One week ago today, I arrived in South America for the first time. I was worried that my flight from Boston was going to be cancelled or delayed from the snowstorm going on, but luckily it took off just fine through some heavy wet snow. Boarding the connecting flight from Miami to São Paulo, it seemed as though I was the only gringo on the entire flight. While on aboard but still at the gate, the woman a seat or two over from me was adjusting the air vent above her seat and asked me something about my air vent, which was right next to hers, in Portuguese, to which I had no idea what she said. Then she turned to people sitting behind me and said something in Portuguese which I was able to kind of understand as something like "Great, of all the people on the plane, I'm sitting next to the only one that doesn't speak any Portuguese!" and they had a good laugh until I, feeling embarrassed, interrupted and said "Falo um pouco! (I speak a little!)" I felt much better after I had a little bit of conversation in Portuguese with them and they said I spoke well. Then after an in-flight vegetarian dinner at 2am somewhere over the Caribbean, I was able to get a couple of hours of low-quality plane sleep.
There is nothing like being incredibly exhausted for your first steps in a new country, yet that's how it usually seems to happen for me. It's the fight against trying to observe everything and notice all the differences between what is new and what you are used to, and the need to just collapse your body and drop your eyelids. When I made it to the hotel, I was very hot, sticky, sweaty and ready for a nap.
|People nearly getting hit by the train in São Paulo|
I feel that maybe by starting off in São Paulo, I may have gotten a bit of a false impression of Brazil. Brazil is a huge country and the culture varies greatly by region, perhaps even more so that the US, and probably unlike the rest of the country São Paulo is a huge, sprawling, very cosmopolitan (it's impossible to tell just by looking at someone whether they are a foreigner or not, because there are so many immigrants and different ethnicities represented), very modern, and very crowded (it has some of the worst traffic in the world, plus all the public transportation is overcrowded and people sprint to get seats in the train cars).
|My Brazilian debut, playing on a open piano|
in the train station in São Paulo.
|"So that it can continue to be good to our ears, let's be good to it.|
Take care of your piano."
Now I've made it to Rio, where I have my academic affiliation with the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO), which is not to be confused with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) which is much larger, but part of it is located right next to UNIRIO, which makes things even more confusing. I spent the first two days, which were very rainy and overcast (not the sunny Rio that I'd always seen on TV) trying to figure out some housing for the next month in what is a very expensive city. Luckily, I'm very relieved that I've found a place, thanks to my contact at the university. He told me he had a music student there who had an open room and I should contact her. Her's was the first apartment I looked at, and I really liked it: in a safe neighborhood, close to buses and the metro, and pretty close to the university. She lives this quiet apartment with her parents, one of which is a professional flute player in two orchestras in the city, and they are really nice people. The only caveat is that it's a bit pricey, but I'm a frugal guy in other areas and I know that Rio is an expensive place to live, so I'm sure that I'll be able to save more money on rent later on in the year in the other cities after about a month or so of being here.
|The view from just outside my apartment:|
Corcovado mountain and Christ the Redeemer at the top,
Botafogo Beach at the bottom.
|The view from Botafogo beach. I live in one of those building in the middle.|