Over Half a Year Away


Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 11.10.27 AMI’ve been away from Brazilian life for over half a year now. Every time I have been away from Brazil for a short period, it seems like my last trip was a hundred years ago. I think this is because Brazil is a place that has to be lived and felt in order to be understood. Once you’re away from it, it’s like having woken up from a dream and only remembering bits and pieces.

One thing that’s pretty constant is what happens when I hear Brazilian Portuguese or encounter Brazilians in my day-to-day. There’s that instant familiarity and a strange sense that they’re somehow “my people”. As I’ve related here several times before, I grew up in many cities across the US and so I never saw myself as having a particular “people”, at least locally-speaking. That’s what’s weird, I suppose. Having lived all over Brazil, it usually doesn’t matter where a Brazilian is from because I can safely say, “oh, I’ve lived there (or near there),” and we can start talking. And because I’ve intentionally studied Brazil’s regional cultures, while never having really studied the intricacies of my own country’s culture, there’s that familiarity with Brazil that I kind of lack with the US. I’ve spent over half my life entrenched in the study of foreign cultures, and thus I’ve experienced the US from a mental distance.

Now that I’m back in a country where everyone speaks Portuguese, it’s pretty clear to everyone when I speak their language that I’m most likely a Brazilian. Before I’ve spoken, however, there’s the assumption that I’m an English-speaker because, with a neverending number of tourists here in Lisbon, most shop employees start off with English (this happens to my Brazilian girlfriend, too). That’s one of the other major differences between Brazil and Portugal, by the way, as here it seems most Portuguese people speak fluent English…and they have no problem with speaking it. In Brazil, I knew lots of people that even knew English but were too ashamed to speak it. I don’t know where that stems from. Danielle in Brazil touched upon this on her blog.

I’ve mentioned this talk before on my blog, but as the famous Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta once said (although, he was responding to an audience member’s question on the subject of patriotism), there are basically two Brazils, that of the State and that of Society [1]. Like in a Venn diagram, the two must overlap a little, rather than be separate, in order to have patriotism. Their actual separation parallels my feelings about Brazil having been more than six months away from it. Because of the State (ie, bureaucracy, politics and the effects of both), I’m totally fine being away from Brazil now. Because of the Society (culture, rhythm of life, way of living, etc), I long to embrace it once more. After all, underneath it all, I’m basically Brazilian.

[1] – video (for the anthropologists out there, in PT)

Close, but not the same – Portuguese

Due to a comment I got on my last Portuguese post (Brazilian Portuguese Badly Said), I decided to write about a few words that are so similar in writing and meaning that they get easily confused. Two words are ones that I actually used in the last post.

Acostamento (shoulder, roadside) – the place where one pulls over
Encostamento – the act or effect of pulling over

* Keep in mind, in the previous post, I mentioned that some people say the second word when they mean to say the first. However, you’ll rarely, if ever, come across the second word when used correctly since it’s almost always used as a verb (encostar) rather than a noun.

Deformação – the process of being deformed
Deformidade – the result of that process

Observação (observation, remark)
Observância (observance, of the law or in a religious context)

The last two sets come from an article at Revista Língua Portuguesa. If we’re listing all words that are similar in writing and/or meaning, we’d be here for a long time. If you’re a stickler for correctness, I suggest one of the “100 erros de português” lists (here’s one, PDF) and using Houaiss as your main Portuguese(-only) dictionary. If you want to test your knowledge of a list like the one I linked to, play this game at level 5!

Wines of the Brazilian Sertão

vinicola-ouro-verde-da-miolo-localizada-no-municipio-de-casa-nova-na-bahia-1367854476183_956x500The Juazeiro/Petrolina wine grape-growing belt has close to 25,000 acres of vineyards. It’s one of the only regions in the world with 2 to 3 harvests per year (as opposed to the usual, single harvest). The grape economy generates more than 30,000 direct jobs in the Sertão, where 50% of the rural workers union leadership of Petrolina (Pernambuco) are women. In certain functions they make up 70% of the manual labor workforce. The principal jobs given to them are the “raleio” and the “pinicado”, two techniques used in the thinning of the grape bunches during their development. The most delicate activities rely upon them, women that are helping to transform the lives of their families.

The São Francisco valley is leading the way in the cultivation of grapes in tropical conditions. It’s the only wine ever to be grown in a hot, semi-arid, tropical climate where there’s sunlight for 300 days per year and no winter. All the water needed comes from the São Francisco river, thanks to irrigation technology. And the research related to wine-making being done in the region in the last decade is being led by Brazilians, who themselves are becoming worldwide experts in this emerging field.


While part of the Brazilian northeast goes through the largest dry spell in four decades, vineyards from the Sertão are able to produce up to 10 million liters of wine per year, close to 15% of the Brazilian market. Wine production started in the 1980s and has been gaining visibility in Brazil and abroad. Aside from conquering the European market, wine from the Northeastern region of Brazil goes to the US, Canada, China and also to Africa. The main wines grown in the region are: red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional, Alicante, Bouschet, Ruby Cabernet, Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Tannat, and Syrah) and white (Chenin, Blanc, Moscato Canelli, Moscato Itália, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Verdejo).

