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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Protecting the Animals of Pato Branco

Since moving to Brazil, I have spent a lot of time driving between Pato Branco and Curitiba, along with various other car journeys.  On these journeys, it is not uncommon to see stray dogs by the side of the road, sometimes sleeping, sometimes wondering lost.  Apparently, there are people that get tired of having a dog (or other reasons – I honestly can’t work out what goes on in these people’s minds) that just release (that should be, kick out…) a dog at the side of the road.  Even worse is seeing a dog stranded in the central reservation, with no way of getting food without braving the fast moving, continuous stream of traffic.  I have seen a lot of these strays and it’s a sight I hate seeing – I can’t understand why anyone would treat an animal like that.  My wife and I have often said that if we had a farm (or if we had money) we would love to be able to take in these stray dogs so that they would have a chance in life.

Recently, we found out that someone has done just this.  Seu Lima has a sanctuary just outside Pato Branco where he takes in stray dogs, cats and even monkeys.  Amazingly, he does this without any assistance from the city, even though he is performing a valuable service by giving a home to stray dogs and cats in the city.  When we visited him, we were greeted by a cacophony of dogs barking and seu Lima came out to meet us.  We were immediately taken by his friendly nature and the love for his animals which was clear from the way he spoke.  



Zico holding my hand
He introduced us to Zico, a monkey that, between mouthfuls of watermelon, likes to hold hands with people!  When I reached out a second hand, he took it in his and started excitedly jumping up and down!  He then spotted a tempting rubber attachment hanging off my camera, snatched it away and proceeded to (try) to chew it!  Eventually he gave up on it and abandoned the rubber in favour of a more tempting courgette.  I guess he felt bad about it because he gave me a piece of courgette when I returned!

Seu Lima then took us on a tour of the sanctuary.  He petted each of the dogs as we passed, with a story about most of them.  They were generally kept one or two dogs to a pen and we were impressed with how clean each pen was, despite the huge number of animals.  Most of the dogs (at least those that have spent some time there) appear well fed and in good spirits, although many show signs of the abuse or neglect the suffered prior to their rescue – one fled to the roof of her kennel as I passed and, clearly shaking, urinated in fear.  We also saw animals that with amputated limbs, missing eyes and other injuries and health problems.  Seu Lima told us about the first dog he rescued, who was abandoned at the side of the road and someone had thrown either hot water or hot oil at him.  In some ways, it was horrible to see the state of some of the animals, but at the same time, I was glad that they were being fed, sheltered and very well cared for.


For more information, to find out about adopting a dog or to donate, more information is available (in Portuguese) at the website for the Associação Lima de Proteção aos Animaisde Pato Branco  or at https://www.facebook.com/alpapb/

Seu Lima with the second dog he rescued and one of the assistants

Friday, 31 March 2017

Pato Branco

Pato Branco from the air, the yellow church is in the
middle of the shot
I must correct a terrible omission…  I have a blog about Brazil but have not written about the one place in which I have spent more time than anywhere else in Brazil – Pato Branco!  I have been coming here since December 2008 and have lived here since December 2015, how could I have missed this place?!

You can be forgiven if you have never heard of Pato Branco, it is a relatively small city deep in the countryside of southern Brazil.  With a population of just under 80,000 people, it is considered to be the capital of Southwest Paraná, one of the 3 southernmost states in Brazil.  I should point out that residents of neighbouring Francisco Beltrão (the “little city” is actually a bit bigger than Pato Branco, with a population just under 85,000) do not necessarily share this opinion, so I’ll move swiftly on. 


Where is Pato Branco?  From Google Maps
Pato Branco (meaning White Duck in English) is a very young city, marking its 65th birthday in December 2016.  It started life as a colony called Colônia Bom Retiro, founded in 1918 to resettle people unsatisfied with the result of a border dispute with the neighbouring state of Santa Catarina.  The name Pato Branco comes from a telegraph station Posto do Rio Pato Branco (station of white duck river) and people began to refer to the region as simply Pato Branco, becoming official in 1938.

Two Haitian immigrants in Pato
Branco (photograph by Dan Jaeger)
The majority of the population is descended from European immigrants, in large part Italians from Veneto, in the North of Italy.  This has a marked influence on the culture of the city with many Italian-based customs and parties, a fondness for pasta and polenta and many shops and restaurants with Italian names.  There are also a significant number of people descended from Ukraine, Germany and Poland.  There is even a Ukrainian church in the city with Ukrainian parties and food.  This being Brazil, many of the cultures and traditions mix and it is not uncommon to meet people with recent ancestry from Italy, Ukraine, Germany, Portugal in various combinations!  Relatively recently, there has been a wave of immigrants from Haiti, with the largest community of Haitians in Paraná.  After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, several companies helped Haitians to obtain documentation to work, helping them to find housing and bring their families.  The Haitian community is generally happy in Pato Branco (except maybe for the cold in the winter months!) and are integrating well into the community.
 
The Ukrainian church (Paróquia Nossa Senhora do Perpétuo Socorro) in winter
Empty streets
The city is a small rural city with an economy based on agriculture, although in recent years it has seen growth in the areas of IT and electronics.  The city has been growing rapidly as a result of this change, with an increase in population from 72,370 in the last census in 2010 to an estimated 79,869 as of 2016.  This has changed the face of the city, even in the few years since I started coming here, there are considerably more apartment blocks, with several new buildings under construction.  In anticipation of further growth, there is a plan to relocate the city centre to an area just north of the city.  People have been buying up plots of land in anticipation of the move, although no one really knows when this will happen.  With the current recession in Brazil, the worst on record (according to the BBC), development has slowed somewhat with new roads running between empty plots of grassy land, waiting for movement. 


