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

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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

Candy Cane Pie?

In my “Americanoid” way I love listening to US radio stations – specially talk radio. Sometimes my students tease me saying I know more about the traffic, say, in Tallahassee than in São Paulo. But that’s me, warts and all. For some years now since the last time we visited the National Parks in Utah, our favorite radio station has been FM 100.3 http://fm100.com/- specially their Soft Sunday Sounds programs – this time of the year they focus on Christmas music but not only the same “it’s the most wonderful time of tcandy cane piehe year” songs.

Well, while listening this morning, a commercial announced a special sale of Candy Cane Pies! I thought: “well, that’s pushing the  envelope a little too far”. Googled it up and presto. Now I want to taste it. Lol. Even found some Uncle Phaedrus’ lost recipes. http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/m121801.htm

Legend of the Candy Cane
Legend of the Candy Cane
English Sabbath School Class
IMG_3431 English Sabbath School Class
Mo showing the meaning of the candy cane
Mo showing the meaning of the candy cane

Yesterday was the last Saturday/Sabbath before Christmas so traditionally we give our students at Sabbath School a candy cane and tell them once again the Candy Cane Story. There are different versions online but this one is my favorite – since students can actively participate while they listen to the story.

I asked them to hold the candy cane and follow the story – “Look at the Candy Cane what do you see?

Stripes that are red like the blood shed for me.

White is for my Savior who is sinless and pure!

J is for Jesus, my Lord, that’s for sure.

Turn it around and a staff you will see. Jesus my shepherd was born for me!”

The students followed the gestures and also listened and repeated the story. In order to encourage them to be active, instead of giving them the text – I published the text on the class’ Facebook page (Believes Unasp) so those who really want to remember, practice and review the story will have to do their part. Well… actually I forgot to print the story… was busy printing the Christmas bulletin. But everything worked out fine.

Vocabulary this time of the year that many ESL students mispronounce: choir,IMG_1024 chorus – Another word they learn for the first time: carol.

One thing I miss about my Americanoid Christmases: Caroling – Hark! the Herald Angels Sing; Silent Night; The first Noel; and all the classics – Brazilians usually don’t carol much – even in church. Their hymnal may contain some 20 carols but they know 2 or 3 and that’s it. Ok, you have the Christmas concert – where the congregation sits mostly passively receiving the music but not celebrating it. When I’m spending Christmas in São Paulo there is a non-denominational English speaking church – Calvary International Church – and their Christmas program usually follows the small church style in the US – even if they have choir and soloists – the congregation sings a lot of the most loved Christmas carols and since it’s a multicultural church, members often tell a little about Christmas in their part of the world.

Our Sabbath School Christmas Bulletin
Our Sabbath School Christmas Bulletin

Talking about church, this afternoon we’ll be going to a special 60th Diamond Wedding Anniversary / Thanksgiving Ceremony in the neighborhood of Lapa, in the western part of São Paulo. The couple, Antonieta and Seu João opened their home to me and other youth some 40 years ago and never looked back. Seu João can’t walk much now, needs a wheelchair – but you still see the love – what else could you call it? – they have for each other. Some of the people in that church I haven’t seen in 20 years, just hope I’ll know how to reply to their love-loaded comments: “You’ve disappeared”. “You’ve put on weight!” “How come you’re not bald yet!”Have you already made your first million dollars?” “Are you still married to the same person?” Chuckles. Well, you get the gist, don’t you?

Now getting dressed for the slaughter.;-)

Cheers,

Mo

This is not a Christmas Market, honey!

Last night some of my students were out celebrating their company’s Christmas Party or as they like to say in Brazil Year-end Party /Festa de Fim de Ano. Of course, most companies announce these free booze and grinding events as part of team building and improving in-house relationships. I see them more as a way to let employees vent all their frustrations and anger on the dance floor. Way better than shooting everybody in their cubicles, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, with all the drinking, dancing, and karaoking, getting home at 2, 4 or 6 am would disable any warrior from having classes at 7:30 the next morning or any other time that day. Result? I’M FREE. Could stay in bed, read the e-paper (never thofeiraught I’d say that aloud) and go to the street market with my Sweetheart.

