Adventures of a foreigner in the south of Brazil.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Photos from foreign parts

New photos from the southern US and Rome are online. 'Nuff said. I have right now close to 30 hours of traveling behind me and I'm too lazy to write anything about it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Phones

If you need to get in touch please remember that I will be using my German cellphone for the rest of the month.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Crime in the Rio Grande do Sul

I had planned to find a quiet forest somewhere for the weekend to go for a walk. It's something I love doing, and that I miss here. There are parks, but that is not the same. Further enquiry with friends on where there would be good spots produced some raised hair and dire warnings not to do that. Plus stories of murders in forests. It appears unguarded nature here is even more dangerous than cities, fugitives from justice hide there. Guarded parks and nature reserves are where you can go.

That irks. Yet another restriction, another fence I have to hide behind.

And it set me thinking. For there are lots of stories how dangerous life here is. I have had one car smashed when visiting a restaurant, and I know a fair number of people who have been victims of assault and robbery. It is very different from Europe. However, I was wondering about the numbers. Actual dangers can, after all, be far from perceived dangers. And all of my evidence is anecdotal.
This is like where everybody knows that the police recommends to not stop at red traffic lights at night. They don't.

So I checked the numbers. (And while we're at it: Don't stop at red lights in the night.)

Note: The following numbers are only for crimes against persons (murder, assault, bodily harm etc.). While other official crime statistics are also available I haven't bothered with them.


Development of crime in the RS since 2000

The numbers for the following statistics have been compiled from the published data on crime of the Policia Civil and the Brigada Militar (available at http://www.ciosp.rs.gov.br/). Census data is published by the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (available at http://www.ibge.gov.br/)


Figure 1: Crimes against persons in the Rio Grande do Sul


The number of homicides for 2007 is a projection from the official number for homicides 01/2007-09/2007.


Figure 2: Homicides in the Rio Grande do Sul


Comparing these figures to the population growth it is all too obvious that crime rises proportionally faster. The following graph has been normalized to 2000 = 1 for all figures in order to better compare the percentual change.
In 2000 the Rio Grande do Sul had 10.187.842 inhabitants, growing to 10.582.324 in 2007 .


Figure 3: Rise in crime vs. population growth in the Rio Grande do Sul


While population has increased by 3.8% homicides had increased by 12% till 2006 and a projected 27% in 2007. Crimes against persons had increased by 10% till 2006. Both numbers have been consistently larger than 10% from 2003 onwards. For 2007 general data on crimes is not available yet. While the good news is that crimes against persons have been going back in the past years their overall growth is still larger than supported by the population growth, and homicides are rising again.

In relation to the population we have in 2006 per 100.000 inhabitants in the Rio Grande do Sul




Crimes followed by death14
Bodily harm (victim lives)792
Others36


I conclude that the numbers support the perception that crime is a problem. And it is increasing. (The number for Germany, e.g. for crimes followed by death is roughly a fourth of this in 2006. Compare http://www.bka.de/pks/)

Deaths through firearms in Brazil

It is in this context also noteworthy that Brazil has the largest number of homicides with firearms in any country that is not at war according to a study by the Instituto Sou da Paz. (Compare also IANSA, Instituto Sou da Paz.) At the time of this writing the number of deaths through guns is a reported 300.000 since January 1st 2007.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

DST starts in Brazil today

So if you're in Europe remember that we're now only four hours apart, till October 28, when it will go down to three hours. C.f. DST 2007

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Two cars down

Yesterday I returned the second damaged (as in "no more fit for driving around in") car to the rental agency. The first a few months ago after a motorcycle had skidded into it, this one with a smashed side window and stolen radio. None of the two incidents being my fault, I might add. This is two cars down in less than a year and two excellent reasons to stick with rental cars in Brazil.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Another long-dead Latin Jazz musician

Frankie Dante and Orquesta La Flamboyan performing Vive la vida hoy live in Central Park, New York, in 1972:

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Security in Brazil, take two

I have my own bank account now in Brazil. Why? Imagine the following scenario: A flash abduction where somebody holds a gun to your head and takes you to the next ATM in order to get some cash. You have a credit card on you, one that's especially blocked for withdrawing cash. This is not normal here, so who is going to believe you? Now you're in front of that ATM, guy with a gun next to you and you have a card but cannot get cash.

