Adventures of a foreigner in the south of Brazil.

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.