Saturday, April 17, 2010


Lucas comes up to me the other day and he says:

"Papai, I wanna play RealCheckers."

RealCheckers is the kind of word that gets invented when suddenly there is a need for it- for instance, there was no term 'acoustic guitar' until there were electric guitars. So RealCheckers is named such, at least by my son, to differentiate from Virtual Checkers.

I guess it's not really so strange that Lucas first learned to play checkers on a computer- there's probably been millions more hands of Solitaire played onscreen than with a deck of cards since Microsoft stuck it into Windows. It was a little weird to be playing checkers on two adjacent computer screens, the 'game' being hosted in some unknown location somewhere online. This being kinda weird, and the game being kinda buggy, I suggested we play Real Checkers one day.

I didn't realize just how much this idea would appeal to him. He started bugging me constantly to play RealCheckers. Only problem- we didn't have a game of checkers. Checkers, which is called Damas (ladies) here in Brazil, is a popular game, and there's even a square near here where people play and other people watch. The boards are stenciled onto benches, and caps from plastic soda bottles are used for pieces.

I looked around the mall for a cheapo game but the only one I found cost more than I was willing to spend, so I decided to go the improvised route as well. I have a panel I use for drawing and crafts projects so I measured out and drew a checkerboard on it. Not having a large quantity of bottle caps lying around, I finally realized I had the perfect substitute- spray paint caps. Not only did I have ample quantities in both black and white, but I even had different shapes in both colors that could be swapped out for kings, or damas as the case may be.

Then we played RealCheckers. Lucas is just getting to the age where he can grasp the rules, although they need fairly consistent reinforcement and his desire to win the game often overcomes his willingness to follow the rules. It had been so long since I'd played that I actually had to look up the rules online, and some of them I don't think I'd ever known.

Lucas is fascinated with the game. When I wouldn't play with him anymore the other day he got his mother to play, and they had a grand old time. The next morning, we played again, and things were going fine for the most part. I must confess I was getting a little frustrated telling him he couldn't jump this way or that way or move twice in a row. Evani came in and decided to help him play. That's when I got my real surprise.

Evani didn't know how to play at all. She was letting normal pieces jump backwards, and her damas had superpowers, sliding the length of the board to capture pieces, much like a queen in chess.

I was shocked. Scandalized. Horrified! "No no no," I said, and Evani explained that that was how she'd been playing Lucas the day before. I went as far as to ask her when the last time was that she'd played checkers, remembering some of the dubious rules we used to employ in our own games back in my distant youth. "Jump your own man" comes to mind.

I put my foot down and said that we were not going to play that way, we were going to play by the proper American rules that I had so recently gotten a firm grasp on.

Not being a totally self-righteous know-it-all, I decided to check online, once again, to see if the rules for damas differs from checkers. Whoops, I mean RealCheckers. Sure enough, they do. Not only are there rules for damas, but there's a Portuguese version and a Brazilian version. There's also an Italian, English, Russian, and Turkish version. This all according to Wikipedia, from their Portuguese language page on the subject. And those crazy rules that Evani was using? They were all in there.

Further research brought me to an article titled Draughts, which states (and I quote):
Draughts or checkers (American English) is a group of abstract strategy board games between two players which involve diagonal moves of uniform pieces and mandatory captures by jumping over the enemy's pieces.
Who knew? A whole group of games! I hadn't even realized that captures were mandatory until I started playing Lucas on the computer.

Okay, I was wrong. I told Evani that I'd looked up the rules and she was right. Of course, she already knew this. Then I thought about poor Lucas playing one kind of checkers with his dad, and another with his mom. I quickly realized it wasn't going to happen. Not worth it, at least not until he's older. And considering that the American version (or should I say 'United-Statesian'? ) is positively stodgy in comparison to this hyper-dynamic Brazilian uber-checkers I realized quickly which set of rules we would be using from now on.

Now I essentially have to learn to play all over again. Since normal pieces can jump backwards and kings (damas) can zoom across the board at will, the dynamic is completely different. When I suddenly realized the possibilities these rules presented, games that looked only half finished were suddenly practically terminated by a one-piece romp across the board. Sigh. I'll get used to it. Or maybe Lucas will get bored with the game and I won't have to.

