Sunday, April 23, 2017

Where Has All the Water Gone

I think about this blog sometimes... wistfully...

I really would like to get back to it.  I haven't run out of things to say, that's for sure.  We got a dog, I built a door and then ran out of money before we got it installed... then I ran out of more money.  And the store keeps me very busy, even if it doesn't appear to be making me rich yet.  It is decidedly not making me rich.  Nothing, lately, has made me rich.

And if I wanted to wax metaphorical about all the different ways one could be rich, I could wax on about how one could have a richness of time, which I most decidedly do not.  But the reality is I have exactly as much time in the day as you do, and as I was fond of saying in my idle youth I took my retirement at the beginning of my adult life, and now I must pay the piper.  Various pipers, it would seem.  Retirement is something I can guffaw about if I don't want to let myself get dejected.

But enough about all that, let's talk a bit about water.  Or the lack of it.  And the excess of it.  Water in Salvador is both precious and a waste product that literally cannot be gotten rid of quickly enough.  And sometimes the two states intersect, as they have this week.

When I lived out in the bairro of Paripe for a year I got pretty used to the fact that the pipes would run dry periodically, and no water would flow for a day or more.  Since we didn't have storage tanks for the water we were pretty aware of it.  It happens where we live now too, but we've got 1500 liters of storage, so generally we're fine for a couple of days, and we don't even notice.

Well.  A couple of days.  They shut off the water on Wednesday for a couple of days, for pretty much the whole city.  A big water main project was to be worked on, something about routing water from one dam to another due to the severe drought that's been going on here.  A severe drought, over a long time frame, but that doesn't mean we don't get extreme, severe downpours from time to time.  A couple weeks ago I took this picture:

Now what looks like a couple really badly parked cars were actually three cars that got floated down the hill in the intense runoff from a storm.  Like I said, they can't get rid of the water fast enough.  It doesn't help that everyone wants to pave over their lawns and all the drainage gets blocked with trash, or grates are deliberately covered by people to keep rats from coming up out of the sewers... the week previous, I had to remove my shoes at this exact spot and wade through water that came half way up my shins in order to get to work.

So they shut off the water for two days to dig up some pipes and wouldn't you know it, we got a couple of days of insane downpours, which caused a delay in the work, and now it's Saturday night and we only have water downstairs (water... downstairs?  Don't worry, I'll explain that in a second).  How ironic is that?  They do some work to help deal with the drought and the whole thing gets bolloxed by a biblical amount of rain.  If you're thinking there's something not quite right about this equation, like maybe you're one of those people who thinks it's insane to flush your toilet with potable water rather than repurposed rainwater that might otherwise be floating someone's car down the street, you'd be very, very right.  It's nuts.  Not just in Brazil.  It's nuts everywhere.

Anyhow, I can't say much about that because I've been meaning to install a rainwater capture system for years and haven't seemed able to get around to it, but like I said earlier, I don't have a lot of time.  It's on the list I tell you!!  It's just people keep putting things like dogs and homework and cans of spray paint on other more demanding and more pertinent lists.

So this morning I'm being the optimist I really am not and hoping we'll get our water back, because our 1500 liters of water are gone and we're expecting four guests at the house.  And yes, my neighbor informs me that it's coming back, some people on our street already have water!

But not at our house. Not in the morning, and not in the afternoon.  Now I've known for a long time that we get water at a faucet on the second floor long before it makes its way up to the attic where the storage tanks are.  The faucet in question is attached directly to the pipe that feeds the tanks in the attic.  So I started thinking about it today, and I realized that everybody who had water was getting it from faucets that were close to the ground.  And I had this vision of the water in the city being like some massive, fragmented body of water - gradually filling up in all the pipes in the neighborhood until it finally makes it up to attic level.  The problem, I realized, is that we didn't have any faucets close to the ground that weren't fed by the tanks in the attic.

I realized this at about 5:45 PM, and all the hardware stores close at 6:00.  I ran out and spent R$4,50 (that's less than two bucks for you USD types) on a couple pieces of hydraulic plastic, and took a saw to our mainline water pipe that feeds the tanks in the attic - luckily it's still exposed in its 'temporary' state we left it in oh about 12 years ago when we got the house renovated.  

And wouldn't you know it - there was water in there.  Here's the charming result of my efforts:

I can't tell you just how much this kind of ridiculous jury rig expresses something very profound about my personality, formed in the days when I was a kid looking at elaborate drawings my father made of the same kind of craziness - I guess he had a similar obsession.  Here's what I mean:

Well, kinda.  It's got some pipes anyways.  Miss you Dad.

