Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where'd the Pictures Go?

Hey hey- my apologies- I decided to restrict a bunch of my content on Flickr, and it screwed up a lot of the photos on this blog as a result. It might take me a while to straighten it out, so bear with me! For those of you who are friends and family and are not Flickr contacts of mine, be sure to add me if you want to continue to look at pictures of the family and charming pictures of me with my belly hanging out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fading Memories and Oil Pastel Overdrive

I've noticed a lot of bloggers... well, some bloggers, because I don't really follow that many blogs, often start off a post after a long break by saying "I'm a bad blogger." Well, my refrain is going to be "I really shouldn't be writing this," because I usually have something else I should be doing, and that something else usually involves generating income.

That being said, I'm writing this anyways. I like writing. I like it more than generating income, generally speaking. But I will try to keep this brief...

It's been two weeks since I came back to Brazil. As it is with all vacations, it might as well have happened last year. I did want to write some more things about the trip, but I think I've forgotten them. Well, most of them anyways. I wanted to talk about what I think Lucas might have taken away from having so much fun with my half of his family, and I think that can be pretty well summed up by a conversation I had with my cunhada, or sister-in-law. We were talking about Lucas, and how he was surrounded by relatives, everyone with lots of time to play with him, everyone together, relaxed, having fun, and we realized that this wasn't at all what his life would be like if we were actually living there. If we get together as a group once a year, that's a lot. Generally everyone is spread out over several states (small northeastern ones, but still) and is very busy and one thing he didn't get a taste of at all was solitude. Solitude was a central part of my childhood, being able to wander off and be completely alone for hours at a time and even enjoy it. I don't know how much Lucas would like that side of life in the US.

In a lot of ways, his experience with his North American family was a lot like how his Brazilian family works. That's why Lucas likes going out to Paripe all the time, because that's where his whole family is, together, all the time. There's always someone to play with and fun to be had. Our life at the house is a little too North American for the Brazilians who live in it, because there aren't more people to talk to. Me personally, that's what keeps me sane, and if I hadn't created this place of relative peace and quiet I'm sure I would have fled this country screaming long ago.

Another thing I wanted to mention was my money making scheme: lots of expats invest in something when they go back home in order to re-sell it when they return to Brazil. You can do pretty well with this, since there are so many things that are either not available here or cost two to four times as much as they would in the States. Cameras, iPods, and computers are good; a friend of mine said if he came back he'd invest in surfing gear. My friend Pedra used to sell Victoria's Secret body lotion. I thought about all of those, and also of buying flash memory or PSIII games or whatever. Finally I decided that all of these were too much of a pain, because if you have to spend a lot of time running around trying to sell the stuff then ultimately you aren't making much money.

- break time -

I'm back. And you'll never guess what I took a break for: my birthday cake. Now I know I'm an ungrateful SOB, but that was a truly pathetic experience. For one thing, my birthday was over a month ago, and in case you're new to this blog, it was a big one- the big Four-Oh. My cake was a single-layer round thing with brown frosting and no other decoration, looking like a frisbee covered in mud. Evani dug up a used candle so I'd have something to blow out, this was in the shape of the number '1,' which obviously doesn't have a '4' or a '0' in it. As we were waiting for Lucas to take a picture of Evani and I, this candle started to gutter and by the time we were halfway through the rather long Brazilian version of 'Happy Birthday' it went out. It was replaced by a candle in the shape of the number '2,' which I did manage to blow out. Ruan wandered downstairs somewhere in the middle of the Happy Birthday song, actively disinterested. The cake was actually quite tasty, and Evani had gone to the trouble of cutting the single layer in half and making a filling to go in there, but as soon as the cake was cut I found myself sitting alone at the table while Evani, Lucas, and Ruan clambered and argued over her new camera. Ah, my family.

I know, I'm an ungrateful bastard. I told Evani months ago I didn't want any party at all.

