Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hola, Buenos Aires!

As you may have guessed, I have made it to Argentina, despite Puyehue's best efforts.

The sky over Rio from the airplane... so blue!

So far, I've spent most of my time in Buenos Aires with Nina! Unfortunately, I don't yet have many photos of Buenos Aires - I only took my camera out for the first time today, which is also the first day I ventured out totally on my own, so none of them include Nina. You will just have to wait. In the meantime...

I went to the Feria San Telmo, a weekly outdoor market that happens on Sundays a few blocks from my hostel. The neighborhood of San Telmo was where all the wealthy people lived back in the day, but they all got as far away as they could get in 1870 or so when there was a yellow fever epidemic. So that's fun.

Can you see how cold that sunlight looks? It is freaking freezing here compared to Fortaleza. The feria has a lot of antiques, but also a lot of touristy things and jewelry and things.

I may have bought a sweater. I don't think it's of particularly high quality or is in any way "authentic," but it's made of alpaca and it has alpacas on it, and I was so cold when I saw it that I had to.

This is the Iglesa de San Pedro Telmo, which I had sort of intended to see but mostly just stumbled upon it.

I came in while they were having Mass, and stood in the back. It was very beautiful.


So far, I like Buenos Aires a lot. It's a shock that it's actually cold, and that it's continuing to be cold - it's not just a freak middle-of-the-night thing. It also feels very old and established - I think this is partly because the places I've been to so far have been in the nicer, historical areas, and partly because it actually is older and I think generally wealthier than anywhere I went in Brazil. Regardless, it's incredibly beautiful. 

Tchau, Fortaleza...

A couple of stories from the last week in Brazil...

The day before my friend Emily left, she had a bunch of us over for a party with her family. We hung out and ate sausage – and chicken hearts, which I’m not at all sold on – and mixed drinks and played party games in Portuguese and it was fun. My favorite moment was when Emily’s host brother asked me where I was from. When I said “California,” his response was “Oh. Blunt.” “What?” I said. It was a little hard to understand through the accent. “Blunt,” he said. Then he told Emily that I looked like I probably smoked a lot of blunts. This may be the best response to being from California that I have ever gotten.

During the month of June, there are these festivals held all over the Northeast in celebration of São João and I think also of the harvest, because it’s approaching the end of the rainy season and things are green now but are going to stop growing very soon. I’ve seen a lot of the imagery of this holiday season in ads on TV, but on Saturday, I went to one of these São João festas with my host family. It was one of the most charming things I’ve ever seen. I’ve been trying to think of how to describe it in relation to American things and it’s a challenge. I’d say it looks kind of like if you crossed the Fourth of July with some kind of Pioneer Day celebration. Everyone is wearing clothes appropriate for a good old-fashioned hoe-down, or if not are at least alluding to it through use of denim, plaid, pigtails, or hats. There are scaled-down carnival games, like throwing the ball through the clown’s mouth and fishing for prizes in a little pool full of straw. There is square dancing. There are also those Brazilian quirks, though – the little girls are dressed up in these dresses, which I guess are supposed to be traditional-ish – they’re very flashy, though. There are also these specifically shaped little flags, which show up almost everywhere in the city. They are so ubiquitous that some of the flags even have the shapes of the flags printed on them. On TV there are always people dressed up as cangaceiros, or bandits who inhabit the sertão – the Brazilian outback. There’s a novela on right now that features a romance between a peasant girl who turns out to actually be a princess and a peasant guy who turns out to actually be the son of a cangaceiro, and the show has this Robin Hood take on the whole thing – he comes from bad stock, but he does good. I’m not sure if that’s typical or not, though. The whole thing is very traditionally Northeastern, though, and I’m really glad I got to see a bit of it.

I spent my very last day in Fortaleza enjoying the perfect beach weather...

This was June 21, the first day of winter in the southern hemisphere. Winter in Fortaleza, hah. A likely story.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dear Puyehue...

I realize you're having a hard time right now. I know you're under a lot of pressure most of the time, and that sometimes you just need to let go without worrying about a lot of irritated travelers grumbling at you in airports around the Southern Hemisphere. It's tough. I get it. But I really need for you to just take a deep breath and try to relax. Everything will be okay.

Alternatively, if you could arrange for your ash cloud to blow some other direction than Buenos Aires, that would be great too.


Some amazing photos of the ash cloud and the surrounding area in Chile...
An article and video from Al Jazeera...
And another article...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The view from "home"...

A couple of long-overdue shots out the window of our fourth-floor apartment. 