These kind of ingenious fixes are also liable to cause severe bouts of self-satisfaction and self-patting-on-backiness.  Nothing makes me happier than resolving a situation with little more than my wits and the junk I squirrel away for just this kind of situation (the faucet has been sitting in a box for about ten years).

So maybe tomorrow the water will work its way to the attic.  It would be good, because even if I am fiendishly clever and frugal to boot we're still washing out of buckets this way.

These situations always leads me to the same train of thought, which is: what if the water didn't come back?  What if we didn't generally have running water every time we turned on a faucet?  Or for that matter, what if the trucks stopped coming with the food and the meat and the toilet paper?  I guess I could ask someone from Venezuela, they'd probably know way more about the subject than anyone would want to.  It's something I didn't think about much when I lived in the States.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

You Are an Ant to Us

Well, at least I got something accomplished today.  Sent in my complaint to American Airlines regarding the major SNAFU I suffered through at their hands a few weeks ago.  I knew it would take me weeks to get this post together, but here's trying to get *two*  things done on a lazy Sunday.

I wrote this on my phone back on June 19th:

I'm so cold...

It's 5:30 in the morning and I'm in São Paulo. I shouldn't be here, I arrived yesterday and I'm waiting to board a flight back to Salvador. By my own reckoning, I'm not even in São Paulo, because I never left the airport, and airports don't count.  So once I get home this will simply be an expensive, time consuming hole in my life, not to mention a big spike in my carbon footprint.

And in a couple weeks, I'm going to do it all over again. That is,  without the sleeping on a bench part, without the jackhammer and the unstable middle aged woman periodically announcing,  loudly, how some corrupt guy owes her a hotel room and how she would get the police involved, if they weren't all corrupt as well. No, in a couple weeks I only have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to make another non-voyage and dump a few more tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

But, as much as I am grumbling about this, I am doing it willingly. I volunteered for this. I'm going home by myself, but I came down with my son.  And in a couple weeks, I'm going back to get him.  I'm a chaperone, making sure a long planned trip didn't get cancelled.

I'm on the plane now, at least it's warmer in here.

We've been planning forever for my son to make a trip to see my family without me along.  It finally came together for his winter break from school, over the  (much dreaded by me) São João holiday. I bought the tickets months ago, and spent a lot of time and energy, and a fair bit of money, getting everything else together.  Lucas needed a new US passport, again, various documents needed to be prepared and notarized  (price for the services of a US notary in Salvador da Bahia? Now at $50.00 a signature).  Meanwhile, lots of planning was going on north of the equator, mostly orchestrated by my most industrious sister. Days off were scheduled, reservations made.

In the midst of this, about a month ago, I got an email from American Airlines informing me that there had been a change to my itinerary. When I had a chance to look at it, I noticed that Lucas' flight from NY to Miami had been changed by about an hour.

What I didn't notice was that the Salvador/Miami leg of the trip  had been eliminated.

Now, this may seem like a pretty major oversight, and it was.  But if I may say a few words in my own defense  (you know I will) the email didn't exactly make it clear just how significantly the itinerary had been altered.
...And that's as far as I got before the plane took off and I fell asleep.  Made it home OK, lost about 24 hours of my life but Lucas got to make his trip and had a great time.

I had planned to describe in gruesome detail the customer service nightmare of discovering the kid had no flight, but after about an hour of whittling down the complaint from about 5000 words to 2000, I don't have it in me.  Maybe I'll post it at the end.

When I went back to pick him up I wrote this, again on my phone:

I am back in São Paulo, 8 in the morning, I had to get up at 2 AM to be here to meet Lucas, who will be landing any minute now. By all accounts he had a wonderful trip, so I suppose by that measure this has all been worth it. I'm unfortunately not surprised I didn't get it together to finish this blog post, but that's how it goes these days...

Not having an easy time concentrating as I'm anxious about Lucas' arrival, so this will most likely be a multi-part post providing I can get it together to publish the thing. I also haven't written to American Airlines yet to write my scathing complaint, that needs to happen as soon as possible when I get home. Or maybe I'll get to it during the nice long day of hanging around airports (luckily in the company of my kid!) I have slated for today.
Well, well, Me Of The Past, wouldn't you be proud to know I just wrote that complaint and launched straight into finishing the post, only a month after I started it!  Here's hoping for frequent flyer miles or free tickets from the Corporate Behemoth.  They owe me.

