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

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.

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

First page, first draft. Here we go.

“The flight AL817 to London City airport will start boarding shortly.”

Anna closed her eyes and took another one of those deep breaths while clutching her book with already clammy hands and mentally cursing the plane, the airport, and indeed most of the city of Zurich. Seriously, why? Why go through this irrational, predictable agony every time?

I’m going to die today. I can feel it.

Her throat feels dry. There is a kiosk selling bottled water about six and a half steps away from her chair, but she feels her expensive high heels glued to the ground. Another deep breath. Continue reading

Scent and Sensibility

Nonna's bottle of Shalimar, found at the back of her closet

Nonna’s bottle of Shalimar, found at the back of her closet

Just over a year ago, my grandmother (codename Nonna) left us. She was a lovely, funny, happy old lady, who liked pets, receiving postcards from unusual places, looking after people she’d only known five minutes and tending to her orchids. She liked having children around, and always looked out for the ones whom she thought needed protecting. If she liked you, you were always (always!) welcome to drop by for coffee, tea or a meal. She also made what is known as The World’s Best Home-made Lasagna – I guard the recipe with my life, knowing all the while my lasagna will only ever be The Second Best. Continue reading

London calling

One week ago today, I was flying to London on a one-day trip for a workshop. I flew to London City Airport, which is the most convenient airport in London and by far the windiest. As a nervous flyer, let me tell you this: I appreciate the convenience, but I become a ball of nerves for the entire hour and twenty minutes that it takes to fly there. Continue reading