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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!

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Olympics are Coming

You may not have realised it, but the Olympics in Rio are coming soon.  If you didn’t realise; what cave have you been hiding in, and is there room for one more?

You can’t escape it – everywhere you look, there’s some reference to Rio 2016, the correios (post office) have released a range of Olympic stamps, along with some stickers that can be added to envelopes, Olympic designs are appearing on some R$1 coins, every airport has an official Rio 2016 shop and sports channels fill the ad breaks with reminders of how you can watch all the fun on that particular channel (or network, considering rede Globo seems to own a large portion of the channels).  Then looking at international media, it’s there too: either it’s a new doping scandal and hope it will affect the Rio games, it’s a young hopeful in some given sport who is heading to the games, or – and this is what I see most – it’s stories about how Rio might not be ready for the games and the cleanliness of the water in Guanabara Bay where some of the aquatic sports are to be staged.

Pollution in Guanabara Bay

 So how is the mood here?  Honestly, I haven’t encountered any enthusiasm.  I will qualify this by pointing out that I live in the middle of Paraná, 1,200km (750 miles) from Rio, and maybe the people there are more excited, but here; not so much.  There’s a general feeling that it is not the right time for Brazil to be hosting the Olympics, being in the middle of a recession and assorted political crises.

Juma the Jaguar, appearing in chains with the torch
These negative feelings then turned to anger at the news of the shooting of a jaguar that was used in part of an Olympic torch event in Manaus.  It had reportedly escaped attacked a soldier soon after the event and, after four tranquiliser darts failed to stop the big cat, it was shot dead by a soldier with a pistol.  There was initially anger over the use of a chained, wild animal together with the Olympic torch, which was only amplified over the news of its death. 

Pink River Dolphin
lured out of the water
Soon after this, there was more outrage as a torch bearer entered a river and lured an endangered pink river dolphin out of the water to be photographed by the torch.  While the organisers claimed that the dolphin was in its natural habitat, many people were angered about the exploitation and harassment of wild animals for the purposes of publicity, especially after the death of the jaguar.

Since then, there are been several attempts to extinguish the flame as it tours Brazil, including using a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water.  So when the torch came to Pato Branco, we didn’t know what to expect.  I was told that the torch would be carried through the town, along Rua Tocantins, where I live and would make its way to the Ginásio Patão, a sports complex on the outskirts of the city.  I wasn’t particularly excited about the torch, but non-the-less interested to see it – it’s not every day the Olympic torch passes through your town after all.  So I decided I’d watch from the balcony and take a few photos; maybe the aerial viewpoint would be quite interesting.  I didn’t know exactly what time it would pass, so I settled down to watch the Germany vs Italy match on tv, keeping an eye out the window. 

Calm as the procession approached
By 5pm, the sun was starting to set and there was still no sign of the torch.  By 6pm, there was noise from the city’s square, but no sign of the torch, the sun was down and the last glows in the sky were fading.  It wasn’t until 7pm, with the sky completely dark, that the road was closed and a procession of vehicles started to slowly makes its way down Rua Tocantins.  We have a net on the balcony, to prevent the cats from falling, which meant I had no chance of taking a picture with the flash, so – somewhat grumpily – I went outside to await the torch. 
 
One lane of the road had been closed off, with tape barriers protruding into the road at an angle to allow crowds an unobstructed view of the procession making its way up the hill, although they needn’t have bothered as there was hardly anyone else waiting; near me, there was a woman and her daughter down the hill and a small group slightly higher up, elsewhere I saw scattered groups of people.

The procession was preceded by several police motorbikes driving up and down to clear the road and, I assume, looking for people with buckets, although there did not appear to be any trouble and eventually the procession arrived.  First came a small coach carrying torch-bearers for the next stages of the relay, followed by floats for Coca Cola (handing out small cans of coke) and Bradesco (a Brazilian bank) and finally, the torch bearer, closely surrounded by fire fighters singing army running songs as they passed.