And this ingenious invention - I don't know why we don't use these to reheat rice in the United States! You put water in the bottom part, get it steaming, and put the rice in the top part. Way better than sprinkling it with water and sticking it in the microwave.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I have finished my ISP. If you really want to, you can read it in a nifty Google Document here. The actual writing part is about 25 pages long, so I don't blame you if you don't want to. But it's there, at long last.

To continue in this celebratory mood, here is some lace...

 And me with Tebe the Italian, on the left, and Melisse the Brazilian, on the right. I'm the really white-looking one in the middle.

The clock is ticking...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

William and Fátima

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned them before, but these two fabulous people, William and Fátima, are the hosts of Brazil’s Jornal Nacional, the nightly national news that broadcasts every day except for Sunday, so everyone in Brazil including myself sees them almost daily. I like them a lot. I actually feel very similarly about them as I do about Barack and Michelle Obama. I associate them with the connection with the rest of the world that they provide. They seem like they know what they’re doing, and I kind of trust them, I guess. I also associate them with understanding Portuguese, since helpful photos and videos about always accompany their news stories. I wish all interactions with Brazilians were like that.

It didn’t take me very long being in Brazil before I realized that they’re married. They and their three kids pop up every so often in magazines, and when one of them isn’t on the news, neither is the other one. It’s nice to think about them having a nice family night at home, or whatever it is they do.

Tonight, however, they did not get their usual Sunday evening off – they were on Faustão, which is perhaps the most irritating variety and talk show that has ever existed, but that’s an unnecessary boring description for another time. Since today is the Brazilian version of Valentine’s Day, known as Dia dos Namorados, William and Fátima along with their twenty-one years of marriage were featured. It was too cute. They showed a lot of photos of them as a young couple and with their kids, and spent a lot of time hearing from regular Brazilians on the street about how they’re the most respected married couple in Brazil, and how watching them on the TV and knowing they’re married makes people feel like they’re their friends, just letting them know about the news of the day.

Not going to lie, that is about all I understood – my TV Portuguese comprehension has gone way downhill, since this is the first time I’ve watched any in over a month. But it was great. It was so funny to see so many different emotions on their faces, since they usually have their stoic news anchor faces on.

Oh, the things that light up my Brazilian life.

(There are only nine days left until NINA IN ARGENTINA. I'm trying not to get too excited about it too soon, but there's only so much I can do.)

Real World: ISP

ISP Narrative Evaluation Form

We will be writing a three paragraph narrative evaluation of your ISP report and work.  Students in the past have asked us if they may have some input in this.  Therefore in the space below, write your version of what might be submitted on the transcript.  We will use your information as guidelines or text whenever possible and correct. Usually it looks like this:

1.     Several sentences describing your ISP in general, i.e. the site, the topic, your interest.

Molly spent three weeks in Prainha, a coastal community within the municipality of Aquiraz, about 40 kilometers from the program base of Fortaleza. There, she studied a group of twelve to fifteen old Brazilian women who sometimes make lace but also do a lot of snacking and telling of inappropriate jokes that she couldn’t understand, which was surprisingly pleasant. She also attempted to adjust to a new homestay family, in which there were fluctuating numbers of residents and some of them occasionally showed her their boobs, all without the support network of fabulous Americans that she had grown accustomed to and for whom she did not realize her extreme need until it was too late and her mental health was at risk from spending so much time in her own English-speaking mind.

2.     Several sentences about the field methods you used, what you did, how you got information.

Molly put forth her best effort at informal interviewing and observation despite the complete lack of field methods training she received from SIT. This involved sitting in plastic chairs consuming coffee, juice, tapioca, bread, and several kinds of cake, all while attempting to understand old-woman non-lip-moving Portuguese and being bitten by ants. She also conducted a formal interview which occurred rather suddenly and lasted five minutes, and for which she was entirely unprepared.

3.     Several sentences describing the content of your written work.

In her paper, Molly attempts to force the thousands of partially understood fragments of conversation with older Brazilian women who barely ever move their lips into a cohesive representation of the circumstances and challenges of lacemaking in Prainha. This includes many completely contradictory statements concerning the complex political divisions within the Associaçao itself; the deciphering of which she is now convinced would even be impossible for someone who actually speaks Portuguese. She then tries to describe lacemaking in Prainha and its potential demise in a way that conveys the altogether pessimistic outlook for the craft without being melodramatic. She also attempts to convince the reader of the obviously incredibly high level of social relevance her study of old women making lace in a tiny town in Brazil without actually lying and without making you want to throw up.

