Home is where the traffic is.

Av. Dr. Arnaldo

Every time I go back home to Brazil, I’m amazed at how much of my awareness of the city has been erased by a decade of living in little, organised, law-abiding Switzerland.

Take the insane amount of distance between things, for example. Sao Paulo is a massive city! I’m instantly gobsmacked by the amount of time you spend in traffic – and I’m only here on vacation! This was an exchange I had with my mother during my last trip home:

Me: I have an appointment at ten AM in Vila Mariana tomorrow. What time should I get a cab to take me there?

Mum: Yesterday.

As it turns out, to travel the 11 km from our place to Vila Mariana could take anywhere between 25 minutes and an hour and a half. With a spread like this, no wonder people are so stressed in traffic! I dug deep into my heart to find any vestige of road rage, but it wasn’t there anymore. A little part of what once made me a typical Paulist had become dormant. Continue reading

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The fun of time travel – part 2

The Desk travels

The desk travels: my temporary desk in Rio Preto

I mentioned to one of my (many) cousins in Rio Preto that I was amazed at how much the town has grown, and pointed out the development of office towers and residential skyscrapers all over town. In true “I’m-getting-old-and-don’t-want-to-face-the-facts” fashion, I reminisced how when we were kids, we joyfully celebrated the fact that the town’s first McDonald’s was opening; we also had to play outside all day (or go to the movies) because there was no cable TV.

Now, there’s a massive Walmart, and smart little boutiques, and even a Hilton hotel opening in a few months. My cousin indulged me and listened patiently to my rant, before making an interesting comment; she called Rio Preto a “gentle giant”. Meaning: yes, the town may have grown over the past decade, but it maintained an endearing small-town mentality.

Within about 20 minutes of arriving in Sao Jose do Rio Preto, you start appreciating the fact that the town is nowhere near as stressful as Sao Paulo. While Rio Preto and Sao Paulo have some things in common (why does everybody here drive like they’re the only ones on the road?), others are a welcome change, for instance:

There is still a strong link with the town’s agricultural traditions. People still have fruit trees in their backyard. People still make home-made jam. People still know how to get a cow to get out of the middle of the road (step one: open your vehicle’s window; step two: proceed to tap your hand loudly on the outside of your car door). And, of course, people still have that easy-to-spot, delicious countryside accent.

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The distances are shorter, and it takes you a fraction of the time to travel them. Unless, of course, you’re stuck behind a tractor. Or there’s a cow in the middle of the road (in which case: see above). Although to be fair, the latter doesn’t happen very often anymore.

People walk places, and seem happy to do so. There are actual sidewalks! And walkways! How did I not notice this as a kid? People go about their business on foot and don’t seem as neurotic about security and crime as we unfortunately have to be in Sao Paulo.

The fun of time travel

It will not surprise me in the least if you tell me you’ve never heard of Sao Jose do Rio Preto (although I was really amazed to discover there is even an English language Wikipedia page dedicated to it).

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Rio Preto is a town deep in the Sao Paulo state countryside, almost exactly half-way between Sao Paulo city and Brasilia. Together with its towns (which were at the time little more than overgrown farms), it was the setting of some of the most memorable summer vacations of my childhood. My grandmother had a lot of family there, and it was where I first discovered my love for movies, and where I first tried fruit straight from the tree. The thing I love most about this place is that, even though it is “the” commercial centre of the region, rumour has it it insists on lying to the census, so that it can still be officially referred to as a “town”. Never mind that it’s apparently tip-toeing dangerously close to one million inhabitants.

After several years away, I took the five-hour drive with my mother to see our family. As we drove closer and closer and could see Rio Preto taking up a considerably larger part of the horizon than I remembered, one thing became abundantly clear:

Toto, this is not a small town anymore.

After the initial shock of disorientation, It came as a surprise that a few things remain the same:

The kindness of people. My mother and I were received by our extended family like two long lost children.

At around mid-day, you’ll be able to fry an egg on the sidewalk. Rio Preto is mostly still farmland. The average temperature year-round is 23C, but in the summer, this can go all the way up to the high 30s. It is dry, sunny, and absolutely glorious.

Patience is still a virtue. By definition, you shall not be in a rush if you’re in Rio Preto. A loose sense of timing reigns; people are often a little late, and you are forever forgiven if you are on time.

Of Airports and other purgatories

With the end of the year drawing closer and closer, so does the possibility that I’ll have to be in a plane again.

Like many other people who hate flying and who enjoy grounded life, planes are obviously my least favourite places in the whole wide world. Airports and government buildings in South America are a very (very!) close second.

Airports, I feel, have become the place where good manners and elegance have gone to die. Where else can you expect to see people growing impatient, angry, anxious, before abandoning all resemblance of common decency and beginning to engage in line-cutting, foot-stomping and sometimes screaming? And all of this happens even before they ask you to take off your shoes at the security check – by which point, particularly during the holiday season, we’ve come to embrace the madness. Continue reading

Open your eyes.

For a split-second, everything is darkness. I’m not sure where I am, and need to focus to remember simple, but crucial information: who am I? What is my name? What is the last thing I remember? Do I remember enough to open my eyes and not be dreadfully surprised? Continue reading

Out of space…

I’ve been absent for a little while. But I haven’t given up. Mostly, to be frank, I’ve been trapped under a mass of drafts which accumulated over the years. Which begs the question: how does one go through life writing drafts without a decent filing system?

Allow me to explain. As a teenager, I had the tendency to arrive at appointments, lunches, dinners, dates and parties too early (a habit I regretfully let go of over the years). I would normally have one of three things in my handbag to entertain me as I waited: a book (normally a leather-bound one by Tolstoi, with my great-grandfather’s initials engraved on the spine – I was that kind of snob), a pen and some paper. In the absence of paper, I would shamelessly walk to the nearest restaurant and ask for some paper napkins. In the absence of a pen, I would shamefully ask strangers if they had one to spare. Continue reading

Diary of a wimpy woman

Firstly, I must apologise for this hiatus in my blogging as one of the things that never ceases to surprise me is how little time there is in a day when you have a full time job. Nonetheless, I have a proud announcement to make: I’ve been able to make the time to do a couple of thousand words more in the manuscript. But more on that later.

Anyway, there are many things that can be said about writing as an occupation. Sadly, one of the things that can’t be said is that it helps keep you in shape.

Some of you might remember that, at the beginning of this year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to start running again. Now, that might sound like I was once a committed runner who lost her motivation along the way. I assure you, that is not the case.

Continue reading