Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mister Grafite

One might think with this sudden flurry of posts that this blog is suddenly experiencing a digital rebirth, a virtual reawakening, a deep, gasping breath of electrons to bring it back from its silicon coma.

One would probably be wrong.  But then one never knows, does one?

At any rate, there was more excitement to be had on Sunday in addition to the first swimming and the cave spelunking and the mountain scaling - I was in the paper!  Yes, in spite of my perennial lack of focus, my distractibility, my un-traction-getting-ness, I have garnered another tiny feather in my small Hat of Recognition for the things I have managed to get done in spite of... everything else.

Of course it helps that I know a very wonderful photographer who is also a client and just happens to write for the newspaper that has featured me twice now, along with others in the street art scene, dragging her reporter co-workers kicking and screaming (well, I hope not too much) to write features about us.

And here's how I appeared last sunday in the newspaper Correio:

photo by Angeluci Figueiredo

If it appears that I am less than animated there's a reason for that.  I made the poor photographer's work difficult.  I had been up late the night before working on a website and I am never at my best on less than 8 hours sleep, plus I had completely forgotten that we were doing the interview so I didn't bother to shave or put on a cool t-shirt.  And it had been really busy at the store that morning.

If you'd like to have a look at the whole article, here it is.  It's in Portuguese, so if you don't read Portuguese you're out of luck unless you can convince Google to translate it for you, which it increasingly gets better at doing.  I for one have no intention of translating it for you, but I'll give you a brief overview.

It starts by saying who I am and how I ended up in Brazil,  and that I have the only graffiti store in the city.  There's a section about my inspiration to make graffiti, and I talk about how I like to make silly drawings of animals, and how I created a monster called the Kamr Famr when I was five years old.  Well, he put 8 in the article, but it was really 5.  I was tired, I may have said 8.  Don't remember.  I haven't painted many of them in the city, but there are a few - here's one:

The reporter asked if I'd had any run ins with the police and I basically said no.  I mentioned my favorite graffiti artists, and wish I'd mentioned some of my other influences but you know?  I forgot to.

We talked a bit about how the store got started, and the crazy paintings on the walls (my ongoing collaborative work with my clients), and then I wind up talking a bit about the street art scene in Salvador.

It's a little weird getting written up like this in the paper - I walk down the street and I wonder if anyone is looking at me and saying "hey, there's Mister Grafite, he was in the paper yesterday!"  Then again, papers don't have the kind of readership they used to - I'd be much more likely to be recognized if I ended up on one of the mid-day journotainment shows that are so popular here.  Nah, don't want to do that.  I hate those shows.  Been meaning to write a post about that.  Of course being written up in the paper is not any weirder than writing a blog that is a hell of a lot more personal... the big difference being most of my digital fans, outside of the family (which would be most of them) are most likely in far-flung locations and the locals?  98% of them don't read English.

Big thanks to Victor Villarpando for the interview, Angeluci Figueiredo for the hard-earned photos, and the Jornal Correio for publishing it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Get Out Of Town

I don't commute, quite deliberately - I hate sitting in traffic.  And it's really bad for the planet.  I set up my whole life around this whole not-commuting thing, which is great on one hand, and not so great on the other.  I have pretty much everything I need within walking distance of my house: my store, my kid's school, food, movies, even museums and an UNESCO World Heritage Center.  Beaches!  Hell, I could walk out my door and get me some crack cocaine and a couple skinny prostitutes to help me smoke it if I was so inclined.

The down side is it means I spend most of my time moving in very small circles.  I figure if I had a tracking device strapped to my leg (I don't, in case you're wondering), the map of my movements would be extremely limited and repetitive, and restricted to a very small geographical area. Go to store, go home.  Take Lucas to school.  Go to the bakery.  Go back to store.  Go to house, get some paint, go back to store.

You get the idea.

Well, all that changed on Thursday night, when I boarded a night bus and went to a town called Lençois.  Lençois is a wonderful little tourist town on the edge of the Chapada Diamantina, which is a gorgeous national park full of waterfalls, caves, and great rock formations.  Think of the American Southwest but in a tropical climate.  They also have the best Mexican restaurant in all of Bahia in Lençois.  Although I've visited it several times, I hadn't been back there since before Lucas was born.

This is not a travel blog in case you haven't noticed- I think in some ways it's an anti-travel blog, which is a bit weird because I love to travel.  Maybe I'm just bitter because I can't get away as easily or as often as I used to, which is why I write this way.  At any rate, I'm not going to do the classic "we went here, which was great, and then we went there, which was great too," kind of thing.  I will say this: it was a fucking awesome time for both me and my travel companion, my now nine year old son.  That's right - the kid is nine.  In fact, he turned nine yesterday, on Sunday, and he did something else really great yesterday: he learned how to swim.  Here's proof:

The mask and snorkel (presents from his Grammy) were critical to his getting my various swimming lessons coordinated into an actual 'float and move' model which include the two most critical elements in swimming.  You gotta float, and you gotta move around.  Very impressed and immensely proud, I still urged him to try swimming without the mask, which proved to be more difficult.  All in good time.  I told him he really needs to learn to breathe without the aid of a snorkel, but he assured me that he will always have the mask and snorkel with him any time he is near water and might need or want to swim in it.

On my first trip to Brazil I visited this park and took a one day van tour around the park, which feels a little bit like cheating, but also allows you to see a huge amount in one day: several waterfalls, a couple caves, mountains, souvenir shops.  Since we only had a couple days I really wanted to repeat the experience with Lucas, which is what we ended up doing.  It was great, but a bit more painful: like pretty much everything in Brazil these days, it was freakin' expensive.  In fact, the whole trip was freakin' expensive, and as an inveterate penny-pincher hearing that cash register noise in my head every time I turned around caused my blood pressure to rise some.  But, as my wife likes to say, you can't take it with you and I have to say I'll have the memories with me long after my bank account stops aching.