4.     Three or four sentences describing the strengths and weaknesses of all the above.

Molly demonstrates an awareness of the problematic nature of the previously mentioned total absence of field methods training and its implications for her research, namely that she can’t even generalize what one subject said to the entire group. Her Portuguese also sucks, so there’s a good chance she made everything up anyway.

5.     Several sentences on your oral presentation.

Molly gave an oral presentation explaining her project and her findings, including photos and a video clip of someone making lace that is only fifteen seconds long in an attempt not to bore everyone to tears, but leaving out the boobs, the potential for insanity, and the constant and irritating finger wagging of a Brazilian eight-year-old which would undoubtedly be a little more interesting. The presentation was well organized and clearly delivered, although this statement is actually completely unfounded because she isn’t even going to think about getting ready for it until approximately Wednesday.

Please write about yourself in the third person.

(In all honesty, the ISP was actually a valuable life experience and I'm glad I did it. I just don't want to ever have to do it again.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Back in the FOR.

That's right - I have made it through those three rough weeks and am back "home" safe and sound. This blog is also now up-to-date on the posts I wrote during this time - I back-dated them, starting on May 20th, if you'd like to catch up.

I was pleased at how familiar Fortaleza felt upon coming back. I took a cab from the bus station, went up to my family's apartment, and I was home, or as home as I get in Brazil. I had forgotten that not everything here is as difficult as those three weeks were. Here, I'm already done with the exhausting first weeks of the homestay, where I am struggling to understand in every single moment. Here, I can relax a little. Last night, I took the oh-so-familiar bus to IBEU, saw my English-speaking friends, and watched American TV. Things make a little bit more sense here. These next two weeks look like a lot less from this side.

The rendeiras, though, are ridiculous. I had a great last day there. I understood about six jokes, which is basically the definition of a good Brazilian day for me. There are two levels to understanding jokes. The first level is to understand the words they’re saying, and the second is to understand that they’re joking. This second level is essential, and is much more difficult than the first. If you know someone is joking, you can laugh whether or not you totally understand what they’re making the joke about.

Anyway, these are the lovely pieces of lace I purchased: a table runner and a place mat.

These, though, are the pieces they gave me on my last day. I tried so hard to explain to them that it was too much, that I understand that this is their work and it's valuable. But they were insistent. The final count was one dress, two collar pieces to sew onto shirts, two rectangular place mats, one oval centerpiece, one butterfly applique, and one little zippered bag. I tell you, these ladies are too much.

Oh, and one little mini-rendeira, which is extra-exciting because it even has some of the cactus-spine pins that they actually use sticking out of her lacework.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hard to keep up that Tookish feeling...

"Far, far away in the West, where things were blue and faint, Bilbo knew there lay his own country of safe and comfortable things, and his little hobbit-hole."

- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

I gave up on everything and went to the beach today. Glaisa wanted to come too, so that’s what that turned into. I read The Hobbit while Glaisa swam in the pool. We met a nice family, and I talked to them about not speaking English and about being really white and getting really red. It was cute. It was nice, too, because Glaisa got to play and I got to hang out and read in the semi-sun that was going on. Their daughter later asked if I was Glaisa’s nanny, and I corrected her. I never bothered to correct the parents. I guess that’s sort of what it would be like though, to be a live-in nanny in Brazil. Nice little taste, but I’d never want to do it.

But I got to read The Hobbit lying on a beach in Brazil, and that is wonderful.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I’m totally burned out. I had no idea. I thought I was just being lazy until I tried to actually pay attention at the Centro yesterday and I just couldn’t. It was awful. I obviously still care about them and their situation and I really enjoy their day-to-day hanging out and their lace is fabulous, but me and this whole thing where I try to understand other cultures? I think we’re kind of done with each other.

Honestly, that’s what I’ve gained from this more than anything else – nothing even close to an understanding of Brazilian culture, but an understanding that there is so much of the world that is not my world, and that doesn’t just mean that it’s foreign and interesting and exciting, but that being put in a position where you have to try to understand it is dramatically uncomfortable and I don’t really want to have to do it again. I don’t want to try to understand it. It feels like enough to know that it is there, and that I don’t understand it. This feels like such a cop-out kind of attitude, and I didn’t think I would respond to this experience this way, but there it is.

I’ve also learned to go with the flow. But that’s another series of thoroughly unexciting and mildly disappointing stories for another day.

It’s just occurred to me to be thankful that we measure time the same way. How freaking irritating would that be, to have to constantly convert units of time? Jesus.