One thing that I have found funny since moving to Pato Branco; no one has asked whether I like living there, only whether I am “adapting”!  I’m not sure whether they are referring specifically to Pato Branco or to Brazil in general, but yes, I’m adapting!  It is a lot different to what I’m used to – it’s certainly not a large metropolitan area like London or the Bay Area and neither is it like a small town in Britain.  It has most of the services you would expect of a city – supermarkets, pharmacies, post office, hospitals etc – but the supermarkets close at 8pm and you’ll be lucky to find anything open on Sunday.  There is a cinema now though!  It opened a few months ago and means that you no longer need to drive 2-3 hours to find a cinema, though it does only have 3 screens (though having said that, it’s no different to where I grew up in a small town in Northeast Scotland.)  So yes, it is different to what I’m used to, but I am getting used to it, and it is a pretty town.

Praça Getúlio Vargas
Like many cities in Brazil, the centre of Pato Branco is well built-up, with several colourful apartment clocks, approximately 15 to 20 stories high.  This, as well as the numerous steep hills, gives the impression that the city is bigger than it is.  All the same, when you crest a hill and see the city spreading out with smaller houses, it’s clear to see how the city is growing.  It does still maintain a small community feel though.  The yellow church forms a scenic centre-point, and the fountains and trees of the Praça Getúlio Vargas directly in front of the church makes the centre of town a pleasant place to walk or sit and relax.  Indeed, at weekends and summer evenings, it is fairly common to see families gathered in the square talking and drinking chimarrão (a hot, yerba mate drink typical of Southern Brazil and Argentina.)


The accent and dialect is one area that I did struggle with, though.  When I started learning Portuguese, I mostly heard accents from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with the São Paulo accent relatively easy for me to understand.  In Pato Branco, though, the accent is markedly different.  In much the same way as rural English accents can differ from more metropolitan accents, the rural Paraná accent is a lot different to the accent from São Paulo and even Curitiba.  Even now, having lived here for about 15 months, I can get caught out by some unusual expressions!

Birds flying around the church (Paróquia São Pedro Apóstolo)
(Photograph by Dan Jaeger)
The increase in population has resulted in increases in traffic, which has forced the city to make a string of changes to the roads to cope with the increased demand.  Some changes, such as replacing stop signs with traffic lights have greatly improved things for road users, while some changes are less welcome, such as changing some one-way streets (which worked due to alternating the direction of traffic on parallel streets) to two-way without reconsidering the traffic signals, which no longer leave time for pedestrians to cross, meaning you have to take your chances and hope that a car doesn’t come flying around a blind corner.

Pato Branco = White Duck
The city become well known in Brazil as a result of a comedy, “Toma Lá, Dá Cá,” which featured a character from Pato Branco with a strong countryside accent constantly telling long-winded folk tales about the people of the city.  The first time I became aware of this, I was in a restaurant in London with my wife (girlfriend at the time) and she noticed that the waiter was Brazilian.  The restaurant wasn’t busy se we chatted with him and he burst out laughing when she said she came from Pato Branco – he thought it was a fictional city!  It wasn’t the first time I found Brazilians laughing about the name of the city.  The city is also known for being the home of footballers Alexandre Pato (who played for the national side, and teams including Corinthians, Milan and Chelsea) and Rogério Ceni, the former goalkeeper of São Paulo.


Pato Branco is a lovely, peaceful city that’s perfect for raising a family.  There is a strong economy and, with the upcoming opening of the airport to commercial flights, I am sure the city will continue to grow and prosper.

The city centre, shortly before a summer storm

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Cataratas do Iguaçu (Iguassu Falls)

Not far from Pato Branco (171 miles, 275km, but it’s all relative…) are the famous Cataratas do Iguaçu (Iguassu Falls, Cataratas del Iguazú in Spanish), a spectacular series of waterfalls along the border between Brazil and Argentina.  Seven years after my first visit to Pato Branco, I still hadn’t been (combinations of bad weather and short holidays/busy schedules) so my wife and I decided to spend a weekend there.  My first thoughts were to head there for the 4-day weekend of a bank holiday (when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the day between the holiday and the weekend is often granted to employees as a holiday, known as a bridge day), but we chose to visit the weekend before to avoid the crowds. 

So after work one Friday, we set off to Foz do Iguaçu, a city on the triple border with Argentina and Paraguay, 15 miles (25km) from the falls.  I wasn’t sure what to expect of the city; I’d heard that it could be a bit dangerous and generally unpleasant, frontier towns here don’t typically have very good reputations, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The city appeared quite pleasant, with trees everywhere, modern buildings and well-organised roads.  The top floor of the hotel gave a good view of Foz do Iguaçu and across the Paraná river to Paraguay.

As Cataratas

We started the day early, with a plan to arrive at the falls around 9am, when the park opens, which was just as well, as the car park didn’t take long to fill up.  The entrance is somewhat confusing.  You can follow road signs to the falls from the city, and eventually you reach the entrance to Iguaçu National Park, but this is not the entrance to the car park.  The car park is actually slightly before the National Park entrance, on the left hand side and not terribly well sign-posted, there is only one sign on the right hand side of the road with an arrow that points vaguely ahead and to the left.  There was an old woman standing in the road pointing in the direction of the car park, but with no uniform or ID, she looked a bit suspicious – as if she was offering some alternative parking or ‘protection.’  It turned out that she directing us to the right place.

Apart from the poor sign-posting, the visitor centre is quite well organised.  The car park is kept some distance away from the falls, which are then accessed by regular, open-topped shuttle buses, helping to limit the environmental impact of tourism on the area.  Before arriving at the trail to the fails, there are other stops for the Macuco Safari, a boat tour that allows you to get up close to the falls, and Trilha do Poço Preto, a 9km ‘eco adventure’ trail through the forest.  We didn’t have time for either of these but maybe next time…

The penultimate stop is for the Trilha das Cataratas (cataracts trail).  From the bus stop, it is a very short walk to a platform where you get your first view of the falls, a long curtain that, even from a distance, is enough to take your breath away.  Accompanying the crowd of sightseers, are the ever present quatis (South American coati), members of the racoon family.  There are constant warnings not to feed the quatis and to avoid eating near them, as they are cheeky and fast – they ripped open a carrier bag with sunscreen in attempt to find food.  As you follow the trail towards the waterfalls, you encounter thousands of butterflies of all colours and sizes. 