Just then, I bumped into my wife’s cousin, who had been in the square for the start of the relay and followed the torch to where I was now.  We decided to head up the hill to Ginásio Patão to see the end of the Pato Branco torch relay.  When we arrived, the atmosphere was completely different.  Rather than random bunches of interested onlookers, this was a festival.  A large stage had been set up with live music, giant inflatable balloons with the Olympic and Coca Cola logos (I always like the irony of pairing up one organisation that is concerned with the absolute pinnacle of human fitness and sporting achievement, and the other a purveyor of sugary soft drinks – completely different ends of the spectrum!) and floats where you can queue to have your photo taken with an Olympic torch and one of the sponsors’ products in the background (Coca Cola or Bradesco logos, Nissan cars…)

Giant balloons over the crowd
As arrival time for the torch approached, two giant white ducks (the name Pato Branco literally means ‘White Duck’) made their way to the stage, where they remained, bobbing around until the end of the festivities.  A buzz of excitement went through the crowds, everyone gathered by the barriers, phone aloft and the torch bearer arrived to much excitement.  The flame was then transferred to another torch, which was taken through the gates to the newly renovated sports complex, before returning to the middle of the crowd and making its way to the stage to light the larger torch.  Finally, after an interview and some speeches (although I couldn’t tell who was actually on the stage), the flame was transferred to a lantern and the torch on stage was extinguished.  The crowds started to melt away and it wasn’t long before the stage was being disassembled in order to take the show to the next destination.




Olympic Torch on the stage
The day seemed to be a good representation of the country’s ambivalence towards the games, somewhat similar to the thoughts about the World Cup in 2014.  While people are angry that the games are going ahead against a backdrop of recession and corruption, that Guanabara Bay is still polluted, that wild animals were used for publicity and harassed or killed, there is still a seam of excitement running through a country, a sense of participating in history and, when the games begin, I’m sure the country will be getting behind their athletes and enjoying the games.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Winter in Brazil

Chilly start to the day in Pato Branco
Ask most people around the world what they think of the Brazilian climate and they will tell you that it’s warm, hot, tropical or any other similar adjective.  Mention winter and they’ll say it can’t be that bad.  Well…


Brazil is a large country from Northern parts above the equator and the South extending below the tropic of Capricorn.  So yes, Brazil is definitely a tropical country and there are parts of the country where a slight dip in temperature is barely noticed, parts where there is no real change and parts where the seasons are defined as rainy and dry. 

One of the many winter memes from Paraná
This is my first experience of a Brazilian winter, or a Paraná winter to be specific, and so far, it doesn’t feel very tropical!  While I had been told about how cold it can get and seen countless memes showing blue, frozen people wrapped in blankets with icicles hanging from their face, nothing quite prepares you for the experience.

After the heat of summer, I was expecting a gradual cool-down to a couple of months of winter, followed by a warm-up back towards summer.  What actually happened was the start of a gradual cool-down, then a heat wave in April and then a sudden plummet into winter at the end of the month.  If came as a bit of a shock, one night, struggling to sleep in oppressive heat and humidity, next night, extra blankets and huddling close for warmth.  The weather stayed mild for some time – a bit chilly at night, warmish during the day – not too bad…


The mercury dips and these photos appear.  Not
so bad?  It is when it's colder inside the house!
Then came June.  During the night, the mercury dips perilously close to 0°C, raising above 10°C during the day.  This doesn’t sound too bad, and I used to laugh at the complaints I heard, but then you come back to the fact that Brazil is a tropical country.  For most of the year, the weather is either warm, hot or very hot, and the houses have been built to accommodate this and allow the heat to escape.  This means that when the temperature drops outside, indoor temperatures are following close behind.  Central heating on a timer set to start half an hour before breakfast time is a distant (blissful) memory, getting undressed for a shower is torturous and the thought of leaving the hot water and returning to the chilly air fills you with dread.  While we have heaters, they are mostly fan heaters sending directional blasts of warm air, with the unfortunate side effect that areas not covered appear to suffer a breeze of even colder air, sending people into hiding beneath layers of blankets, wearing thick jumpers, jackets and hats. 

