égua maninho

As I’ve mentioned a few times, most of the wonderful people I’m lucky enough to call my friends here in Brazil are from a not-so-small Amazonian town called Belém do Pará. I’ll level with you guys: when I came to Brazil for the first time in February and people told me they were from a city in the Amazon, I pictured the same thing any American with average geographical knowledge would picture.

Literally the first image I found on a google image search of the word "Amazon" that wasn't an amazon.com logo

Literally the first image I found on a google image search of the word “Amazon” that wasn’t an amazon.com logo.

So, yeah, when I found out that there were skyscrapers in the jungle, you can imagine my excitement. Not to mention, as a self-proclaimed concrete jungle warrior, my immediate desire to visit.

And you better believe that I painted my nails in the style of the Paraense flag just for the trip.

And you better believe that I painted my nails like the paraense flag just for the trip.

Belém is quite an interesting place. It’s the 10th most dangerous city in the world (according to Business Insider’s 2012 list), but it is also home to some of the warmest (and smartest!) people I’ve met.

The entire time we were there, it was hot and humid (so, by my standards, perfect), but the weather in Belém is almost a joke. Paraenses like to say that in Belém they have two seasons: one where it rains every day, and one where it rains all day. But the funniest part for me is that, during the former, it rains at the same time every single day. Which means people actually make plans around this.

"Alright, let's meet tomorrow after the rain."

“Alright, let’s meet tomorrow after the rain.” – Actual Conversation in Belém.

Here’s a list of my favorite things about the trip, in no particular order:

1. Cairu

I lied. This was far and away my favorite part of Belém, and deserves to be right there at #1.

Cairu is a sorveteria with flavors like açaí, bacuri, cupuaçu, uxi, taperebá, and dozens of other fruits you’ve never heard of and are unlikely to find outside the Amazon. (Except for açaí, of course. That shit is at any and every smoothie place in Southern California.) The options of ice cream flavors are so overwhelming that I did what any completely rational person would do: I went to almost every location in the city, and tried as many flavors as I possibly could without exploding or pissing off the people behind the counter.

Yes, that's "queijo" as in "cheese." Yes, cheese-flavored ice cream.

Yes, that’s “queijo” as in “cheese.” Yes, cheese-flavored ice cream.

If you find yourself in Belém and don’t hit up Cairu, you better have a damn good excuse, like an allergy to deliciousness. I recommend the paraense, a combo of tapioca and açaí.

2. Ilha do Combú

Alright, I’ll admit that even as a diehard city girl, I was slightly disappointed at the prospect of flying all the way to the Amazon and not experiencing any jungle. To be completely honest, I really just wanted to see a monkey. Happily, I found my way to Ilha do Combú, a small island in the river next to Belém. To get there, you have to take a terrifying little boat across the river, leaving the skyscrapers behind. Upon arrival, you find a restaurant overlooking the river, halfway blended into the jungle beyond.

Of course by "overlooking" the river, I actually mean "pretty much inside" the river.

Of course by “overlooking” the river, I actually mean “pretty much inside” the river.

We spent the afternoon here, eating delicious fish called pescada amarela (probably caught by someone in our boat on the way there), drinking beer and exploring the jungle.

About 10 feet from the restaurant. Sadly, no monkeys.

About 10 feet from the restaurant. Sadly, no monkeys.

And luckily enough, we were able to miss the “daily rain” across the river.

Also, I enjoyed knowing that city life wasn't too far away.

Also, I enjoyed knowing that city life wasn’t too far away.

3. Parque Mangal das Garças

I had to look up the translation of “garça” when I got home, because I’ve never seen these before. For the record, they are called egrets and all I can tell you is that they look a bit like white flamingos.

You have to remember that this is their park.

You have to remember that this is their park. Not yours.

Anyway, I loved this place not because of the birds (in fact, I’m not the biggest fan of birds in general) but because of the tower in the middle of the park that allows you to see all of Belém.

Unless, of course, there are couples being touristy blocking your view.

Unless, of course, there are couples being touristy blocking your view.

4. Mercado Ver-o-peso

This market is probably one of the best places to go if you like cheap produce, are open-minded about trying weird fruits/plants, don’t mind things that are really dirty and want to see animals you might eat later that night in cages.

Or out of cages. I guess it doesn't really matter.