Inset, one of the viewing platforms on the Argentinian side
The majority of the 275 falls are on the Argentinian side of the river and the trail offers amazing views of all the falls, with occasional viewing platforms.  From the trail it was possible to see trails on the Argentinian side, the tiny people serving as a reminder of just how big the falls are, even the smaller ones.  Soon, the trail turns a corner giving view up the canyon where massive cloud of continually rising spray partially obscures the Garganta do Diabo (Devil’s Throat), the U-shaped fall which is the largest of all the cataracts with the greatest flow.  Even from this point, a few hundred metres from the Garganta do Diabo, there is a constant fine spray in the air and a rainbow hangs permanently over the canyon. 


Approaching the Walkway
As you get closer to the Garganta do Diabo, the roar gets louder and the spray increases until you reach a walkway into the middle of the canyon and the middle of the waterfall.  Some people wore raincoats to protect against the constant shower from the falls, although (at about 30°C) it was warm enough to dry out your clothes, so we didn’t bother.  The views from the platform are spectacular, on one side is the immense power of the falls plummeting towards you and on the other, the river disappears over the edge of more falls and plummets to the floor of the canyon.  This platform isn’t for people afraid of heights! 


The platform hanging over the edge of another waterfall
I could have spent hours on the platform, hypnotised by the endless torrents and following with my eyes the multiple paths the water takes to the bottom on the canyon.  Eventually we left the walkway and headed toward the lift that takes you to another platform at the top of the falls.  There is only one lift with a rather limited capacity, so there is quite a long queue.  There is a pathway that winds up the hill to the platform, but with the heat and humidity, it is more tempting to just wait for the lift!  From the top platform, you are greeted by a different, but no less spectacular view of the falls!  In the distance, through the hazy spray that is constantly rising, a platform on the Argentinian side can just about be seen; a flag a host of minuscular people.  It appears to be perched on the edge of a massive waterfall, looking into the Garganta do Diabo (or should I say Garganta del Diablo?), which must also be quite spectacular.  Looking to the right, beyond the spray and through the ever present rainbow, the walkway snakes out across the water, looking tiny and perilously close to the edge of the falls.  This is the grand finale of the tour, from here, the footpath takes you to a restaurant and array of snack-shops (lanchonettes) and the bus stop back to the park entrance.  It is a pleasant place to sit and watch the river slowly, calmly edging closer to the falls before reappearing as a cloud of fine spray.

Parque das Aves

The inquisitive toucan
Directly across the road from the carpark for the falls, is the Parque das Aves (literally “bird park” in English) which is a sanctuary for rescued birds, where they are kept in large enclosures that you can walk through, without having to look through windows or wire fences.  To protect the birds, the foot path is separated from the wooded area by a fence, although this did not prevent an inquisitive toucan from flying over to curiously nose around my wife’s hat, which she had laid on a bench!  I was impressed at how fearless the bird was, even as people gathered round to take close up photos.  If anything, I’d say he was playing up for the camera!




Itaipu

We spent a pleasant hour or so at the Parque das Aves before moving on the Itaipu Dam.  We booked tickets for the tour online and as we choose the longer tour (that goes over and inside the dam) there were limited time slots available.  The tour starts with a video presentation in a small cinema before boarding the buses that go up to the dam.  The first stop is the spillway, a group of locks that open when needed to the control the level of the reservoir, leading to a spectacular deluge down three chutes.  I say spectacular, because the photos look good…  The locks are only opened a few days each year and our visit wasn’t one of those days, so the spillway was bone dry.  From our vantage point, it appears relatively small, it was only when we were told that the gates on the locks are about 10 metres in diameter and the slope is 30 m long that we could put it in perspective and see how large it really is.

The desk on the left is in Brazil, the
one on the right is in Paraguay
From there, the tour bus takes you onto the dam itself.  What really strikes you is the scale of the thing; from the top, you see a panoramic view of the surrounding Brazilian and Paraguayan countryside, with Foz do Iguaçu and Ciudad del Este in the distance on either side of the Paraná River that marks the international border.  This scale is emphasised further as you descend into the depths of the dam seeing the huge tubes that carry the water and the massive generators.  From here, the tour goes inside the control centre for the dam, a large building straddling Brazil and Paraguay where everything is split equally between the two countries and a yellow line runs through the middle of the building to mark the border.  The tour group is split into two groups – Portuguese and English – for this part, where the guide tells the story of the dam’s construction as well as explaining the operation.  Everything is exactly equal between the two countries, although Brazil’s power needs are greater than those of Paraguay, so Paraguay sells some power back to Brazil – the 50Hz electricity generated by Paraguay is converted back to 60Hz for delivery to Brazil.

Foz do Iguaçu in the distance

Puerto Iguazú, Argentina

We decided to have dinner in Puerto Iguazú – just across the Argentine border – in a restaurant that was recommended to us called La Roeda.  I’m not sure whether this is normal or whether something was going on, but there seemed to be police everywhere after crossing into Argentina.  Inconveniently, one of the roads on the route was closed, throwing off the GPS and neither my wife nor I had a data signal on our phones, so we ended up on a bizarre back road tour of the city.  It was strange – it looked very much like any Brazilian small city, but the back roads were often poorly lit (if at all) with huge cambers on the road.  Coming out of one T junction, there was a massive dip before a steep slope onto the road – all of which was obscured by the poor lighting so I wasn’t driving as slow as I should have – which wasn’t particularly pleasant.  We eventually found ourselves on the right road, guessing the direction we needed to go, we stumbled on the restaurant, parked on the street and made our way in.