This all makes me yearn for Britain and the promise of a nice warm house – until I think about summer and how the efficiently insulated houses turn on their inhabitants, transforming into hot, sticky saunas and then I think of how much more tolerable hot summer days can be here, relaxing at the beach, going to the river, barbecues, caipirinhas and beer…


But June isn’t over, July is coming and I can’t find my gloves…

Monday, 13 June 2016

Pinheiro and Pinhão

Araucária, AKA Pinheiro-do-Paraná
One of the most distinctive sights in Paraná is the araucária, also known as pinheiro-do-Paraná (Paraná pine) or pinheiro-brasileiro (Brazilian pine).  While it can be found throughout the south of Brazil, it is considered the state tree of Paraná and can be seen everywhere.  While there are several varieties of araucaria, they all have the same basic shape; tall, with long branches at the top with leaves forming in round bunches and a flat top – almost as though it reached a maximum height and then started growing outwards. 


A stand of pinheiros near Pato Branco
They can be found almost anywhere around here, either growing together in stands of pinheiros, sometimes rising above the canopy of a forest, sometimes growing individually and sometimes in the middle of a city.  It is not uncommon to see a pinheiro or group of the trees in the middle of a big city, such as Curitiba. 

The seeds of the araucaria, called pinhão (the plural is pinhões) in Portuguese and edible and extremely popular in the South of Brazil and among populations of native Brazilians.  Due to extensive logging and the popularity of the pinhão, the araucaria has become endangered and the sale of pinhões is only permitted during a specific period between April and August.  Selling pinhões outside of this period is considered an environmental crime.

Pinha: where pinhões come from
People in Paraná go insane for these seeds!  During the build-up to the start of the season (which was 1st April this year) local newspapers publish the date that the season starts and all over social media people post memes and countdowns until the start of the season. When the magic day arrives, pinhão sellers appear by the side of every highway, huge crates of the things appear in the supermarkets and people rush to buy a bag of pinhões then rush to get them home and in a pan.


So what’s all the fuss about?  With such excitement and expectation before the season begins, with practically everyone asking whether I’d tried pinhão, it sounds like it’s Brazil’s answer to truffles.  The reality?  Um, it’s ok…  I have to admit I wasn’t overly impressed the first time I tried pinhão. 

Before you even get to taste it, you need to get past the shell, the best approach being to carefully bite one end, squeezing the inner part out through a split in the front.  But it doesn’t always go according to plan: sometimes the split isn’t big enough and you have to peel away the shell (not the easiest thing in the world), sometimes you bite into the seed and need to pick bits apart, sometimes you get a rotten one and when you bite, you get a mouthful of foul-tasting juice.  Oh and don’t burn your fingers on the hot shell, but don’t wait for it to cool, as it’ll be even harder to extract the inner seed.  So before I’d even got into the pinhão I was irritated with it!  Well, hopefully it’s worth the effort…

Inside the pinhão
As I said, it’s ok, but not amazing.  The seed is a few cm long with a firm texture and an earthy flavour, not quite like anything I’d tried before, improved by dabbing it in a bit of salt.  All I can assume is that it’s an acquired taste (as you do find yourself working your way through the bowl at the same pace as anyone else, only slowed down by your inefficiency at opening the damned things!)  Maybe in a year or so, I’ll be joining in the hysteria when pinhão season starts again!


There are other ways of eating pinhão, aside from boiling and squeezing them into your mouth (you can roast them as well but it’s even more difficult to open them).  There are numerous recipes for meat dishes with pinhão, pizza toppings, pinhão cake, pinhão pudding…  To date, apart from the aforementioned boiling technique, I’ve only had one dish of meat with pinhão and it did make for an interesting addition, so let’s see some of these other recipes.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Corruption Part 2 – How to Get Away with Murder in Brazil

Step 1 – make friends with the President
Step 2 – become a minister
Step 3 – enjoy your immunity

This may sound a little flippant, but it’s not too far from the truth.  According to law, ministers may only be prosecuted by the STF (Supremo Tribunal Federal – Supreme Federal Court) thereby offering a measure of legal immunity.  In what sounds like the plot from a very poorly written soap opera, this is being exploited to prevent ex-president Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva (commonly known as Lula) from being prosecuted in the LavaJato investigation into corruption.

