September 6th, 2012

Brazilian Food & Music and Traveling in Brazil

It’s been a little over two weeks since I arrived, and I have been learning a ridiculous amount of new things each day—from work, from the city, from traveling, from the people—it’s a great challenge.  This week I flew to Curitiba to visit a company called LACTEC that specializes in building physical models of dams in order to better understand the challenges faced by building a dam in a certain region.  This has to be every engineer’s dream.

One of the many physical models that the company builds for companies all around the world. This approach to modeling raises a lot of interesting questions about the purpose of modeling and the benefit to physical models versus computer models.

After my visit, I decided to stay a little longer to see the city, and also take the famous “Serra Verde Express” to Morretes (which I will be venturing off to tomorrow).  Here’s a brief collection of thoughts so far.

On Brazilian Food:

I am certainly not a picky eater, and I am usually willing to try most everything at least once.  When I arrived, I had no idea what constituted as “Brazilian food”, but have since learned that it’s nothing short of amazing.  Most of the meals consist of a strong dose of rice and beans, meat, and fried batter stuffed with meat or cheese, and even fried bananas.  On the lighter side there is a wealth of different fruits and vegetables to go with salads.  Like I stated previously, most of the restaurants I have eaten at do things on a “por kilo” basis where there is a buffet style line and the plate is then weighed afterward to find the cost.  This sadly results in all of my food pictures being a jumbled mix of rice, beans, meat, and *ahem* vegetables (of course).

A place called "Velho" that my co-workers took me to eat (aptly named "old" for the old man that runs the place). Super inexpensive for São Paulo (about $5 for a plate and drink)!

Now I would like to take a brief moment, to describe what might possibly be the greatest display of Brazilian cuisine.

Yesterday, the professor I met with in Curitiba took me out to a “Churrascaria.”  I had no idea what this entailed, but a solid translation to English is probably something along the lines of “meat heaven.”  You pay a fixed price at the door, and have the option to eat an unlimited amount of the typical Brazilian cuisine.  Then there is the added element of what I like to call the friendly, large knife wielding, meat bearing men (see below) that walk around with different cuts of meat for your choosing.  Warning this type of place is not for the timid meat eater.  Through my passive nature, I found myself acquiescing to every offer that came by the table.  After all, how can I say no to a man with a large knife, offering to give me cooked meat?

Oh hey there meat-bearing knife man. Of course I'll accept your offer for another piece of steak.

Alright Burwell, the Brazilians laid out the master plan.  Now we just have to implement it.

Music:

During my short time here, I have come across a wide variety of musical genres and I definitely believe that there is something for everybody here.

Sertaneja

Brazilian country might not be quite what you would envision for “country” music, but they’re definitely on to something with the repetitive lyrical structure (easy to sing along) and the catchy hooks.  Sertaneja might also be credited with bringing the accordian back into the cool.

Here’s a song that seems to be everywhere right now:
“Camaro Amarelo” by Munhoz & Mariano (thanks Carla for the suggestion!)

Bossa Nova

An interesting mix of jazz rhythms with the Latin American flair that you would expect from a Brazilian genre.

Maria Rita (daughter of the famous Elis Regina)
“Corpitcho”

Brazilian Funk

I haven’t really had a chance to delve into this style of music, but the impression I get from the Brazilians I have talked to about the music is that it’s probably the American equivalent of Soulja boy (i.e. trying to understand the musical competency or lyrical depth of a song might just leave you with less brain cells than you had before, yet it still remains popular).

On traveling in Brazil:

Today marks my third day in Curitiba (I will be flying back tomorrow night), and I have learned a lot about traveling within Brazil.

First: Safety first and foremost.  I’ve had to overcome my aversion to taking taxis, because it’s simply not worth the risk walking around a new place.  Though the risk isn’t overtly apparent walking around the cities, there is always an added element of safety precautions when traveling here.

Second: Purchasing plane tickets can be very affordable within Brazil, but you will need to be smart about it.  Sites like www.decolar.com are great, but tickets must be purchased from a Brazilian with their CPF number (seems rather dubious…).

Third:  Brazilians are too nice.  Since my arrival, I have been taken out to so many meals, received help on every aspect of settling into my homestay, and been invited to an absurd amount of birthday parties.  The average number of birthdays that I have attended per week is rivaling the time that I worked at Monkey Joe’s.  People talk about our nation’s debt problem, but that’s just going to be the tip of the iceberg when you factor in all of the Americans that will swarm to Brazil for the World Cup and the Olympics.  In particular, the Duke Energy employees have really made me feel comfortable working with them.  I have my own place in the office where I can focus on my work, and each day it seems I get a whole new set of resources and contacts to work with—I’m currently sifting through a vast amount of information about Brazilian energy markets, auctions, hydropower plants, and the list goes on…

The German-speaking couple from Curitiba (that I helped in the airport) also played an integral role in helping me while I visited the city.  It turns out, the couple is from a German colony outside of the city.  They work as dairy farmers, but their daughters both live in Curitiba.  I was able to meet up with them, and they gave me a nice tour of the city as well as a lot of help figuring the train I will be taking to Morretes tomorrow.

Me, pictured with Stefanie, her sister, and her husband! They took me out to an oriental restaurant which was really great. The sisters also surprisingly had relatives in South Carolina AND South Dakota. What a coincidence.

I will be taking the train bright early tomorrow, but hope to get back to Curitiba in the afternoon so I will have ample time to catch my flight back to São Paulo.  Tomorrow is Brazil’s Independence Day and so I don’t want to take any chances while traveling during a national holiday.

To all the classmates, faculty, and staff at Wofford—I hope everyone had a great week back on campus!

Até Mais,
David

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