a few doors early with lots of pointing and a few “las” and “aquis”.

Another somewhat bizarre thing that I have noticed is that I often find myself slipping into French instead of English when I am trying to use Portuguese.  For example I’ll say oui instead of sim, or through in a d’accord every so often. When talking to some co-workers I discovered that this isn’t all that strange, and it relates to my thoughts above about having reawaken a part of my brain. It turns out that once you learned a second language as an adult, when studying the third and subsequent ones you are indeed using a different part of the brain than when speaking a language you learned when you are young. And while you are exercising that part of the brain to learn the third language, it is much easier for it to jump in with words from your second language than for the other part to jump in with words from your native tongue.

In addition to thinking about languages, and actually spending some time trying to learn some new Portuguese as well as practice my French, I did do a few things of interest over this past weekend.

Friday night most of us from the States as well as two folk from the Brazil office went out to dinner to try one of the restaurants we had noticed the week before and wanted to check out. It turned out that we stumbled upon an excellent pizza place that featured Uruguayan beer (which I didn’t really take to as it was quite light) and a traditional Uruguayan sauce on the pizza which tasted just fine though I can’t say that I noticed anything distinct about it. I had a four cheese pizza, complete with gorgonzola, ymm, and eventually ordered a bottle of wine to share which was quite nice.

I basically laid low on Saturday, though I did get to both the grocery store and the mall where I bought a few cap sleeve T’s to wear under jackets and sweaters as well as two new dresses and some much needed new tights. I also spent some time browsing in the music section of the book store where I made some purchases of some local tracks as I like to do when I travel to new places. I don’t know if the stuff that I bought is at all popular. It seemed like a good mix and I enjoyed what I heard at the listening stations in the store. After I listen to the whole CDs I’ll let you know more about what I actually bought.

Saturday night Sarah and I finally went to see “Alice” in 3D. It was good, not as good as “Avatar” and it was nice to hear English for length of the movie. Though there was a moment after we paid and entered the complex that we thought we had accidently wound up at the dubbed showing instead of the sub-titled one. We both breathed a sigh of relief when the movie finally started and the first, and remaining for that matter, words were in English.

On Sunday I wrestled with the washers again, this time however I got there early enough to get the better one and to have a dryer available once my clothes were washed.

Finally it was time to play tourist again and I headed out on a city tour with 2 local co-workers, Barbara and Caio and Caio’s girlfriend. Mostly I got some ideas of some places that I would like to go back to since the bus didn’t really slow down to make it easy to take photos, and only stopped for about a minute at the cathedral.


One of the first places we passed was the planetarium, which I want to check out and see if it is worth going to a program at.

Throughout the tour we passed a number of colorful buildings, many or which the color is due to the fact that the exterior is covered with mosaic like tiles, less patterns than a mosaic piece of art, yet tiled none-the-less.

There were also some interesting window treatments. Shutters are on just about every building here a and provide many interesting photo ops. The one below is unusual as they are usually closed. For instance there are the large metal vertical shutters on my hotel room windows, and just about every day I open them to get the light into the room in the morning, and just about every night when I come back the person cleaning has shut them. Sometimes I open them again at night to not feel so boxed in.

In addition we drove passed some sculptures and statues,

the oldest street, a fruit market, a mural,

a juxtaposition of old and new, a gutted building,a cool structure next to the fire station

and, the BBQ store (I might have to use that extra baggage allowance I get after all to take some of this fine outdoor cookware home).

The weather for the tour was a bit cooler than other days (it was about 15) and quite a bit cooler than the day before where it was an absolutely gorgeous 27. Of course even when it was 27 many people were walking around not only in long sleeves, but in multiple layers of long sleeves and/or with coats. Thankfully the weekend was nice, as starting Monday evening it has been raining pretty much non-stop and yesterday this was accompanied by some howling wind that was driving the rain against (and in some cases through) the windows. I guess it is a sign that fall is really in full swing – although despite the weather and the lack of long hours of daylight it is hard for my to comprehend that it isn’t spring.