A small version of the inflatable caricatures of Lula
On 4th March 2016, Lula was detained for questioning by Federal Police over suspicions of money laundering.  Due to the depth of corruption in upper levels of Petrobras and PT (the Worker’s Party, founded by Lula) many people in Brazil have long suspected that Lula must have been involved in corruption or at the very least have been aware and done nothing, so his questioning came as no surprise to many people, and many anti-corruption protests are characterised by large inflatable caricatures of Lula wearing convict clothes. 


On Friday 11th March, it was announced that prosecutors were seeking the arrest of Lula in relation to charges of fraud and money laundering.  At around the same time, it because apparent that PT was planning to make Lula a minister to protect him from prosecution by Judge Sérgio Moro, the leading investigator of Operação Lava Jato. 

On Tuesday 15th March, following massive protests on Sunday 13th, Lula flew to Brasilia for talks with president Dilma which were completed on Wednesday 16th March.  It was announced that chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, would stand down with “greatness and selflessness on the day of his birthday” to cede his post to Lula.  Some media outlets suggest that the purpose of this is to help protect president Dilma from impeachment proceedings and Dilma herself claims that the appointment is to start the economic recovery, but the timing of the decision and announcement is completely transparent: to protect Lula from prosecution as part of Lava Jato.

Sérgio Moro, Federal Judge in charge
of Operação Lava Jato
Within hours of the move, Judge Sérgio Moro released phone recordings that suggest, as was already widely suspected, that Lula’s appointment is to prevent his arrest.  In the recording, Dilma offered to send Lula a copy of his appointment “in case of necessity” – where the only conceivable occasion where this document would be necessary would be an attempted arrest.  Dilma has now said that she will refer the judge to the Supreme Court for political interference, a move that, to me at least, sounds a lot like “I’m telling my mummy on you.”  There was anger in Congress with opposition leaders accusing Dilma of breaching the constitution, chanting “resign, resign.”


...and for Lula
Protestors against Lula...
Of course, the anger was not contained to Congress as all this led to wide-spread protest across the country on Wednesday evening.  In every major city, people were in the streets wearing green and yellow, waving flags.  In São Paulo, protestors in Avenida Paulista, the principal avenue of the city, blocked traffic in both directions.  The police estimated that there were 5,000 protestors by 8:45pm and by the end of the night, this number has risen to 70,000.  In Brasilia, around 2,000 people protested at the presidential palace singing the national anthem.  In São Bernardo do Campo 200 protestors gathered outside Lula’s house, while a separate group of PT supporters also “protested.”  Given that Lula was being protected, it’s hard to see exactly what they were protesting – simply showing support for Lula by contributing to the noise that would keep him from sleeping!  To me, this form of demonstration to support the government seems reminiscent of demonstrations of support help under dictatorships, such as in Iraq and Libya.

 
Protestors in Brasilia.  The banner reads "we are with Sérgio Moro"
The protests even spread to smaller towns, such as Pato Branco.  At around 9:30pm, around the time of the official announcement, people around the city centre started banging sauce pans and flashing their house lights in protest.  On the streets, drivers were continually sounding their horns.  The banging continued for an hour, while the car horns were still going until 11pm.  After this, there was still the occasional angry beep.

