Look the Other way

So the other day I was enjoying another wonderful walk to work, watching the buildings I always pass slowly get taller, and enjoying the fresh clean air. Oh, and yes, of course, yelling at the cars that almost hit me as I cross the road. This time, right after I screamed a quick “OI!!!!” at the passing car full of women who were on their way to some important salon appointment, I looked behind to find a young woman in trendy sunglasses (read: Ray Ban's from the 1980s which are for some reason enjoying a renaissance of sorts with the younger generation here in Brasil), and I smiled at her as if to say “Yeah, I got your back, don't worry.”

She responded differently than I would have assumed: “You scared me…,” she said, in a low sultry, insistantly laid-back voice. “Oh,” I said, “I'm sorry, but I think it's important for them to understand that the law says they need to stop for pedestrians who are crossing the street in a cross-walk.”

“You're not from here, are you?” she said, in her best yousillytouristyouobviouslydon'tunderstandbrasil voice. And then she continued to explain to me why here in Brasil, it's just best to let that kind of stuff go, because it will never change, and your life will be so much better if you just forget about it. And I responded with my best American politeness that I completely understood what she was talking about, and that while I value the same kind of serenity in my life, I could not disagree more with her statement and found that she was completely wrong. Was she aware of the laws? Weren't they written there for some good reason? To which she languidly responded that she was in fact aware of the laws, and also was studying to be a lawyer, but still, she argued that my attempts to raise others awareness were going to do nothing but make me more and more angry.

Studying to be a lawyer, eh? She obviously had no idea who she was talking to. I was born a lawyer. It's in my blood. Bring it on.

You see, don't all people deserve respect, whether they are in a car or not? And if we cannot respect these laws, how can we be expected to follow any of the laws? And without laws, how can we call ourselves a society? or part of the civilized world? And was she also not aware that there are also plenty of places WITHIN BRASIL that people are already obeying laws, respecting each other, slowing down to let others cross the street? In the end, she saw my position, and then quickly ran into a bank before she lost too much ground in her argument. A good lawyer in the making.

That is the problem with living the good life–you have to give up a lot of things that would make your life easier; things like ignorance, self-indulgence, and laziness. And then you have to continuously ask your self (and your friends if you're brave) the hard questions: How can I give more respect to my neighbors? How can I care for the widow, the neglected, the overlooked? Who is my neighbor?

Not an easy way to live (I don't do it very well), but the alternative is just empty “beleza.”



Wearing Gloves is Advisable.

One helpful thing for you all who read this blog (a number which I hope is growing, if for nothing else than my terribly hungry ego) to understand is that I am…well…not always such a nice person. I think a good word to describe me could be “prickly,” but others may choose asshole, or blunt, or truthful to a fault, or something else worse that I choose not to publish here. For elaboration, I think a picture/video essay would be apropos.

I think cacti are a good “plant comparison” for me (as I'm sure you all were wondering, “Hmm, I wonder what a good “plant comparison” for Matt would be?). I have an appreciation for them having lived in the Southwest of the United States for ten years, and I do think they are beautiful. But getting close enough to touch them is not advisable! I mean, we cacti produce fruit and flowers and such, but we're also going to prick you if you touch us, because, hey, we're prickly and that's what prickly things do.

I think “dog analogies” can also be helpful, don't you? I love dogs. And of all the breeds of dogs, German Shepherds are not my favorite. Just being honest. They are a crunchy breed, often “one-family” dogs, and if you mess with them, they will bite. Also, without all that thick lustrous hair, they would not be so attractive or youthful looking.

Yes, Jerry is one of my favorites, but not only for his brilliance, but also because his character on “Seinfeld” was, well, not quite the vision of perfection himself, and yet he always seems to be looking for perfection in others. But he makes people laugh, and so they let him get away with it. This clip of different phone calls is classic Jerry: there is never a bad time for a joke. Never.

Yeah, I read the book. But more importantly, I am just the kind of person who is ALWAYS trying to improve what's inside and outside of me. Some people don't like the constant critique, but hey, I'm used to it.

I don't hide my emotions/thoughts.
This does not always mix well with the cultural syrupy sweetness that surrounds me.
Bon Apetit!


Wandering thoughts…

Just returned from a short orchestra tour to Diamantina (one of the historic cities here in Minas Gerais)–twas a nice city, but there really wasn't enough time to enjoy it. Here are some of my reflections from the tour:

I took a taxi from my house to where we all met to catch the bus–I love that taxis here are cheap and generally very easy to come by. I called, and this one came right to my door, and took me to my destination for about 5 bucks. But when I was paying, the taxi driver got a little upset with me because the only bill I had to pay him with was a R$50. This is common: people whine and complain here when you ask them to give you change. But please, people, really? Get over it.

People from Minas really love their own food. I mean REALLY. And I like it too, for the most part, but it's just one type of food among many that I consider good to eat. We stopped for Churrasco (Brasilian barbeque) on the way to Diamantina, and one of the people in charge of our tour was ranting loudly and approvingly of the food, and going around to say “Hey! This is great food, isn't it???!!! Wow, REAL authentic Mineiro food!!! soo wonderful, eh?” It's hard for me to understand how someone can get so excited about something that they eat everyday, but I certainly appreciate the enthusiasm.