The rainy weather meant that when we had another BBQ, like the one the first week that I was here, we spent the whole time inside the kitchen and cooking pit area rather than sitting outside next to the pool.

Finally, no post can be complete without an Inter reference, yes the tour went passed the stadium, it also passed that other location which was not deemed photo worthy. And as part of my shopping, this was actually post movie shopping, I picked up an Inter mug to use in the office and an Inter hoodie.

Tchau,

Wendy

Wait, there is one more thing that I just have to sneak in. As I was talking to my folks Monday morning on Skype my U.S. cell phone rang and it showed up as a “private” number which I found odd as the only number that generally shows up that way is my parents. So I ignored the call and didn’t think much more of it right away. When I finished my Skype call, I checked my email and there was a message in my inbox from the US Embassy in Buenos Aires stating that some cab driver had turned in some of my forms of identification over the weekend. At first I was suspicious that this was some sort of spam, and so I researched the phone number they gave and the return address and it was indeed legit, plus the fact that they gave some detailed info about 4 things that had been in my wallet added to the believability of it all.

The mail said that I could stop in and pick these things up any time. Clearly that wasn’t going to work as it would be easier to get a new license when I get back to Chicago than to fly back to Argentina. So I replied asking if they could send the documents to either the Embassy here or in Chicago, and even better they are sending them directly to my condo in Chi-town were they should arrive a week or so before I do. The whole thing is pretty surreal. From the fact that the driver took the time to turn the items in, to the fact that the Embassy took the time to look up my email address (and I think phone as well as my guess is that is who was calling), to the fact that they are willing to send the items directly to my house.

Now it is really time to go,

Tchau

Before I get into my activities of the weekend I have to relate one of those stories of being somewhere unfamiliar.

Friday afternoon I was feeling the need for some caffeine and didn’t want yet another overly sugary espresso from the office machine (it tastes so bad without the sugar that I have given in and generally just get the sugared version) so I headed down to the cafeteria on the ground floor of the building.  On the way out I mentioned to some folks that I needed a Diet Coke, to realize as I said it, what I really meant was that I needed a Coca-Zero.  I know there is supposed to be a difference between them, and I think I can actually tell what it is when I have been drinking one and switch to the other, but in this case it really was the same in my mind, only in a can of a different color.

The oddities didn’t end there.  As I was paying for it, I decided to get rid of some of the coins that I had amassed, it is easy to do that here as there are 1 R$ coins and 2 R$ and 5 R$ bills.  So I as digging to the bottom of my purse for the 0.50 R$ incoins I needed in addition to the 2 R$ bill I had already grabbed and I was having a hard time finding the last quarter.  While I could have grabbed some smaller change to add to the total I wasn’t really in the mood to look at each coin and figure out it’s value, as I don’t have the feel for them yet.  Finally I came across something that said 25 on it, yet it wasn’t at all like the other quarter I had in hand.  The first was gold and round in shape, this one was silver and I think hexagonal.  I figured it was something that was still hanging around from another currency and was going to keep looking when the woman at the till nodded to indicate that I had found what I needed.  Later, during the weekend, I discovered the same phenomena with the R$ 0.10 piece(s). Very bizarre if you ask me.

That said, I must note that the workers in the cafeteria downstairs have been very patient with me and my less than basic Portuguese.  They always show me the receipt so that I know the amount and they are very patient as I try to use non-verbal means of communication to indicate what I want.

On Saturday morning the theme continued with what has become a somewhat standard weekend breakfast for me.  I take some sausage, salami type not breakfast type since it keeps better, and fry it kielbasa style, then scramble some eggs with some herbs de provence (they are worth the money) and maybe add a little grated cheese for a substitute for bacon and eggs.  If I want toast on the side I use what is similar to a tartine in France, pre-toasted bread that keeps much better than the fresh stuff which has either moldy or become hard as a rock a few days after buying it.  I might be able to keep some regular bread in the fridge, though given it’s small size it is probably worth keeping the space for other things.

After breakfast I spent some time online figuring how what I was going to do to explore the city, and found that it didn’t seem to be too far to the harbor. So armed with directions from Google Maps I set out for what was to be just shy of an hour walk figuring that I needed some exercise and that if it looked like I was heading somewhere that I didn’t want to be alone I could always grab a cab.

