Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Feliz Natal from Floripa

We’ve changed venues for the summer. Now that Brian’s done with the first half of his research and team-teaching a grad course at UFMG, we’ve traded land-locked Belo for beach-lovely Santa Catarina, an island in the south of Brazil. The main city is called Florianopolis, the industrial half on the mainland, and the tourist-friendly half on the island, thus the island’s nickname, Floripa. The city and bayside look back on the mainland and there are calm (but not necessarily pristine) waters while the Atlantic side of the island is a surfer’s (and kite boarder’s and windsurfer’s) paradise. There are dozens of beaches to choose from and as we enter high season, the traffic to accompany them as tour buses pile in from around the country as well as neighboring Argentina and Paraguay.

We are fortunate enough to be house-sitting on the ocean side of the island for some of Brian’s friends from grad school days at UT Austin who work at the university here. When they return, we’ll switch over to a house rental on the bay side. The interesting thing about going from an apartment building in the heart of BH to a house here is that, unless you are in a gated community (quite normal here), Brazilian houses stand alone, are surrounded by a high fence, including one across the driveway, and almost always have one or two dogs for protection of property.

The house where we’re staying comes with two dogs, one of which the kids aptly renamed Magali for a character who can only think of eating from the comic book “Monica” series. We’re within walking distance of a surfer beach that hosts the Brazilian surfing championship next month and a long hike straight up over a ‘mountain’ (at least to Bas’ little legs) to a secret beach (funny that they should name it the ‘secret beach’ if they didn’t want to attract attention). We can also walk a different direction into the little town along the lagoon. Oh, and there are sand dunes everywhere. You can even rent snowboards to ‘board’ or sled down some.

In theory, Brian will dedicate several hours each morning to putting his research into preliminary book form while the kids and I explore and play. In practice, only the play part has happened so far. I think Brian was a bit burnt out from an intense semester and is reveling in these non-work moments. (Is this what sabbatical is really supposed to feel like?) We’ve tried out four different beaches in four days, spending a whopping 1 ½ hours at a go. Once Christmas and New Year’s travelers arrive, we’ll have to be much more strategic in when and which beaches we visit as to avoid sitting in traffic longer than on the beach.

So now we are just waiting for Santa (or Papa Noel) to find our new address in time for Christmas Eve and enjoying a little concentrated family time. We truly miss our family and friends and with you the happiest of holidays, y’all.

a late note: turn's out those 'mosquito bites' the kids suffered from the first couple of nights turned out to be flea bites. And the biting hasn't stopped. we're madly trying to find a way to rid the house of the fleas and enjoy the rest of our stay!

Friday, December 4, 2009


There are a few countries out there that absolutely shut down during the month of World Cup play. Brazil is one of them. Brazilians take their soccer very seriously. You could say Americans treat their sports as religion, but it gets watered down when there are so many sports competing for attention…baseball, basketball, football, let alone college and professional teams. There is an acute focus on the professional and the national level of futebol here and it’s contagious.

Belo Horizonte has two soccer teams in the top league, Atletico (Clube Atletico Mineiro) and Cruzeiros (Clube Cruzeiro Mineiro), and they just so happen to share a stadium in the third largest city in the country. Like the cross-town rivalry of the Yankees and the Mets, you are born into a life-long allegiance to one or the other in this city. No matter who you marry or where you eventually live will change this loyalty.

As we close in on the end of regular-season play, the rankings are still a bit up in the air. Brian and I had the opportunity to attend the last home game of 5th place Cruzeiros. With one more game to play, both Atletico and Cruzeiros are vying for a top-four space. The stadium, which holds 55,000 people, had a mere 40,000 in attendance, but with a majority of people decked out in the royal blue jerseys of their hometown team, it was hard to tell if there was anybody cheering for the visitors from Curitiba.

It was a bit unnerving to see the three referees escorted onto the field by five police officers in full riot gear. But it was sweet to see that entrance followed by little kids escorting each home player onto the field before kick-off.

After a great opening 10 minutes then a quick score by the visiting team, it was hard to imagine that 40,000 people could be so quiet. But life pulsed through the stadium when hometown Cruzeiros scored twice in stoppage time. I was a bit shocked when the fan I was sitting next to gave me a huge bear hug after the first goal. I was more prepared the second time and by the third goal, I gave him a hug amid all the jumping up and down by everyone. Although Cruzeiro ended up winning 4-1, it was the feel of the jubilant and totally engaged crowd that I’ll remember. It was so easy to get caught up in the team songs and chants, the amazing percussion section, the unifying movement of the crowd to the songs. I loved being part of it.

If you can’t get enough of soccer, there are several options here. There’s the professional outdoor leagues (Divisions A, B, and C), professional futesal (indoor soccer, but with out-of-bounds), professional ‘showbowl’ (indoor soccer where you can use the wall), futevole (beach volleyball but with a soccer ball and no using your arms or hands) and a million types of pick-up games in every park, grass field, hard court and dirt field you can imagine.

I can’t wait for World Cup 2010 in South Africa!!