Cajun Blackened Friday

I tried to post this here yesterday, but we were REALLY busy being thankful, playing soccer, cooking, and being with friends. I thought maybe it would still be nice to have a Thanksgiving post, so here it is, written in the present tense. Just use your imagination–it was only yesterday, folks.

I gotta say, Thanksgiving outside the US is always so strange, but sometimes in a good way. I don't have to work this year (yes!), but I can call work if I have a question (which I did) because everyone in the office is working. All the stores are open like normal, and tonight we're going to have a beer with a friend at a local bar, just like it is a normal day. Kinda cool, right?

This week I have thought about what I'm thankful for, and here's one thing: I'm not the only one who's yelling. The other day, I was waiting in front of a crosswalk (in my car) and there were quite a few people crossing. Next to me was a school bus that didn't want to wait, so it was easing its way in front of the pedestrians crossing the street (ironic, yes, to consider a school bus running over pedestrians). One fearless guy just kept going, though, and when they almost hit him, he gave them a piece of his mind (and the law) to chew on.

Yes. It was just as good as it looks.

I'm also thankful that things aren't so easy here…I mean, in certain ways. I can't buy pie crusts, so I have to make them. But mine have been turning out so great! Why would I ever want to buy another pie crust? We made the most delicious pumpkin pie from scratch…yes, even the pumpkin filling. Can't buy that here either. Well, I suppose these not the “most difficult” challenges that life has brought me, but still, I am thankful.

There are those deep things, too, for which I feel thankful. They are pains, and wounds, and loves, and questions, and…sometimes too it feels like there's a song down there that's brewing; a latent yolp that's thrashing it's way to the surface, clamoring for air. I guess it's about time to sing. Happy Thanksgiving!



Rite of Spring Break

Alright, so I've settled down since the last post. Yes, I did have some beers. And some fantastic wine too. I'm better now, really.

And now I'm thinking about the week ahead–I'd like to avoid any social disasters, high-energy phone calls, and retail establishments, just to be safe. These goals are not so realistic (especially the last), but I find things go better for me when I plan ahead, so I'm gonna try. I also don't have any rehearsals until the end of the week, which means I have to be disciplined with my time. So here's some ideas I have:

I need this shirt

Baking: It's Thanksgiving week, and I'm gonna bake up a storm. Well, maybe just a couple of pies. Pies are a new conquest for me–I have found a pie-crust recipe that just will not FAIL. At least, not the last three times I've used it, so I'm pretty confident. So my wife and I are joining forces for a pumpkin pie (I believe she has already made the pumpkin filling), and then I will try to whip up some kind of fruity delight. I'm also going to meet with some of my favorite bakers in an attempt to leave a little piece of myself, right here in Brasil. If everything goes right, my name may just be immortalized right here in Belo Horizonte. I'll keep you posted.

LIAR! Don't look her in the eye!

Banking: This is the part of the plan that gives me pause… Banking has a tendency to not be “fun” here. But my bank is a fancy version of the farm animal craziness that is the norm, so I have hope that a trip to the bank could actually be productive and relaxing, and fill me with some nice espresso. There is really no such thing as a “free” bank account here, so I have to figure out how to leave an account open here, but without very much money in it. Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn't talk about my banking woes on the internet.

Ballet: Okay, so I won't really be dancing, but I thought it would be cool if I had three B's. Plus, I will be working very hard on music from “The Rite of Spring,” Stravinsky's shocking ballet from the early 1900s. You see, even though I don't have to rehearse, I still have PLENTY of work to do at home in order to prepare. It literally takes hours of my day to maintain my level of playing (scales, etudes, solo pieces) and also prepare for the orchestral repertoire that I will be playing. I am really looking forward to playing this piece–I have studied it and listened to it many times (and I bet many of you would be surprised to know how familiar it is to YOU as well), but I have never had the chance to perform The Rite of Spring. This the ballet whose music and dance were so controversial they caused riots after the first performances. I'm just hoping the crazy carnal rhythmic insanity does not spill over into the rest of my life.

Rite of Spring (excerpt)

In a version of the Ballet by Pina Bausch


Responsibility is Not a Four-Letter Word

I'm having a bad day.

It's ok. Bad days happen, I know. The problem for me is that sometimes I just don't know how to get out of my funk. So I'll write about it, and let's see what happens.

Take advantage whenever you can

As you can imagine, when you move from one country to another, there are a few details involved. This morning, one of those details was to call the person from my rental agency (read: another business created solely for the purpose of taking advantage of others, see also Cartorios and Government Agencies in Brasil) in order to clarify some of the details of our contract. Specifically, I wanted to know whether or not I would be responsible to fix a small crack in the window that we did not make (most likely came from weather changes). The agency confirmed that, yes, I do need to fix the window, because according to the law and contracts and blah blah blah blah blah…

I suspected that would be the case, and I'm not really concerned with shelling out a few more reais at this point. It's the principle: I don't want to be held responsible for a window that I did not break. Of course, I tried to explain that to them, and here's how the conversation goes (this conversation happens over and over again here, so I know it well):

Use with Care

Me: I understand what the contract says, but the reason I'm asking about the window is because I didn't break the window.