Social media was awash with anger at the appointment and sadness for the state of Brazil.  Many people posted modified pictures of the Brazilian flag, sometimes showing tears, sometimes with the colours exchanged for black with the word “luto”, Portuguese for “mourning.”  A message quickly spread suggesting that everyone angry with Lula’s appointment should wear a black shirt on Thursday 17th March.
Some of the posts on social media, the general themes are mourning and
fighting corruption


As an outsider, looking in on this system, I find it entirely unbelievable that anyone under a criminal investigation could be raised to a ministerial position within government.  Regardless of whether he is guilty or innocent, surely he should be suspended pending investigation and appear in court to determine the facts of the matter.  If he is proven innocent, then he would be free to continue with his life, take up any position in government and return to normal – the innocent have nothing to hide.  By making him a minister and thus immune from prosecution, PT is implying (strongly) his guilt and show no shame in protecting him.  Which, to my mind, raises important questions about the motives of the party and their involvement in the Lava Jato scandal.


If Lula is innocent of the charges brought against him, then it is baffling that he would choose a course of action that, far from clearing his name, implies guilt.  If he is guilty, then he’s (figuratively) just got away with murder.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Corruption

This is one of the hardest posts for me to write, partly due to the complexity and enormous scale of the problem here but also because this is Brazil’s single biggest problem and has the potential to bring the country to its knees – indeed, it is already coming close to that.  I imagined writing a post about this someday – preferably once I had really got to grips with the political system here and my Portuguese was good enough to understand all the subtle nuances – but current events are guiding my hand.

Corruption - dragging the country down
Corruption is not a new problem here, it dates back to colonial times, and doubtless came to Brazil along with the European settlers and immigrants.  It has become so endemic that some people have come to accept it as inevitable and permanent.  Sometimes, when you hear about a politician taking bribes, or money being diverted from where it is needed most, people say “uh, that’s just Brazil”, “all politicians are corrupt”, “what can we do about it?”, “it’ll never change”  and life continues as normal.  I think that this is a large contributor to the “complexo vira lata” or mutt-complex, a kind of pessimistic feeling of inferiority that some sociologists have identified in the Brazilian collective psyche. 

I am glad to say that this acceptance of corruption is gradually changing.  People are starting to realise that when corrupt politicians embezzle money or accept bribes to offer lucrative contracts to companies, it is their money that is being stolen, it is their schools, hospitals and public services that are suffering, it is their roads and infrastructure that are crumbling and going to waste.  In 2013, the giant awoke and millions of Brazilians from all over the country took to the streets to protest against the corruption that was surrounding preparations for the 2014 World Cup – an event that was supposed to be a showcase for this football-loving country.  Stadium construction was slow, new roads and railway lines that had been promised and paid for were not appearing (in their place, construction sites or, in some cases, nothing at all) money was being diverted from schools and hospitals and people had had enough.  Why should they host the World Cup at such a cost?

Operation Car Wash - uncovering more names
The latest scandal to embroil the government involves a massive ring of corruption involving the state-owned petroleum company, Petrobras.  A low level investigation into a car wash uncovered a huge network of corruption suspected of laundering more that R$10 billion (US$ 2.7 billion, as of March 2016) involving the several construction companies and politicians linked to Petrobras.  The investigation, known as Operação Lava Jato (operation car wash) has been ongoing since March 2014 and has led to the questioning and arrest of several executives of the companies and politicians.  Recently, former president Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva (commonly known as Lula) has been questioned by the Federal Police and, as of 11th March 2016 prosecutors were seeking his arrest on suspicion of money laundering.

President Dilma and former Prisedent Lula
It has long been suspected that president Dilma Rousseff (who chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003 to 2010) and former president Lula must have been aware of this criminal activity, if not been actively involved, which has led to protests against them and their party, PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores – worker’s party – the party that has been in Government since 2003) calling for her impeachment.  This was complicated further when the leader of the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of the Congress,) who called for her impeachment, was investigated for receiving more than US$40 million in kickbacks and bribes.  The fall-out of this turned into a series of childish accusations between politicians, essentially accusing the opposing party of being more corrupt and hence in the wrong.  In addition, the party has rallied around Lula, attempting to make him a minister to offer him immunity from arrest.


