New Year’s in Brazil

Brazilians usually use the French “Réveillon” to refer to our New Year’s Eve celebration. We also say “Festa de Ano Novo” (New Year’s Party) – but not as common as “Réveillon” – usually I hear it pronounced in the French way – /reveion/ but sometimes I hear the word pronounced with the Brazilian phonetics with the L /reveiLon/ this latter sound always tickles me.

To start off, by many Brazilians, I mean São Paulo city dwellers. Brazil is MG_3159-Praia-Grande-Outeirosuch a big and diversified country that even clichés are regional. As I was saying, many people living in São Paulo make plans to go to the beach for New Year’s celebrations. They may travel to Rio or Guarapari; the northern or southern coasts of São Paulo state – São Sebastião or Itanhaém, for example; Florianópolis (further south), but the destination of choice tends to be the seashore with or without seashells or jellyfish but most certainly with loads of people.

Unfortunately, summer – December through March in Brazil – tends to be the rainy season, and despite recent droughts, it usually pours this time of year, so flooding and mudslides are not unheard of. Sometimes roads can be blocked for hours (if you’re lucky) or days (if you’re still lucky)… meaning, you could be under all that mud, rocks and debris. Let’s not forget lightning strikes.  Just this week in just one fell swoop a thunderbolt killed 4 members of a single family seeking shelter under a parasol on the beach in Praia Grande. A sad tragedy indeed.

The first time I was introduced to the beach was when I was 9 or 10… never had seen the sea and rushed away from the waves. Of course, mom didn’t think of using any sunscreen lotion, the protection was the parasol. Got some blisters but survived. Never however liked very much being exposed to the sun – being fair skinned and all, but in my early 20s i started getting more sun tanned. I was already an English teacher teaching at different companies some 25 years ago and I had classes let’s say from 12 -2JDSCpm at company A and then the next class would be at 6pm in another part of town. I had 4 hours to kill. At that time, I lived in the western outskirts of São Paulo near Jaraguá peak – to get from and to my home would take me 90 minutes on average either way, so no point in going home. Had to “kill time” somewhere. There still are very few places you can safely stay free of charge for a few hours in São Paulo – Starbucks hadn’t arrived here yet. The only place I could think of was the campus of my university (USP) – off I’d go. I’d lie down on a bench surrounded by greenery and read or listen to music until the time was up for me to move to my next class. On rainy days I’d have to seek shelter in one of the campus’ libraries. Well… I said all that, because during those years, I developed a healthy sheen and my students would think I was either going quite often to the beach or was a member at some fancy club (nothing further from the truth).

But back to New Year’s in Brazil, since some 2 million people vacate the city, it is possible for you to breathe more freely and find a parking space. Of course, thousands come to São Paulo to visit family or run in the São Silvestre (St. Sylvester) Race. A tradition that takes place on New Year’s Eve. Originally it was held at midnight but TV interests pushed the race to late afternoon. Nowadays the race is held at 9a114805_ext_arquivom on December 31 and the new route has lost all its charm as a street race. Me thinks it’s lost much of its character and tradition, but what do those things matter compared to the money to be made by big media interests? Still many Brazilians enjoy participating in the race, many prepare all year round, young and old run together, many wearing costumes just for the fun and the opportunity to be seen on TV.

After the race, around 2 million (conservative figures) gather on Paulista Ave – formeReveillon paulistarly the business and financial heart of the city, now moving to districts further south) – for the Réveillon na Paulista – with concerts and fireworks at midnight.

Our personal New Year’s Celebration starts at around 7pm – when we go to the IMG_4445Christian Arab Open Community in Vila Mariana (http://comunidadearabe.org.br/) – the year starts not at midnight but at sunset – every family or person brings some fruit or Arab dishes and after a prayer and thanksgiving service we get together, eat and wish a Happy New Year to each other. It’s been our tradition for the past 15 years. We get home before 10pm and toast with a cold glass of white grape juice. Awesome by the way.

Salaam,

Mo

سنة جديدة سعيدة

Christmas in Brazil

Saundz.com asked me to describe Christmas in Brazil. Where can I start? Brazil is such a vast and diverse country – clichés apart, we could say that different regions celebrate Christmas in their own way. What I can say is that Christmas in Brazil has always been brazil_map_christmas_tree_ornaments-rf43a682d77f340e2a9e1544683de46ab_x7s2y_8byvr_512the family holiday of the year. In the Brazilian North and Northeast regions I’m aware that some centuries-old traditions, with singers and religious processions looking for the baby Jesus on the streets of the village, etc. In Gramado, southern Brazil, there is a very beautiful Christmas production by the lake with classical soloists and choir.

But here in São Paulo, at least in our family everything is very simple.

Traditionally families get together on Christmas eve, those who are religious go to church for the midnight mass and, then eat supper with lots of turkey, couscous (a Brazilian interpretation can be ceiafound here – http://authenticbraziliancuisine.blogspot.com.br/2011/07/cuscuz-brazilian-interpretations-of.html), rice with vegetables or raisins, salpicão de frango (cold chicken salad – for a quick recipe see http://www.food.com/recipe/salpic-o-de-frango-brazilian-cold-chicken-salad-456992 ). My mother used to love to prepare ONLY for Christmas and New Year’s – what we called pickles  (pronounced

picpicleskreys),and consisting of boiled hot dogs, cucumber, carrots, turnips and some cauliflower buds – they’re tough to stick with a toothpick.