Sounds like a bad idea? It does, and consulting with people who are more into this I had that confirmed. So I have a bank account now with a bit of money in it, specifically to act as a blind in case of an abduction. There are some other aspects of convenience to it, but this is the real reason. The next obvious question is, does putting this on a blog compromise the purpose? No. Flash abductions are a crime of opportunity, the low-hanging fruits. Getting a bit of money quickly from a local account serves the purpose. A prepared abduction aims for higher stakes, and a blind account is of no consequence here.

Lesson for visiting foreigners: If you have any card on you in Brazil make sure you can get money on it, and make sure it's not much. Take a second means of getting money to the country and do not carry it around.
A note on flash abductions: A flash abduction is a Brazilian speciality so they can cheat on their statistics and end up on rank 3 instead of 2 in abductions world-wide. Flash abductions, i.e. anything that is a few hours and not a few days is not counted as an abduction here. Now I, along with most people I know, regard somebody holding a gun to your head and taking you to a place you don't want to got as an abduction, but not so in Brazil. This sport is rather popular here, too.
A note on bank accounts: It turns out the mysterious proof of residence can be an electricity bill. You will also need written proof who your parents are. Us wicked foreigners do not always have that on our passports. So you can't just tell the bank, but they will accept an official letter from the Policia Federal. Which they will give you, no problem. Now, care to guess how exactly the Policia Federal knows who my parents are? Exactly. I told them.
Another note on crime statistics: I did a bit of research on published statistics that I could share. Helpfully, the Brazilian government publishes crime statistics. Until 2002. And you cannot access them. The only thing I found is that in the 1990s and 2000s São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were numbers 1 and 2 in homicides world-wide. Porto Alegre came on ranks 15 and 12, respectively. Counting just up to Porto Alegre Brazil has the dubious honour of having 6 of the 12 most homicidal cities world-wide in the 2000s.

Her lesson, or not?

Good laugh, but still a fake. The thing looks flakey even to the naked eye and a suitable edge filter (in this case the GIMP filter Neon to give a more pronounced visual effect than Laplace or Sobel) shows clearly that the transparent the girl is carrying was superimposed on the original image that had no transparent whatsoever. You can easily see the contours of the people continuing behind the transparent, which means there was none in the first place. I have marked only a few of the places where the fake is most visible. Another clear give-away is that the edge of the transparent itself is not detected by the filter, which means the contour was smoothed into the original image.

Most amusingly, this sparked a heated if confuse political debate on the flickr page and two years later got dug up again and put up on digg, which is how I came across it.





Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lieber Wolfgang

Ich darf Lieber Wolfgang zu Dir sagen, oder? Jetzt, wo Du mit uns allen ein bißchen intim wirst, mit dem Bundestrojaner, dürfen wir doch auch ein bißchen intim mit Dir werden. Wolfgang, ich find' das toll! Aus dem Rollstuhl immer noch so gut drauf! Das gereicht einem echten Mann zur Ehre. Und die Verfassung, jo mei, wer nimmt die noch so ganz ernst?

Aber mal ehrlich, Wolfgang, wie soll das gehen? Ich meine, Computer kann man heute schon ganz gut vor Trojanern schützen. Und Du willst die ja gezielt anbringen. Ich glaube, was Du brauchst, ist etwas Social Engineering. Ich hab' Da mal einen Brief für Dich entworfen, damit Du weißt, worauf es ankommt. Und der geht so:

Lieber X,

Du hast sicher noch nichts von mir gehört. Ich bin der Wolfgang aus dem Bundesinnenministerium und ich bin auf der Suche nach einem vertrauenswürdigen Geschäftspartner. Und dabei bin ich nach eingehender Recherche im Internet auf Dich gestoßen. Ich habe da nämlich ein Problem. Mein Parteifreund von damals, mit den schwarzen Kassen, Du erinnerst Dich vielleicht, der hat es geschafft, vorher noch 50 Millionen Euro abzuzweigen, die bisher niemand gefunden hat. Und ich bin jetzt auf seine Bücher gestoßen. Ich habe da so meine Quellen. Damit das niemand sonst findet, muß das jetzt raus aus Deutschland. Ich sitze aber im Rollstuhl und kann die ganzen Geldkoffer nicht selbst in die Schweiz tragen, höchstens einen oder zwei, und deshalb brauche ich Deine Hilfe. Wenn Du meine Koffer trägst, bekommst Du 50% von der Kohle. Ist das nicht ein tolles Angebot? Das sind 100 Millionen nur für Dich! Ich habe Dir ein kleines Programm mitgeschickt. Das mußt Du nur anklicken, und dann treten wir ganz diskret miteinander in Kontakt.
Aber psst! Das darf keiner wissen!