It was fantastic to spend three days with my son, who is growing up all too fast.  The days are numbered that he will be willing to hold hands with me in public anymore.  But hey, there's more news - we are off to the States for two weeks in June, in the midst of the World Cup madness, which also just happens to be Lucas' winter break.

So now, dear readers, I would like to leave you with a few choice photos from the trip- I didn't spend five years in college taking photos for nothing.  Thank you for your time.

If you want to see more pictures, go here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Who Needs the Real Thing Anyways?

I've never written a post on my phone, but I'm waiting for my number to be called at the consumer protection bureau and have nothing better to do.  I don't commute (very much intentionally) and one thing about not commuting is that I don't have blocks of time to do things that otherwise would be low priority - not that I'd consider writing a blog post while driving, but I did learn a lot of Portuguese on the NYC Subway and I listened to a lot more podcasts when I drove to capoeira twice a week.  Now I'm out of practice and arrived here unprepared for a long wait, forgetting to bring my headphones.

But believe it or not I have lots of things I'd like to write about, I guess I just need to arrange to be stuck somewhere for a couple hours at a time so I can get them written down.  I actually wrote a post last week but decided it was too personal and dramatic for global dissemination, so I didn't publish it.

So let's get to it- today's topic: Strangers in The House and the State of Global Travel Today.

We've been renting rooms in our house for some time now, used to be just for Carnaval but now it's pretty much a constant thing, and we've gone from renting a single room to renting two.  It's been a good gig and has become a critical part of our income.  Pretty soon the income we have earned from the rentals will exceed what I paid for the house, not that the house was terribly expensive.  Speaking of buying the house, I just realized that 3 of the principals involved in the sale are dead now, nine years later, leaving me and the batshit elderly mother to walk the earth.  Apropos of nothing...

The downside to renting rooms is you always have these strangers staying at your house.  Usually it's not a big deal,especially when they do what tourists are supposed to do and get out to see the city, visit churches and go to the beach and stuff like that.  The problem arises when they don't do those things.  A considerable number of our guests, I'd say between 30 and 40 percent, spend great blocks of time at the house, and some of them barely leave the house at all.

The reason for this should be obvious, dear reader, and it is one of our primary draws for the rentals: Free Wifi.

When I did my world travels back in the 90's I made it part of my adventure to try to find public internet access in all the big cities I visited, and I was mostly successful.  It was my first real experience with the internet, and predated all those online email services like hotmail or gmail, it predated Google and of course The Facebook and Skype and pretty much everything we still have online with the exception of Yahoo, whose future is perennially in doubt.  I lugged a floppy disk around with me with an email program called Eudora on it and asked people to install it for me on their computers. Sometimes they did.

It was all kind of fun, and after I'd done my exotic internet adventure I could still disappear from the radar for weeks at a time without that seeming unusual.  I sent a lot more of these things called 'post cards' than I did actual emails.

It's hard to remember now just how astonishing the reality of being able to communicate with people, in real time, on the other side of the world, essentially for free, used to be.  Our kids will never experience that, and most of us take it for granted and have for a long time.   Many, if not most, of us spend hours and hours online each day, this humble author included.  The internet has transformed my life, making my livelihood possible all these years here in Brazil and several before the big move.  I use the Internet for work, but I also use it for entertainment, and I use it more than I should, and I've been trying, with mixed success, to use it less.

Now let's turn back to the house guests.  I would like to use this forum to speak to them directly, and say what I never could directly to their faces, although I've tried making oblique hints and suggestions on various occasions:
Dude, you're in Brazil.  You probably spent a lot of money to get here, and our rooms aren't fancy but they're not super cheap either.  You probably won't be here for long, and you probably will never come back here again.  Why would you want to spend your whole stay holed up in your room watching movies or posting status updates?  (In Salvador, just finished watching the whole 3rd season of House!)

And another thing: since when did the Internet become a utility?  We have running water, we have electricity, gas for cooking, but man if the Internet goes down some of our guests have been known to FREAK OUT.  And it does go down from time to time, more often than I'd like, since I'm generally the one who has to get it working again.
I don't know if they do this anymore, but the hostels in Europe used to lock the guests out during the day, and you couldn't come in until about 6 or so in the evening.  That was pre-internet, and I'm not entirely sure what the motivations were for doing so, although I'm sure part of the reason was to get malingerers and other assorted lazybones from spending the whole day stinking up the sheets.  For the record, I'm sure I have fallen into this unflattering category myself on more than one occasion.  I am by nature a homebody, as is my wife, which is why it drives us crazy when our guests don't leave the house.

So let me ask you this: would it be outrageous to tell our guests they need to leave the house for at least a couple hours a day?  Say between 8 AM and 10 PM?  Of course it is.  That was a rhetorical question.  We have done a couple things to nudge people out of the common areas - we created a limit of one hour for guests to use our computer, and we recently imposed a guest-kitchen-ban between 9 AM and 1 PM.

I'd like to end with the obligatory "Don't Get Me Wrong" paragraph, but let me say it's from the heart.  Most of our guests are great, and it's very rare that we get a real toady that we can't wait to see the back of.  It's been a great experience for Lucas, although I'm not sure he really gets that yet, as he's met people from all over the world and it forces him to speak some English from time to time.  And I have had some awesome conversations with random people from all over, and occasionally I get to tell a travel story of my own.

Okay, I'm not going to end with that paragraph.  I'm going to end with this:  currently we have an Italian couple in their 60's staying in one room.  We barely see them, as they are always out experiencing Salvador.  And in the other room?  Well, that one prefers the Internet.