The concept of street markets in Brazil was imported from Europe, adapted to Brazilian needs and characteristics.  They usually run from Tuesday to Sunday on different streets across the city. They can be quite well organized and clean with fresh fruit and vegetables. Just avoid the fresh meat and fish stalls. The stench is awful. I love hearing the stall owners shouting the names of their produce, prices, offering discounts, making jokes and puns, etc. I’m pretty sure salespeople are pofeira-livre_500lyglots. Show any interest in their fruits or vegetables and they’ll say anything from English to Mandarin or Japanese, not unusual at some street markets in São Paulo. Some prices are lower than at supermarkets but today they tried to sell me 1 (yes, ONE) pomegranate for R$ 20 (about US$ 8). It’s final: cheap pomegranate juice only in Turkey – Here in Brazil only corn or sugarcane juice.

The point is that although some of the vendors may be wearing a Santa hat, Christmas is not ubiquitous and overbearing there, people are buying “food” – a basic staple –  and you can see the roots of capitalism taking place in its simplest form.

One thing I always encouraged my students to do when at a streeUVA-ITALIA-CG-FEIRA-DELIVERYt market – yes, even in Brazil – try to learn the names of the different fruits, vegetables, etc in English.

Tomate – Tomato

Alface – Lettuce 

Uva – Grape and so...

Simple? yes … effective? You bet! Of course,  I mentioned easy words they may already know – but they can expand the list with colors, smells, tastes in mind.

It’s not a Christmas market, but a great gift to your language learning adventure all year round.

Cheers,

Mo

Student Assessment – ESL – Alice* in Wonderland

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Lennon has already asked this question, but it seems that the end of the calendar year invites or begs an analysis of what’s happened all along the year.

Every year I enjoy giving my students and some of the supporting cast IMG_0976a little present – a Santa Claus chocolate bar, etc. This year, for instance, my wife and I decided to give a customized bottle of pure grape juice from the Mitto Terroir wine producing regions in southern Brazil. As you know, we don’t drink alcohol, so it would be a little hypocritical to be giving alcohol (which, by the way, does not prevent us from regifting the odd bottle of wine some well-intentioned Nimrod has given us). Why regiftingshould good wine go to waste, after all? Yes, I know…

But back to today’s topic: This morning’s first class was with Alice* in Wonderland. Hardworking senior manager at a leading law firm in São Paulo. Not such a hardworking student, though. Some 10 years ago, Alice* traveled to Chicago to study English for a few months – at that time she reached the intermediate level. 10 years later, she’s still intermediate. What’s happened?

After reaching the intermediate level, most language students reach a plateau, for some people it’s enough what they’ve already learned – but some are aware that they will soon forget what they’ve learned if they don’t continue to study, so they hire a teacher with a magic wand that makes them learn and grow. Not really!

So… Alice* walks in (15 minutes late – today she was early) and starts talking about the Finale of The Voice – USA edition – proud that she watched it in English with NO subtitles. Truth be said she didn’t understand more than 60% of the content but started telling me about the show, the winner, the songs, etc.

“Good practice”, I thought. Until, she’d have to pause and ask me in every sentence the English translation of words in Portuguese. “Teacher, how can you say AZARÃO, COMERCIAL, DESAPEGO, VINÍCULA, etc. After ducking the shower of vocabulary bullets, I told her, DARK HORSE, COMMERCIAL/AD, DETACHMENT, VINEYARD, – she repeated the word in the context. At the end of the class I’d ask her those words to see how much she remembered… the only one she remembered was black horse (sic). LOL.

Then, she talked about the cult on the Voice – and Matt “cheats” little children, yada, yada, yada.  Actually, she meant “coach”  and Matt “teaches” little children, but needs to work on the pronunciation.

Asked about her self-assessment, Alice* went on to say she didn’t give (sic) much progress but she will be much more compromised (sic) in 2050 (sic).

I told her she needs some structure in her course, every class must include a review fullcircleof what’s been previously taught – be it grammar, vocabulary, etc, and learning must be seen as a house under construction it needs – foundations – walls – roof – from the ground up.

Of course, Alice* nodded in agreement but argued that she very rarely cancels the class (which is true, the very few times she had to cancel was because of a hangover, ask no more) and she enjoys this open talk  free-style format.

