Keep Calm: How to blend in with Cariocas

You have most likely seen the posters, pictures with the words Keep Calm and underneath them more words saying to do something or other. My advice for those wanting to blend in in Rio is the same minus the doing something else. Just keep calm. Nothing sticks out more around these parts than a frenzied, frantic, neurotic, looking in every direction tensely on guard person. You might as well just hand your money and valuables over to the first person you see. Seriously.

If you don’t get robbed acting like that you will assuredly get strange looks. People are laid-back here for the most part. Maybe because there are always lines and waiting and waiting and more waiting, the population has learned to wait gracefully. They float like butterflies. Even when in a hurry there still seems to be a general ease to the movements, a sway, a leisurely strut. There’s no hurry. It’s all good. All in good time…etc. Sometimes that is absolutely, cartoon steam coming out of your ears, frustrating! If you’re American, you might be prone to just want to …erm…get er done! But here, you must learn to wait, calmly.

You will wait, I promise. You’ll wait for the point of the story your new acquaintance is telling you. You’ll wait in a labyrinthine checkout line at Lojas Americas with thoughts of no escape and impeding doom and stampedes if there were to be a fire or disaster (ok maybe that’s just my thoughts). You’ll wait for your visa to be approved, for any government documents… To speak to anyone about documents. You’ll wait in traffic. You’ll wait for the cable man to come. You’ll wait for mail. Tick tock ticky tocky…time keeps on slipping slipping…

Cultivate patience.

I’m, by nature, at times (perhaps most times) overly anxious and the opposite of calm. I’m easily overwhelmed. It’s true. That doesn’t play well here, trust me. I have yet to be robbed (knock on wood) but have had several strange, strange looks. I was told by the man at the newsstand, “calma” (meaning calm). He almost didn’t sell to me and looked at me like I was an absolute muttering sputtering bath salt using, ready to jump over his concurso books and eat him, crazy person. That day sucked. It was one of my worst not including my numerous near death experiences almost stepping out in front of taxis and motorcycles. But, you know what? In his way he was right. What’s the rush. If I finish in one place quickly, I will just make it to another with more time to wait again. If I miss the bus, there will be another one along sooner or later. If I don’t get my questionable meat on a stick first, I’ll live.

I’d also like to point out that all this waiting and laid backness should not be equated with laziness. All of the Cariocas I’ve met are workers in on way or another. They’re hustlers in the broad and most flattery sense of the term. They’re constantly doing… but they do it with a sort of ease (with the exception of driving). It’s a dance. Sometimes it’s a samba but mostly it’s a bosa nova. Nothing is jerky or crump. It’s fluid. It’s a breeze.

So, yeah my advice is to learn to float if you want to live in or around Rio. You will most likely get hit by debris from time to time and may not arrive where you had intended to go but learn to enjoy the ride. It’s probably going to be awhile….



I Spy: Pelé in Street Art, Niterói


Outside Reading: Agriculture: Better land management pays dividends

“Few things are more exasperating for farmers and officials in Brazil – where vast areas of native ecosystems still survive in spite of generations of destruction – than being lectured at by Europeans whose ancestors long since chopped down almost all their primeval forests. No amount of persuasion, it seems, will convince outsiders that the majority of Brazilian agriculture takes place tens, hundreds and even thousands of kilometres from the Amazon forest.”

If you want an interesting read about Brazil’s agribusiness, try Jonathan Wheatley’s Agriculture: Better land management pays dividends. It’s one of many articles in Financial Times’ new Investing in Brazil 2012 Special Report

Pleas for Dilma’s Veto and Why International Involvement Could Do More Harm than Good


Recently, a lot of posts like this are appearing in my Facebook feed.

One from today:


I think it’s time to explore what’s going on…

So…Who’s Dilma?

Dilma is Dilma Rouseff, the current (36th) and first woman President of Brazil. As a member of the Worker’s Party (PT) and a former Chief of Staff to her predecessor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (better known as Lula), she has, as president, continued to expand and launch social programs while helping business growth including aiding in the privatization of several companies.

What’s all this about veta?

Last month the Brazilian legislative branch passed changes to the Forest Code (Código Florestal).As President, Dilma can use her powers to veta- which means veto- the passing of the new code.

Ok…so what’s the new Forest Code?

According to John Vidal in his May 11th article for The Guardian, Petition calls on Brazilian president to veto ‘catastrophic’ forest code:

“The proposed new Brazilian forest code, pushed through parliament by the powerful farming lobby in the face of national opposition, would provide an amnesty for landowners who have illegally cleared forests in the past and will allow deforestation in previously protected areas like mountain tops and beside rivers. According to environment groups, it could allow loggers to chop down more of the Amazon than has been possible in the last 50 years.”

Enter #vetatudodilma

The power of social media is showing as #vetadilma floods twitter and Facebook with links to petitions already signed by more than a million and a half people globally with Vital adding,”This number is expected to rise dramatically in the next few days as Greenpeace, Avaaz and WWF International ask their 22 million supporters to sign up.”

