That Sinking Feeling

I have been waking up pretty early these days. One morning I even slept in all the way to 7.

It's like the saying: We're neither here nor there. Actually, we are here, but it just doesn't quite feel like it yet. My kids have started school, we have done plenty of shopping, we are trying to get cellphones (ugh! It's all so darn confusing!!!). And we really look the part, I mean, we fit in here much more than there.

But the problem comes with the inevitable question: “So, where are you from?”

While on vacation we just answered “Brasil!” and waited for the next round of questions, if they came. I had the best time giving that answer while we were at DisneyWorld–there people would often look with surprise and then say something like “Wow! You speak English so well!”

The food here sure is good!

But it's good to be home, even if it doesn't feel so much home-y yet. (Full disclosure: I was on vacation for the better part of a month…so, no, you shouldn't feel too sorry for me. I did yell and scream a lot on this vacation–roller coasters are the best for that.) And I'm looking forward to discovering America again, this time from a small town perspective. Who knows? Maybe all those years of Brasil telling me to slow down, slow down, will finally sink in.

I really am trying to slow down. Really.



What I’m Looking For

The best part of saying “this is the LAST time” is changing your mind.

That said, I have found the perfect thing to do on my last morning here in beautiful Belo Horizonte. Ok, so it really isn't all that ground breaking that I would be reading the New York Times, but the article (or group of stories, really) that I found could not be a more fitting close. “The Lives They Loved” is a collection of short obituaries written by family members or loved ones and accompanied by a photo. No, I'm not dying, and no, I'm not overly morbid, but as I was reading, I was overwhelmed by two things: One, my life is not nearly over yet (I hope!), and two, I could not be making a better decision–now is definitely the right time to return.

I know that people often say nicer things in obituaries than were the reality, but as I was reading folks saying things like: “I never heard him say a mean thing about another person,” and “she saw potential in everyone she met” I realized that some goals are just not within my reach. I'm just being honest with myself–I am far from perfect, and I'm okay with that, most of the time. But I have no regrets either, and I look back on much of my life, including these last four years here in Brasil with joy and thankfulness.

And if there is one thing I have learned from the culture here in Minas, it is the importance of family. Yes, there have been many occaisions where the blind devotion I have observed in many Brazilian families has seemed absurd, crazy, time-consuming and burdensome. But there is beauty in extremity, and in the end, don't we all want to be able to tell unforgettable stories about those that we loved? Well, that's what I want, and just like any good story, this next one will require proximity, patience, and sacrifice before it can be well-told.

So, this morning as I was reading and drinking my coffee, my son came into the room, and with my emotions running high I grabbed him from reading the Guiness Book of World Records to hug him tightly. “Are you ready, buddy?” I asked, with the full weight of what is to come. I waited. “Well, I really have to go to the bathroom now.” Sigh. I guess we aren't all looking for the same thing.

Thanks so much, Brasil, it was worth every sacrifice. Now we are off to learn some new stories. Grande Abraço!

Foi inesquecível pra todos nós.


I’m Telling You This for the Last Time

I don't know what to say, except that it's close to the end here in Brazil, and it has been a whirlwind of emotions, and things to do, and anxiety, and parties with friends, and alcohol, and emotions, and wait…I already said that.

Update: until last week, I was excercising every day, just like I said I would try. But this last week I didn't make it…unless you include frantic sprints or angry gesticulations towards bus drivers. But I'm sure anxiety burns it's share of calories, so maybe I'm ok. Except no, I'm not.

Uma cesta de Natal: cheio de coisas que você não quer :)

Another update of sorts: after I blogged about that special graffiti in my old neighborhood (notice I said “old neighborhood”–that is because I did succeed in moving out of my apartment. Juuuuuuuust barely. Money and tears can do wonders. And money. Did I mention money?) there were some folks that reminded me that it's not true that “no one cares.” You are right. Sometimes my language tends towards the realm of extremes. Well, maybe all the time. But here is what I meant: there are some who care, yes, but there is such an overwhelming majority that are indifferent or ignorant or apathetic or lazy that it brings all the rest who care down. In fact, it wears us out so much that sometimes we even forget that we care, and we start making excuses for the majority that don't care, saying that the situation is complicated, and we try to offer excuses for them. But here is the reality: it is not complicated. Life is ugly. Cultures are not perfect. We all have improvements to make, and those improvements require LOTS of work. I am worried about Brazil, but I have not yet given up hope.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve…doesn't matter your tradition, your religion, your culture: now is a season of hope. And it's also a season of mistakes. Of reality. Of shitty decisions. Of grace. I wish you all the best, but you must understand, MY best includes things that you may not want: truth, tears, chocolate, suffering, good music, hoppy beer, loud voices, perfect cookies, children laughing and complaining, difficult questions, beach vacations, forever covenants. If you don't want my best, ok, don't take it. But this is all I have to offer. Beijos! Até a próxima!


One of a Kind

I'm moving out of my neighborhood in a couple of days. It's a bit stressful yes, but before I leave, I thought I might give you an idea of my everyday experience here in Brazil. I live on what looks to be a small street, but it is a major thoroughfare in and out of my neighborhood. There is often traffic on my street–honking horns, and honking delivermen on bikes (delivering bread from the bakery, of course), and like almost everywhere in my city, there is always a constant din of construction noise.

To avoid the traffic and driving as much as I can, I often walk where I need to go. Just up my street is a very fancy boutique for women's clothing–I have never been inside, but I'm sure they have some great deals on dresses in the R$5,000-7,000 range. Seriously. And I will sometimes run into the new BMW that belongs to one of my neighbors–not such a huge deal in the US, but here it was purchased for three times the amount of retail in the US. I'm not bragging, and certainly not everyone around here lives like that (myself included), but it does give you an idea of the kind of traffic that frequents my neighborhood.

Graffiti tagging is hugely popular all over my city–it's ugly, but a fact of life that we deal with. Just about a month ago (maybe more?), this unusual graffiti appeared on the side of an apartment building about two blocks away from mine:

I know what you're asking: Yes, it is a direct translation. Many questions have arisen for me as I have hiked past this wall many times a week (it's on the way to my kids' school). Why? Why this word? Is it an advertisement? Does someone living there have this specialty? I know, these questions are impossible to answer, and most likely, it was just a cruel joke played by a random drunkard with some extra blue paint. So here's my real question: WHY IS IT STILL THERE? Does no one in that building have any time to cover it up? the self-respect and respect for their neighbors to paint over it? Why, after more than a month, is it still shouting at me every time I pass?

I don't know. But I have a guess. No one really cares. Its an incredibly lucid symbol of why its so difficult for me to live here. There's so many things I love. But now it's time to leave.


This is What it Sounds Like

It's 7:30 in the morning, and I am already fielding emails and sifting through dates and events in my calendar. I probably shouldn't be writing, but I will keep it short.

My mom (and maybe yours too) used to say “You can never have too much of a good thing.”

I'm not going to argue with that, except maybe to tweak it a bit. You CAN have too many good things. I suppose it doesn't help that I have children–just multiply all those good things by three. Oh, and add in my wife, too.

Do you hear that? It's the sound my heart being stretched and pulled and…eventually I guess I'll just leave part of it here. That's a good thing too.


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