The big players took notice years ago and positioned themselves firmly with strategic local partnerships. The situation then becomes a win-win because the market, both in Brazil and abroad, improves and expands while the workers of the Sertão get consistent work, and women bring in a secondary income. All that’s missing now is a Sommelier school on the banks of the São Francisco.

Watch the full report, in Portuguese only, which was also the main source for this article.

One of my favorite views

Having lived to the left of the beach, in Vidigal, and behind the beach, in Rocinha, the view below is no stranger to my eyes. Unfortunately, bathing in the water at São Conrado’s beach is best to be avoided but fortunately just sitting there and enjoying the 360 view is worth it (especially for those who don’t like extra-crowded beaches). The person that gets to see this every day is a really lucky one.

Apart from the beach, the stretch of road/highway from Leblon to Barra is the most memorable I’ve ever been on. The first part is Avenida Niemeyer, going until São Conrado, where it ‘meets’ Estrada Lagoa Barra, which becomes Vevd. (Via Elevada) das Bandeiras, passing along and under Joá, before reaching Barra.

(Little known fact: Before the modern roads and highways were built, Av. Niemeyer was originally going to be made into a a 120-mile railroad connecting Botafogo to Angra dos Reis.)

Thanks to Eat Rio for the photo.

Brazilian Portuguese Badly Said

These are words sometimes said by crianças, other times by people without formal education. The correct words are in bold. If you know others that people sometimes pronounce incorrectly, add them in the comments.

Problema (Problem)

– Pobrema
– Poblema

Dificuldade (Difficulty)

– Dificulidade

A gente (We)

– A hente

Estômago (Stomach)

– Estrombago

Mas (But)

– Mais

Advogado (Lawyer)

– Adevogado

Cabelereiro (Hair stylist)

– Cabeleleiro

Cérebro (Brain)

– Célebro

Acostamento (Shoulder, Roadside)

– Encostamento

Gerund verb endings

– Ex. Você tá brincano? Ex. O que tá fazeno?

Belo Monte – Documentary

Belo Monte – Announcement of a War/Anúncio de uma Guerra

“This is an independent documentary made during 3 expeditions at the Xingu River, Altamira, Brasília and São Paulo. It presents very serious facts about Belo Monte dam, the biggest and most polemical construction going on in Brazil today.

The editing and finalization of the movie were crowdfunded by 3.429 people in the Catarse website.”

The Pope & the King


In 1990, at a stadium in Fortaleza, the King of the Baião (Luiz Gonzaga), met Pope John Paul II. Upon entering the stadium to sing his song, others saw him about to enter and caused a stampede where 3 died and over 100 were injured. – Source (PT)

Later that year, Gonzaga made a song about the meeting.

LIBRAS – Brazilian Sign Language

In late May, I linked to an article I wrote about LIBRAS. Here it is, sans link.

url(4)Growing up with a handicapped brother, I learned at a young age all the basics of ASL (American Sign Language). His handicap was such that he was free to do what he wanted at home which usually consisted of looking at magazines, dancing, saying mostly unintelligible things while talking to himself and, every so often, pinching people. My other brothers and I not only used basic ASL with him but also with each other when we were in public. The most usual case was when we were bored in the presence of others and wanted to leave, we’d make the sign for “let’s go” (which consists of both index fingers circling around each other).

My brother eventually went to live in a group home but I always thought it’d be kind of cool to one day learn more advanced sign language, only there was no longer an everyday reason to. Fast-forward about 15 years, and with fluency acheived in a whole other language (Brazilian Portuguese), I started to think about what it’d be like to learn sign language. In the very least, I could then learn the basics with my girlfriend and we could use it in public. The only problem is, much to my surprise (because I never truly considered it), each country has its own signs and even regionalisms within their own sign language. Luckily, my girlfriend is Brazilian and the type I’m looking to learn is the Brazilian kind.

In Brazil, it’s called LIBRAS, or Língua Brasileira dos Sinais and it actually constitutes as its own language, with its own grammar, syntax, morphology, etc. With an estimated 5 million deaf people in Brazil, it can be reasoned that most, if not all, use LIBRAS to communicate. Even with each country’s system being different, LIBRAS (along with ASL) has been considered to be a creole of 18th century French Sign Language. For this reason, there are quite a few similarities between them all (modern FSL, too).

To show some of the complexities of signing a language, I’ll explain 5 basic parameters. They consist of the following: hand configuration, articulation points (where you are signing, ie over your forehead or the neutral space in front of your body), orientation (directionality), movement (if the sign requires movement or is static), and expression of the face and body (seen the ASL of Lydia Callis yet?). In addition, another factor that plays into it all is the speed that the person signs in, whether it be fast (among those who have been deaf their whole life) or slow (fingerspelling, for kids, those who acquired the language later, or for spelling things that don’t have a standard sign).

There is lots of material out there, both online and offline on LIBRAS. On the web, there are some Brazilian websites you can check out which can teach you specific signs. I recommend Acesso Brasil’s online visual dictionary (keep in mind that verbs in LIBRAS are in their infinitive and, when written, in all capital letters, ie VOCÊ GOSTAR CARRO? = Você gosta do carro?). Just as cool as the other dictionary I mentioned is this collaborative dictionary. If you’re interested in more, just put “libras sinais” into Youtube and you’re sure to find a lot of content.

Sidenote: The sign for “Let’s go” I mentioned is actually considered “Signed English”, not ASL.