Agency: Well, how did it happen then?

Me: You know how it works with glass right? Over time, glass can develop small cracks that, with the aid of changing weather conditions, can grow. This is one of those small cracks that grew.

Agency: Yes, but was the window like that when you moved in?

Me: No, the crack in the window appeared over time. It's not large now, and the window functions just the same with the crack as without.

Agency: Ok, but unfortunately, you have to replace the glass because according to the contract, you are responsible. Does that make sense?

Me: No, that doesn't make sense to me, because I didn't break the glass.

Agency: Who broke it?

Me: No one broke the glass… You know how it works with glass right? Over time….

Exhibit A: Broken Glass

And the conversation could continue in this way for eternity, I suppose. Ours did not, because I was consequently and repeatedly interrupted by lightening fast speaking…this did not go over well with me. I don't like being interrupted. I speak slower in Portuguese because it's not my native language, and because I need time to form my thoughts. That gives people an easy window to interrupt, especially on the telephone. But when I tried to explain my thoughts, they just kept talking over me. That made me angry. I don't like to get angry.

Finally, after I yelled a bit and they stopped talking, I explained how terribly rude it is to interrupt. Here's how that went (also a conversation I have had with MANY folks here):

Me: You do understand that its very disrespectful to talk when another person is talking?

Agency: But sir, you were yelling at me, and this is not acceptable.

Me: I only started yelling after you repeatedly interrupted me. You do know it's rude to interrupt?

Agency: But sir, it is my right to interrupt you. This is my job.

Me: I don't understand how it is your right to be disrespectful. Look I am a very educated person, and I have lived in many other places. I just want you to understand that interrupting people is very disrespectful.

Agency: You are so educated, and yet you would yell at me?

Me: I don't see how my yelling is any worse than your constant inability to wait for me to speak…

Agency: But again, it's my right to interrupt and speak when you are speaking. This is MY job.

Me: But wait a minute. Who is paying for this rental, me or you?

Agency: Sir, according to our contracts it's the renters who pay the owners and blah blah blah

Me: Yes, but you didn't answer my question. Who is paying? Me or you?

Agency: Well, you are, sir.

Me: Exactly. So then without me paying, you don't have a job. So I don't see how it is your right to disrespect me.

Agency: But going back to the original question, according to the contract, you are responsible for….

Taking responsibility is hard, I understand. Here's what I will take responsibility for: I did live in this apartment, I did sign a contract (however unjust and evil it was), and I am trying (to the best of my abilities) to uphold my part of the bargain. I will paint and try to make everything “bonitinho” before I leave, even if it is tantamount to robbery to hold me accountable for fixing things that were old and not well taken care of before I arrived (many things that, as far as I can tell, you possibly covered up so that I wouldn't notice until after I already moved in). And I did yell. I'm sorry for that. That happens sometimes, especially when I feel that others are not giving me the respect that I deserve. Respect that EVERYONE deserves.

And how about you? What will you take responsibility for? And herein lies the rub: almost everyone I meet here is NOT WILLING TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANYTHING THAT GOES WRONG. This is a serious issue, a character flaw. And it has infected an entire city, and large portions of the country of Brasil (believe me, I have been more places in Brasil than most Brazilians). When a person (or a culture, I suppose) responds to criticism or problems with either blame or apathy, that person has what is called a “character disorder.” I know this affliction (heck, I slip back into this from time to time…it's very common in men), and I have to say, it's pretty serious. Too serious to tackle in the same blogpost, so let's leave it here for now. Dangling…

(from Shawshank Redemption: the first 30 seconds will suffice)


My day hasn't gotten any better yet. I think I need a beer.


The Other is Gold

Google strikes again


I like to watch TV. In fact, I would really like to be watching something now. But I can sink my eyes into that endless tube of telly anytime–in fact I already watched part of a movie earlier today. I'm trying to be more disciplined here. And I have things to say–things that won't just write themselves on their own. I could just let them go unsaid…but that wouldn't be so much fun now, would it? And remember, IM4FUN.

It will look like this when we return


So, the big news around here is that in about a month, we are moving back to the good ol' US of A. Some of you that read already know, and some do not. Now you all know. It's been a good ride here in Belo Horizonte, but it's time. Time for what? For new adventure, of course! For roads untravelled! For discomfort, and new places, and … colder weather!


I do love it here, though. I love you, Brasil. What's that, you say? You couldn't really tell???

Yes, I understand. My love is not that groovy kind of love we all sang and dreampt about in the 80s. No, my love has always ebbed to the truthier side of things. If I love you, I'll tell you EXACTLY what I think in curt direct sentences. Just ask my wife. Actually, don't ask her, just trust me on this one.

