Sunday, December 28, 2008

'All I Want for Christmas...' A Look Back

I wanted to write a nice, G-rated post about the holiday because my next post is going to be a doozy.

As happens with some frequency, I started a post several days ago and then abandoned it. I will excerpt some of it here for your reading pleasure:

Title: All I Want For Christmas

...Are all the things that broke over the course of the year. That would include:
  • the DVD player
  • my printer
  • our cordless phone
  • my car speakers...
The list went on. I didn't get any of these things, except the cordless phone. Actually I broke down and bought one because I couldn't stand living in a house with only one phone on a floor. I read an inane article on the NYT website about how phone cords were a thing of the past and I thought that those people don't live in my world. But then again, I live in a house with three phones, and three cell phones so I can't really complain.
Actually, I'm not being entirely honest. There's lots of other things I would like too, but I'm not even going to post that list. That one contains a lot of really big ticket items that officially go in the 'pipe dream' category.
I didn't get any pipe dreams for Christmas either... or airline tickets... or beach-front apartments or rural properties heavy on the trees and light on the people (and the noise)...
Here in Brazil I don't tell people 'Happy Holidays,' if I did they probably wouldn't know what I was talking about. In a country that is mostly nominally Catholic with the second biggest demographic being other flavors of Christianity, everyone says Merry Christmas or rather: Feliz Natal.
But I write this blog mostly for my friends back home, so Happy Holidays.

I have read the posts of my fellow Americans-In-Salvador in honor of this holiday season and I share many of the same sentiments. I doubt there are many expats that don't get somewhat homesick over the holidays- the ones that don't are doing something right.

Christmas used to be when my Swedish heritage came booming to the fore, with the cookies and the Swedish Christmas carols and that little candle thing with the angels flying around in circles ringing bells (see picture). That made great shadows on the ceiling I remember. Every year we had an advent calendar.

I guess in some ways my Christmas now is more when my American heritage comes out- what with the materialism and the guilt and the spending of too much money. Then again, these have all been pretty well incorporated into the Brazilian experience so it's not terribly unique to the US- chalk it up to extremely successful cultural imperialism.

One way that my Christmas has shown my at least partial Brazilification was in my choice of Christmas lights. At home, we had white lights that looked like candles. We scoffed and/or laughed at any colored and/or blinking lights as being exceedingly kitschy and "American." One exception was our friend who had the lava lamp Christmas lights- I think we cut him some slack because they were so over the top. When I got my own house and started preparing my own Christmas decorations like a rebellious madman I bought blinking, colored lights to put in the windows (almost completely shorted out in a downpour this year) and blinking, colored lights for the artificial tree (gasp!! - it's true, not that blue spruces can be bought on the street here even if I wanted one) with an added bonus feature: a teeny green box that beeps out a medley of Christmas favorites with all the lights blinking in time. I guess I'm not that thoroughly assimilated though- when I put on the lights I immediately turn off the bleeper and slow the lights down to a non-seizure-inducing pace. I have often walked into the living room to see one or more members of my family watching the TV with the tree squawking away or blinking furiously... now that's Brazil!

The materialism was good this year. Ruan got a cell phone with an MP3 player built in so now he's not the only 11 year old kid in the city without a phone. My mom sent him a Chris Brown CD and that's getting lots of play already on the tiny device. Lucas got a remote control Ferrari which has already exceeded expectations of durability after repeated high-speed crashes with all manner of immovable objects. Evani got a perfume she had asked for that was more expensive than the car and almost as expensive as the cell phone. The other thing I did for her was build a website for her fledgling cake-making business- admittedly somewhat crude, it still didn't arouse as much excitement as I thought it might. Here it is in it's not quite beta form- be kind. And the email doesn't work yet.

And me? I got an awesome package from my mom with gifts for everyone. I wrapped up the enclosed spray paint tips and the new books and stuck them under the tree with the cans of paint I had also purchased and wrapped up for myself. I now have lots of paint and I'm dying to get out and PAINT SOMETHING big and important but the opportunity evades me so far.