"There will not be a coup, there will be justice"
This ill-feeling then spilled out to the supporters of the various parties involved.  A significant proportion of the population that are fed up of this corruption have come to associate it largely with PT, more specifically with president Dilma and former president Lula – a popular argument is that as chair of the board of Petrobras, Dilma must have at least been aware of the corruption, making her complicit, or if, as she claims, she was unaware of the corruption, then an incompetent CEO and president.  Supporters of PT, on the other hand, believe that the party has done no wrong and that the protestors are elitist and attempting a coup d'état to remove PT from office.  They point to allegations (proved or otherwise) of corruption in other parties as a bizarre justification of their support for PT.  This is one of the most perplexing issues of the whole debate – in the face of criminal investigations by the Federal Police and Judiciary, how can these people blindly follow and defend politicians without awaiting the conclusion of the investigations?  And more to the point, how can a political party attempt to divert a criminal investigation into one of their members?  By not distancing themselves from the accused and actively attempting to block the investigations, they only appear to be implicating themselves.


Protest in São Paulo
On Sunday 13th March, a massive series of protests was held across several cities in Brazil; most notably in São Paulo and Brasilia, but in practically all major cities, even down to smaller cities like Pato Branco.  Estimates of the number of protestors vary, with claims of between 500,000 and 1.5 million in São Paulo and 1 million in Rio de Janeiro.  (It is practically impossible to obtain an accurate estimate as the numbers themselves tend to be used as political propaganda.)  The protestors, dressed in the green and yellow of Brazil and waving flags, were calling for ex-president Lula’s arrest, the impeachment of president Dilma and political reform. 


In response to PT’s accusations that the impeachment being sought and that these protests were a political coup d'état against the party, many protestors carried banners that called for an end to corruption from all parties, explicitly naming PT and PSDB (the largest opposition party.)  Indeed when Aecio Neves, the leader of PSDB what narrowly lost to Dilma in the 2014 election, and Geraldo Alckmin, Governor of São Paulo state, attended the protest in São Paulo, they were booed and soon left. 


So what was the result?  The honest answer, is that I don’t know.  The Lava Jato Investigation is ongoing, prosecutors are still seeking the arrest of Lula, PT are trying to make him a minister (thus immune to all investigations except by the Supreme Court – this doesn’t look suspicious at all…), social media is still full of people criticising PT, criticising PSDB, criticising supporters of PT, criticising supporters of PSDB (assumed and actual supporters) demanding an end to corruption, demanding more transparency…  As I said at the beginning of the post, corruption is Brazil’s single biggest problem and it won’t go away overnight.  But I, as well as a sizable majority of Brazilians, hope that the country is on the right path; that those involved in corruption will go to jail; that the political system will be reformed to increase transparency and thus reduce corruption; that the economy will improve and that this great country will finally realise its potential.

Protest in Brasilia with large inflatable Lula as a convict


Thursday, 10 March 2016

I’m not a Number, I’m a Free… Oh Wait, I’m 123.456.789-01

I’m also G123456-7, 123.45678.90-1 and 1234567 (obviously not my actual numbers, but you get the point.)  One of the strangest aspects of living in Brazil is how much of your life is governed by documents and numbers. 

In Britain you occasionally need your national insurance number to work, to deal with your taxes etc and in the US you need your Social Security number for that and to buy a phone, set up cable tv etc.  The equivalent in Brazil is the CPF, (Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas – literally Individual Registration) which is your tax ID.  You need this ID to work, pay taxes, buy electronic goods, stay in a hotel, make a coach journey… you name it, you probably need your CPF for it.  Some states have also set up a voluntary scheme where you give your CPF at the till in shops and for each R$50 you send in a month, you get an electronic ticket for a draw to potentially win a cash prize up to R$50,000 (and on special dates – whatever that means – up to R$200,000.)  From what I can tell, this scheme was designed to encourage spending and stimulate the economy.  I first heard of this when I visited São Paulo last year – I found it strange that even supermarkets were asking for CPF – and now it has arrived in Paraná and various other states.