So where was I? I was talking about selling stuff. Finally what I decided to do was rather than buy something to sell down here, I'd bring something I already owned and sell that instead. So I bought what at one time was my most precious possession: my Fender Stratocaster. This is a guitar I bought new in the store over twenty years ago, and has been sitting unused in it's case for almost half that time. It's time to let it go. When I bought myself my iPod, the deal I made with myself was that I would sell the guitar to help pay for it. The morning I was leaving my father's house, I cut off all the strings and unscrewed the neck from the body. Packing my suitcases to leave, I stuck the body in one and the neck in another. Apparently it looked weird going through the x-ray machine, because when I unpacked my bag, I found a note from the TSA in there advising me that they'd opened it up and had a look. If what I'm reading on the Brazilian version of Ebay is to be believed, this guitar could fetch a pretty penny- indeed, more than I spent on it which would probably make it the only good investment I've ever made in my life. We'll see how easy it is for me to unload it.

Last thing about the trip: the homecoming. I don't usually write about my stepson or even much about my wife, because I don't think it's particularly fair to them, but this one I'm gonna spill. As I was finally getting home after twenty four hours of travel and still taking the bags out of the taxi, the phone rang. It was Ruan's school- apparently they hadn't seen him for a whole week and they wanted to know what was going on. Evani had no idea. This is a twelve year old kid we're talking about, not a sixteen or seventeen year old. Apparently he'd gotten into some trouble at school and had been informed that he couldn't come back until he showed up there with his parents. Rather than fessing up and facing the music, he opted to say nothing and pretend he was still attending class. For an entire week.

Welcome back to Brazil.

I'm not going to tell you what he did to get into trouble, just that although it wasn't good, it paled in comparison to playing hooky for an entire week to avoid the consequences. My primary reaction, besides being angry, was utter disbelief that he would be so foolish and compound his error tenfold. When we want to punish Ruan we don't let him watch TV, and if you knew Ruan, you'd realize this is a serious punishment. He is still not allowed to watch TV, not until next week.

I'm keeping this short, right?

So now to the relative present. Now for a bit of the old Street Art. I've always been a sucker for new and different media, it's something I learned from my dad. Although he is primarily a painter, I grew up with all kinds of stuff that he used to work with, including etchings, linoleum cuts, mobiles, even handmade ashtrays and a big bowlful of carved pipes. I studied photography in school, but I never really wanted to be a photographer- at least not for very long. I also wanted to draw, and paint, and draw cartoons and maybe even sculpt and who knows what else. So as I've started to do this street art thing, I've been fooling around with all the different forms and media, from the stickers to the stencils to the wheatpaste to the spray paint to the sharpies and now- paint sticks.

Paint sticks are something I found out about on Flickr- which is where I found out about most of this stuff. They're labeled as 'industrial markers' and they look like big honkin' crayons and they smell like oil paint. They're big, permanent, high-temperature resistant oil-based solid paint markers and I bought a few of them online before I went home last time. Unlike spray paint, they have the advantage that I can bring them back with me on the plane.

The thing that's really neat for me about these markers is that they are taking me full circle in my own personal wall-painting journey. Back when I was fifteen and my dad gave me the OK to paint graffiti on the walls of my room, rather than getting spray paint (which was the original idea) I used what was already available to me- a dozen or so boxes of cray-pas and oil pastels my dad had sitting around. Some of these drawings still exist. These paint sticks, also known as 'streaks,' are like oil pastels turned up to eleven.

This is probably the oldest of my surviving oil pastel murals:

Another thing that is really cool? These things are completely unheard of here in Salvador. At least, nobody's out making art with them. As far as I can tell, they are pretty much impossible to get here, at least not at a dollar a pop which is the best price I could find on them back home.