La Rueda, well worth a visit, excellent restaurant!
I get a bit mixed up when someone speaks to me in Spanish.  I can get the gist of what they’re saying, but I can’t bring myself to just reply in Portuguese, so no words leave my mouth!  Once I’ve got my Portuguese to a decent level, I think I’ll need to have a go at Spanish!  In reality, I shouldn’t have been too concerned as the staff can generally understand Portuguese, being on the border, and our waiter spoke good Portuguese.  The meal was very good and my bife de chorizo was perfect; Argentina is certainly good for steaks!  The staff were very friendly and the whole evening was very pleasant.  First impressions mean a lot and Argentina left a very good impression.

Ciudad de Este, Paraguay

On our last day, we decided to cross the bridge to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.  The city is popular with Brazilians looking for cheap shopping and there is one shopping Centre, Mona Lisa, which advertises with massive billboards stretching for hundreds of miles along the highway that leads to Foz do Iguaçu and Ciudad del Este.  It was a Sunday, but our good friend Google said the shopping centre was open, so we thought we’d go and have a look.

My first thought, before we’d even crossed the border, was what a mess!  The road that leads up to the border check point before the bridge is disorganised – borderline chaotic – and filthy, with litter everywhere.  The traffic becomes a bit more ordered as you drive slowly through the checkpoints, although I was surprised that neither exiting Brazil nor entering Paraguay were we stopped to check our papers.  When we entered and left Argentina, we had to stop and show our ID cards (passports if you’re not a resident of a MERCOSUL country.)

My second impression of the city wasn’t much better; even as we were exiting the border area, there was a swarm of people standing around the road, calling out in Spanish (and possibly Guarani, as some of it I couldn’t come closed to recognising it) and knocking on the car windows.  Waving them away didn’t work, they were persistent, although I had no idea what they wanted!  I assumed they were trying to sell something.  I realised that by stopping the car, however briefly, at the junction, it had encouraged them, so I headed off uttering the odd swear word…

We crossed the roundabout by the border and my wife pointed out that we had missed the shopping centre, which was on our left and rapidly receding into the distance.  Never mind, there’s bound to be a turn soon, so I can head back the way I came.

The ordered, slow traffic of the border crossing was just a memory, as cars came flying past on all sides giving the impression of a motorway, rather than a main road through a city.  Before long, we reached an equally chaotic roundabout – cars flying around, entering and exiting oblivious to other cars and lane discipline.  As I sat wondering how the hell I was going to join this madness, a car in the middle “lane” of the roundabout stopped, presumably to let me out, despite the cars speeding past of either side of it!  I spotted a gap, stepped on the gas and shot out into the fray.  I don’t know how I got round the roundabout, it’s all a bit of a blur, but I found myself back on the road heading to the shopping centre and the border.  We turned right to head to the shopping centre and found to our disappointment that it was closed. 

By this point, we had been in the country for about 10 minutes experiencing traffic chaos when moving and endless pestering when stationary so we decided to just head back to Brazil.  To get back to the main road, we had to follow a narrow street that went through a market and somehow do a u-turn to get back.  In Brazil, it’s not usually legal to do u-turns, but by this point, I was under the impression that rules don’t count for much in this city, so I spotted a gap and went.  After avoiding one suddenly stopping car and another one manically overtaking us (on a single-lane road through a market, remember), we reached the first roundabout whose first exit would lead us to Brazil.  As we waited for a gap in the continuous flow of traffic, a lunatic ran across the road – somehow avoiding the 4 lanes of speeding cars – to our car, again shouting and knocking on the windows.  That was it.  I saw a tiny gap, revved the engine and leapt onto the roundabout to the relative calm of Brazil. 

As we crossed the border, we started breathing again and tried to make sense of what had just happened.  We spent about 15 min in Paraguay and nothing about our trip made much sense!  We stopped at a petrol station and told the attendant about our experience.  He told us that they were probably trying to sell parking and that the best thing was to take a bus across the border, having a car with Brazilian number plates immediately marks you as a tourist and potential customer.  Well, now we know…

Marco das Três Fronteiras

Paraguay
Argentina
Before departing the area, we decided to find the spot where the borders of all three countries meet, where the Iguaçu River (Foz do Iguaçu literally means “mouth of the Iguaçu”) flows into the Paraná River.  There is a tourist souvenir shop here and, with an entry fee, the Marco das Três Fronteiras – the mark of the three borders.  The mark is a green and yellow pyramid obelisk and by looking across the rivers, you can see the busy counterpart area in Argentina with its blue and white pyramid obelisk and Paraguay’s quieter-looking area with a red, white and blue rectangular obelisk.  It’s worth pointing out that the Brazilian and Argentinian areas around located at the corner of their respective cities, while the area in Paraguay is a little to the south of the city, which may explain the lack of visible visitors.  We had some lunch from the café looking out over the rivers and three countries.  After the chaos and rush of our brief trip to Ciudad del Este, the serenity of the view provided a perfect farewell to this beautiful corner of the country(s).
The Brazilian obelisk, with the Argentinian and Paraguayan ones in the distance

