Published May 23, 2005

I’ve been a bad blogger! But I’ve been a busy traveler. So here’s the update for the last three days of São Paulo, including one day of PRIME class; one day of walking around the city; and, of course, travelling to Rio de Janeiro, from whence I am posting.

Being “That Guy”

Usually I’m pretty reliable and responsible. Every once in a while, however, I seem to make a small error in judgement. A fun error in judgement. Thursday night was one of those.

I started out by making a very responsible choice — rather than going out with the party group, I decided to join some Brazilian alums who lived in São Paulo, and the professors, and go out for some northern Brazilian food. After all, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to network and learn about Brazil, and what kind of trouble could I get into with the professors and PRIME staff around?

We started out with incredible food — all kinds of grilled, spiced shellfish and crustaceans for starters, followed by gigantic bowls of fish and shellfish soup, thickened with coconut and manioc, covered with farofa, and with a tangy sauce on the side. And, to drink, caipirhinas — Brazil’s national drink, made from lime and sugar and cachaça, a sugarcane liquor (order them pinga at a touristy restaurant, or you get a caipirhosca, which the lighter, easier-to-drink, and less-interesting vodka as a base). Definitely food I wouldn’t have found myself, and definitely worth the trip.

One of the professors I ate with, Dasu, had been pretty disrespectiful to me to that point in the trip. I learned later that this was because he thought that the initial draft of our presentation didn’t show that we’d done any real work, so he figured I was a slacker. But our final presentation clearly showed that we knew what we were doing, and so Dasu started being very nice to me; I also gained a lot of points from the caipirhinas. See, Dasu and I ordered caipirhinas at the same time, and started drinking them at the same time, but Dasu couldn’t get through his. He poured half of it into another glass and diluted it and couldn’t even finish that! Meanwhile, fortified by my practice with tequila and the WG’s family, I went through three or four and barely even felt them. “I have a whole new respect for you,” said Dasu as I ordered my fourth, and what’s funny is that he’s a fun guy and he wasn’t kidding!

So my irresponsibility began as the alums encouraged my caipirhinas. Then the alums took us out to a bar and fed us more caipirhinas, and I drank even more. Without the alums taking me out and encouraging me to try the Brazilian national drink, and then taking me out to a bar, I probably would have succumbed to my fatigue and had a sandwich and turned in at about 10pm. Instead, I didn’t get to sleep until 4am — and on the next day, Friday, we had to be on the bus at 7:15!

I somehow made it through the bus trip, and through the presentations on the aerospace industry at Friday’s visit, Embraer, the Brazilian aerospace company. Our tour of Embraer’s production floor, including the chance to see airplanes in various states of construction and to check out some finished planes, was energizing. But, throughout the morning, I was “that guy” — the guy who was walking slowly, who was quiet, who had big rings under his eyes, and, if you got close enough, I’m sure the guy whose sweat smelled like booze. Fortunately, there were about four more of “that guy” on Friday, and one of them was a PRIME staffer!

Chicken Hearts

What really got me through the afternoon was our trip, with a Marshall alum at Embraer, to a nearby churrascaria, or all-you-can-eat barbecue joint. Yes, we were followed there by the security “minders” who followed us through the whole factory tour and made sure that we didn’t steal anything, but it was still great. We got great, heaping plates of first-course veggies and fish, and then came the waiters with skewers of various kinds of meat. The waiter would walk up next to you, offer the skewer, and then carve off a big hunk of meat that you took with tongs. I had two kinds of beef, an incredible pork, a so-so chicken, an incredible sausage, two kinds of ribs, and, to top it off little, grilled chicken hearts. Slightly crunchy, with a good crust from the grill, a little bit of spice, and a firm but not strange texture, these bite-sized treats were the highlight of the meal. I was a little surprised when the waiter gave me not one but seven, but I gave away two and wished I could have eaten them when I finished the others quickly! If you go for churrsaco, get the chicken hearts.

Yes, there will be pictures of this.


São Paulo is the high culture center of Brazil (Rio is the popular culture center), and, while I was there, they had a supposedly-incredible Rodin exhibit. But I figured, I’m in Brazil, I should see Brazilian art, so I went to the Pinacoteca Museum. After picking my way past the unexpected Henry Miller exhibit, I got to see an incredible selection of Brazilian painting, sculpture, and photography, from the late 1700s to the present. At first, the art was clearly imitative of European trends, if well-executed. Trends of color and space began to appear, however, that ultimately led to todays very distinctive Brazilian art. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it, but, as with Brazilian architecrue, Brazilian art uses different physical forms and vivid colors, with a unique use of space and a strong focus on modern materials, to create sights you wouldn’t see elsewhere.

Beyond the art, the Pinacoteca is a wonderful venue. A very old building, they’ve torn out the inside walls and replaced them with glass, and torn off the roof and replaced it with translucent paneling. The effect is a lot of natural light, open spaces, and a strong focus on the artwork, not on the surrounding geography (although the use of space, internally, is itself artistic). Again, yes, there will be pictures of this.

Behind the Pinacoteca are the Jardins de Luz. These classically-landscaped gardens are filled with sculpture that compliments the Pinacoteca’s collection. There are also a few tricks — some traditional Brazilian art, with its Indian influences, and, in contrast with the almost-French design of the gardens themselves, the native tree and bush species are a surprise everywhere you look. Sadly, I was rained out pretty quickly and had to flee to the local Metro station and head home to escape the downpour.

Traveling to Rio

The trip to Rio was mostly notable because we flew Gol airlines, Brazil’s Southwest-equivalent. Unlike Southwest, which is pretty vigorous about being on-time with everything, Gol seems to be designed around running late. Our tour guide got us to the airport at the last minute, but Gol staff were well-prepared to whisk all late arrivals to the front of the line. We were well-treated checking in — in English! — and got to the gate about 10 minutes after boarding was to start. Of course, it hadn’t started yet, and didn’t start to start until departure time, when they let us through a locked door and into our gate, where we waited more. Finally we boarded, and squeezed into our tin can — the seat pitch was far less than what would be acceptable in the US, and, based on my last three flights, all Latins seem to be vigorous about fully occupying all armrests next to them. However, we did get beverage and snack service on the only 35-minute flight, including a selection of two of three snacks.

The Rio airport was unexceptional, if suffering from the deterioration that naturally seems to come at tropical latitudes. We somehow made it out through security, which checked that we owned every bag, even after the one person with all of our bag checks left us behind. Then we exited into the pouring tropical rain, and caught our bus to the hotel. The bus, naturally, broke down about halfway to our destination (we’ve only had this bus for five days! protested the driver), but, after a bit, a new one came — this one with air conditioning. The rain and the heat reminded me of Baltimore — a hot, stormy summer day, with too much water in the air for your sweat to evaporate and rain too warm to cool. Except, in Rio, it’s winter!