For dessert we can have coconut and pineapple cake, prune pudding, condensed milk pudding, and other attractions that won’t disappoint any sweet tooth.manjar-coco-calda-ameixa

Since I don’t drink any alcohol, my Christmas consists of fruit juice – watermelon and ginger is my latest favorite. Ok, ok, I confess: I might go crazy and have 2 glasses of Coke. melancia

Traditionally, my wife and I go first to my brother’s home where we usually plan to get there around sunset (around 7:30pm). A secret Santa would be ideal, but considering that we see each other twice in a good year, we’d better buy  a little something for everyone – my nephew and niece are grownups now but not very talkative but that’s ok. Sometimes if I try really hard I manage to hear my nephew and niece mumble something that can be construed as “Merry Christmas” or “Hare Krishna” – whatever might suit their mood. We sit down to eat and by 9.30pm we’re leaving to go to my mother-in-law’s home in another part of town, where there will be the grandchildren… now great-grandchildren – who will bring some innocence and joy to the evening. Take the children away, nothing stays. By the way, One thing I can’t understand – at my brother’s and mother-in-law’s the TV is always on during that time – generating some background noise and light – as if they were saying, I’m not that interested in what you’ve got to tell me so let’s watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in silence. Weird!

Around midnight or even before that (if I’m lucky), we wish them all merry Christmas and head home. This year it will be a little different because we have adopted Luther, a black cat, and he will most definitely be waiting for us to return home.

This year, my wife was able to see daddy again after 5 years they’ d grown apart because of alcohol (his not hers) and terrible character (again, his not hers). But God can soften our hearts and this year after his diagnosis of throat cancer, my wife was able to approach her dad again. Believe it or not, that man is no cat but he’s got at least 9 lives. After surviving prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and throat cancer – he’s survived this challenge again and as a present from her heart my Sweetheart took daddy to Rio de Janeiro by plane – first time he visited that city and got on an airplane. The amazing power that God’s love allows us to forgive blows my mind. (Update – unfortunately my wife’s dad, Paulo, passed away on Mother’s Day 2015, talk about irony, may his ashes rest in peace).

So it’s not a bad Christmas at all.

Looking forward to Christmas. (Who am I kidding?)

Ho ho ho,

Mo

Christmas in Rio

The whole world has been led to believe that Christmas is lots of snow, lights to provide warmth and hope, and a fat man dressed in red fur bringing good cheer to one and all.

Well, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, since theologians, historians, wise guys (I mean, wise men) and shepherds agree that based on historical data and Gospel descriptions with shepherds in the fields, the baby was born around the year 4 BCE and between June-September. Ok, by this we take Christ out of Christmas – and what do we have? No, Virginia, not just “mas” or “mass”. Funny girl. We have the winter solstice – where all the snow, lights and red fur fit like a glove. That’s of course for the Northern Hemisphere.

I’ve always been a supporter of Christmas in July for the Southern hemisphere when cooler temperatures can move us to wish to be “closer” to family and friends while not sweating like pigs in the shade.

We had the chance to go to Rio this week and have got great news for you: it’s still marvelous and beautiful. Even the Christmas decorations – specially at night – make the city more beautiful.

Christmas in Rio is full of contrasts – for a Carioca – it’s cheap – R$ 10 and a pair of shorts allow you to spend a whole day of fun. For tourists it is going to be a little pricier – just a night at Copacabana palace goes into the thousands of reais. But you can always try to rent a couch in the home of a community (favela) dweller for a few hundred bucks.

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Sugar Loaf – Pão de Açucar
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Historical Cable Car – 1912

Of course, some frustrations and throw-your-arms-up in-the-air moments appear: the Sugar Loaf cable car was running only half way up to Urca Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado – a tourist magnet – lacks basic infrastructure and newsflash: they don’t know how to deal with large numbers of tourists under a 110-degree Fahrenheit sun, not a pleasant experience. I loved the easy access areas for the disabled, pregnant women or the elderly – the lines for the van to take them up to Jesus had a wait of only 2.5 hours instead of the regular 5-6 hours for common mortals. A driver told us that there is a van service in Copacabana that takes tourists there nonstop and at lower fares but we learned about it only after we got there. Piece of advice: befriend a local Carioca online before your visit – but choose well: it’s got to be a street smart Carioca. If you get someone who can’t tell the difference between their left or right foot, you’re doomed. Bazeeenga!!

We hired a taxi driver to pick us up IMG_1045at the local Santos Dumont airport and stay with us for the rest of the day. We pre-arranged a daily fare and, of course, the driver at the last minute watsapped us saying she would be busy and referring us to another driver. Other drivers we’d contacted before had plainly stated they didn’t like driving tourists around, or didn’t know how to set a daily fee, or didn’t feel like driving on a hot day, or all of the above. (chuckles).

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The girl from Ipanema comes in all sizes and shapes

Food at the botecos (casual pubs) is inexpensive and home made – Galeto’s at Praça da Bandeira  is a very simple restaurant but food tastes like the one your mom (if she knows how to cook) would prepare for you.

The best part of the day is always the beach – people can and do spend their whole day under a giant parasol eating and drinking whatever the beach vendors have available – from prawns on a stick to Arab cuisine.

The feeling I had was that most of the foreign tourists were Latin American – don’t cry for me, Argentina – followed by Europeans. Of course, you’d expect that such a touristy global city wouldIMG_1080 have locals speaking English as their second mother tongue. Unfortunately, that’s not so. Many people may know some of the basic “sale” “bargain” “ripoff” English to get by, but I still feel that fluent people are found in larger numbers in São Paulo, which is not to say they’re counted in the millions, by the way.

What else can I say? Christmas in Rio? Hell yeah. Just don’t forget your sunscreen and your portable AC around your neck. Oh, and drink gallons of coconut water.    IMG_1114

Cheers and have yourself a merry Natal.

Mo