Vertrauensvoll,
Wolfgang


Ist das nicht toll, Wolfgang? Du bist doch hinter Kriminellen her! Wenn die da mal nicht drauf anspringen! Ich hab' da aber noch eine Schwäche gefunden, Wolfgang. Du hast uns versprochen, das Programm wird nur 10 mal im Jahr eingesetzt. Allerhöchstens. Ich meine, das ist toll! Dann fangen wir in einem Jahr die 10 allergefährlichsten Kriminellen in ganz Deutschland! Und in hundert Jahren tausend!

Aber Wolfgang, mal unter uns, nur Du und ich, ist das nicht etwas wenig? Nur tausend in hundert Jahren? Da gibt's doch bestimmt noch mehr, die man kriegen könnte. Aber schau, mein Brief, der da obendrüber, den ich für Dich geschrieben habe, der löst das Problem auch! Weil, den kannst Du einfach an alle schicken! Jawohl, an ganz Deutschland! Dann kriegst Du nämlich auch die, die das nur versuchen! Und die kommen dann alle in den Knast! Und die ganz fiesen Verbrecher, die mit den 20 E-Mail Konten, die das dann zwanzig mal abgraben wollen, ja, das mußt Du doch nur zählen, wie oft Dein Bundestrojaner bei denen installiert ist. Und dann wird das Strafmaß multipliziert!

Und das wird noch viel besser, weil die, die das nicht aufmachen, mal ehrlich, was ist mit denen? Wolfgang, die kriegen wir auch! Wer soviel Angst vor dem Bundesinnenministerium hat, daß er ein Programm, das von Dir kommt, nicht freiwillig installiert, der muß doch einfach was ausgefressen haben! Die kannst Du also auch alle einbuchten! Zumindest alle, die über 18 sind.

Ich weiß, so manche Sachen darf man heute nicht mehr so zum Gruß sagen, weil, das ist nicht korrekt, aber Wolfgang, alter Haudegen, Du machst das schon!

Und dann gehört Deutschland endlich wieder den Kindern.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An airplane crash that almost happened

Flying in Brazil stays interesting. Sunday night a TAM machine apparently got clearance to land in Porto Alegre because a controller forgot there already was a plane on the runway. Thankfully the pilot of the approaching plane looked out of the window and managed to pull up again before touching down. Now is, I guess, the time to just hope nothing's going to happen. To fly or not to fly is simply not a question for me.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Don't drink the green water

And to think I was waxing on about how not to eat yellow snow only a short while back. I'll add another one: Don't drink the green water! I can, however, now confirm two things: The detergent "Limpol" of the lime variety, as available in Brazilian supermarkets, is not poisonous, and it does not at all taste like lime. It is, in fact, totally disgusting. As for the rest, you don't want to know and I don't want to tell.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bruce Schneier interviews Kip Hawley

Bruce Schneier has done a very interesting interview with Kip Hawley, head of the TSA:

Update: The five-part series is complete now: Click here for the whole interview.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Warm again

It just so appears as if my heating problems were over. I did manage to acquire an oil-based heater in a supermarket, which hopefully means it's going to be more resistant than the last one. The burning smell is gone, too. Why these things are only available in July when it is supposed to be cold and not in May - when in fact the temperature dropped to near zero for the first time - is a mystery to me. There is nothing quite like bad logistics to keep life full of interesting little surprises.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Heating...

...would be extremely desirable in Brazil in the winter, if only to keep red wine at drinkable temperatures! As Brazilian electrical appliances are failing me (yes, it's true, a bleeding radiator has a lifetime of next to nothing here, leave alone the little fact that that bit of technology is about as simple as it gets) I have no way at all to keep wine reasonably warm here, since I can hardly put the glass on a gas cooker. So either I import some heating device from a country where they actually know how to put a few wires together that do not break down after a few weeks, I drink red wine without any discernible flavour or I settle for Cachaca in the winter which at least is supposed to be enjoyed cold. Oh well, maybe next to a gas cooker is a solution for this conundrum. If you don't hear any more from me it probably means the apartment has blown up.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fusion photos

The photos from Bailando Fusões are online now at clicfotos.com. The Mambo solo is on page 5 and the Mambo/Street Dance Fusion on pages 9 and 10 - that one is all the ladies and gentlemen in jeans and white.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fusion

The next show is coming up, 19.-21. of June. The motto is "Bailando Fusões", the show will take place in Porto Alegre in the Casa de Cultura Mário Quintana. I am going to be there with a Mambo and a Mambo/Street Dance fusion project. That one is new territory for all of us and it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Salsa in Porto Alegre

This is something I've been planning to write up for some time, as the places to dance here are hard to find unless you know your way around.