Or out of cages. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

My favorite part of this market, though, was the ladies selling bottles of some sort of spiritual… well, I guess, magic… to help people achieve their goals, make more money, seem less ugly, or “win at everything.”

I'll take one "vence tudo." Just kidding, I already win at everything.

I’ll take one “vence tudo.” Just kidding, I already win at everything.

My least favorite part of this place was experiencing a plant that is, according to Wikipedia, normally meant for medicinal purposes. It is called jambú, not to be confused with Jambu, the whale from that episode of South Park, and when you chew it, it makes your entire mouth go numb. While incredibly entertaining for my boyfriend, it was not a pleasurable experience.

Jambú. Not even once.

Jambú. Not even once.

 

5. Estação das Docas.

A riverfront warehouse converted into a beautiful shopping/entertainment center.

Don't worry, I wasn't swimming with my camera. I stole this photo from Google.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t swimming with my camera. I stole this photo from Google.

This place is full of shops selling over-priced goods you can get at the market next door for 10% of the price, and restaurants with traditional paraense food like pato no tucupi (delicious), vatapá (delicious), maniçoba (not delicious), and the best farofa you’ve ever had in your life. But unlike most shopping centers I’ve been to, this one happens to have a brewery right smack in the middle of it.

Amazon Beer. (I swear, that's actually what it's called.)

Amazon Beer. (I swear, that’s actually what it’s called.)

The Forest Bacuri is a personal favorite, because where else in the world can you have Bacuri-flavored beer?

Oh, and did I mention they have a Cairu?

Oh, and did I mention they have a Cairu?

não existe amor em SP

Last night I went to see Brazilian rapper Criolo at Cine Joia. This was a momentous occasion for me, not just because I happen to be quite a fan of his, but because it signified 2 special moments for me. First, it was my 3 month anniversary here in Brazil (woohoo!) Second, I pretty much credit Criolo (in part) with changing my life. At the very least, I have to give him props for starting the chain of events that put me here in the first place.

Here’s the whole story.

Let’s go back to December of last year, when I was freezing my ass off in New York with my Brazilian roommate, Rodrigo. I was toying with the idea of visiting Brazil for Carnaval, but was still very much on the fence. One night, Rodrigo suggests to me that we go to a concert of a Brazilian rapper he’s into at a bar in the Lower East Side. I never really say no to anything, so of course despite torrential, frozen downpour, I grabbed my broken umbrella and headed out into winter.

I had about 12 umbrellas that looked something like this.

I had about 12 umbrellas that looked something like this.

When we arrived at the bar (whose name I don’t even remember, that’s actually how small it was), I realized that, of the 50 or so people there, I was the only American. Portuguese surrounded me and I felt a little bit out of place. We found more of our Brazilian friends, who were talking to a guy I didn’t recognize. Rodrigo leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s Criolo, the rapper we are here to see.” And there he was, just chatting with my friends, handing out free CDs. We talked to him for awhile (and by we, I mean, my Brazilian friends, as I knew less than “hello” in Portuguese at the time).

Criolo (blue shirt) hanging out with my Brazilian friends. (As the only one with a camera, I missed the opportunity to be IN the photo.)

Criolo (blue shirt) hanging out with my Brazilian friends. (As the only one with a camera, I missed the opportunity to be IN the photo.)

Around the time I was beginning to feel genuinely uncomfortable, Criolo left us to move toward the “stage” (a slightly raised platform in the middle of the room) and began his show. And then something happened I can barely put into words. If you listen to a Criolo song on tape (err… on mp3?), you can somewhat get a sense of the emotion he puts into his music. But this is absolutely nothing compared to the power and passion that comes through when he performs in front of you.

Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 12.44.28 PM

And suddenly, I swear, I felt like I had been transported to Brazil. Everyone around me knew every word. I was completely mesmerized. I was surrounded by Brazilian girls dancing with their hips in a way that I simply will never be able to accomplish.

Unlike Shakira, my hips do lie.

Unlike Shakira, my hips do lie.

And right then and there, I whipped out my iPhone and booked a flight to Brazil. Thus, of course, putting into action the decision that would change the rest of my life, make me fall in love with Brazil, and bring me here permanently.

So seeing him perform on a proper stage and really put on an incredible show was really the best possible to way to ring in my 3 month anniversary in Brazil. But of course the best part was being surrounded by my amazing friends (whom I know can sort of understand) and feeling exactly in place. And I can say, without a doubt, that he is wrong about one thing. Existe amor em SP, sim.