As far as that day went, it was nicely broken up into little chunks: a couple hours at the São Paulo airport, a half-hour flight to Rio, another hour or so there, on to Salvador, couple more hours, then a cab back to the house and done.  Apparently the mentally unstable middle age woman is a regular at the SP airport because I saw her again on the way back, she seemed much calmer.  I made a grave repacking error with my carry-on, trying to get around the more stringent weight regulations for national flights - put some sharp things in there and almost had them taken away.  Point for Brazil, in the States that stuff would have been yanked in a heartbeat.

The kid came back much tanner, a better swimmer, and more fluent in English.  Also presumably with much stronger ties to his North American roots.  Everyone was great with him and I think it was a transformative experience for the little guy, although it's hard to tell seeing how quickly he's slipped back into his old life.  Them seeds might take a decade to bear fruit.  I tried to convince him to write something down about the trip, try to get some extra credit at school, but he's 11.  Maybe on the next trip, if there is one!

So here is my complaint, the original version which is more flowery in its prose as opposed to the 2000-character-limit one which is more terse.  Terse bad, not eloquent!

On March 25, 2016, I purchased a round trip ticket from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, via Miami to New York for my son, who is a minor.  At the same time, I paid the $300 unaccompanied minor fee for him to travel by himself and meet my family in the United States.

On May 3 I received an email indicating that the flight had been altered.  I checked the itinerary and noticed that there was a flight change for his return flight (from flight 1254 to flight 1365) from New York to Miami, so I assumed that this was the only effected portion of the trip.  What I did not realize at the time was that the flight from Salvador to Miami had been canceled.

Nowhere in the email does it indicate that the flight from Brazil to the United States had been canceled, and that I was left with a useless ticket from Miami to New York.  There was no warning that my son's travel plans had been essentially cancelled by American Airlines.  Additionally, I was not refunded for the price of the ticket from Salvador to Miami, which would have alerted me to the situation.  I was left believing there had only been a minor change in scheduling. Would it have been so difficult to inform me that more than half of the flight had been eliminated?

On the day before my son was to travel to the United States, I contacted American Airlines with some questions about the unaccompanied minor program.  It was then that I discovered that he no longer had a flight: American Airlines had canceled all service in and out of Salvador.  Needless to say I was upset, and wanted to know what American Airlines could do to rectify the situation.  I was told my only options were a refund or to change the origin of the flight to Sao Paulo.  American Airlines was unable or unwilling to provide a flight from Salvador to Sao Paulo for my son, because he was travelling alone.  I asked why I had not received a reimbursement on my credit card, and I was told that that would have happened at check-in.  Exactly how was that supposed to work?  When my son arrived in Miami?  Unaccompanied?

I was also informed that if my son had not been using the Unaccompanied Minor program, American would have put him on a flight from Salvador to Sao Paulo on a different airline.  This was cold comfort at best.  If that was the case, and since I was in fact paying extra for the Unaccompanied Minor program, shouldn't I have received some notification due to his special circumstances?

I was left with only two options: cancel a trip that I and my family had been planning for months, or travel with my son to Sao Paulo and put him on the plane myself.  I opted for the latter, which required the purchase of three additional round trip tickets from Salvador to Sao Paulo, one for my son, and two for me, one to bring him down, and one to pick him up.  The total cost of the tickets was 2635.01 brazilian reais, or about 800 USD.

I have been a loyal customer of American Airlines for years, I participate in the AAdvantage program, and possess a CITI/AA credit card for the sole purpose of accruing miles.  I feel that I have been the victim of callous indifference on the part of the airline.  Admittedly I didn't notice that the flight to Miami was no longer on the itinerary, but would it have been so difficult to notify me that the flight had been cancelled?  That in fact there were no more flights to and from Salvador offered by American Airlines?

One time I was bumped from a flight from Miami to Salvador and I was offered two nights in a hotel, vouchers for meals, a flight the next day, and an additional round trip ticket from Brazil to the USA.  This time, I was offered nothing except for an overdue reimbursement and the opportunity to inform my 11 year old son that his travel plans had been cancelled by an airline that didn't bother to inform us that his flight no longer existed.

Friday, March 25, 2016

BTC 2016, Madre de Deus

It seems my blog has been reduced to the occasional super important event, a couple posts a year, if I can actually be bothered to write something.  That's okay.  This blog had it's run, it was fun, and it gave me a chance to vent at a time that I didn't really have much of an opportunity to do so.