Tips

After all this, I have some tips for anyone planning a trip to Foz do Iguaçu.
  1. Go to the cataratas in the morning.  This is when the light is best from the Brazilian side, and you’ll want to avoid the crowds anyway.
  2. Be prepared to get wet.  If you go onto the walkway, the spray will soak you through.  The heat will probably dry out your clothes, although I haven’t been there in winter to see what it is like then!
  3. Prepare for the quatis – avoid eating near them and don’t take anything in a carrier bag, as they will rip it open!  I don’t think they pose any dangers to people, but they can be a nuisance.
  4. Visit the Parque das Aves afterwards.  It’s right next to the entrance so it’s easy to get to.  It’s well worth a visit and it supports their rescue and recuperation activities.
  5. Visit Itaipu Dam (on a different day.)  We did it all in one day, but that meant it was a bit of a rush.  Far better to take your time and enjoy your day.  Itaipu is a little further north of the city so the visit will take a good few hours.
  6. Visit Puerto Iguazú (even if it’s just for dinner.)  I’ve heard that the falls viewed from the Argentinian side are even more spectacular than from the Brazilian side – I can’t comment, as I haven’t been!  Hopping across the border for a good steak was well worth it!  Just be aware of border controls though.  As a MERCOSUL citizen, or permanent resident, it’s easy to go through the border with your ID card, however visitors will have to ensure that they are stamped in and out of the countries.  There is some useful advice in this blog.
  7. If you plan on going to Ciudad del Este, plan it first.  It’s probably best not to drive, some people walk, some get the bus, I’m not sure which is best, but I don’t think I’ll be driving across any time soon!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Por que a história do Ryan Lochte é boa para o Brasil

Ryan Lochte - Foto da Globo
Todo mundo conhece a história do Ryan Lochte; ele e seus companheiros fingiram que foram assaltados por ladrões vestidos de policiais.  Logo foi revelada que o assalto não aconteceu; na verdade eles estavam bêbados e tentaram quebrar a porta de banheiro num posto de gasolina e foram detidos por guardas de segurança.  Os brasileiros ficaram com raiva por causa dessa história que faz com que o Brasil pareça um lugar muito ruim.  Isso mostrou também uma grande falta de respeito para com o pais e garantiu que, novamente, todas as notícias sobre o Brasil e as Olimpíadas fossem somente sobre esse caso.

Eu estava em Curitiba, semana passada, e peguei um taxi para o meu hotel.  O taxista estava muito chateado com essa história – para ele, isso foi mais uma prova que os Americanos são arrogantes e não são confiáveis!  (Pelo menos, eu fui o primeiro Britânico que ele encontrou, acho que ele ficou com uma boa impressão sobre nós!)  Eu não disse a ele, que na verdade – existem idiotas e pessoas arrogantes no mundo todo.  E que não é justo dizer que todos os Americanos são assim.  Mas eu disse a ele que acredito que essa história pode ter sido uma boa coisa para o Brasil.

O resto do mundo, em geral, não sabe muito sobre o Brasil.  Tem pessoas mais educadas, e pessoas que conhecem melhor o Brasil, mas a maioria não conhece muito, por que não tem acesso a muitas notícias sobre o pais, além de futebol e eventos como as olimpíadas.  Todo mundo sabe que o Brasil tem praias, tem a floresta amazônica e uma boa seleção de futebol (tem muito para falar neste ponto: uma outra vez!) e carnaval.  Por isso, a impressão que a maioria tem, é que o Brasil é um país muito pobre, que gosta de festa e não é sério.  E por esse motivo, existem pessoas ignorantes como Ryan Lochte que acham que podemos fazer ou falar qualquer coisa sem nenhuma consequência.  Para não ser o vilão da história, Lochte mentiu que tinha sido assaltado (mas ele foi muito macho e mesmo com uma arma apontada para sua cabeça, ignorou as ordens dos ladrões).  Ele achou que ninguém iria fazer nada, que o caso não seria investigado e que ninguém iria descobrir a verdade

Mas nesse caso, ele estava errado.  Esse país não é um país sem leis (como os filmes Americanos de Cowboys mostram o México) e a polícia é sério!  O caso foi investigado com seriedade, os fatos foram revelados e os policiais tinham mais perguntas a fazer ao grupo de nadadores, Depois da investigação os nadadores foram acusados de fabricar o crime em questão e mentirem para a polícia.  Foi então feito o pedido de extradição de Lochte para o Brasil.  Não é certeza que ele não será extraditado – ele disse que não irá responder as acusações – mas caso ele não seja, isso causaria um problema diplomático entre os dois países, não por culpa do Brasil, onde o caso foi investigado com seriedade e profissionalismo.


Existirão sempre idiotas que não respeitam outros países, outras pessoas e culturas, mas agora o Brasil mostrou para mundo que é um país sério, que tem leis e os que desrespeitam as leis, são presos.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Rio 2016

The build-up to every Olympics that I remember, have always been filled with doubts and controversies, mostly revolving around whether the host would be ready in time.  Rio 2016 certainly have its share of doubts and controversies.  The economic and political climate is significantly different than when Rio won the right to host the Olympics; the country is in recession and a severe political crisis with the upcoming impeachment trial of president Dilma Rouseff.  Could the Rio 2016 Olympics be successful?


With this backdrop, the were more doubts than usual about the preparedness of Rio for the games and many Brazilians didn’t want the games, at best you could say that people were apathetic towards the games.  Over time, the controversies mounted: the zika virus, the killing of a jaguar, the harassment of a rare river dolphin, police going unpaid in the city, pollution in Guanabara Bay (the location of the sailing events) and the constant threat of violence and crimes.

The foreign media were filled with doom and gloom any time the Olympics were mentioned, the people in Brazil didn’t seem to show any interest, it was only in the constant advertisements for SporTV’s coverage that I saw any enthusiasm!  But things changed once the games began.  The football started before the opening ceremony and people started to take note – football is, after all, the most popular sport in the country!  Then came the opening ceremony, impressing most with beautiful depictions of the native Indians, the arrival of European, Middle Eastern and Japanese immigrants and moving on to the musical cultures of Brazil.  The event didn’t escape criticism though.  The arrival of European immigrants was represented only by Portuguese, the original colonists, with no reference to the immigration from Italy, Germany, Poland, Ukraine – which each had very strong influences on the culture of different parts of Brazil.  There was also a feeling that other regions were ignored, with a passing reference to the Northeast, but no mention of the South, Centre or West of the country.  Although the games are hosted by one city, that city is essentially representing the rest of the country – something that was accomplished very well in the London 2012 opening ceremony (even if some of the humour might have been lost on people from outside the UK!)  Even some residents of Rio de Janeiro complained that the music only represented the culture of one part of the city!