From the first turn the directions were wrong, yet I found my way to one of the streets I was supposed to take using a bit of intuition.  That intuition failed shortly thereafter as I never found the next one.  So I ended up walking down a street that had seemed interesting a couple of nights back when I was in a cab on the way home from work.  And I was heading away from the water which I didn’t know at the time yet had a funny feeling. It didn’t turn out to be all bad as I stumbled upon a shopping area complete with a little gadget shop that had, among other things, clocks for sale and I found one that I liked.  It seems that here, just as in India, time is not all that important and clocks are not standard in hotels or service apartments.

After wandering a bit further I decided to go ahead and grab a cab and actually make it to the water.  After being dropped at a museum that I had selected as a reasonable landmark to get to I wandered a bit there and then set out to my actual destination.  At first I wasn’t sure I was allowed to enter the dock area as there was a gate completely with security guards.  I figured I would give it a try and between some hand gestures and believe it or not a bit of French not only= figured out it that it was allowed, I walked right in.

It was a nice break from the bustling cacophonous metropolis of the city streets and despite it being a working harbor being near the water was quire peaceful.  The buildings themselves provided some great photos.

And there was what I thing was a white heron, not sure if it was a great white or not as I don’t know if that species is indigenous to Brazil.

Upon returning home I ran into two co-workers and discovered that they, as well as I, were interested in heading to one of the local shopping malls to find a few apartment supplies.  They were headed to the grocery store first and I wanted to eat lunch so we agreed that they would call me when there were ready to grab a cab for the mall.  It was a successful trip, I was able to buy a little camp stool that I can use for a foot rest, a cutting board, and finally a wash cloth. It really wasn’t actually a wash cloth, more of a very small finger towel that will serve the purpose since yet another difference here is that wash cloths just don’t seem to be common and this isn’t the only country I have noticed that in, I saw the same thing in the UK.

I finally broke down and attempted to use a Brazilian can opener and to my surprise was quite successful.  I had many trepidations before making this attempt recalling trying to use something similar at some point in the past and only winding up with a mangled can.  Well, not to worry, I got the can open and didn’t wind up with a cramped hand.

The reason for taking this brave step forward was the want to finally cook the white beans I had purchased a while back.  They had been sitting on my shelf staring at me, calling my name, only to be turned back by thoughts to the dreaded can opener.  Finally I could wait no longer and voila I had one of my favorite French side dishes prepared in next to no time.  The smell was heavenly and reminded my of the south of France.  It is amazing how some of the simplest food can take you back to previous adventures and I find myself wondering what food from here will be the thing that I crave when I leave.  Will it be the BBQ, quite likely, or maybe those chicken hearts (I guess that counts as BBQ too).  Maybe it will be the black beans cooked with just the right amount of meat mixed in to give them that savory flavor.

Given that the beans were a success, and that I had made a variation on the rabbit and sausage recipe I had first tested in France (using chicken as well as some other substitutions) I decided to actually crack the cover of my French cookbook and look for a new challenge, a new recipe that I might be able to approximate with the ingredients that I can find at the local supermarket.

I selected Entrecôte au Chèvre knowing that at least I could find some good beef for it.  It looked simple enough, four ingredients, and I also know that I most likely wouldn’t find the savory and figured the stand by of herbes de provence would make a find substitute.  I had no idea if I could find goat cheese, and the answer was no, so I found some other cheese that looked like it will melt and figured I would give it a go.  I also bought cubed beef instead of making the sauce to pour over a filet since I knew I would want to cook enough to keep leftovers and eat it throughout the week.  Most intriquing however was the fact that the recipe called for white wine, this was just enough of an unusual combination that I had to give it  a try, and it would let me use up some white that I bought that could only be used for cooking.  Yes, I know, only cook with a wine you are willing to drink, well, I did drink some of it and I just couldn’t let it go to waste.

The original plan was to do the shopping on Sunday and cook the dish that night.  Of course this all changed when the grocery store was shut that day in celebration of Mother’s Day (same day, different expectations).  So I went shopping on Monday night and saved the cooking for Tuesday.