The Salsa scene in Porto Alegre is small, lively, relaxed and fun. The predominant dancing style is Cuban, with some L.A. mixed in. Currently I am the only Mambo dancer around, but I'm working on it. My preferred place for going out is the InSano on Sundays, as the place has a good atmosphere, a good crowd, smokers are banned to the gallery on the upper floor, and I love the jazzy style of Tonda y su Combo.

Some of the links below are to Orkut pages, for which you will have to register. Orkut is about 90% Brazilian, and just about every Brazilian I know is in there. If you want to find information about things to do this is definitely the place to start. Streets in Porto Alegre are numbered in meters from the beginning of the street. Two adjacent buildings can well have street numbers differing by 10 or 20 or more. The InSano and Sierra Maestra (see below) are in fact only two blocks apart.

Places to dance:
  • InSano: Featuring Salsa every Sunday with Tonda y su Combo starting at 22.30. Entry charge 10R$. Rua General Lima e Silva 601, Cidade Baixa. This is a dance club, very definitely.

  • Sierra Maestra: Featuring Salsa every Thursday with Salsa 3 starting around 22.00. Entry charge ???. General Lima e Silva 763, Cidade Baixa. This is a restaurant where you can also dance.

  • Dado Bier: Since April 07 Tonda y su Combo are playing there irregularly. Best check out their home page for details. This is one of the best-known places for going dancing in Porto Alegre, and features a different crowd from the hardcore Salsa scene. The place is a microbrewery and also good for just having a beer. The stage is separated from the restaurant, and both are rather large. It is located inside the Bourbon Country shopping center, 1st floor, Rua Antônio Carlos Berta.
Groups:
  • Tonda y su Combo: very good mixture for dancing leaning towards Latin Jazz, with great solos for anybody who loves shines. They are in the InSano on Sundays, and have started playing in the Dado Bier now. Their homepage has a few songs you can listen to.

  • Salsa 3: leaning towards Son/Son Montuno. I like the music a lot for listening to, but it is not my cup of tea for dancing. They are in the Sierra Maestra on Thursdays.
Photos/Videos:
Further information:

I am not going to recommend any teachers here. If you are looking for one best go to the InSano and have a look at what's going on. See whose style you like and ask them about it. You can also check out the Salsa in Porto Alegre community.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Airport security

Here is a hilarious video on TSA security training from Saturday Night Live.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Brazilian immigration extortion racket

"Dear mother, I am writing from an unknown destination in the country.." Ha! Don't I wish I were! In fact, I am writing from Guarulhos airport in São Paulo, where I found out about an entirely new get-rich-quick scheme perpetuated by the Brazilian government.

So....there I am, trying to pass through immigrations. Passport and Visa are OK, and the registration stamp from the Federal Police is also in there. I fulfil all requirements to be legally in Brazil. However, there is a protocol slip you get when registering with the Feds, a temporary replacement for the RNE (Registro Nacional de Extrangeiros) that I also need for entering. And this is where it gets ridiculous. Neither RNE nor the protocol carry any additional information. My visa and the RNE are linked to my passport number, and the passport clearly shows that all required registrations are done. This requirement is idiotic. The equivalent would be to require passport and identity card in European countries. I am legal, visibly so, and I only need an entry stamp.

So now I am told to wait, together with two fellow sufferers who made the same mistake of leaving the protocol in the country when they left. Then an official appears, takes our passports and tells us to wait some more. When he reappears after a while he carries a stack of declarations and bank transfers. I now have the very same entry stamp in my passport, only the privilege costs 165,55R$, due within the next five days. So for a couple of minutes of work the government made almost 500R$ on the three of us. For nothing. Not shabby at all! The monthly minimum wage is around 300R$. And to add insult to injury they cannot even be honest about it and make it a round sum like 100R$, but instead try to make it appear that there was a real value incurred in this, or some real transaction costs, which somebody has carefully calculated. 55 cents, I ask you!

It's a money-making scam, no less. Motto: "Because we can." Considering that a lot of foreigners who live here are likely to walk into that trap at least once it should be quite lucrative.