See Greenpeace International’s The Brazilian President can stop this hatchet job . It’s complete with petition and video. Both are in English.

But, could increased involvement and attention from groups like Greenpeace, Avaaz and WWF actually be more harmful than helpful to the cause?

In the book Brazil on the Rise, Larry Rother delves into the troubled history of the Amazon and Brazilian attitudes towards it. He writes, ” ‘The Amazon is ours’ That slogan is drilled into the minds of Brazilians from the time they enter kindergarden, repeated throughout their lives with such frequency that is has become a sort of mantra.” This attitude is understandable to me as a citizen of the United States who was raised from kindergarden with the ideas of American pride but just like the idea American Exceptionalism, Rother suggests that Brazilian pride can be a double edged sword with a sharp side of protectionism and downright paranoia. In reference to a 2007 military intelligence report he obtained he writes, “The report went on to argue that groups such as Greenpeace, Conservation International, the Rainforest Action Network , and the World Wildlife Fund are tools that ‘hegemonic powers” like the United States manipulate in order to maintain and augment their domination”

Wait. Did you see Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund in that list of tools of the hegemonic powers? I did and that’s the problem with their possible involvement. You might say that that is just one groups paranoid rantings but the ranchers, farm lobbyists and construction companies (some of the same groups whose powerful lobbying helped the Forrest Code pass in the first place) are known to use the same arguments to tip the balances in their favor.

International action and petitions can be used and seen as interference and fuel Nationlistic talking points.

Let’s return to John Vidal’s article in The Guardian where he quotes Katia Abreu and she says, “Brazil is the only country that has the moral authority to discuss [Brazilian] environmental issues.” Valid point but who exactly is Katia Abreu? Well, she’s a senator who also happens to be President of the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock in Brazil.

The part of the Amazon that is Brazil’s is theirs.

Whether it’s paranoia, protectionism or political posturing isn’t for me to say. What I can tell you, for sure is that these attitudes do exist in Brazil and are driving policies. The truth is that the part of the Amazon that is in Brazil is Brazil’s. They are a sovereign nation and can choose to use or not use their land however their citizen’s see fit. Even if from outside it might appear to be a mistake.

Nobody likes to be told what to do.

Lula, Dilma’s predecessor, put it well when he said, “What we cannot accept is that those who failed to take care of their own forests, who did not preserve what they had and deforested everything and are responsible for most of the gasses poured into the air and for the greenhouse effect, they shouldn’t be sticking their noses into Brazil’s business and giving their two cents worth.”

There is a strong environmental movement within Brazil itself.

Take environmentalist, Maria Osmarina Marina Silva Vaz de Lima (better known as Marina Silva) for example. Silva, was born in the state of Acre and became the first rubber tapper ever elected to the Brazilian senate. A campaigner for sustainable development in the Amazon, her work was noticed by the Lula administration and she was appointed Environment Minister in 2003. After differences with the administration, at times including disputes with agribusiness, Silva left. She has gone on to join the Green Party and in 2010 made a failed bid for presidency. On her blog she recently posted 13 Reasons to Veto all of the Forest Code (in Portuguese)

It’s Not Over Yet.

With the upcoming Rio +20 summit there is a little riding appearance wise on a possible veto but other’s may argue that Brazil’s future economy is also at stake if the veto is given.
Dilma has until May 25 to “veta” but even if she does the congress can still vote to override that. We will see what happens the days to come.

It’s in Brazil’s hands…


Happy Mother’s Day/ Feliz dia das mães!

In Brazil, Mother’s Day (Dia das mães) is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, like in the United States. That’s today!

Although, they don’t mention Brazil, The Complete History of Mother’s Day, is a great article. Let me tell you, when they say complete, they mean it (…ok almost). This article deals with everything including but not limited to;

17th century Mothering Day
Julia Ward
The US government’s ratification of the day as a holiday
Protests about the holiday becoming over commercialized
What countries celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May and how they celebrate

Plus there’s even a piechart rundown of Mother’s Day spending!

If you have the time I think it’s really worth checking out. I had no idea there was a, but I’m really glad I found it today.

So how did the day come to be celebrated in Brazil? Well, in 1932, then President Vargas declared that the second Sunday in May would be the celebration day of Mother’s Day. However, he didn’t make it an official public holiday.

There are arguments of over commercialization here that are similar to ones you might hear in the US but even if today has lost a lot of it’s meaning here and worldwide, I still want to wish all the Mom’s all over the world a Happy Mother’s Day/Feliz dia das mães. I hope you all had a wonderful day!

My mom tending to her irises several years before the world lost what I think was the best mom ever.

Losing Your Samba

“…everyone is born in contact with the harmonious music of the universe playing inside them, but the problems of life, of social relations and of history caused by the imperfections inherent to human beings make the rhythm become chaotic. The result is that they lose their Samba.”