I decided since checkers was such a hit that maybe I should teach him a card game too, so I taught him 'Go Fish.' He loves it, but again it's not the game I grew up with. I taught him to play 'open hand' Go Fish, with our cards face up on the table. This was intended to be temporary, just for him to get the hang of it. Now it's the only way he wants to play. I'm pretty sure showing your cards is not in the Brazilian rules.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bits and Pieces

All my fellow expat bloggers are writing about the rain, so I won't write about that.

Instead I'll write about street art glory.

I may not have gotten on the TV program, and I didn't win an expat writing contest, but I did get written up in someone's blog:

He starts out the post writing I think the work of Mark Pfohl is incredible... and goes on to say that I'm one of his favorite graffiti artists... and I appear to be the only artist that got his very own post on the blog! At least so far.

What's that strange sound? Oh, don't worry, it's just my ego expanding to fill the available space in the room. Nothing to be frightened of.

Which reminds me- I've noticed my graffiti posts get much less attention than my Mr. Dad posts or my Rant-And-Rave specials. What does that mean??

In other news, I just did most of my taxes using a wonderful online filing tool ( if you must know). A bit odd, me filing a 1040 every year, but if I ever move back to the States (which I will do someday, somehow) I'd be kinda screwed if I didn't. The bad news: I made dramatically less than I did last year, the good news: I don't owe anything, which almost never happens because I'm self-employed.

And I really shouldn't be writing this but I just gotta tell you about the chicken coop. Not some chicken coop out in the periphery of the city somewhere, not even a chicken coop on some empty lot here in the Center, but a chicken coop right on Rua Carlos Gomes.

You'll need a little background to understand the significance of this. Rua Carlos Gomes is one of the principal streets here in the center of the city, it's part of the original Carnaval parade route, it's unavoidable and everyone here in Salvador knows it. It's not pretty, and doesn't get half the traffic as it's sister street Avenida Sete, and has some closed businesses and strip clubs and gay clubs as well (I once saw someone compare it to the Castro of Salvador, which is a biiig stretch, at least these days). It's also where the old graffiti shop was. And it's one route from the house to Lucas' school, which is how I spotted the chickens, living in the entryway to a defunct store or something similar.

It's kind of like finding a chicken coop on... Houston Street in New York? I'm trying to think of a good comparison but it's hard to make one, since the cities have almost nothing in common. I often think that Salvador is a little like a cross between Boston and New Orleans, but that comparison breaks down pretty fast too. And of course now I have to explain that. New Orleans because culturally and demographically N.O. is the most like Salvador of any major city in the US, plus what is 'south' in the US is equivalent to what is 'north' in Brazil, us being in the southern hemisphere and all. And the Boston bit? I put Boston in there because Salvador is so freakin' old, and has so much history, and was once the capital. Salvador ain't no snooty college town, that's for sure, we have no Harvards or MIT's here, and we aren't situated in a river delta which is a good thing considering all this rain that I'm not going to talk about.

Did I sell you on my comparison? No? Well, I tried.

So there I am walking back from Lucas' school and I see this chicken coop set up on one of the principal streets of this ancient and storied city. And I have to tell you, my first reaction, after the disbelief, was come on folks, this is ridiculous. It plays into all the stupid stereotypes you hear about Brazilians and particularly Nordestinos, or those from the Northeast of Brazil. My wife has very strong words which I will not repeat here for people who think small, and putting those chickens there was thinking very small.

Am I making any sense? Have I been here too long? Say No to chickens. At least on what should be valuable real estate. Even if it's not.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Spider-Man Birthday Follow-Up

I promised a follow-up post about Lucas' birthday, and then didn't write it. Here's a couple pictures. It went great- you know why? We set up, the kids came in, they made a lot of noise and ate a lot of food, and then they left. And we went home. Whew!

Sunday, April 4, 2010


After months of failed attempts, we finally got away for the weekend. All four of us, which never happens. We went to Arembepe, a small city about an hour's drive north of here that has something of a storied history because of its origins as a hippie colony. Or maybe it just attracted a lot of hippies during the sixties. At any rate Janis Joplin visited back in the day and there are still hippies to be found in the neighborhood.

This trip actually happened as a byproduct of another event- a big festival that they had there a couple weeks ago, a kind of mini-Carnaval that they put on, complete with trios electricos and big famous acts from the booming metropolis that is Salvador. Evani and her good friend Silvia split the price on an apartment rental so they could go. The bonus for us was that the rental was for an entire month.