And the other thing that is really cool? I really enjoy working with them. On Sunday I took Lucas out to a park and was looking for a spot to do a drawing- these things lend themselves to making medium size stuff- bigger than what I'd draw on paper, but obviously smaller than what I'd paint with spray cans. As we were walking along this pedestrian path, I realized that on either side of us were these concrete rectangular panels about a meter (that's approximately a yard for you Luddites) square, almostly completely untouched by graffiteiros and pichadores and the like. I drew the following on one of them:

and this is what Lucas drew:

Aww poor little thing! The letters 'FOB' in this photo were the only other marks I saw on these concrete canvases, that is, until we came along.

S0 now I want to do lots more of these drawings, and I'd love to turn the above spot into a private little Kuza gallery. My only regret is that now I think I've opened the floodgates, and those panels will soon be covered with tags and other scribbles, which I personally think makes them look worse than just the plain, mossy concrete. I gotta draw as many creatures down there as I can before that happens.

And I leave you with just one more of my new streaks drawings.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Week Back

... and a Weak Back. Why am I waking up with a sore back every day since I got home? Is this what 40 has in store for me? And just in case you're interested- 'back' (as in the part that hurts) is plural in Portuguese, whereas 'pants' is singular. Isn't that great???

So. I left the US a week ago, and as I figured, I've been too nuts to write anything here. I'm still too nuts to write anything, so I'm going to post what I wrote on the plane. And I'm not going to edit it either, which is always a dubious decision. I just don't have time right now. I didn't finish what I was writing, so here's hoping I get around to writing more about the trip before it vanishes from my consciousness.

Here ya go:
I'm on an airplane. Leaving the United States, after two very short weeks. I'm taking advantage of what I see as a very narrow window of opportunity to write something, between Lucas falling asleep and then myself falling asleep, and then getting home and then getting swept up in the current of what is my 'normal' life, including one of my frantic pushes to get as many hours worked as quickly as possible before the end of the month.

To be honest, I would be watching 'Monsters Vs. Aliens,' again, on the little video screen in the seat back in front of me, but it suddenly died on me and I opted to pull out the laptop. After I was unable to get it working again. I really only wanted to watch the beginning, since I missed it at the theater, but then the opportunity to see it in English was beginning to take hold and... you get the idea.

It's hard to know where to start, which is why I started with the nonsense you just read. A lot has happened, and I didn't keep pace with the posts. I don't really know how I should organize it- what to tell, what to skip- to write several long posts or to say very little. I think I won't even try a sequential narrative, but rather hit some tasty topics until I run out of time and/or fall asleep. Or until my battery dies.

Let me start with a mundane item, which is how little time I spent in front of the computer. Since I spend so much of my time planted in front of a computer screen, with a relatively fast and reliable connection to the internet, it was something of a rude shock to be at my parent's houses, which both rely on prehistoric dialup connectivity to go virtual. My mother's connection is so slow that I quickly abandoned most attempts to view anything at all. The flipside of this was that whenever I went somewhere that offered a high-speed connection, such as the town library, I went into a kind of cyber panic-mode, trying to get as much done as I possibly could before I had to leave and go back in to cyber exile. And that meant juggling all the things I normally do online, leaving many emails unanswered and work unfinished.

Okay, enough of the boring stuff. I realized a couple days ago what should have been obvious to me all along, which is that this particular trip was mostly about Lucas, and getting him to know the other half of his family and his alternate culture and exposing him to just as many things I could in two weeks without driving him and myself mad. It really sunk in just how important this was for me when I watched him saying goodbye to all his aunts, uncles, and cousins the other night. Rather than making the rounds and saying my own goodbyes while he said his, which is what I normally do to shorten the inevitably endless process of saying goodbye to a large group of people, a process I loathe at the best of times, I stood there and watched him say goodbye and give all his hugs to everyone before I set out to take care of my own. He's four now, and hopefully he's going to remember at least part of this trip for the rest of his life. I must have told ten people over the last two weeks that I remember lots of stuff from when I was four, and I'm hoping Lucas will have the same kind of memory. He was in the states two years ago, but he couldn't say anything yet and although I think it may have paved the way for this visit at least subconsciously I don't think he really remembers much of that trip.