Despite the criticisms, the majority of Brazilians were impressed with the opening ceremony and set the attitude for the rest of the games.  From that point, the games were always on tv at home, in the gym, people were talking about their favourite sports and players.  The female football team were widely praised for their strong start to the tournament, compared to the men’s team, who failed to impress in their first two games, with 0-0 draws against South Africa and Iraq.  Sporting events were filled with excited spectators; even the sports that are not traditionally popular in Brazil.

The downside were stories in foreign media complaining about the noise from the fans and booing.  In several events, umpires repeatedly pleaded for quiet from the spectators and many people complained about Brazilian fans booing, accusing them of bad sportsmanship.  This, however is a misunderstanding of the culture here.  In Europe and North America, booing is usually seen as bad sportsmanship and usually happens if a player is seen to have cheated or played unfairly.  In Brazil though, it’s part of the event.  It is probably traceable to football, as the most popular sport, where the fans cheer for their team and boo the other team, in much the same way as they sing songs that mock (and in many cases swear at) their rivals.  This last part isn’t too different to the football songs I’ve heard elsewhere.  But the main thing is that after the event, they still cheer the other team, even if they beat Brazil.  Brazilians tend to be very happy and excitable; they can be loud, but not aggressive – on the contrary, they are very friendly and open people, and at times, very emotional!  Don’t let the booing convince you otherwise – it is simply part of supporting their team.


A good example of this was the men’s football final between Germany and Brazil.  A lot was made of this match as the 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 world cup semi-final was still fresh in many people’s minds. During the match, the Brazilian team was cheered, when Germany had the ball, the fans booed.  The atmosphere was tense, there was a lot at stake and the fans made themselves heard!  But after the match, the Germans were cheered as they applauded the fans, as they returned to the pitch and as they received their medals.  There was no bad sportsmanship in evidence and no feeling of having “avenged” the world cup defeat; the fans were ecstatic that Brazil won their first ever gold medal for football!  Another example was after the men’s volleyball final; an Italian player was brought to tears as the crowd chanted “Italia!  Italia!”

Personally, I don’t like booing, it doesn’t feel right to me.  But I can recognise that there is a cultural difference here, so there is no need to condemn it.  What did disappoint me, though, was fans continuing to chant and sing during the German national anthem.  To me, that is extremely disrespectful, but thankfully something that is not common here – I think it was a minority that did this, although I can’t be certain.  Certainly not enough to tar the entire country with the same brush of bad sportsmanship.

Frevo, a traditional dance from the state of Pernambuco
Like the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony was by and large a success.  It was another chance to show off the culture of the country and this time, it went far wider than Rio.  There was a tribute to Carmen Miranda, Brazilian art, choro, frevo, carnaval music and closing with a Rio carnaval-style procession.  Unlike the formality of the opening ceremony, the athletes all entered together in any order, forming small groups and generally mixing up the nationalities.  The only thing missing, again, was any reference to the culture of the South or West of the country.  Many arguments broke out across social media over this topic, with people from the south complaining about the lack of their culture in the ceremony and others claiming that the Afro-Brazilian culture of the Northeast is somehow stronger than the more European-influenced culture of the South – more extreme responses claiming that those criticising the lack of southern presence were being racist!  This argument is very far-fetched as the majority of people I have spoken to generally enjoyed the ceremony and displays of Northeastern culture – they simply hoped to see some representation of the South as well. 


As the arguments fade away and Brazil returns to normal life, the Olympics are rapidly becoming a memory.  Brazilians are rightly proud of the accomplishments of all Brazilian athletes, however football is always foremost in their minds.  Within a day of the closing ceremony, changes to the national team (seleção) were announced, with the inclusion of many players from the successful Olympic team, including Weverton, the goalkeeper from Atlético Paranaense (my Brazilian team), that saved that crucial penalty.  The seleção will once again have the weight of expectations on their shoulders for the next international competition.


Weverton's save which helped to secure Brazil's win
It didn’t take long before the international media began to question whether the Olympics were truly a success.  In sporting terms, the athletes were indeed successful, with several medals won and approximately half the world’s population actively engaged with media of some kind.  But there were criticisms away from the sports.  An article from the BBC cited muggings, the now infamous Ryan Lochte story and an arrested IOC official amongst the problems.  The latter two can hardly be blamed on Rio or the organisers, while in the former case, Rio is known to be a violent city and apart from one high profile incident involving a Jiu-jitsu champion from New Zealand (just prior to the games), there appear to have been few reported problems.  There were issues with unsold tickets (the average price for a daily ticket was equivalent to half a week’s wage for a typical worker from a favela), the diving pool embarrassingly turned green and long queues slowed down access to some events, there were transport problems for getting between venues, but the reality is that major events rarely take place without problems. 


The positive effects of hosting the games cannot be ignored.  People were introduced to sports that are not traditionally popular in Brazil or South America and may now be inspired to have a go, others will be inspired by seeing local athletes win medals and see that they could do the same – the success in judo will surely lead to an increase in attendance at judo clubs throughout the country.  In addition to the sports, the rest of the world was introduced to Brazilian culture in a way that is not usually seen outside of South America.  Maybe when people think about Brazil, they’ll think beyond football, beaches, rainforests and the zika virus, but remember the various traditional dances, brides-to-be chanting “BBC, BBC” and a modern country capable of hosting the biggest events on the world stage.  Was Rio 2016 a success?  Despite its problems and occasional setback, I think that yes, it was a success.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Brazilian Barbecue

If you spend any time in Brazil or even meet a Brazilian, you will soon learn that Brazil has a strong tradition of barbecue, or churrasco in Portuguese.  People outside of Brazil can experience this in a Brazilian barbecue restaurant/ steak house, called a churrascaria.  These restaurants are very popular in Brazil and are become very popular in other countries as well. 


