Thursday, April 23, 2009

Murgas in Uruguay

With a little bit of time here in São Paulo, I have been able to go back and revisit some of the video that I haven't had time to sort through. The video below is from the murga performance that I went to in Montevideo, Uruguay. It is part of Uruguay's month-long Carnaval celebration. Murgas are musical theater that often criticize social and political issues, and I remember hearing the word "Yanqui" quite a bit (yanqui is someone from North America). Their commentary on everything from international politics to local social movements drew enthusiastic applause from the crowd. Some groups were quite comical while others were more poignant, but they were all entertaining!

Murgas in Uruguay from Twenty Twelves on Vimeo.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sítio São Francisco

It has been a very dynamic, educational and challenging experience working on the permaculture site as well as continuing the experience in São Paulo with people from the site. I only spent one week actually on the site, but new opportunities have lead us to a project transforming a run-down city park into part of an open university using ideas from permaculture and sustainable living. The group has a meeting tomorrow with the mayor of Carapicuiba (which is basically part of São Paulo, though technically its own municipality), and then we will see if we are going to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, to meet with the Minister of Education. It is certainly not the kind of experience that I thought I would have going to a farm far outside the city, but it is turning out to be a much more diverse and valuable experience than I could have imagined.
With that said, below is a bit of an introduction to Sítio São Francisco. I also have footage from the Bioconstructing Workshop that Felipe hosted there, but I need some translating help before it can make any sense. Enjoy

Sítio São Francisco from Twenty Twelves on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Technical Difficulties Technically Not A Problem

It has been an intense week and a half at Sitio São Francisco, a permaculture site in the Quantinga Valley about 2 hours outside of São Paulo city. Besides a day trip to the nearby city of Mogi das Cruzes, I´ve spent the whole time communing with nature in a house in the middle of the woods without electricity or running water. I´ll spare you the details of the banheiro seco or my lack of a shower, but the butterflies don´t seem to mind the natural aromas-

This little guy hung around for a few minutes.
The number 88 is dinstinctly marked on its wings. Crazy.

Despite the unappealing details I´ve been really enjoying the experience. The first few days involved intense manual labor cutting down Eucalyptus trees, dragging them down a narrow wooded path then over a hill, stripping them of their bark, cutting them to size with a hatchet, and finally nailing them in place. The structure below (on top of the existing concrete building) uses materials found on the site or recycled from trash. The only materials bought for the building are the nails. An interesting side note that won´t make my mother proud, Felipe (the owner/only permanent resident of the site) and I dug out some useful materials from a city garbage container in downtown São Paulo last night that included carpet and a bamboo laundry basket. The creativity and resourcefulness here continuously amaze me.

Eucalyptus frame with bamboo poles running laterally along the roof

This bamboo pole is now on top of the building in the background

What has been so incredible is the diversity of opportunities to learn new practical skills while actively participating in creating something new or improving something that most have given up on. Watching your efforts become something of tangible value holds such a deep sense of satisfaction. On top of that, the physically demanding days (and absense of city noise, i.e. passing cars or crazy people with slabs of concrete yelling at passing cars) make for some of the best sleep I´ve had in a long time.

Group from the weekend permaculture/Tai Chi workshop building a solar oven
with materials found at the site. More on that later.

We are now in São Paulo city while Felipe collaborates on various projects utlizing his knowledge of permaculture. In the last two days we have met with a family opening a cultural community arts center based around their Capoeira school, a neighborhood reclaiming an unused area to create a park dedicated to education about the African diaspora in Brazil, and the municipal government of Carapicuíba (basically part of São Paulo but not technically) renovating a public park and looking to implement ecologically friendly ideas from permaculture. I happened to stumble upon the most intense and diverse experience one could have in Quatinga...

We are heading to the federal capital of Brasilia next week to meet with an important federal government official. I can´t tell you who...not because I´m not supposed to, but because either I forgot the name or that part got lost in translation. Regardless, my time here is proving to be much more exciting than I imagined. A small glitch that occured tonight is the refusal of my computer to do anything. Luckily we are in São Paulo and Toshiba has an office here that might be able to help. With the way things are progressing, though, it will be nice not to worry about computer details and focus on the more immediate details of how I can be useful. Perhaps my computer crashed to help keep me connected to reality rather than cyberspace.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter - Feliz Páscoa

Here is a giant chocolate Easter egg for you from Brazil.
Feliz Páscoa

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Language Learning Made Easy with Music

I have met several people in the last few months who amaze me by saying that they learned English by watching movies and/or listening to music. Of course they take a much more active role in listening, but it shows that if the will to learn is there, it will happen without expensive textbooks, fancy libraries or advanced computer programs. All you need is a dictionary and some good tunes, so for anyone interested, here is a fantastic song by Ben Harper and a well-known Brazilian artist named Vanessa da Mata that should help you. The best part about this song is Ben Harper basically sings the translation of the Portuguese lyrics the whole time.