As it happens I do right this moment have some creative ideas for a new motto on the Brazilian flag which I'm willing to sell to the government for lots of money.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

It's not only work



Floripa is beautiful in autumn.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The show goes on





From a show for the benefit of the Centro Infanto Juvenil in Porto Alegre.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ahí Na' Ma' on the march again

After a few months of slack on account of a rather large ocean separating us Ahí Na' Ma' is on the march. A good month of projects, half in Brazil, half in Germany. Life is certainly getting interesting again.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Strike

So my very first visitor got stuck in an airline strike in São Paulo and nobody knows what is going to happen, much less when. Even though I know precisely how annoying that is I could not completely suppress a grin. After all, this is possibly the most typical reception you could get coming here. Nothing works as expected and nobody knows when things will pick up again. Welcome to Brazil! Now I only hope that strike gets resolved quickly. Sitting around in Guarulhos is no fun at all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sign the open letter to Steve Jobs on DRM

You may or may not have heard that Steve Jobs has very recently spoken up against digital rights management on music. DRM on music effectively takes away all the rights that you as a customer who bought the stuff expect to have. It's street robbery with a new name. Steve Jobs as the CEO of Apple and thereby proprietor of iTunes and major stakeholder in Disney is in a unique position to do something about it. So...just saying the labels are responsible does sound a bit like hypocrisy, doesn't it? If you are interested in retaining some sort of rights on what you paid for and ask Steve Jobs to follow up on his public statements you have a chance to sign an open letter to him right now. I did.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Living on plastic

Not for people with weird tastes, in spite of the title. However, at some point you will need to pay for something in Brazil. Now I have never seen the point of traveller cheques, and I have never used them, no matter when and where I was travelling. You will not need them in Brazil. I would recommend at least one credit and one debit card, the first for paying wherever possible, the second for getting cash from ATMs. The debit card should have Cirrus and Maestro, and credit cards from Mastercard and Visa are accepted almost everywhere. (UPS does not accept Visa.) If the credit card has a PIN and you can get cash on it that is a bonus. Don't set the credit limit too high in case the card is stolen.



To prepare for this eventuality you should only ever take the credit card and some cash with you. You will be able to pay for almost everything with the card and still have a fallback for getting cash when it is lost or stolen. Crime is a problem in Brazil, and underestimating it is stupid.



The Banco do Brasil and HSBC have automatic teller machines that take Cirrus/Maestro cards. I am not aware of any other banks that have them. In particular, all Brazilian banks that I know only accept their own cards. You can find ATMs that are usable for you in big supermarkets and shopping centres and in airports. In coming to the country a good strategy is to get some Reales before taking the flight and then some more at the first Brazilian airport. Do not assume that your surroundings are safe just because it is broad daylight and be particularly careful when leaving a bank.



For your daily shopping there are two big supermarket chains: Nacional takes credit cards, Zaffari does not. They, however, take debit cards with Cirrus and Maestro. Panvel pharmacies take credit cards unless you want to recharge your mobile phone card. That requires ready money. Most stores will take credit cards, as will almost all bars, restaurants and discos.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

DST ends in Brazil today

Daylight saving time ends in Brazil today. Europe is due to start with DST on the 25th of March. If you are in Europe and want to get in touch please remember that we are now 4 hours apart and will be for one month. From March, 25th onwards it will be 5 hours. Here is a complete list of DST changes for 2007.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wet City


So this is what tropical rain is all about. It's just like other rain, only much more so. In Porto Alegre, the lower parts of the city can well be renamed to Lake District. Driving gets...interesting. You never know if you will get through the next spot of water or not. I was tonight blessed with a companion who knows both this situation and the city extremely well. Otherwise I might be catching fish for dinner right now. At some point we did have to stop and ponder the situation. We went on, of course. Where's the fun in being wimpy? And we got through. And it was fun. And I'm still happy not to have to sleep in the car in the middle of a river that was once a street.

Next time it rains I'll take my camera, promise. The photo above was taken from a hill and doesn't do justice to what happens in the city as I'm writing this. But I really didn't fancy going down again.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Martians in Europe


It has come to my attention that the anecdotal evidence for people being influenced by Martian mind rays in Europe has been increasing at an alarming rate this year. As good citizens we have to do something. Therefore, I call for a hunt for the antennæ that the Martians must have erected. When I return in spring, that is. If you wish to join bring a recommendation for a hunting spot. Hunting spots must conform to the following:
  • They must be in an area with some natural beauty (operating on the theory that Martians like a good view just like everybody else).
  • There should be villages not too far a way, or a least a bar or a brewery or something (operating on the theory that it's easier to see alien installations after a glass or three, and we will get thirsty). Distilleries are also OK.
  • The cuisine in the area must be good (operating on no special theory at all but I like good food).
In order to be better prepared I recommend watching Peter Jackson's "Bad Taste". Peter Jackson is now a famous director so this is culture and perfectly all right.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The zoo of Sapucaia do Sul

Sunday, and the sky is overcast. In short, a good day for a visit to the zoo, something I had been planning for a while. There is a rather large zoo in the region, at Sapucaia do Sul, about 25km from Porto Alegre. Coming from the south one has to make a turn at São Leopoldo.