As we got out of the city, I felt the usual sense of wonder I experience when I realize that there is more to the world than downtown Salvador and then the usual sense of bewilderment that I almost never manage to get out of the city. Especially considering I have a car. Then I remember that the car is dying and I have no money for vacations, which is why I am generally confined to the aforementioned downtown. The less I move around, the less it costs me. I was very much enjoying the idea that this was a trip that I wasn't footing the bill for, outside of the gas in the car and some groceries.

When we got there it was after dark on Thursday. Brazil being a Catholic country, we had a four day weekend because of the Easter holiday. The apartment was in a great location, just off of downtown, with a view of the ocean off one side of the building. Arembepe's downtown is much more low-key than our own downtown, and it was quiet and mellow, and cool with a sea breeze, no bugs. The apartment has two bedrooms and a big balcony where we could all sit. All of this for R$500 for the whole month, or about $280 US. Not bad, I thought, already fantasizing about trying to stay there for a whole month next year. But, I also thought, let's wait and see what tomorrow looks like.

I've either gotten smarter or more cynical in the years I've spent here in Brazil. The Portuguese term for this is esperto, and in the judgement of many if not most Bahians (possibly Brazilians in general), foreigners are not esperto. On the contrary, they are presumed to be idiots, which means by extension that I am generally presumed to be an idiot, which contributes to my tendencies towards bitterness and misanthropy. I pride myself on possessing a tiny grain of esperteza, something I've cultivated the hard way over the years as you may know if you follow this blog regularly.

Things started going south before we hit the sack that first night. We'd brought an inflatable mattress to sleep on, because the mattresses in the apartment were quite horrible to look at, and presumably worse to sleep on. I inflated the mattress, and we put some sheets on it, and about a half hour later it had significantly deflated. It clearly had a hole in it. I went instantly from tranquil to furious, because although the mattress had been fine the last time we'd slept on it, it had passed through the hands of some other people, who were obviously the ones responsible for popping the thing. This unfortunately was not my first experience along these lines. The predecessor to this mattress had been hung out to dry by someone who didn't know better on a strand of barbed wire. This works fine for clothing, which is usually made from cloth, which generally doesn't pop, but is a really bad and stupid idea for something made of thin plastic that relies on the integrity and non-perforation of its surfaces in order to function properly. And they think foreigners are bozos! Nevertheless, here I was with another popped mattress. Maybe I'm not as esperto as I thought. Well, you can be sure I won't be buying a third.

Then Evani asked me if I'd brought an extension cord for the fans I'd brought with us. I said I hadn't, as she hadn't mentioned we might be needing one. Turns out we did, as neither of the bedrooms had any sockets in them. Not a single one. In fact, the whole place had only two electrical sockets- one in the kitchen, and one in the living room. Hold on, that's not true- there was another strange tiled room just off the other bedroom, like a big walk-in closet without a door, that had about six. We figured this must have been a kitchen at one time in a different incarnation of the house.

Evani and I ended up curled up on a single mattress, which didn't look so bad once it was covered with a sheet, and was definitely preferable to sleeping on the floor. It wasn't too bad, and I was actually sleeping pretty well until it started to rain.

While all you North-American types are gearing up for the nicer part of the year, we are turning the corner into the nastier part. That means wet. And wet here can mean an inch of rain in ten minutes, or multiples thereof in thirty or forty. With that much rain, you need serious roofing or you and everything you own gets wet too. Here in Bahia roofing materials usually consist of asbestos-laced panels, occasional metal roofing, and the classic and lovely clay tiles. These are wonderful to look at, but often rather porous, as they consist of cupped sections that are generally fitted without mortar with lots of ensuing gaps. Add this to the fact that they can slide around in high winds, or cracked, or installed poorly, and a serious rainstorm outside means a gentle shower inside. This can be countered by putting a ceiling between your roof and living space to catch the drips and spray, but our rental didn't have one. So we got wet.

In addition to the roof, our wonderful ocean-facing window suddenly started spouting water all around the edges. This was due to the strong wind that was blowing the rain into that side of the house, and right though the gaps around the pane.

Luckily it didn't rain too hard that first night.