A churrascaria is essentially an all you can eat restaurant where you get salad, rice and beans from a buffet and the meat is brought to your table on skewers.  The quality and price varies hugely across types of churrascarias.  At the budget end of the market, the meat will usually be cheaper cuts of meat, maybe with the better cuts appearing occasionally, but not too often.  The buffet will be more basic as well, consisting of salad, farofa (fried cassava flour with bacon, egg, onion, garlic, olives (and other variations) – tastes much better than it sounds!), rice and beans.  The quality of the meat at these budget churrascarias is usually reasonable and represents good value for money.  More upmarket restaurants will offer a much more varied buffet, adding fine cheeses, extra salad options and various side dishes.  I have been to a few restaurants where I have been almost tempted to fill up my plate at the buffet, before remembering the star attraction.  The meat at these upscale churrascarias is obviously of a better quality.  You will see the nicer cuts of meat appearing much more frequently as well as more options, such as lamb marinated in garlic, pork wrapped in bacon to name but two examples I’ve seen.  One place I’ve been in Curitiba even brings round pasta dishes as well as having a sushi bar.  Most churrascarias I’ve been to in the UK and USA are more towards the high end, although they never quite measure up to the best in Brazil.  If you are in an area with several churrascarias, find out where the Brazilians go – probably more authentic, less flashy and better value for money.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are loads, but they generally go for style over substance, most Brazilians go to Cleo’s in San Bruno which is very good quality at a reasonable price (note – Cleo’s is not paying me to say this!)

A typical churrascaria

The first time you visit a churrascaria, it is tempted to get over-excited and accept every piece of meat that is brought round, leave you with a pile of food going cold on your plate – I’ve been there!  Unless you are in a very poor quality place (I can think of one in Oxford which has (surprise surprise) now closed down) then they will soon be back with more of the same meat, so take your time and enjoy it while it’s hot!  You can always request your favourite cut as well!  A good way to finish off the meal is with a slice of pineapple, grilled with sugar and cinnamon.  Not only is it tasty, but it is also a good aid to digestion and you may well need all the help you can get!

This style of barbecue is the style known as churrasco gaúcho, which originated in the state of Rio Grande do Sul and is popular throughout the South of Brazil.  Cooking individual steaks on a barbecue grill is generally referred to as churrasco Paulista – São Paulo-style barbecue.  Sunday lunchtime is the most popular time for a barbecue, although any time or occasion can become an excuse for a churrasco!  Depending on the amount of guests, one or two large cuts of meat will be slowly roasted for several hours, before eating with salad, farofa, maionese (potato salad) and rice.  Appetisers are usually sausages, chicken hearts or bits of meat that can cooked quicker on the barbecue and passed around on a plate with farinha de mandioca (cassava flour).

Brazil still has quite a macho culture and barbecues are typically the responsibility of the men, with the women being left to prepare the rice, salad and other accompaniments.  More often than not, the men will gather around the fire, passing around a large caipirinha glass (none of your delicate little cocktails here…) or drinking beer and talking about football.

Churrasco Meat

The names for cuts of beef vary by country so most of the cuts used in Brazilian barbecue don’t have a direct equivalent in other countries, although you can usually get close enough.  The Wikipedia page on cuts of beef provides a good description of the different cuts in several countries.  Here are some of the more common meats:

Picanha

Picanha
Picanha is one of the most popular cuts of meat for barbecues, indeed I have heard people say (mostly in São Paulo) that without picanha, it isn’t barbecue.  I know plenty people in the South that would disagree with that sentiment, but most agree that picanha is among the best cuts.  The picanha is a triangular cut of meat that could be translated as the rump cap.  The closest equivalent British cut would probably be the top of the topside and US churrascarias usually call it top sirloin.  (According to various diagrams for US cuts, the top sirloin is not actually where the picanha is, so either they misname it, or use a different cut and call it picanha.)


In a churrascaria, picanha is usually cut into wide strips and then folded on the skewer such that the layer of fat sits on the outside forming a ‘C’ shape.  The meat is then carved off from the flat sides.  When doing a barbecue at home, most people either cut the picanha into steaks and grill them, or skewer the entire piece and roast it.

Costela

Fogo de chão with costela
The Costela (rib) is particularly popular in the South.  It needs to be roasted very slowly and high above the fire for best results.  Costela is the cut most often associated with fogo de chão: literally translated as fire on the ground, this consists of a fire with meat on large skewers driven into the ground. 


Alcatra

This could also be called top and bottom sirloin, but the closest British equivalent would probably be the rump.  Alcatra is another very popular cut, almost as much as picanha.

Costelinha de Porco

Costelinha (literally little ribs, as the word ‘costela’ on its own typically refers to beef ribs) of pork is a popular barbecue meat, although I haven’t see it so often at churrascarias – probably as it does not easily lend itself to carving off a skewer.  Some more high end churrascarias may bring round costelinha de porco (or even costela) in serving dishes and then carve it at the table, but this isn’t very common.  The usual way to cook costelinha is to skewer it and slowly roast it over a high heat.

Coração de Frango

Coração de frango, pork medallions and linguiça 
Chicken hearts are a common part of a Brazilian barbecue and rather tasty.  In a churrascaria, they tend to come round on skewers with all the other meats, although for barbecues at home, they tend to be served as an appetiser on a plate with some farinha de mandioca.