We opened our presents on Christmas Eve like we did post-childhood back home. No kids waking up at 5 AM to attack the stockings- in fact, no stockings. Just a nice meal, twenty minutes of flying bits of paper, and then a big party with the family on Christmas day here at the house, with beer and barbecue and all the rest.

All told I'd say a splendid time was had by all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Movie Theater

Today Lucas did something new- he went to his first movie. In a cinema that is not even a week old. And within walking distance of our house.

Lucas did really well- he didn't get scared, except when they clumsily started a preview (whoops, I mean 'trailer') at extreme volume. He got kind of bored at a couple points and wanted to change seats but for the most part he stayed focused and watched the movie with his thumb in his mouth, contented. It helped that the film was Madagascar II, the sequel to one of his all time favorite movies.

This makes me very happy. I've been holding off on bringing him to a film, as I didn't think he'd be able to sit still. I think Ruan was about 6 when I took him to his first movie- he did fine, except he spent about ten minutes standing instead of sitting, until I managed to coax him back to his seat. That was Finding Nemo.

This means we can all go to movies together!! Or rather, that Ruan, Lucas and I can go to movies together- I doubt we'll have much luck getting Evani to join us. But I hope I'm wrong.

The new theater is in a big concrete box that used to house another theater. That theater closed years ago, and has since been undergoing renovations. They finally opened the doors to the public on Friday. It now has four theaters, a bookstore, a cafe, and a space that looks like it will be used for events. It is in a fantastic location in Pra├ža Castro Alves, which is a beautiful spot by day with a panoramic view of the bay, and a horrible place after about 6 PM as a couple of the roads that let out onto it lead to very sketchy areas. I know more people who have been robbed in Castro Alves than anywhere else in Salvador.

We took a look around the building after the movie and I was more than impressed. It has big windows with great views, wide granite stairways, an impressive looking bookstore, and a fancy bar/cafe. The theaters themselves are state of the art (I think, what do I know about state of the art theaters?) - big, comfy seats, a steep seating area, big old screen.

Problem was, there were only about ten people watching the film- granted this was 2 PM on a Sunday. We went in there last night and there were a lot of staff standing around being helpful but almost no customers. I hope this is going to change. They appear to be pitching this as something of an art-house project, and I hope there's an audience for it. The movies aren't cheap- they generally aren't here, but the location is not close to any wealthy population centers and is not inside of a mall, which always attracts those with means.

I've become so cynical that even as I was exalting in this new space I was already expecting it to fail. Build something nice, nearby, and it's too good to be true. Nobody's going to go and it will close, or it will get trashed before its time and it will close, or there will be some scandal and it will close. All roads lead to closure in my mind.

I hope I'm wrong. They say optimists are never pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Recently an old high school friend of mine sent me a friend request on Facebook. This is always fun. I had planned a big old "Golly Gee" blog post about Facebook and MySpace and how I found all these old friends of mine, but it never happened. I reckon too many of you are finding this out for yourselves for this to be interesting.

Anyhow, this particular old friend also runs a recording studio and about twelve years ago he helped record a demo tape of a band I used to play bass in called Big Fat Lie. We were a big, crunchy, noisy power trio with more of a rapper than a singer. The lyrics were political and at times we were silly. We did the recording a couple years before the advent of recordable CD's and MP3's, so for the longest time I had only a cassette tape of the demo. Unfortunately, I have never had a cassette player that can do it justice, so I have not heard these tunes at all for a long time.

We were a lazy band and although we practiced regularly twice a week we rarely did shows. I can't help thinking that if digital recording technology had been a bit more advanced and we could have burned 50 CD's and sent them out to clubs and radio stations and such things might have been different. But that was impossible. Eventually we all decided to do different things and the band broke up. This is doubly unfortunate because we were 'active' in the Northampton, MA music scene at the time the rumors were flying that it was going to be the next Seattle, which of course it wasn't.

So when my producer/engineer friend became my Facebook buddy, I asked him about those old tapes and if they were still kicking around. He said he'd take a look. A few weeks later, having totally forgotten about it, lo and behold I get an email with a link- to all our songs, zipped up and posted on

Digital versions at last!

After a thank you email, I downloaded the files and checked out the songs- in full digital glory, as I had not heard them since we made the original tapes. Something about them really surprised me.