So as we leave, I'll be truthing it up here. And the truth is, I'm going to miss you, Brasil.

I promise, I'll write!

I'm gonna miss all your crazy monkey-ass laws that no one knows but everyone has to follow at certain times that will be revealed only when it is time. I'm gonna miss all the beautiful people who have laid their lives down for us, and the raucous drivers who have tried on many occaisions to take our lives. I'm gonna miss the coldest beer I never would have drank, and some of the best beers I have ever tasted. I'll miss your children who greet me with a kiss on the cheek, and all of the plentifully unhelpful and snarky clerks that fill the ailes and counters of each and every retail establishment. I will miss your rolling hills, your samba, and your Verdi-esque anthems. Your pão de queijo, your goopy bowls of desserts, your mangos, your meat.

I'm serious too–I really will miss all these things. Heck, I'll probably even miss my inarticulate ramblings in Portuguese. Not so much for the actual inarticulate awkwardness of it all, but because I DID IT. WE DID IT. We have adapted to life here, and while Brasil may not have always completely accepted us (which is a completely “normal” feeling for an immigrant–not meant negatively in ANY way), we have accepted Brasil. The good and the bad. And we are sad to leave.

It's the beginning of the end, but I'll never forget you. Let's become old friends; those are the best kind.


You would scream, too.

No Problem! I'm Flexible!

One of the many things I have appreciated about living in South America is the pace of life, the encouragement to slow down, to worry less. Wherever I go here, there are people encouraging me to calm down and situations that require flexibility.

But lately I have been wondering, “Why? why so much focus on this calm lifestyle? why? why? why???” Sure, I know, it's part of the culture, but cultures come from somewhere, grow over time, and even change through the influence of powerful events, and people, and political movements. So, why so much emphasis on tranquility? where did it come from??? why? why? why???

Estou muito tranquilo.

And here's what I think: because if you don't constantly remind yourself that it's okay, that life will go on, that eventually things will work out, then all the things that are NOT okay, the things that threaten your life, the things that WILL NOT work out, along with the constant bombardment of alarms and busses and cars and people and honking and sirens and yelling/singing garbage workers, will slowly drive you insane. I'm talking, literally, pulling the hairs out of your head, rubber room, ape-crazy insane.

Here's an example: this past week, there was an important soccer game (which, by the way, almost all of them are) and one lucky team (and their fans) from my city won the game, and as a result, became champions for the third time. That is great. It's just wonderful. And here's how wonderful it was: for 36 hours, my calm “tranquilo” mantra-infused life was accompanied by a near constant barrage of honking horns (both high and low, because motorcycles have the high beeps, and cars have the lower honks in differing keys, cuz yeah, I'm gifted like that and I can recognize that stuff), random blasts of fireworks, and choirs of yelling fans. Oh yeah, and the occaisional patriotic fight song soaring out of the poor stereo of the small fiat driving as slowly as possible past my apartment window. At 2:30 in the morning.

That was a hard 36 hours. We didn't sleep so well, it was hard to work, and by the end, I'm sure my heart rate was at a higher level than it has been for the past 36 years. I talked with friends, and co-workers, and yes, it was quite hard for them as well. In fact, most people I spoke with (Brazilians included) agreed–its not so much fun.

And here's the thing: while this example was extreme, it was not irregular. This happens ALL THE TIME. Brazil is noisy, Brazilians are noisy. People here think they have more of a tolerance for noise, that it doesn't affect them as much. I'm not so sure. All this talk of a calm lifestyle here, it's just a band-aid. The wound is deep, and painful. Yeah, you would scream too.


I’m back.

Yep. Scream it from the rooftops folks, cuz I am back on that blog-wagon.


Well, I suppose it could be for a number of reasons, and for the sake of fun (because, IM4FUN), I'll give you a number of options, and you can choose whichever you like best.

I googled IM4FUN. Yep.

–I have been mulling over a number of critically important insights over the past year, and I cannot hold myself back from sharing them any longer.

–I found out that a number of folks (read: one person) have been sincerely and deeply inspired by my words and musings, and so I am returning out of a sense of service and heart felt gratitude.

–It is really loud outside because of some stupid opiateforthemasses soccer game, which makes it impossible to sleep and so I might as well blog because I've already played all my scrabble games for the night.

–I'm at the cusp of a huge life transition, the edge of something really new, so I've got some serious shit to discuss here.

–The quiet undulations of the keyboard are sweet therapy to me, a soul soother for this sooth-sayer, and I could stray no longer. It's an unavoidable vocation, a call I must answer obediently.

Yeah, it could be any of them really (probably not the last one though…I am dramatic at times, but that's a little overboard). You pick–the result is the same: more sometimes yellatious and mildly yellatinous blogposts coming your way. Let's have some fun!

I am not pictured here.