Linguiça


Linguiça is a type of thick, pork sausage, popular in barbecues.  Much like coração de frango, it is a common addition to a churrascaria or as an appetiser at home; sliced with farinha de mandioca.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Spending Winter in Brazil

Take just about everything you think you know about Brazil and put it to one side – save it for summer.  Winter in Brazil – or at least in the south – takes on a completely different style.  Gone are the trips to the beach, nights spent trying to keep cool, walking around in shorts and t-shirt, now we have Festa Junina, nights spent under half a dozen blankets and wearing jumpers and jackets to sit around the house.  You don’t need to spend much time in the South of Brazil to see some cultural differences with the rest of Brazil, but when June arrives, these cultural differences come through even more.

I’ve already written about how bloody cold it gets here, so I won’t dwell on it, although the weather is far from predictable.  At the beginning of June, the overnight temperatures were reaching 0°C, although it has since become somewhat milder with daytime highs around 24°C and night-time lows around 10°C.  All well and good, but I’m waiting for temperatures to plummet again, this winter has been too easy so far!

A pinha, full of pinhões
One of the first signs of the approaching winter is the availability of pinhões in the supermarkets and by the side of the roads.  Even before the start of the season, a pinhão hysteria takes over Paraná and people start counting down, licking their lips in anticipation.  You may recall me writing about these seeds and how I wasn’t altogether very impressed.  Well, as I suspected, they are an acquired taste and after a month or so, I appear to have acquired that taste, to the point where I am now a firm believer in selecting the best pinhões, as opposed to simply scooping a load into a bag!


Once winter arrives, there is another culinary shift.  The customary light evening meal (usually breads, salami, cheese, maybe some salad) is replaced by more warming fare, typically soups. One popular soup is sopa de agnoline.  This is a soup that was brought to Brazil by Italian immigrants and consists of stuffed pasta (agnoline or cappelletti) – a bit like dumplings – in a thin, watery broth with pieces of chicken.  I might not be selling this very well, but it is very tasty and just what you need on a cold winter evening!  Again, this is a dish that the locals take very seriously, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have asked me whether I’ve tried sopa de agnoline!

Quentão with gemada

So you’ve munched on a pinhão or three (probably accompanied by chimarrão), had a filling dinner of sopa de agnoline and now you’re hiding under a blanket in the living room, trying to get warm.  What you need is a good, warming drink.  Forget coffee at this time of night, you’re looking for quentão.  Quentão (literally translated, means big warm) is essentially mulled wine (or glühwein or vin chaud if you prefer.)  The preparation is slightly different to European varieties of the drink, and usually consists of red wine (the cheap and nasty stuff you would never normally drink), sugar, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  It is sometimes served with gemada – raw egg yolks beaten with sugar – making it thick and sweet.  In São Paulo, quentão is made using cachaça (and no gemada), but I have not yet tried this, and the quentão I previously described is called vinho quente (literally, hot wine.)

A popcorn cake at the
church hall in Pato Branco
All of this comes together in Festa Junina, a popular party held throughout June and continuing into July.  Sometimes known as Festa de São João, this is a celebration that is held all over Brazil and involves people dressing up in countryside fancy dress (men as farm boys, boys often with a painted moustache and women and girls wearing pigtails, freckles and red-checked dresses) with winter food and drink (pinhão, popcorn, cornbread and quentão (with a non-alcoholic version made with grape juice for the children), country music and dancing.  The most common type of dance similar to square dancing, called quadrilha, which is performed to country music and is centred around a mock wedding.  During the daytime, these quadrilha are mostly performed by children, although adults also participate in the evenings.  There are several festas juninhas held throught the cities, often organised by schools and churches, throught June and July.

On 26th June (Sunday) in Pato Branco, a large Italian lunch was organised by the church, in the massive hall across the road from the church – part of two weeks of festivities for Festa de São Pedro, St Peter’s Feastival, the patron saint of Pato Branco.  As well as the triangular flags of festa junina, the hall was decorated in red, white and green and filled with long tables.  The food was typical of Italian food at the time of mass emigration to Brazil (North Americans call it family-style), but with a Brazilian twist.  The tables were called to the hot buffet stations one at a time to load up with pasta, salad, polenta, chicken and pork, although there were warnings not to take too much, you can always go back for more!  The lunch was finished off by a selection of cakes and sweets for purchase.
Italian lunch, showing one of the queues for food
and the rows of tables


Choosing meat for the barbecue
The conclusion of festivities for the Festa de São Pedro was the barbecue.  St Pedro’s day is on 29th June (Wednesday this year) and a local holiday (unless you happen to be a home-based employee of a company in São Paulo, when you get their holidays…) and this is marked by a massive barbecue for the entire city.  The day before, you go to an enclosure full of row after row of barbecues and join the long queue to choose and buy the cut of meat you want, skewered with a card tag to identify it. 

On the day of the barbecue, the fires are lit in the rows of barbecues and the hundreds of skewers are lined up to roast.  The numbers on the car tags identify which barbecue they will go to and aid you in finding it.  Dozens of people attending the barbecues, keeping the fires going and ensuring the meat is well cooked.  At midday, the enclosure is packed with people as half of the city turns out to collect their meat and take it home for lunch. 


After the Festa de São Pedro, the festivities start to die down in Pato Branco, with the occasional Festa Junina and Julina (Festa Junina in July – Julho in Portuguese) popping up here and there, but very infrequently.  The city settles back into its normal rhythms and people wait for the winter holidays.  Of course this typically refers to schools, where the last two weeks of July are holidays (also a welcome break for teachers!)  During this time, people either head north to escape the cold, or venture further south to get colder!  There are two cities in particular that are very popular at this time of year; Gramado and Canela, in Rio Grande do Sul.  These two cities lie in the Serra Gaúcha mountains and are only 9km (6 miles) apart.  In winter, temperatures can drop below 0°C leading to hard frost and snow is not uncommon.  In addition to getting a taste of winter, these cities are popular for the beautiful countryside in which they sit, the Bavarian inspired architecture, chocolatiers and artisan shops.  Gramado is next on my list to visit, more on that later!