And that is a real stage.

And that is a real stage.

blame it on the preguiça

Wow. I don’t know where to begin on this apology. I haven’t been updating like I should, and there’s a million reasons for that. One excuse is that I’m not actually “moved in” to my apartment in the conventional sense. By that I mean, I don’t have furniture or a refrigerator, and until this week I didn’t have power. I’m not exactly complaining (which is weird) because that’s just how things go around here. But the real reason I haven’t updated is that I have become infected by a Brazilian disease known commonly as preguiça. Side effects include (but are not limited to): staying in and watching novelas rather than going out to bars or clubs, being extremely late to social events and meals, not responding to text messages, and not updating your blog.

Another common side effect of preguiça is hammock-dependency. Which works out for me, as this is the only furniture we currently have in our house.

Anyway, the big things you should know, all of which I promise to elaborate on in future posts (near future, I swear!) are:

1. I have an apartment! I’ll skip the story of how I narrowly escaped the clutches of an evil Paulistana and her meticulous apartment with Nazi-esque rules. The point is, I landed in a gorgeous, ginormous (yet humble) abode with a pretty sweet Midwestern chick and two adorable Brazilians who make me ROFL every day. (Sidenote: Meghan, the American, has made it her mission to teach our Brazilian roommates to say really silly things in English, and ROFL happens to be the first one to stick). It’s in a great location (except for that one time we got robbed, a story for later) and I have a queen size bed.

2. I’m heading back to the motherland for almost the entire month of November to obtain a student visa so I can stay in this beloved third world country for another number of months (or years) and learn Portuguese properly. So, American friends, look for me! Oh, and I won’t be traveling alone, because…

3. I’m in love! Yea, you heard me. Don’t act surprised. I moved to BRAZIL. There’s more passion here than people know what to do with. Anyway, the boy. He’s incredible, and I could go on for hours about how fabulous it all is but I think my American readers would shoot me in the face. So I’ll just let you gag over these adorably cute photos of us when we first started dating:

he’s the ketchup to my mustard.

And he’s venturing outside Brazil FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE for a month long tour of America with me (with a few pit stops to the Brazilian consulate to change my visa/remind him where he came from).

4. I went to Belém! This point deserves more than one post because I believe the food there deserves a freaking book. But to sum up, it was a fabulous trip, met the boy’s mama and drank beer in a jungle. Top that.

A typical bar in the Amazon region of Brazil. Kind of.

I promise to expand on all of these points sooner than later, but as I am currently lying in a hammock, my preguiça is kicking in.

Beijos, galera! Thanks for reading.

metro medo

So far everyone’s only heard the good things about my life here. Every day is an adventure, I have amazing friends, my job is going well (post on that to come, I promise), but every city has its flaws. Just like Londoners love to hate the weather and New Yorkers love to hate tourists, Paulistas love to hate the metro. (Traffic also, but as I don’t drive, I can’t comment too much on that).

Alright, any New Yorker who has been in the Bedford L station at rush hour knows what it’s like to wait for 3 trains to pass you by before you can even board. And by board, I mean, push your entire body into a train while a bunch of angry commuters glare at you for trying to get to work on time.

In Tokyo, so many people take public transit, they actually hire a guy to physically pack people in like sardines on each train.

But neither NYC or Tokyo has anything on São Paulo when it comes to metro rage. (If this isn’t already a term, I’m coining it right now.)

Even while being shoved like my clothes when Molly packs my suitcases, Japanese people wait in a single file line to get on the train.

I’m not going to comment on which cities have more crowded subways, because (a) I’m too lazy to look it up and (b) that’s not my point. My point is, São Paulo metros are fucking crowded. But it’s not the crowds that make it so unbearable. It’s the people’s attitudes. Brazilians might be the nicest people on earth when you’re chatting at a bar or making out during Carnaval, but put them on a metro and the claws come out.

When someone first explained this to me, I shrugged it off. My experiences in the São Paulo metro had been at non-peak hours, and the only thing I’d noticed was how much cleaner it was. (It almost looks like a mall down there!) As a former New Yorker, I was sure there was no “crowd” situation I couldn’t handle. I thought of the many experiences I’ve had with rude people on the subways in New York who refused to wait until people exit the train to board, the people who stand on the wrong side of the escalator, and the people who refuse to move in to the center of the train once boarded. It sucks, and it pisses you off, and you arrive at your destination in a bad mood. Tapping back into the “I can handle anything, I’m a New Yorker” mentality I had left behind, I figured this would be a walk in the park.