The first impression: The zoo is large, lots of nature abounding and not as polished as the typical city-zoos in Europe. And it is a zoo inside a subtropical region. The feeling here is decidedly different.



It is, on this Sunday, rather full, but still to some extent possible to escape from screaming kids and parents. Not, of course, at the main attractions. The areas for the animals are quite different, and - typically - the large cats and the bears get the small cages. One thing I found deeply disturbing is that the retreats for these animals are closed and they are forced to remain in full sight of the visitors all the time. Considering that about a third of the male adults in the zoo obviously are cretins of the sort that thinks it proves something other than abject cowardice to meow and growl at animals behind bars this comes very much under the heading of "not a good thing". Plus, there appear to be almost only single male carnivores here, which I would also consider to be not a good thing.







The plant-eaters have it a bit better in that respect. Their areas are larger, with some possibilities for hiding, and they seem to come more often in pairs than the carnivores.



The whole area is quite pretty, and I spent some three hours walking around. On the whole I can recommend going there, but if you are looking for a quiet time do not go during the weekend. [Photos]



The official web site of the zoo can be found at http://www.fzb.rs.gov.br/zoologico. In case all the animals inside make you hungry the zoo does have a churrasco area, just the same as Sushi bars, toy stores, barbie dolls and artillery guns in this region. It's just one of those things.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Let Rome in Tiber melt

Take it easy. As a survival tip in Brazil this beats even "Don't eat the yellow snow". Starting with the traffic each morning. There are between two and four lanes on the same road, dependent on the number of cars and the mood of the drivers. And on the weather. On sunny days or after a bend in the road an extra lane may be added. And since we are talking about the weather: The time between giving a perfect imitation of a wet poodle and basking in the sun may be only five minutes, both ways.



Then there is that problem with getting things done. That does work out, eventually. But not quickly, ever. And it is more complicated than expected. And needs more negotiations, no matter if you feel more like screaming.



Carnival? The country shuts down, and starts again in March. The only thing to do is to take a vacation.



Ah well, you're in Brazil. Take it easy. And don't eat the yellow snow.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Find the cops

Night in Porto Alegre. I'm driving along a big, deserted street. It's reasonably lit, with patches of dark every once in a while. In one of those deep shadows there is a group of dark figures. Six or seven at a glance, some together on the sideline and two in the middle of the street, one signing to the side, very much like parking attendants do. There is nothing going on here, and I can't imagine wishing to park. And of course some more sinister possibilities come to mind. In short, I don't trust those guys very much. After an initial slowdown I pick up a bit of speed again to pass them on the free left lane. And hit the brakes. Hard. It just wouldn't do to run over police, would it?



One of them peeks in from the right, gun in hand pointing downwards. The second from the left, calling out "Gringo, Gringo, Gringo", presumably so his colleagues will know there's somebody here who needs to be talked to veeeerrryyyy sloooowwwwlllyyyy and may be a bit daft. Or because the condition might be catching, who knows. I'd really like to know how people always spot that the instant they see me. Several misunderstandings later I start the motor again to drive over to the side, then have my papers examined. That takes about a minute and I'm off again. The guys are all very friendly in spite of the wee hours and my initial attempt to ignore them.



Note to self:
Sinister figures in dark alleyways might be police. Don't run them over before taking a closer look.

Note to any police officer who might be reading this: Could you please use police cars that can be identified even by foreigners when doing this kind of thing? You know, flashing lights and all that. I, for instance, would be extremely grateful.

Note to anybody who feels tempted to really ignore the police: Don't. There will be - always - a man with a really big gun about 20-30m behind the place where they stop you. As long as his finger is not placed on the trigger you're all right.



I have meanwhile learnt that this is a part of an effort of the new government of Rio Grande do Sul to show more police presence. Apparently this has lead to the arrest of about 7000 persons with guns, drugs, fugitive criminals or simply persons without a driver's licence.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mambo Lessons

So now it's official. I'll be teaching Mambo at Cadica's starting in March. It's in the local paper, too, so it's public as well. I'm curious how many people are going to be interested. On the professional level I'll find enough, about the beginners I have no idea. The next show is coming up on the 9th of March, and the choreography is doing very well. Photos from the last event - Dançando no Circo - are up at clicfotos.com. This link should take you to the event. If not look for Cadica / Dançando no Circo on 09/01/2007. Then you can find the shows I participated in on pages 8 and 33/34.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Driving in Brazil

The trick is to find the right block for turning around.