They weren't that bad.

I mean, if you like that kind of metal/hardcore/rap stuff it's not bad. Probably a bit old fashioned at this point but I'm too matured and wizened to worry about stuff like that.

You can have a listen, if you are feeling brave: just click the button in the middle of the cassette. I finally figured out how to upload the stuff to my MySpace page- true to the garish and obnoxious nature of that site the tape starts playing as soon as you load it!

Music Playlist at

PS I don't play music anymore, not even Capoeira music these days...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pequena Sirugia

I'm really going to try to keep this short...

I was born a moley guy.

Lots of moles. Head to toe.

Today I have three less, but perhaps only one less than I was born with.

You see, I once had a mole checked out as I have heard that they can go mean on you and cause skin cancer. That particular mole didn't turn out to be a problem, but the doctor told me what to watch out for. So when I noticed a dark, somewhat irregular splotch in the vicinity of my belly button I decided to get it checked out. This second doctor confirmed that it was probably a good idea to get it removed, and she found another that she was suspicious about. Those two, plus a third that was so raised that it would bother me when I was training Capoeira or even taking a shower were slated for removal. That removal happened this evening.

Let me say that I'm actually quite fond of my moles. I figure they're the closest things I'll ever get to tattoos, so I like them. I was actually going to get the mole on my upper lip removed when I was in high school because I kept cutting it open when shaving, but in retrospect I'm glad I didn't, even if I still cut it open from time to time. I'm a little surprised I even considered it because moles on the upper lip were a big thing at the time, consider Madonna and the ladies from the Human League- I'm not sure those were even natural moles. I even considered getting a tiny tattoo at one point of a little circle that would look just like a mole, except it was a circle. Pretty subtle. And pretty silly. Anyhow it never happened.

I wasn't real nervous about getting the moles sliced off until right before it actually happened- I hate needles and scalpels and avoid them at all costs. As I lay there sweating in the air conditioning I thought about someone who is very dear to me who loves needles and scalpels and got a massive 'cutting' all over his stomach and legs, without anesthesia. Probably more than 100 times the knife time and he did it for fun. He paid the guy to do it. He talks about how it's a big spiritual experience and all the rest and the way I figure is that I prefer to find my spiritual experiences in other ways. Like sleeping. Personally I think he enjoys the pain, or enjoys dominating the pain, or something like that. I was telling another heavily tattooed friend of mine about this and his response was "Fuck that, I hate the pain. Every time I get a tattoo I think, man, what the hell am I doing this for? It hurts! I like the result but I hate getting the tattoos."

I digress, as usual. But that's what makes my posts interesting, right? Unless you prefer I just write straight up stories about my license plates and dead neighbors. I could put a poll in the sidebar: "What kind of posts do you prefer?"

Never going to happen.

I did say I was going to keep this short. After the painkiller, which I thoroughly hated, the slicing was... painless... but the stitching up part was very unpleasant. Not because I could feel it, although I did feel it a bit near the edges, but because it was taking way too long and my imagination is way too vivid. I know they've got these rigs now where you can watch your own surgery happen on a monitor- no thank you. Not that it was an option. Actually, before I was prepped all the seedy detail in the office came into glaring focus- the old computer on its saggy particle board workstation, the awkward chopping up of a once large and elegant space into smaller offices, the godawful spackling job right over my head as I was getting stitched. I had to remind myself that these guys came recommended (by a somewhat dotty dermatologist) and had a good reputation (they did a boob job for one of the dancers for the group Tchan, and were really surprised that I didn't know her name. I think she's the brunette in this video. Here in Brazil people brag about their plastic surgery).

At one point the guy started circling all the moles on my back with his fancy blue pen- hold on there mister doctor! Three is plenty (remember I said I like my moles).

So now they're gone and now I'm home and all is well. I wonder if they'll hurt when the anesthetic wears off.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Your What is Missing??

I wanted to write a silly, sentimental post about hanging up Christmas lights and setting up the tree and stuff. About how I miss home when the holidays come around and how I'm getting older and I'm a dad now and all that.

But no.

It's going to be another 'Slapped in the Face' post from yours truly.