I was wrong.

To understand what I mean, first take those “many experiences” and apply them to every single person on the train, then multiply it by rush hour. Think about that.

Every single person in this photo hates you.

Nobody cares if this is your stop, or if you say com licença. Nobody is going to wait until you exit before pushing their way in to the train. And definitely, nobody cares if they are breathing on you or even standing on top of you. My first day taking the train at rush hour, I needed a police officer to push a man to the side so I could make my way out of the mosh pit without missing my stop.

Good luck, bitch.

So how does one deal with a commute that feels more like a punk rock concert than a ride on a train? Personally, I cope exactly the same way I cope in Los Angeles when I’m stuck on the parking lot that is the 405 freeway: Heavy bass.

[ Knife Party – ‘Sleaze’ by Knife Party ]

Anyway, I still love you SP. It’s gonna take a bit more than some metro rage to kick me out.

Beijos xxx

the adventure of the notebook

When you live in a country where you speak the language and know how to get around, you take being an adult for granted. Part of me feels like I’ve reverted to childhood here, as I am completely incapable of doing almost anything without a chaperone or translator. Despite the fact that my friends love when I speak Portuguese, I’m not sure the rest of the city does (or can understand me) and this makes ordering a sandwich somewhat terrifying. Seriously. I actually don’t eat at all unless I’m with people.

So today I woke up to the first day of sun we’ve had since my arrival with a new energy and courage, and made my decision. I need a notebook for work (oh yea, I start on Monday!) so I’m going to buy one today. By myself. Yes. I will not only find a store that sells notebooks, but I will figure out how to get there and then ask for one. In portuguese. Yepppp.

I left the house having pretty much no idea where I was going, except the knowledge of a mall around the corner that might have a store that sells notebooks. Funny enough, the malls here have really easy names like “Shopping Center 3,” “Top Center” and “Shopping Paulista.” Even I can’t mess that up.

Unfortunately, Shopping Center 3 didn’t have a store I could find with office supplies, so I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day and stroll down Avenida Paulista.

Avenida Paulista at Bela Cintra, a block from where I’m staying

I have to segue here and just mention how much I like this city. It’s known in Brazil as a cidade cinzenta (the grey city) but coming from New York I think it’s way more colorful than that. There’s certainly less “colorful” (read: crazy) people here, but there’s just as much to look at and just as much creativity on every wall, if not more.

Even the buildings here are happy.

Up and down Avenida Paulista, all of the phone booths (which are already funny looking) have been decorated and painted and dressed up. Rodrigo told me he saw one last week that was wearing cashmere, because it was quite cold out.

Some of my favorite phone booths on Avenida Paulista.

After visiting several malls, and asking multiple people to no avail “onde posso comprar um caderno?” only to not understand their response unless it was “não sei” (which isn’t exactly helpful), I realized… I miss Target. Then I remembered a store that I went to with Caio to buy hangers earlier this week. Kids, you’re going to laugh when I tell you what it’s called. It’s no Target, but…

Seriously.

 

So, today was a grand success. I walked around alone, took some photos, fell more in love with the city AND I bought a notebook! I’m all ready for my training tomorrow and my first class on Monday. It might seem like a small thing, but it was an adventure of sorts. One adventure down, many many more to go.

And I strongly believe… if everything in your life is an adventure, you’re doing it right.

 

Beijos! xx

the paraense paradigm

I have to dedicate an entire post to the people I’ve been spending my time with here. I owe them my every happiness right now, but the best I can do for now is a shoutout on this blog.

The people from Belém are the warmest people you’ll ever meet. Which makes sense, because Belém is a city in the northeastern part of Brazil in the state of Para, right smack in the Amazon. Where it’s always warm. It looks like this:

Yes, there are skyscrapers in the Amazon. I was surprised too.

Anyway, my friends here are all paraense, which means they are from the state of Para. Since they are so far from home, they tend to stick together in a big group, so between the ones I met during Carnaval in Rio and here, and the ones I’ve met since I’ve been here, I’ve got a LOT of friends.