Speaking of... speaking, one of my hopes for this trip was that Lucas would make a big jump in his english language skills, and he didn't disappoint in that department at all. I don't think I'd heard him speak a complete sentence in English before this trip, but after only a day or two he started coming out with them. And then he started with the new vocabulary. The most amusing words were 'dad' and then inexplicably 'daddy,' in reference to me. He started referring to me, to other people, as 'my dad,' and I have no idea where he even heard anyone refer to me as 'daddy' but I got that as well. Even more strangely, he insisted on calling my dad _his_ dad as well, and as far as I can tell not only because I was calling him dad myself. Every time I pointed out that he was his grandfather, and I was his dad, he would say that I was his dad, and my dad was his dad too, at which point I replied with the time tested catchall: "Whatever."

So let's write about something besides Lucas for a while- I'll come back to him and all the wonderful stuff I exposed him to shortly. My cousin opted to let me paint the hood of his car, the brave soul. I painted a pair of snakes, and it came out pretty well, at least from a distance. I'm still not a professional when it comes to the cans, but hopefully someday...

Let me tell you briefly about my arrival. As I said in my brief, previous post, it's really odd to arrive in the country you grew up in and start to experience culture shock. On second thought, rest areas on the Mass Pike should inspire culture shock in anyone who is really paying attention. Airports are places that aren't really places, unless you work there I suppose, and so are those damn rest areas- restaurants and bathrooms and gas stations tucked away in the middle of toll roads where everything is mown and nothing is natural.

Speaking of mowing, I received an odd and unexpected surprise when I arrived at my mother's house. Mom's big on gardening and tends to take the 'wild' approach to it. The house she bought had a number of well-tended flowerbeds, and a fair amount of lawn to go with them. Over the years, she has added more beds, and allowed the existing ones to overflow their boundaries so that the amount of lawn has gradually diminished. This year, however, there was no lawn at all. She hadn't pulled out the mower yet, and what grass was left had grown up to about two feet tall. I was more than a little dismayed. To understand why, you have to realize that I have no lawn at my house, indeed, no yard, no dirt except in flower pots. This means that getting Lucas to some place to play outdoors means mounting an expedition, too often by car. I had really been looking forward to Lucas being able to play in the yard, even though I hadn't realized just how important this was going to be to me.

Every time I go home I spend a day or two of my vacation beating back the chaos in my mother's life. Last visit, this meant tearing into the overflowing contents of the cramped eaves that pass for attic space in her house. This year, it meant reclaiming her lawn. It took some coaxing to get the lawnmower to cooperate, but I was rewarded by watching my son start playing in the mowed patches even before I had finished.

So now a bit more about Lucas. I had planned a bunch of activities for him, from walking in the woods to bringing him to some museums. We did both, although I wanted to do more of the walks than we actually got around to. There are not many options for a parent to get out with their kids in Salvador, at least when compared to a place like Amherst, Massachusetts. In addition to a primo library with a fantastic kid's room (and free WiFi), it has...

...and that's as far as I got. You'll just have to wonder about the museums and such, although I bet if you google 'amherst mass museums' you'd come up with the likely candidates. Oh what the hey- I'll post some pictures to add to the mystery.

That's pretty good. If a picture is worth a thousand words, there's another seven thousand words for ya, and maybe I don't have to write another post after all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Not Brazil

Yo- I'm in Amherst, Massachusetts- sippin' on a cup of expensive coffee, listening to jazz and enjoying the free Town of Amherst Wi-Fi here at the trendy cafe. A woman with a full beard just walked in to the cafe. I am not concerned that someone will steal my laptop.

I owe this blog and my dedicated readership of 20 or so a nice long blog post or three- this is my first trip home since I started this blog. It's really strange going back to where you grow up and experiencing rather sever culture shock... anyhow, the long post isn't going to happen today. Even though I have lots of stories to tell.

I left Lucas and Grammy playing together at the house- I'm so happy I can do that now. I hope it goes okay...

Now I've got to get some work done. Até logo!