So now for the drumroll for the results.  I have actually been cooking this as I have been writing and it turned out pretty decent.  I do wonder how it would taste with all of the proper ingredients and will add that to my list of things to do once I am back in Chicago. I can’t say the same for the bottle of red that I opened to go with it, once again I seem to have found something way to fruity for my tastes. Unlike the white I cooked with it is drinkable, I just won’t be buying it again.

I find it interesting how themes can materialize in life.  On my last trip to India I finally read The Da Vinci Code which was a bit after the masses yet before the movie was released and now I am reading The Lost Symbol. I don’t care how much people say that if you read one Dan Brown novel you have read them all, I am enjoying the second one as much as the first and it looks like once again I beat the movie.  Oh, and this time I am reading it electronically on what is my latest best purchase for traveling, previously it was my Bose headphones which still do rock when you need to tune out the background noise on a plane.

On Sunday, some of us decided to go to the botanical gardens that we pass every day on our way to work.  Silly us, we decided to head off the beaten path right away and wound up in some mucky areas.

Eventually we doubled back to find the more common paths along with a pond covered with little floating plants that from a distance it looked like it could be a bog.

Since it only took us about an hour to tour the gardens we decided to head towards the water and see if the timings worked out right for one of the boat tours before going back home.  I was concerned that this was going to be exactly where I was the day before and that the tour wouldn’t leave until 3.  Turns out it was near there yet different and there was a tour at 2 which gave us time to grab some snacks and look around the art center next to the harbor that used to be a power station.

The tour itself was quite nice affording us views of the entire city skyline which give a sense to just how big Porto Alegre is and made me realize that I had relocated from one city on the water to another.  Same.  Only different.

Reflecting back to both Bangalore and Aix it is interesting that both of those cities felt more accessible, perhaps it is all because of the language and maybe there is something bigger going on that I have yet to discover.

The trip went through a narrow channel where visions of the houseboat tour in India came back to me the end of which opened up onto some very exclusive homes with manicured lawns and private boat launches, think North Shore of Chicago.

We then circled around the point and sailed past a more local feeling area with lots of colorful fishing and utilitarian boats as well as a marina, think a little more like Gary Indiana with a lot more color.

Best of all, it was an absolutely gorgeous day to be on the water.  Given the rain that was coming that we have had for the first two days this week, it was even more special. And yes, that is a bridge in the distance, this theme continues to make itself known as summer (or winter here) often includes a Mac race for me where a bridge looms in the distance towards the end of days on the water.

The weekend ended with a laundry battle to remind me once again of the differences.  The machines here are very slow, when they work at all so I wound up sitting in the laundry room waiting. reading, waiting for the machine to stop ,mid-cycle so that I could push some random buttons in hopes that it would start again and even higher hopes that it would move to the next phase of the cycle.  While this was going on I was talking with a woman, from São Paulo who is moving here, and she told me that the reason they have old style top loading washers here, not that that is the only reason they are slow, is because when the front loaders where introduced nobody liked them since they couldn’t see the soap getting all sudsy and thus they didn’t think that their clothes were getting clean.

A few more intriguing differences that I noted during the first part of the week are that salads here are served as very large leafs of lettuce that have to be cut in order to consume them (compare that to in France where it is an insult to the hostess to cut your salad), unless I can figure out how to change the language on my new local phone I will have to figure out how to turn predictive texting off as it doesn’t recognize many of the English words that I want to use, and the paper napkins here seem to have a layer of plastic embedded and as such are far from absorbent (I seem to recall them being somewhat similar in India).

Please don’t take my calling out these things as complaining, it is more just a set of observations of how while we live in a very small world it is also a very large one where people have various things that work a certain way and when they travel extensively they are going to be exposed to many other ways of doing and seeing things.  Some of these may be great new ideas for them and others may make them uncomfortable, yet all will, in the end, if the traveler is open to anything at all, make that person a better global citizen and much more understanding of visitors coming to their homeland.

Tchau,

Wendy

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