So here in Brazil we find ourselves in the midst of a massive political crisis, an attempt at the impeachment of the president, an attempt at jailing a wildly popular ex-president, and the attempt to shield him from prison.  I'm not going to write about that.  I don't really understand it, it's terrifying, but I'm not a reporter and wouldn't pretend to have an educated opinion on the subject.  However, I will say this: it occurred to me a couple years ago that I arrived in Brazil at what may be viewed historically as a lull in the storm: the economy was doing well, politics relatively stable, free press, etc.  If I'd showed up here during the dictatorship, during the years of hyper inflation, it's difficult for me to imagine having stayed here, and even more difficult to imagine starting a business here.  But I did both, and now that the proverbial shit is hitting the proverbial fan, what happens next?  On the one hand, if things completely unravel here it's hard to imagine that there will be guerrilla warfare in the streets of Salvador, although I suppose anything's possible.  On the other hand, is it really time for me to pull up the stakes and get the fuck out of Dodge?  The US in spite of its own political shit storm does seem to be keeping its head above water economically speaking, at least for now.  But the thought of starting over again is daunting, although it won't get any easier as I continue on the path to middle age, and I will eventually leave this place.  I decided that a long time ago.

One last thing on the subject and then I'll shut up: can anyone say "Really Bad Timing"?  Maybe this is just my non-Brazilian perspective, but Brazil is just about to host the Olympics.  It's gotten a huge amount of bad press for not getting its act together in preparing for them, not to mention the sewage in the bay and the now notorious zica virus.  It has invested millions, if not billions, to make the Olympics happen.  And now, like two months before it starts, you're going to impeach the president???  It's like your family is planning this huge party or wedding or something, catered, maybe you got the house landscaped and painted and installed a pool just for the occasion, and then the weekend before it happens there's a massive, violent fight and the cops are called and a couple family members are arrested and the whole neighborhood is in an uproar about it.  The party/wedding may still go on, but it's going to be extremely awkward and probably some people aren't going to show up.

So that's that.  Pardon the profanity, I will not be using such foul language from here on in.  In the face of political meltdown, we hosted our second graffiti event, Bahia de Todas as Cores 2016, "Esse Spray Tem Dendê."  We had it in the city of Madre de Deus, which is about an hour outside of Salvador, a city notable for it's complete domination by the petroleum industry: vast fields of massive holding tanks and elaborate pipelines that line the roads.  In spite of that, it manages to be a lovely place with lots of local charm.  One of the major differences this year from last is that everything seemed to be more relaxed, getting out of the megatropolis and away from the traffic and the negative elements was an excellent, excellent idea.  Wish I could take credit for it.

All the rest is just art and details.  I'm going to skip the details and post some art, with a little commentary.  The main wall was enormous: it snakes along the back of a neighborhood, separating it from one of these fields of petroleum holding tanks.  It's not going to get much visibility from anyone but the people in the neighborhood, but it was an awesome place to have an event.  Mostly stuck at my booth selling paint, at the end of the day yesterday I finally was able to walk the wall from one end to the other.  It became clear to me that I had two options: take dozens or perhaps hundreds of photos, or make a video of the whole thing, from one end to the other.  I opted for the latter, as I think it gives a much better sense of the continuity of the thing.  The video runs for eight and a half minutes, which gives you an idea of just how long the wall is.  It's kinda shaky, and if you have a short attention span I suggest that you skip the middle (although there are some great pieces in there) and watch the end, which has the most amazing collaboration of the event.  My phone's battery died right at the end, but luckily it happened when I reached the very last piece, the only thing that doesn't appear in the video are the logos of the sponsors, which include my store.  No biggie.  I'm not really one for self promotion.  The downside of the battery dying is that I would have taken some more photos, at least of the massive production with the western scene, but it was not to be.  I'm sure we'll have some better photos eventually on the site: - coming soon!

On Friday we had a 'multirão,' where anyone could show up and paint.  The wall was much smaller than the main wall, but it is much more central and will be seen by many more people.

This last one is probably the most important painting from the multirão, at least for the city of Madre de Deus.  It is a portrait of a 16 year old girl who was killed by a stray bullet about a week ago, she studied at the school that we painted.  The artist's name is Trigo.  I shoulda taken a photo of the finished painting, it came out really well.

All the photos that follow are from the main wall, painted over the saturday and sunday of the event.

And now, (assuming really bad fake french accent) the Pièce De Résistance: