Wednesday, May 16, 2012


The contact form on my website gets very little exercise, but today I got a submission.  Here it is:


The following is what it essentially translates to- I'll skip the all-caps as I don't believe it was his/her intention to 'yell' at me.  For those who aren't familiar with the word, 'pixação' refers to Brazilian tagging and is a very big deal here.  I won't get into it too much but it's generally more associated with vandalism and is more frowned upon legal-wise than the kind of graffiti that I do.

Congratulations for the site, it's great - you can only go over the pixação because the real art is pixação and well before there was graffiti pixação had already come as a form of protest, not a fashion or something to be in a gallery or in government events, pixação is a protest, not fashion...

Thanks?  I'm not 100% sure this is really praise...  the thing that concerns me most about it is the bit about 'going over' the pixação.  I don't paint over these guys - generally they don't paint over us and I like it that way.  I respect their work, irregardless of whether I like it, so I hope he (I'm assuming it's a he) doesn't think that I am doing so.  He could also be talking about the fact that I 'go over' as in 'paint above' their work, and I plan to write him back and ask him.  However, it has occurred to me that this could also be problematic - in pixação as well as in other kinds of graffiti there is a thing about having the highest tag on the wall, and these guys who do pixo (pixadores) are known for scaling the outsides of buildings and painting all the way up- and I'm talking like 20+ stories.  A pixador that I know told me one dude got himself in trouble by writing 'Acima de mim só Deus' (above me only God) which apparently rubbed some folks the wrong way.

So I hope they don't think I'm trying to say I'm better than them because I'm working up higher.  I'm doing it for strictly practical reasons: there's a lot of blank real estate, and it's less likely to get messed with.  Believe me- other than that, it's not very practical at all.

Evani thinks that he meant to say 'the only thing that could be better than pixação is graffiti.'  I like that interpretation better.

I'll write him back and thank him, and try to see if his feathers are ruffled for real.  I searched his email on The Facebook (which by the way is not worth 100 billion, I don't care what anyone says) and dude only has two friends, which isn't real promising.

I did want to mention one other thing he said, something that bothers me about artists in general- definitely not limited to pixadores.  I like to put artists in two loose categories- those who think that one kind of art is 'better' than the others, and those that think that art is art and you can make great (or fabulously shitty) art out of just about anything.  Maybe I should just say that there are those who believe in a hierarchy of media (generally with their own at the top) and those who don't recognize such a hierarchy.

I definitely fall into the second category.  I grew up seeing all the different things that my dad did- carving pipes, drawing, making masks, etching, painting - and I felt it was all equally valid.  I don't know if he thought of one or the other as being superior, he did call himself a 'painter' but I never heard him say that painting was the pinnacle of artistic creation. He did tell me once that he wished he could just spend all his time clearing brush in the woods, so I kind of doubt he felt that way.  Unfortunately it's too late to ask him.

In case it isn't obvious, I think this whole concept of one media being superior to another is utter bullshit. Whenever I hear someone state that kind of opinion, I want to tell them to check their egos, because it's generally symptomatic of other notions of grandiosity.

Or maybe it's just that I feel strongly about/against the concept of 'supremacy'.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Car to Owner: "Fix Me"

Over the strenuous objections of my wife, I have opted to repair rather than replace our aging automobile.  The reasons for this are several, but suffice it to say that it's a lot cheaper fixing an old, payed-off one than taking on five years of car payments.  Plus I don't drive that much.  Where I'm from, there's no shame in driving a filthy, rusty car that may double as a waste paper basket - cars are transportation, essentially a necessary evil.  Here not so much - most folks take great pride in their cars, and keep them well scrubbed.

The poor car has had three main problems plaguing it: 1. locks, 2. rust, and 3. overheating.  I'm scheduled to get the body work done this week.  About a month ago, I finally sprung for a new key, which means I no longer have to stand there jiggling the key in the lock for five minutes to open the dern thing.  Expensive, but worth it.

Which leaves item 3, the overheating.  This has been a horrible plague of a problem that has been haunting me for a couple years now.  Intermittently, unpredictably, the car will overheat as I am driving and I have to stop and let it cool, bleed off the boiling water and replace it, turn back or even abandon the thing until the engine block cools.  This means that I've been in a near-constant state of edginess every time that I drive, eyes glued to the temperature gauge, unwilling to take the car out of the city and also generally only driving at night, as it was more prone to happen in stopped traffic and during the day.

My mechanic, a decent enough guy, was completely flummoxed by this problem.  He tried fixing and replacing various things but nothing worked.  I went a couple months with no problems but then it overheated again.  And then I planned a trip out of the city, two hours drive each way.  The problem had to be resolved.

I actually considered calling the Car Talk guys, I don't really listen to their show so I don't know if they take skype calls from Brazil, but I didn't really want to be subjected to ridicule so I didn't call.  So I did what any modern, essentially non-mechanical type without a decent mechanic or a lot of money to spend would do - I went to the internet.  Crowd-source the problem, that's what the internet is good for.  Answers to all your problems only a google away.

So I googled.  And lo and behold - I found a match.  Same car, same engine, same intermittent, inexplicable problem.  Better yet, the poster stated that the mechanic informed him that the fix would not solve the problem, but it did.  It said I needed a new heater control valve.

Part of the problem of being an expat is having to translate something obscure like heater control valve.  Direct translations rarely work, and make already suspicious 'professionals' even more so.  I mentioned what I read to my mechanic and he was extremely skeptical - he also had no clue what I was talking about.  I called an auto parts place, intending to buy the part and then find a mechanic to install it, but they also got confused and told me I needed a mechanic's recommendation.  But the mechanic doesn't know shit I wanted to say, but didn't.

My mechanic told me he had an electrician friend who I should take the car to, and would tell me what the problem is.  In response to my proffered solution, he told me is 'wasn't done that way,' so I went to the electrician, who had no idea what was going on.  When I told him about the heater control valve, he said it was working properly.

So yesterday I leave town with Lucas in the car, and sure enough, it overheats about half an hour out of the city.  I considered turning back, but decided to press on.  Another half hour into the trip it happened again.  I really should have turned back at that point, but I was feeling stubborn, and I was half-way there.  I drove a bit further into a town called Catu, and I saw an auto parts store.  What the hell, I thought, and stopped.

I don't want to bore you with all the details, but essentially I was determined to buy the part, which I had discovered is called a válvula termostática, and get someone to install it.  Enough with the flailing mechanics.  I found the part, and conveniently there was an adjoining garage that was still open, and I said let's do this.  The mechanic said I probably needed a much more expensive repair, but was willing to install the new valve.

So here's the kicker.  When the mechanic removed the housing to swap out the valve, there was no valve in there.  I'd been driving around for a couple years without an essential part of the engine. My googled solution was apparently correct, and the mechanics are idiots.  Mind you, this is the part that the second mechanic said was working properly.  The part was installed and I drove the rest of the trip with no problems.  I'm not going to say the problem is fixed, I'll need another month of driving to feel confident of that, but it's hard to imagine that this wasn't what needed doing.

And my mechanic?  As of yesterday he is officially my ex-mechanic.