Saturday, January 27, 2007

One sane man

In the face of the ever-increasing idiotic war-on-terror rhetorics the director of public prosecutions in the UK, Sir Ken MacDonald, appears as a voice of reason:
"London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs'.

The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement."

Three cheers for Sir Ken, and may he continue to make himself unpopular! The rest of his statement can be found at The Guardian. It makes for worthwhile reading. And yes, the bloody fools who keep spouting that war-on-terror-give-up-all-your-freedom-and-bend-over nonsense to increase their standing in petty political games of power piss me off every single time I have to face the ludicrous security theatre at airports these days, not even counting the continuing erosion of liberty and civil rights that is part of this package.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills

When all at once I heard a shout

"Oh, how I hate those daffodils!"

A cry of anguish, full of scorn,

Beside the lake a sound forlorn.



Beneath the twinkle then I ran -

Of stars upon the milky way -

And finally I met the man

Who had just made such an affray.

A poet, it turned out, he was,

On his bald pate I saw the stars.



"What ails thee, man?" I asked, but he

just pointed at the waves and said:

"These waves are beautiful, you see,

Alas, for daffodils I'm paid.

I gaze and gaze, but not a thought

of daffodils will come. Oh Lord!"



"Oh, would I were back on my couch,

A glass of Gin ready to hand,

Some fine tobacco in my pouch,

My mind inside a wondrous land.

Instead I'm here beneath the hills,

In search of bloody daffodils!"



Saturday, January 20, 2007

UNESCO Best Practices for Human Settlements

I've come across a rather interesting budgeting practice in Porto Alegre, introduced in 1989:



The Experience of the Participative Budget in Porto Alegre (Brazil)



Asking the population to directly decide on a not inconsiderable part of public spending is certainly one of the more innovative budgeting practices I've heard of, and one that cities back in Europe could well use. After all, we pay for that spending. It also happens to be part of the UNHCS Best Practices for Human Settlements.

Living in Porto Alegre

I've been bitching a lot about the bureaucracy in Brazil. Well, dealing with it seems to have been my chief occupation at times, and I'm told Brazil ties with India in the first place.

However, it's not all paper around here. Living in Porto Alegre is truly enjoyable. The city is very green, has good places for going out, good food, and lots of places with live music. It's also reasonably safe. The Guaíba is beautiful, with parts of the road leading alongside being closed for traffic on Sundays when it's a popular spot for jogging, cycling or just having a walk at the riverside.

Last but not least, the people are good-to-be-with. The Gaúchos are proud, very open, welcoming and easy-going. They're also a lot of fun to have around. Historically, they've always been a bit more independent than the rest of Brazil: The Guerra dos Farrapos, the bloodiest civil war in Brazilian history, was supposed to make the Rio Grande do Sul a republic. It failed, but you still stumble over the historic references everywhere in the region, and there's a wide-spread attitude of "first Gaúcho, then Brazilian".

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Going postal

This morning I spent some time in my favourite red-light district. You know, UPS is there. It just so happens that a look at their web site tells you how truly excellent their services are, which is nice. As opposed to all the other international shipping companies that also have truly excellent services, as their web sites tell me, UPS is conveniently located near my way to work and not out of the world somewhere around the airport. The Plan was Good. Nip in, drop what I want to send off at the counter, say goodbye and be gone in five minutes. I liked it. The Plan....well, The Plan did, of course, not survive my entering the office for even the first minute. To be precise, it survived just until I had the first form pushed at me. I swear, if people here weren't so bloody nice I'd start throwing tantrums about all the paperwork.

I succeeded in filling in all forms, at length. My memory is hazy, but I do believe at some point a black cat may have been involved. Then the delicate question of payment arose. I now live in a country where you can get a beer on a credit card, and this is quite common, too. Paper money is rarely needed, if at all. UPS, of course, does take credit cards, on which I had rather counted. They just don't take Visa, on which I had rather not counted. So I found myself doing some bank-hopping in the vicinity, having been informed that there were some banks really near. There were indeed. It's just that none of them have an ATM that takes Cirrus. Or any other payment system foreigners come up with. They all have extremely helpful personnel, but that did not solve my immediate problem. I did, at the third bank, end up with directions to a supermarket that was rumoured to have an ATM that might suit my purpose, and at the fourth one with further directions to the local Banco do Brasil. Who do usually have at least one (but not more) teller machines that are foreigner-compatible. They did, and I went back. And found myself face to face with yet another bleeding tax form. This time I had to declare (for about the fourth time) that I, (follow a long sheet of paper), have nothing to declare, up to and including genius. Nothing tax-relevant, anyway.