The next morning two of Evani's sisters arrived, with a daughter and her middle-aged cousin, who is known as the Muda, which means mute, even though she's actually deaf. She's also known as Belisco which means 'pinch' but I don't know the story behind that. We spent the day on the beach, which was not even a two minute walk from the house, and is a perfect for kids because it is sheltered from the open ocean by a big chunk of dead coral. There was some question as to whether Belisco had ever been to the beach before, a question that couldn't be satisfactorily resolved as her language is her own. She has her own sign language that she developed in collaboration with the rest of the family, and she cannot read or write. This makes conversation pretty limited, although I give it my best. This time I didn't bother to try, I had no idea of how to gesticulate 'have you ever been' or 'your first time.'

I've often wondered what kind of conversations Belisco has with herself in her head. What her 'words' for things are like. It is also apparent that Belisco is not entirely deaf; if something is sufficiently thunderous, like one of the larger homemade M80's, she can hear it. I figure that means that if she had a hearing aid she could hear a lot more. I can't imagine what that would be like for her.

We played in the water all day and drank wine and ate fish- traditional Good Friday fare here in Brazil. I spent way too long trying to patch up our inflatable mattress, which was imperative as the other mattresses would now be in use by the other family members. I also improvised an extension cord by pirating the wiring for an outdoor light. Then we ran out of water.

Here in Bahia, water doesn't always comes out of the tap when you turn it on. Actually, if you have means, you don't have that problem because anyone who can afford it puts big water reservoirs in the attic or on the roof so if the water stops flowing for a day or so, you won't have an interruption. We have 1500 liters of water in our attic and we've only run out a couple times. Our rental had two tanques with a combined capacity somewhat less than than our own. In case the others ran dry, which is what happened, there was a third one on the ground which we filled with a hose. This allowed us to flush toilets and take baths with buckets if necessary, but it wasn't as nice as turning on the tap and having water come out.

Although a pain, this wasn't as big a deal as it sounds like. Evani's family does not have tanques on the roof, so they are used to running out of water and washing from buckets, and I did it when necessary for the year that I lived with them. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that there was also no hot water in the apartment, something that would stop the hearts of many a thin-blooded foreigner, but didn't merit a second thought for us. We have hot water at our house, but we actually turn it off all summer long as we don't feel we really need it. The water isn't that cold- it sits in the hot attic all day. Then again, in the winter the heater gets turned back on, a testament to my thin-blooded youth.

We spent a pleasant evening hanging out in the square, which means everyone else hung out in the square drinking beer and talking, while I sat around watching Lucas as he jumped on the trampoline and rode around on the battery powered tricycles available for rent.

The storm clouds were gathering, and I mean that quite literally.

That night, it rained like crazy. Usually, when it rains here, it rains for an hour or so and then stops, then maybe it rains again a while later or it doesn't. Friday night it rained all night. And it rained hard. We abandoned our room, which ultimately was a quarter inch deep in water in places, and slept in the living room. I couldn't sleep on the still leaking mattress, so I curled up on the short lumpy couch. I didn't sleep well (nobody did) and we decided we'd leave the next morning.

The morning came and we changed our minds. Although overcast all day, the rain pretty much stopped and we managed to have a pretty good time mopping up the water and hanging out, eating food and drinking beer. The water had come back during the night so we could use the faucets again. It helped a lot that I had a whole season of Yo Gabba Gabba and Teen Titans on my iPod and laptop to keep Lucas entertained. More time was spent working on the mattress, and in the evening more time was spent in the square and on the trampoline and the tricycles.

The tiny church on the square had a mass while we were there, and Lucas wanted to watch. I indulged him. He's been asking more questions and making more comments about God and Jesus and such, which shouldn't come as a great surprise since he goes to a Catholic school. I'm starting to wonder when and how I should tell him that not everyone (specifically me) agrees with everything he is being taught at school. I'm not prepared to make a big deal out of it yet, if ever.

Last night: continuing rain, but much less. Continued leakage, but less. I got up twice in the night to pump up the accursed mattress, but I did manage to sleep on it. Easter morning, no beer. Beach, swimming, sunburn despite the overcast. I did a drawing with my oilsticks on the beach (if it's on the beach, does it still count as street art?) Here's a little video of it:

And here's a drawing of the piece I did the day before:

We had lunch, cleaned up, and went home. Gratefully.

Evani still has the place for one more weekend. I bet you are wondering if we'll go back. Well, actually, we will- or I will, with the kids. Evani's been invited for another outing. Maybe I've lost my grain of esperteza. But I'll tell you what- if the forecast is for rain, we'll make it a day trip, just to get the stuff we left up there. And we won't be sleeping on inflatable mattresses.