I love my job. Sure I complain about certain aspects of it, but I am well aware of how lucky I am to have a job in an orchestra. I especially love to play for people in small towns who don't often get to hear a symphony orchestra–I love hearing their sincere cheers and seeing their happy faces. Diamantina was no different–there was probably about three thousand people at the concert, and they were all so enthusiastic and thankful to have us playing in their town. This concert was in celebration of Brazilian Independence (September 7th), and for the first time, I heard everyone singing all the words to the National Anthem–a difficult task considering it is a strange Verdi-esque march with lots of vocal twists and turns. Go Diamantina!

On the long bus ride home, I had the chance to watch the scenery as we rolled through the interior of Minas Gerais. Not particularly exciting stuff, but as we passed by the small towns, I couldn't help but think: What would it be like to live here? And my mind wanders to buying a small plot of land, building a house, having a garden, chatting with neighbors, playing the cello and receiving students from all over the world that can't resist coming all the way to Brasil just to study with me for a week or two.

Hey, it's fun to let your mind wander every once in a while.


How Bazaar

This was one of those days that I always dread: I had to go to a government organization (Detran: the Brazilian equivalent of the DMV in the US) in order to get the official documents for the car that we recently purchased. It is always a pain to go to government organizations here: long lines, delapedated buildings, and usually more than one trip back home because of some incorrect form or missing signature.

The Throng of Those Awaiting Government Documents

I had done my homework: prepared my papers, made my copies, checked my directions…Alas, when I arrived, I was informed that I had filled out the wrong form.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Things were looking positive before my arrival; I had followed the directions correctly, and I was even able to make a left turn where I needed to, just like Google maps said I could. But it's hard to describe the stark reality that met me–the closer I came to my destination, the more I began to be surrounded by what only could be described as some kind of government services bazaar. There were people all over the road, trying to entice me into their offices and to convince me that their service would be much easier than going into Detran myself (here, they are called Despachantes). And there were those selling the goods that might make it easier to pass the inspection, and those selling food and beer (mind you, it was only 8:30 in the morning) and any number of cheaply made goods. Somehow, I was able to see through the spectacle and arrive within the gates of Detran for my inspection. Here is where I found out I had the wrong form. Sigh.

The Inspiring Waiting Area

But then I thought, surely someone from the circus outside might be able to help! Aha! A glimmer of hope! I had forgotten of course, that the circus is only there to entertain…and also, in a cash driven culture like Brazil, a pocket full of credit cards will not buy much of anything.

I returned home…sitting in the remains of morning traffic for about 45 minutes…thankful that my new car is well equipped with a/c and a stereo to keep me calm and comfortable.

For some, the story would be over after this. Battered, downtrodden, left to lick my wounds and fight again another day. BUT NOT SO FOR ME!!!! oh no no no. This was the day I had set aside to conquer the demon Detran, and I would not let one small oversight (two, if you count the fact that I had no cash with me), keep me from vanquishing this terrible foe. I got the right form. I filled it out. I printed it off. I ate lunch. And I returned.

Oh, and yes, I passed my inspection, and received my new documents that same afternoon. Only after waiting in many lines for a few hours, mind you. The correct form indeed made all the difference.

The Entrance to the Compound

But for me, I'm still stuck in the confusion and nervous energy of the Bazaar. When I first arrived just outside the Detran “compound” (think tall grey concrete wall with steel door entrances) I felt that queezy feeling that comes when you know you are surrounded by people who are ready to take advantage of every vulnerability you have. And government agencies bring about vulnerabilities: they provide a service that I need, but I have to jump through all the correct hoops in order to get that service. It's an easy place to be preyed upon by those wanting to “help,” and of course to make a quick buck. On my second arrival, my return after lunch, the invasive zoo that greeted me struck a different, more spiritual chord. Yes, I am spiritual, and I think sometimes, I even “hear from God.” I don't use this language lightly, or even to feel holier than thou; it's just the words I sometimes use to describe an experience where I see things anew, more truthfully, more clearly and deeply. This was one of those moments.

As I arrived, I was immediately transported into the story where Jesus arrives at the Temple in Jerusalem, only to find the outer courts (and I can imagine, the whole surrounding areas) full of money changers and peddlers looking to “help” the arriving worshippers and pilgrims who were in need of the spiritual renovation in their lives that could only be found through a certain prayer or sacrifice at this very Temple. I understood that this was an even greater Bazaar than my own surroundings, and this clear and terrible image was accompanied by a simple message: “Matt, this is how I felt when I arrived at the Temple. Now can you see why I got so angry and turned over those tables? Now can you feel a little of what I felt? The pain? The anguish?”

Yeah. I'm still chewing on that a day later. Sometimes I yell, and get angry, but it ain't always with that good a reason. Perspective–it's a filling meal.