In the end trying to send an international parcel turned out to be an instructive if unexpected two hours. And even more: I am not likely to forget my address anytime soon.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Fun with the police

I am now officially registered with the Policia Federal. Inside it looks quite like a cartório (after a while everything does). I have ten fingerprints less than I used to and I have my first protocol slip, which serves as a temporary replacement for my identity card. And I have to say that the folks in there were friendly and everything went quickly. It actually took me longer to get the colour from the fingerprinting off my hands than to register. The fingerprinting is part of the rules of the game and the RG (the identity card) contains a fingerprint. Evidence suggests that it doesn't do much to deter crime.
Fingerprinting aside: If the all of the bureaucracy went as smoothly as this I probably wouldn't even complain about the rest of it.

There is that rest, of course... A few days ago I dropped in at a bank while waiting for some photos and enquired what it takes to set up an account: The CPF, aka tax number, the RG, a statement of residence (whatever that is) and an income statement. That last bit I find rather interesting because I'm sure they must have heard of accounts in credit here. Come to think of it, I know they have. And with the legal notice period in Brasil being 30 days an income can change quickly, so today's statement can be obsolete next week. The statement of residence, of course, is yet another mysterious document that I have no idea how to obtain. Likely as not it's something official that I need another couple of documents for in order to even get it. It usually is.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

There are two things you need to know about Brazil if you are going to live there:

For starters, it is essential to understand about cartórios. A cartório is, unlike yourself, an officially trustworthy person. Your main business with a cartório is going to be twofold: He is going to witness document copies for you (and a lot of them, believe you me). He will also witness your signature to make sure it is really yours and not that of, for example, Richard Lion-Heart. Not being Richard Lion-Heart and having this legally certified is key to achieving things in Brazil.

Personally, I recommend always getting your signatures legalized. You don't want your friends to get into trouble about dodgy birthday cards or something like that and they will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Having a legal signature is key to the second thing that you are going to need: The CPF. The CPF is your tax number. With a CPF you are an official tax payer in Brazil. Without it you're not even a person. You will not be able to open a bank account, activate a cell phone and any number of other things. You may be able to get a drink, and by now you are going to need one. Mind you, it is actually possible to get a CPF even before you have a visa: All you need is a ton of documents, a cartório, and another immigrant who can tell you how it works. Try to find the immigrant first.

I now have it on official authority that I am not Richard Lion-Heart. I also possess a CPF of my very own. I still do not have an active cell phone. Thoughtfully my provider shut it down again just after I put some money on the prepaid card. (In hindsight picking an Italian company in Brazil as my phone provider of choice might have been a misjudgement.)

Now I'm in luck, since thanks to the splendid customer services of my provider re-activating a phone is easy. You only have to call them and, in the happy event that you reach anybody, give them your CPF, your address, passport number, eye-colour, preferred brand of espresso and the height of St. Peter's cathedral in centimetres. Then activation takes only an hour, try again next day if it doesn't work.
For the record: It's three weeks later now and I still cannot make any phone calls.

Monday, January 01, 2007

So it's New Year's Eve, late afternoon, and I urgently need to write an email. Plus make some copies of documents in order to keep them separate from what I have in the hotel. So I proceed to a certain campus to go to work where I know I can do both. On weekends there's some more security, you're checked in when you arrive with a car, need to state where you're going etc. I go in, spend about an hour doing everything I need to, and then go back.
Arriving at the barrier - a flimsy affair that is just taken out of your way when you want to pass - there's a second guard now, and the ensuing conversation goes like this:
- "You're coming from Acme Dynamite Corp.?"
- "Yes."
And then the question that I don't understand at first, can't quite believe after a repetition and that still has me in stitches. The one and only, guaranteed to catch all professional do-no-gooders.
- "Are you taking any equipment with you?"
"No", I say, and after a piercing look the guard lets me pass. Apparently I look trustworthy enough.

This in front of a barrier that I could overrun even with my rented Celta (think cardboard box on wheels), on a campus that has seen a couple of armed bank robberies in broad daylight in the past few weeks in a town with a huge homicide rate. You have to hand it to them. They don't give up.