Link to the YouTube video

And the lyrics:

É só isso
Não tem mais jeito
Boa sorte
Não tenho o que dizer
São só palavras
E o que eu sinto
Não mudará

Tudo o que quer me dar
É demais
É pesado
Não há paz
Tudo o que quer de mim

That's it
There is no way
It's over
Good luck
I have nothing left to say
It's only words
And what l feel
Won't change


Tudo o que quer me dar
Everything you want to give me
É demais
It too much
É pesado
It's heavy
Não há paz
There is no peace
Tudo o que quer de mim
All you want from me
Isn´t real

Mesmo, se segure
Quero que se cure
Dessa pessoa
Que o aconselha
Há um desencontro
Veja por esse ponto
Há tantas pessoas especiais

Now even if you hold yourself
I want you to get cured
From this person
Who advises you
There is a disconnection
See through this point of view
There are so many special people in the world
So many special people in the world... in the world
All you want all you want

(Repete refrão)
Now were falling (falling), falling (falling) into the night (into the night),
Falling (falling), falling (falling) into the night (um bom encontro é de dois),
Now were falling (falling), falling (falling) into the night (into the night),
Falling (falling), falling (falling) into the night.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sinking In

Sinking into the local culture and experiencing as much as possible is always my main goal, though this bearded gringo doesn't exactly fit in when walking through the street. Brasil has such a rich cultural diversity that I have been a bit overwhelmed with the variety of flavors, fun times, and filling foods.

Lunch is the main meal of the day here. Most days my friend's family comes home from work to eat a big lunch together. One lunch might have 5 or 6 different dishes to pile on a plate. A few examples of foods that I have had include:

Feijão com arroz - Beans with chunks of meat poured on top of rice
Pão de queijo - cheese bread
Polenta - similar to grits but not as gritty...
Farofa - mixed with...almost anything really
Stroganoff - somehow Russian influence made it into to a delicious, creamy Brazilian dish. I ate it with frango (chicken)

These, of course, are just examples, but the point is that each day is a feast of new flavors. I told my friend and his family that I would be 350 pounds if I lived here.

One of my favorite dishes is camarão na moranga, or shrimp in a pumpkin. I got to help make it when I was in Florianópolis and stumbled across it again in a buffet here in Piracicaba (buffets where you pay by weight are very common here in Brazil). Creating this concoction was just like carving a Halloween pumpkin until they skipped carving the face and starting filling the pumpkin with requijão (a creamy cheese) and shrimp. You bake it in the oven for a couple of hours and then mix the inside of the pumpkin with the shrimp and cheese. Thick, rich, creamy, tasty goodness in a convenient biodegradable bowl. Brilliant.

I didn't take this fact, I don't know who did,
but it more or less looks like the one that I ate.

My latest experience in Brazilian cuisine was at a rodízio (hoe-DEE-zee-oh), which is where you pay a set price and waiters bring offerings of different foods to the table until you signal that you have had enough. This is rather dangerous in my case, because I don't stop until I've tried everything. More specifically, we went to a churrascaria that serves various kinds of meat delivered on giant skewers. The waiters then slice off pieces for you at the table as you pluck them off the skewer with little tongs. They had at least six different cuts of beef, four or five different types of sausage (unfortunately no blood sausage, I miss Argentinian morcilla), a thick white fish that I can't remember the name of, white and dark meat chicken, and even chicken hearts. I wasn't very fond of the latter - too tough and chewy, but my friend who took me to the rodízio loved them.

The name of the restaurant:
Salt and Hot Coal

The menu explained the seven main cuts of beef that they serve.
My favorites were picanha and cupim.

Picture on the front of the menu is none other than picanha.

On a final note, my Portuguese is coming along (I don't know if I would say quickly), but I'm still having trouble with some of the sounds, in particular the ão sound. It is a deep nasal sound that doesn't occur in English, that I can think of, but is frequently used in Portuguese. I'll use another reference to Fernando Pessoa's poetry to illustrate how common this sound is used and therefore how often people look at me funny when I try to pronounce it:
Os campos, afinal, não são tão verdes para os que são amados
Como para os que o não são.

Sentir é estar distraído.
The fields, after all, are not as green for those that are loved
As for those that are not.
To feel is to be distracted.
Pretty deep, huh? Deep like the nasal sound you have to make to say the ão sound. While my attempts to speak Portuguese may well be struggling to stay afloat, I am planning my next attempt to sink further into the culture and force myself to learn the language - a month on a farm. It is about as far away from the tourist track as you can get, so I'm going. Faló!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Useful Days

Weekdays in Portuguese are called dias úteis (literally 'useful days' - though everyone knows weekends are always more useful) and rather than having names based on pagan gods or planets like the rest of the Romance languages as well as in Germanic languages, the days of the week are numbered. This apparently follows the Latin terms for Easter week. Sunday, the first day of the week, is dies Domenica (literally Lord's Day) in Latin or Domingo in Portuguese. The next day, Monday, becomes the "second day of rest" (again, in observance of Easter week) and therefore Segunda-feira. The word feira in Portuguese means 'fair' and the closely related word férias means 'vacation'. I think it is a bit ironic that the dias úteis would refer to the days we should not work.

Portuguese - English
Fim de semana = Weekend
Domingo = Sunday
Sábado = Saturday

Dias úteis (literal translation)= Weekdays
Segunda-feira (Second fair) = Monday
Terça-feira (Third fair) = Tuesday
Quarta-feira (Fourth fair) = Wednesday
Quinta-feira (Fifth fair) = Thursday
Sexta-feira (Sixth fair) = Friday

I suppose I should go out and take advantage of the rest of this useful day.

Where I Am and Where I've Been