It all started this afternoon, as I was getting ready for the craft fair and six hours of sitting around in a semi-vegetative state waiting for the occasional thrill of the sale, one or two shirts to the inevitably non-Bahian passing though or relocated to Salvador, hoping to turn a profit rather than paying out of pocket for the privilege of sitting there. I was running around, agitated, as I generally get when I'm tring to get out the door and I'm running late. I got everything into the plastic storage bins and down by the door. I got the car from where it had been sitting since Monday when I drove it last, and moved it up the hill so I could load up. I loaded up. I was ready to go.

And then

I realized

that the car

had no

license plates.

They stole my fucking license plates?? As they say here in Brazil, Ninguem Merece, or 'nobody deserves this.' The car itself was untouched except for a muddy smear across the hood. It was not broken into and even the spare tire was in place, suspended from its little steel cage under the rear bumper. But no plates.

Now, Brazil is a place where you can drive without headlights, without a brain, until recently with an open beer in your hand, and presumably without brakes, but I wasn't going to risk driving without plates. I wasn't entirely certain it was an impossibility, seeing as my brother once had his plates taken away by the police in Mexico when he got a parking ticket, presumably to guarantee that he would pay up. So I postponed heading to the fair and went back in the house to sort out the problem.

'Sorting out the problem' involved two very long sessions on hold with the Brazilian equivalent of the DMV, who never answered, and several very loud curses from yours truly. When I finally gave up on that approach, I had a brief and surprisingly pleasant conversation with a police officer on the Brazilian equivalent of 911, who told me I'd better make an official report and told me where to go to do so. It wasn't far away, within walking distance. Actually quite close to where I painted my dinosaur a few weeks ago.

My real concern was not getting to the fair, or even making my car legal to drive again. My concern was having an official report stating that my plates were stolen and that I don't know of their whereabouts since Monday. You can bet whoever took those plates didn't wrap them up and stick them under the tree, my plates are out there making mischief as we speak, and I don't want to be held responsible for it. Actually, the first thing I did was check all the cars on the street to make sure my plates weren't on any of them, because one thing I have learned in my nearly forty years on this planet is that there are some extremely stupid thieves out there. Actually, I should probably check again as I haven't ruled that out as a possibility. Which raises the question- how do I deal with it if I do find my plates on a neighbor's car? Do I just take them back and not say anything? Do I take them back and throw a rock through the window? Do I take them back and then hunt down the owner and give them a piece of my mind?

Anyways I walked down past my dinosaur to where the police station is. The first thing I saw when I closed in on my target was the big 'On Strike' signs on the door.

Oh yeah.

The cops are on strike.


My mother sent me a package a week or so ago, an event that always seems to coincide with a strike by the postal workers union. She asked me if there was another one going on and I said nope, it's just the cops who are on strike right now ha ha isn't that funny well not really if you suddenly have to file a police report. The one guy minding the shop at the police station told me to try another one, that maybe I'd have better luck there.

It also occurs to me that perhaps my plates were stolen at this time because the cops are on strike, some relatively clever thieves playing the odds that crime pays a bit better when 70% of the officers are not available to stop them.

So I walked to the other police station, another local destination. This is why my car hasn't been used since Monday- I can walk almost everywhere I need to go. This is why I really shouldn't even have a car, because I don't actually use it very much. I certainly don't use it for what it should be used for, which is getting me the fuck out of this city from time to time to keep me from going insane.

But I digress.

Actually, the story pretty much winds down at this point- I walk in, huge line, woman with bruises all down one side of her face, man with bloody shirt and bandage on cheek (these two are not together), stinky alcoholic looking guy who sat down next to me and forced me to find another place to sit. I waited around for a long time and made a report and watched the crowd dissipate, wishing I had brought Evani's iPod so I could listen to podcasts, in English, from the country I used to call home, where I never had my plates stolen.

The country that keeps calling my name, a little bit louder each time some stupid shit like this happens to me.

I left the station with my police report, too late to head to the fair. I went home and had a couple beers and played with Lucas, who by the way is still awake at 12:30 at night. Tomorrow I'll go and put in a request for some new plates. I can hardly wait.

All in all, probably a more interesting evening than I would have had trying to sell my t-shirts.