CPF - this used to be a card, but now, they
just send you a black and white pdf to print
After your initial registration in Brazil, applying for a CPF is one of the first things an immigrant needs to do.  I’m told that you can do this at a bank or post office, although as my company was assisting with my documents, an immigration consultancy company handled mine for me.  This involved signing a power of attorney form, having it notarised (Brazilian bureaucrats love notarising) and sending it by SEDEX (fast, secure mail service) to the lawyers.  As this took place over the Christmas and New Year break, it took over a week.  I since found out that when you apply for a CPF at a bank or post office, you get your number there and then – having the lawyers take care of it turned out to be a waste of time and I would only advise anyone to do this if they do not speak Portuguese and do not know anyone that speaks Portuguese and their own language (which would make living in Brazil hard enough.)

The CPF is one of the documents used most often when living in Brazil, the other is the RG (Registro Geral – literally General Registry) which is the ID card required of every Brazilian which has an identifying number (of course) a photo and thumb print as well as personal information such as date and place of birth, parents’ names and signature.  Only Brazilian citizens can have an RG, foreign residents have an RNE (Registro Nacional de Estrangeiros, literally National Registry of Foreigners), which is a salmon-pink card with the same details as the RG as well date of entry into Brazil, classification (permanent or temporary)  expiry date of the card.  I should point out that RG and RNE are not the official names of the card, but rather the identifying number written on it.  As this is the information usually required, it’s more convenient to refer to the cards as RG and RNE.  The full names are Registro de Identidade Civil (civil identity registry) and Cédula de Identidade de Estrangeiro (foreigner’s identity card.)

As an immigrant in Brazil, registering for your RNE is one of the first things you do.  A requirement of my visa (and I assume any type of immigrant visa) was that I register with the Federal Police within 30 days of arriving in Brazil.  For this, you need to take the following documents:
RNE - ID card for foreign residents in Brazil
  • Passport and a copy of all of the page of the passport
  • Original visa application form (this is the form that was given to you at the consulate when your visa was issued)
  • 3 recent colour photos against a white background, size 3x4
  • Copy of proof of address (doesn’t need to be in your name, but must be where you live in Brazil)
  • Copy of spouse’s RG and CPF (if it is a marriage visa)
  • Marriage certificate and “legalised” marriage certificate (from the Brazilian consulate, you needed this to get the visa in the first place!  I wasn’t told about this by the immigration consultants, luckily I thought to bring them along just in case)
  • Entry/exit card from your arrival in Brazil
  • Previous protocol (if you have previously applied)


At the end of the appointment, you will be given the Registry Protocol – a slip of paper with your photo which confirms that you have registered with the Federal Police.  Until your RNE arrives, you will need this to open a bank account, apply for a CPF, notarise documents etc.  I was told it may take up to six months for the RNE to arrive, but mine took two months.


But that’s not all!

CTPS - Work and Social Security Booklet
The final document you will need if you are going to work in Brazil is the CTPS (Carteira de Trabalho e Previdência Social – work and social security booklet.)  This document is a small booklet that looks like a passport and contains a photo, thumb print, personal details and two more numbers (one is the number of the document, the other is a social security number.)  Any time you start a new job, the details are written (or in my case, printed and glued) into the booklet with details of the employer and salary.  If your salary changes, then it will be updated in the work booklet.

This booklet is issued by the Ministério do Trabalho (ministry of labour) and you can usually apply for this at a regional agency, which can be found in most major cities.  Foreigners, though, will need to go to a “Gerência Regional” (regional management office) which can only be found in a few cities.  As Pato Branco only has an agency, I had to go to Cascavel, three hours away.  The documents required are:

  • Passport
  • Original and copy of the RNE protocol
  • Original and copy of proof of address (again, it doesn’t need to be in your name, just the place where you will live
  • CPF Number

The process only took about five minutes, as my documents were checked and entered into the computer and my photograph was taken along with an electronic thumb print.  I was told that 10 days later, I could collect my CTPS from the regional agency in Pato Branco.  Once I had it, I sent it to my company’s Brazilian office to enter the details of my employment.


Now all I need is my Brazilian driving licence, although I can drive using a foreign licence for my first six months in the country.  To be continued…