– Richard Klein explaining the title of his new book, Lost Samba in a recent post on the book’s companion blog, Lost Sambista

I personally have not yet read the book but if it’s anything like his blog, I’m betting it’s a good informative read.

I Spy: Jello Birthday Cake

Jello cake-

Apparently this jello cake is one of the popular offerings at children’s birthday parties in Brazil. Last weekend when it was served, I was faced with a dilemma. I have always shied away form multi-colored jello mixed together or jello with chunks of other food in it. Those concoctions never seemed quite right to me nor did they look edible sitting there all wiggly, falsely imprisoning innocent pieces of fruit. Well, fearing being seen as rude and/or also deciding to continue to give every food I find in front of me in Brazil a chance, I ate it. I was, once again, wrong. It was delicious. In fact, I wish there had been more…
Yes, I know they have them in America also but maybe I’m more of an adventurous eater here.

I Spy: Women in the Window

I’ve seen a lot of these statues around the parts of Brazil I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
I found these two in Paraty.


Dia do Trabalhador

Today, May 1st, is Dia do Trabalhador in Brazil. That means it’s Labor Day here, a day we celebrate on the first Monday of September back in the states. I started to wonder why the different days for the same holiday and decided to investigate. Here is what I learned:


The history of Labor Day begins in 1886 in the good ole Untied States. In the late 1800s America, the Industrail Revolution was on and conditions for workers were shocklingly bad ( for outside reading see the classic work of fiction The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It’s a novel about the lives of immigrants and the harsh conditions in the meatpacking industry during turn of the century America). Often, having to work upwards of twelve hours a day, six days a week in unsafe conditions for low wages, workers began to unionize in an effort to improve their working conditions. Enter the national labor union, The Knights of Labor or the K of L. Formed in 1869 in secret by members of a tailor’s union in Philadelphia, the union experienced rapid growth during the 1870s when Pennsylvania coal miners affected by the recession and railroad workers began to join. The K of L’s growth was also helped by the election of Terence V. Powderly, the son of Irish immigrants, to Grand Master Workman in 1879. By 1886, the group had an estimate of some 700,000 members. The rapid growth however, might have lead to disorganization which contributed to the disastrous events that took place in 1886.
Powderly, had strong beliefs about labor rights. He advocated for eight hour work days and Sunday’s off for the Sabbath. He railed against the uneven balance of power in his autobiography, “Five men in the country control the chief interests of five hundred thousand working men, and can at any moment take the means of livelihood from two and a half million souls.” However when it came to strikes as a means to affect change, Powderly believed they were too costly for long terms gains. He wrote, “Just think of it. Opposing strikes and always striking … battling with my pen in the leading journals and magazines of the day for the great things we are educating the people on and fighting with might and main for the little things.”
So what does this have to do with May 1st? In an 1884 convention the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions voted that on May 1,1886 the eight hour work day would become the standard for workers. Powderly’s worries were unheeded and striking began on that day two years later. By all accounts, most of the strikes began peacefully and were nonviolent. They did not stay that way. On May 3, 1886 striking workers outside of McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago rushed to confront strikebreakers as they were leaving at the end of the workday. This prompted gunfire into the crowd by police. Two workers were killed. The following day, as a protest against police violence from the day before, a mass meeting was held in Haymarket Square. When the police tried to break up the crowd a bomb was thrown. Four civilians and seven policeman were killed and a hundred injured.

Haymarket Riot
1889 Illustration from book published by CPD Captain of Police

The K of L was blamed for the rioting and their image never really fully recovered. It was a major setback for labor unions and rights in America.

In 1894 the then US President Groover Cleveland in a move to appease workers on the eve of his possible reelection made Labor Day a national holiday but did not make it May 1st for fear that it would be associated with Communism, Anarchism and the Haymarket Riot. He also did not get reelected.

In Brazil, it was President Vargas, a labor supporter, who recognized May 1 as Dia do Trabalhador joining what is now more than 80 countries who celebrate International Worker’s Day today to commemorate the events at Haymarket and the struggles of the workers.

…and that is why the different days.

On a side note, I’d liked to add that May 1st has always been very important day for me. Someone I Ioved very much and miss very much would have celebrated a birthday today. If you get Internet in heaven I want you to know this wasn’t a Pro-Commie post, Mom…pro-worker perhaps…

São Jorge

We were in Barra da Tijuca the past two days because MGFI had a three day holiday weekend. It was Dia de São Jorge yesterday. To be honest, I really didn’t know much about the day. I wasn’t raised Catholic so I’m not that familiar with the saints. All I knew about Dia de São Jorge was that people dressed in red, not everyone got the day off but schools were closed and that we were stuck in the bus in traffic for an half hour waiting for a procession to pass and fireworks to finish. What little I knew about Saint George (São Jorge) was that he was the dragon slayer and I guessed that people wore red because of his red cross but that was only a guess.

Fireworks as seen out the bus window (Yes, I know this is not my best work…)

Procession for São Jorge.

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