When I say friends, I don’t just mean people I like to go out and have a drink with (although we do a lot of that too). I mean the kind of friends that will drive an hour and a half to the airport to pick me up and then spend 40 minutes looking for me after I give them the wrong terminal number, who will let me unpack my 3 giant suitcases in their bedroom, who will tell their boss at MTV about me (without me asking) so that I might one day get a job there, and who will lend me their CPF (a Brazilian identification card) in order to get a phone chip. These are, without a doubt, the nicest people I’ve ever met.

There’s a big list of things I love about being here, but here’s a few that are top of mind:

1. They feel immense pride at any ability I show in speaking Portuguese.

Immense. The typical reaction to any phrase I use correctly is laughter, followed by applause. Most of the time, I feel a bit like their adopted 5 year old being praised for stacking legos or getting the square peg through the square hole. But I love this feeling. Whenever I’m introduced to a new friend, they inform them that I am a gringa and that I don’t speak Portuguese, but they follow this quickly with “but she’s almost fluent.” (I’m not.) I have to argue that one of the most important steps to learning a new language is confidence, and I’m certainly getting that here.

A tip for anyone who comes across a paraense: say “éguaaaa” to them any time you would normally use “oh my god” – they’ll love you forever.

2. They love to share food.

I’m pretty sure this is true of all Brazilians, and probably a lot of other Latin cultures, but it’s going on the list because it’s one of my favorite things here.

A typical meal here: Saturday feijoada plus meat, rice, farofa, vinagrete, fries, and bread. In other words, I’m getting plenty of carbohydrates.

All meals are typically eaten “family style” (as we know it in America). I think there’s something profound about this – you feel so much more like a family when you share a meal this way.

But even if you actually are somewhere that you order separate things, everyone will pass their plates and drinks around so that everyone else can have a taste. And this is so common that when I asked my friend Caio yesterday if he wanted to try a bite of my quiche, he politely declined, and added, “I don’t mean to be rude.”

I finally live in a place where eating off other’s people plates is expected. #heaven

3. They hang out in big groups, all the time.

Back in New York, I always felt a weird sense of success every time I managed to get a large group of people to show up at the same place at the same time. Here, it seems decidedly less complicated. Granted I haven’t had to do the work myself of getting in touch with everyone, but I feel like every time I leave the house to go for dinner or go to a bar with one or two people, we end up having 8 or 10 or 12 people meet us. And if we’re not out, everyone will show up at someone’s house. This may not seem like a big thing to notice, but as a self-proclaimed social butterfly, I love this.

One-third of our dinner table at Si Señor (a Mexican restaurant) the other night. From left to right, Carol (my lovely host), me, Mariana, and Caio

4. They’re really freaking snuggly.

Seriously, if you go an hour without hugging someone or touching someone in some way, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not necessarily a sexual or even a flirty thing, everyone here just likes to touch people. Kissing on the cheek is not just a greeting at the beginning or end of the night, but whenever you feel like it, which for me is usually all the time. This does, however, blur the lines between being friendly and flirting. Either way, it’s quite fun.

5. They have cool pets.

Okay, so while I’m pretty sure that Mariana’s cat, Chica, is the most awesome cat I’ve ever met, the best pet award has to go to Roque (pronounced like “Rocky”) the hedgehog:

For the record, Roque is NOT snuggly.

It took me up until this moment to even believe my friend Mateus when he told me his roommate had a pet ouriço pigmeu.

Anyway, I want to thank all of these people (and my Rodrigo for introducing me to them all!) for how incredible they’ve made my first week here in Brazil.

Eu amo todos vocês já. 

bem-vinda!

So here I am, in Brasil. It’s been 5 days and I still can’t believe it. Ever since my first night, I’ve been running around screaming, moro aqui!!! (I live here!!!) to replace my Carnaval catchphrase of não quero ir embora! (I don’t want to leave!). And it’s only been 5 days, but I’m pretty certain I still never want to leave.

I want to blog about every crazy experience I have here, but I don’t even know where to begin. Life here is everything I could have imagined it to be and more. My paraense friends have adopted me into their group with no question, and as one of them tells me, I’m this close to being fluent in Portuguese. This is, of course, a bold-faced mentira (lie) but I’m definitely getting better each day. I’ve already been to a bar that works like a stock market, an international electronic language festival, taken the subway by myself and met a hedgehog.

But I still don’t have a phone.

Regardless, so far, I can easily say this was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ll leave you with my exact sentiments via Kaskade:

Stay tuned for stories.

Beijos!