Adventures of a foreigner in the south of Brazil.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Worst of Breed

And once again we wait with bated breath as Banco Itaú is about to defend its title as worst bank ever. To nobody's surprise, they manage this with ease.

But let us begin at the beginning.

I had a transaction to make that required a signature. A third signature, to be precise. After having been there in person already. Difficulty number one: I was not in Brazil, so that required a fax to a foreign number. As it happened, they could not do this. After lots of negotiations, emails back and forth and with some help in Brazil I managed to get the fax (by way of a Brazilian number) and even return a signed copy by fax. Foreign machines can dial into Brazil. Total transaction time, two weeks. Total time I spent, a couple of hours.

Next, just one short day later, I made a credit card purchase, which got blocked. This is something Itaú does quite frequently. Last time (and an account manager earlier) I asked for help and got a phone number of the credit card central. And told them exactly what I thought of that. This time, I hadn't got anything back yet when I decided to just try and call. The phone numbers are, after all, on the back of the credit card: One for metropolitan areas, one for the rest, and one for the exterior, and then two more for the credit card company.

First try, the number for the exterior. That resulted in an automatic message informing me that I was not allowed to use this number from this area.

Second try, the credit card company. Very nice, but couldn't help me, as unblocking this transaction is something the bank would have to do. Fair enough, the bank blocked it. So they connected me to the authorization central of the bank. Who, after asking me for all manners of detail claimed they were not responsible and gave me a set of new numbers to call. Which turned out to be the numbers that are on the back of the credit card. Indeed, the ones that I am forbidden to use from this area, whatever that means. I did even try a second time. They still didn't work. In other words, there is no chance to make this work from outside of Brazil.

Hard to do business with? Impossible to do business with. Excuse me for being a customer.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tucholsky on satire

[...] Does satire exaggerate? Satire must exaggerate, and at its most profound it is unjust. It inflates truth to better show it, and it cannot but follow the word of the gospel: the just will suffer with the unjust.
Translated from Kurt Tucholsky, Was darf die Satire?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Moses on the mountain. An exegesis.

I have just had occasion to read a few verses of Exodus. It was - interesting. I must admit that I did not remember any details from it. But let me quote:

"And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments."

So, with a critical analysis, what does that tell you? Moses spent at least thirty-nine and a half days procrastinating, or he was the worst legasthenic ever.

A few lines further down the legasthenic theory is effectively destroyed, but an interesting new fact is raised:

" he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God."

Couple that with the carefully described fact that Moses did not drink any water. And ate no bread. Specifically. Now you know where the Jesuits get it from. Now me, I grew up in a wine region. Believe me when I say that I know a few people who had trouble writing fast, and whose face shone, without touching bread or water. Their noses normally glowed, too. But then, that may have been too undignified for Exodus. An aptly named book.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A foggy conspiracy

So here I am, in sunny California. Uhm. Let me be accurate. I am in rainy Yosemite after coming from the foggy, soggy coast. Obviously, the gods of fog and rain are conspiring to make my days off more interesting. (The days I was working were, of course, perfect.) Given the forecast for today all I really need to know now is if bears stay inside in thunderstorms.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The joy of technology

Water. There is no water coming out of the tap. As the porter informs me, there is no water coming out of any tap in the building, and no one really knows why. The cause, it seems, is not inside the building. So. I don't suffer alone, but after pondering this fact for a bit I find it not very helpful. I already have a shelf full of candles. I would much rather not have to stock up on buckets of water, too.

Cars. My car is still in repair. Apparently it takes about four weeks to get a replacement part for an ignition from the factory and about a week to even find that out. The car is produced in Brazil.

I have a rented car now that sports a CD player. This is nice, as I am not very fond of the local radio. The problem with the CD player is that it pauses for half a second whenever the car hits a road bump. Or when I accelerate or brake. The roads here have many bumps, and driving a car does require you to accelerate sometimes. So now all my music sounds like it was sung by stutterers with a memory problem, all the way to work and back. It is a good thing I don't sing along, or I might acquire some strange habits of speech.

I can just about imagine the engineers sitting there trying to design the CD player. They were probably running out of novel ideas and had to come up with something revolutionary by five thirty. One of them probably said: "Hey guys, let's do something totally novel and build a CD player for a car that never hits road bumps!" And another chimed in with: "Cool! This is new! And those would be the cars that don't accelerate, so let's build one for cars that don't hit road bumps and that don't accelerate!" And then they were happy and went home.

This car is also produced in Brazil.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Amsterdam, city of the god of weed, of crazed cyclists and of canals. Trust me on the canals. I will be lying to you about everything else shortly.

And now look back, to the city, and some weeks into the past. There I was, ambling along on a sunny morning. To my left, a cyclist was chasing pedestrians. To my right, someone was getting not stoned, but more stoned.

Wandering on, enjoying the sun, looking at the houses and canals, and taking photos, as is a tourist's due, I finally arrived at the Nieuwmarkt, the new market. It is in the middle of the oldest part of Amsterdam, a wide square with something like a tiny fortress in it. Only the fortress is really a café, and it has no cannons. It was getting past noon, and I was getting hungry. On my map I found the market, bordering on the red light district, which in turn spills over into an area with restaurants. So, hungry but hopeful, I set out to cross the red light district, which I presumed would be empty at noon.

There were crowds in the streets branching off from the market, students, tourists, and whoever else walks around the city in the light of the day. A Buddhist temple, Chinese takeaways. I turned left, and the red light district with the first big windows appeared, the crowds thinning. Amsterdam is famous for those windows, and how justly I had not before understood.

It was a veritable menagerie of the bizarre that I came to, Mr. Hyde at his most inventive and terrible. There was count Dracula's elderly aunt, in a layer of cracked face paint, and black lace panties.There was a fairy, full like the moon, her skin the colour of ivory. And she was wearing not much in pale orange, smiling seductively over all her plentiful cheeks. There was Mama Bear, without her fur. And there was the jolly bouncer, in a doorway, and he did cry out: "Wanna come in lads, or are you just window-shopping?" And he did not wear a top hat, or a tail-coat with velvet sleeves.

I leave you to contemplate those sights in all the depth they deserve, while I walk on and take a right turn along a canal.

Picture a peaceful canal on a sunny day, a street of slightly seedy clubs and bars, facing an old church on the other side of the canal. The church is called "Old Church", and the name of the street I know not. There is a tourist standing by a bridge gazing over the water, still slightly shaken. His back is turned to the creatures of the morning, and a jolly bouncer is standing in a doorway behind him.

The tourist crosses the bridge and leaves the picture, and the sun glitters on the water.