But Alice concluded saying: “I have a good skills (sic)” – she meant to say excuse – (there goes pronunciation through the window again) – “I work too much”.

Next year, a new page in her learning journey will be opened, stay tuned for the next episodes.

Cheers,

Mo

*All students’ names have been changed to preserve teacher’s physical integrity

ESL Christmas Madness

November and December are traditionally grueling months. Work builds up, reports must be written, goals and targets reached, assessments prepared, Christmas shopping (usually if you are a woman), the roller coaster of activities keeps on mercilessly gaining speed, office parties, client parties, luncheons with friends, clients, ex-friends, and the list goes on. And I’m only talking about the students’ lives. Even Santa Claus drinks too much this time of year (and I’m not talking only about cider) – with all due respect, not sidetracking too much – a friend of ours drank a 750ml bottle of Pinot Noir in less than an hour, alone – and she said: “That’s nothing. I’m used to that. Hiccup”. But we did realize she was slurring  her speech a little and laughing a little louder. Enough said.

No wonder that at this time of year, students are tired, worn out even. Consequently, they can’t produce a better English level – even sometimes their thinkinscreaming-woman-with-headacheg process is slowed down. Take today’s only class for instance. Dear student R is a sweetheart but it’s still hard to imagine that after let’s say, 20 plus years taking English lessons – she still asks – ‘is raining today, teacher?” – I encourage her to repeat the question and notice what’s missing and good-humouredly say: “is raining’ or it’s raining’ require the same energy. Use the right one”. And R just says: “Ahhh teacher, I’m tired (or sick, or sleepy).”

During our lesson today correcting last week’s homework on the Chocolate Conundrum, a quite interesting story in the Guardian listing the problems farmers, processors and manufacturers are facing with falling production and growing demand for chocolate. The article mentioned an example in Indonesia, of course, R mispronounced it, I corrected her and expected to move on, but she got stuck in that nation (chuckles) – and tried to say it again and again while asking me to repeat the word. Until I blurted out: “Forget it! No point in spending energy in learning how to say “Indonesia”. How many times in your life are you going to say this word?” WOO-WOO-WOO (danger alarm) http://youtu.be/PowGPSdAxTI. ATTENTION. Don’t go down that lane. Take a deep breath, Mo.

The class ends with my dear student pronouncing “CEREAL” as “SURREAL” – but that’s ok. I’m sure she’ll be better rested come January.

Cheers,

Mo

ESL Ghosts of Christmas Past

I’ve always been divided about the Christmas Season. On the one hand I love the religious side as a reminder of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.  I love singing carols and even though you’re sweating buckets in muggy 31 degree Celsius in late spring, I kind of enjoy setting up the Christmas tree and ornaments.

When I was a child, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church generally frowned upon the celebration of Christmas saying it was a Pagan sun-worshiping tradition. Christmas trees were symbols of Satan worship and the Nativity scene, crib, or the sweet French sounding crènativity sceneche would be a Catholic tradition with the worship of idols. Imagine if it had camels and sheep as well. Animal worship! Horror of Horrors!! Ok, I confess I’m exaggerating a little (not much). I don’t remember how old I was, probably in my early 20s when I broke the “commandment” and bought a clay nativity scene wondering if my parents would object to it. As expected, they just shrugged – whatever – they were mostly easy-going on most things.

As a teacher I always tried to teach my students one or two traditional carols – not in order to proselytize or anything like that, first as a cultural point of sharing with them words that English native speakers know by heart across the world. I’d choose “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” or “Silent Night”  and mostly they would show little or no interest in learning by heart a single verse or refrain. Of course, “Hark” and “Herald” are little used words and students would be always questioning my “wisdom” in teaching them such “useless” words.

I also try to use a simple translation of the gospel story of Jesus’ birth – even using a Charlie Brown Christmas, as found in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 2 verses 1-20:

 

The Birth of Jesus

1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

An Event for Everyone

8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying??????????????????????????????? in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

But, here come the ESL ghosts of Christmas past, most students are in such a rush and busyness that they simply cancel their classes in December or say “I can come to class but stay for only 30 minutes” or something like that, so my ideas of a Christmas lesson fall along the way in tiny little pieces.

Should that discourage me? Yes, but next year let’s try it all again.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Mo