Man, we’ve been here over 100 days now. It’s a crazy feeling, but we’re over half way finished with our time here. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but of all of the friends and great connections we’ve made here, it’s incredibly likely that we won’t meet a huge portion of these people again. We’ve made friends from Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Cuba, Mexico, Congo, Belgium, Japan, Korea, France, etc, but when can we really expect to be in one of those places?
On the plus side: almost being done with the semester part of our trip here means that we can spend the rest of our time seeing Brazil and South America in general. We’re planning a trip to the Amazon Rainforest, as well as some other cities in Brazil, and I’m trying really hard to find a good flight to Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina.
We’ve just gotten back from a trip to Natal, a city in the Northeast of Brazil, with some great beaches. Technically we were there for a saxophone conference with Mike, but we spent the biggest portion of our time relaxing on the beach, enjoying the sun. Our first day there Mike, Ethan, Ashley, and I took a dune buggy trip around Natal. It was awesome. Basically, the guy just drove around like a madman, and stopped every once in a while to let us off at a good photo spot, or on a secluded beach for some coconut water, and sun.
Otherwise, things here are as normal as they can be for Brazil. We’re learning some traditional music, playing jazz every Tuesday night at a bar near our apartment with some Louisville grads, and stumbling our way through Portuguese conversations every day.
Well. We finally got to the beach here. The weather wasn’t quite as nice as we would have hoped, and the water was bit chilly, but we still had a lot of fun. Especially playing in the sand. While we were there, we got our first home-cooking with our friend’s parents, and got to see a really great concert, with one of the best horn sections and arrangements I’ve ever heard.
The family we stayed with was great. It’s the family of a bassist in Louisville now, and they were really welcoming. Picked us up at the airport, took us around town, had home-cooking most meals, went to the beach with us, and absolutely refused to let us pay for anything. They’re going to be in Louisville a few times in the next year, so I’m hoping we can return the favor.
While there, we also got invited to a “festa” for us. Some of the students a school in the area had a party because we were going to be in town, so we got to have a “jam session” with some Jazz Standards, some traditional Brazilian tunes, and some Brazilian rock tunes. It was a lot of fun meeting other students outside of the school in Brasilia. We got to exchange ideas, exchange music, and hear how they think about things.
It was also striking how different Vitoria was from Brasilia however. Many people have said that Brasilia isn’t very indicative of what Brasil is like, and it was a lot clearer in Vitoria. The beaches and the mountains obviously. Also, Brasilia is really only about 50-60 years old, so there really isn’t anything historic to see here. In Vitoria we went up to a church on the top of a massive hill (mountain?) overlooking the water and the buildings, and it was great. Definitely more of how someone in the states pictures Brasil.
View of Vitoria
It’s about to be 50 days tomorrow. Luckily, I don’t think either of us have had a significant freak-out or culture shock moment. If we haven’t had one after 50 days, I don’t think we will have one. There are definitely things here that make you realize you’re not in the U.S. anymore, but nothing has seriously freaked me out yet. When you’re in a place like this, (and you have such little control over what’s happening), you have to just brush things off, laugh, and worry about it another time. (Or not worry about it ever?)
I’ve never been this far South. And this is definitely the closest I’ve ever been to a lot of the places I’ve always wanted to see… Rio. Bogota. The Amazon. Buenos Aires. Quito. Lima. Santiago. How can I figure out how to get to these places? We’re headed to a small town, more south of Brazil in 5 days, with a beach, called Vitoria, and we’re both psyched. Firstly, it has a beach. Secondly, it’s a Brazilian beach.
After eleven days in Brasilia, and weirdly enough it still doesn’t feel completely “real.” We’re in the double digits, had our first week of class, but we aren’t completely settled into our place. It’s only been 11 days, but we’re communicating much more effectively with people. When we left, we thought we were sorta-kinda-okay at Portuguese, but it’s amazing how much you don’t know when you’re trying to communicate what you want on your sandwich at Subway here.
The three best things so far: the weather, the fruit, and the music. We’ve been invited to see music almost every night since we arrived, and got the chance to sit-in a few times, too. We’ve been eating fruit for breakfast most days, which is delicious, and it usually comes with food at restaurants. Otherwise, it’s been mostly sunny, and around 80⁰. No snow here. Até logo!
Although this trip has had many strange and noteworthy events, most of our time here is taken up mainly by living. And living can be a full-time endeavor. Even our days that don’t have classes can still be packed with practicing whatever our professors want us to play for the next week, which on a good day it’s Choro and on a bad day it’s the harmonic minor scale in thirds, or cleaning or cooking or using the internet or walking to whatever place we need to be. I have not watched any sort of screen-based entertainment (no movies, TV) since I left or done anything to waste time and I still feel behind on what I should be doing.
A day might go like this; I wake up first, at 8 or 7:30 if I’m not sleeping well, and immediately make coffee. I have learned, probably way after I should have, the best way to handle the whole hand-washing-your-clothes thing is to take 15 minutes right when you get up to do one small load each day. So I do this, while listening to some music, as the water for coffee is heating up. Then I work on technique. Then continue to work on technique. If I can’t play the guitar like a beast when I get back I am going to be very mad. Eventually, Ben wakes up and makes more coffee and I have another mug as well. I drink this while I practice more then realize I have to go soon and I haven’t taken a shower.
Our first class is Portuguese at 10 and it’s on the other side of campus, so we have to leave at 9:30 to get there on time. I am always tired and hungry in this class and it lasts for two hours, so when it gets out all I want to do is go to lunch. I know I should say and talk to the other Americans from Westpoint, but I’m probably going to see them again soon. We tried going to RU, the on-camups restaurant the serves lunch for 5 reais, which is about two dollars, but the food is terrible and the line takes about an hour to get in. So instead, we might go to Ka-sabor, a self-service in the closest quadra, or walk back to Colina to eat whats there.
When we go back to Colina, there is a door man who sits a booth towards the other side of the build that lets us into the building of our apartment. It’s set up that he should be able to see us when we come to the door, but most of the time he is facing the either direction watching TV. If I am lucky, he’ll be there and open the door right away. If I am unlucky, I have to walk over to his booth and wake him up. But, on a day like today I literally cannot find anybody to open the door. It’s a holiday, one of the many, and there is no one there. So all I can really do is write.
The next class we have is at 2. It’s one of our three classes with Bruno and it’s pretty much him talking about Brazilian music and it’s history and playing recording for us. It’s actually really great. For a while we had a big problem with him because he would talk about harmonic concepts we already know and are a part of American music. But one day he was talking about the whole tone scale, something we have in America, for the third class in a row to the very uninterested three of us and says “But it would be better for you all for me to talk about Brazilian music since you are here,” and almost simultaneously we said “Yeah, that sounds great. (Why are you just realizing this now?!?!?)”
As we leave the class with Bruno, Ricardo, the dean of the music school, drags us into Choro class with hardly enough time to pick up our instruments. For a while we tried to avoid him because Choro is super hard and everybody in the group is awesome and we felt like the stupid gringos that couldn’t play anything. But as we are practicing more Choro on our own time it’s getting easier to play and honestly one of the high points of my week. I’m trying to learn 7 sting guitar (in Portuguese it’s called violão sete cordas) which sort of functions like the bass in the group, although it’s more like the lowest part in a group of improvised counterpoint, which is different but it’s hard to explain. The point is I’ve never played anything quite like this before. Some bassline with chords in Jazz, but it’s still not the same; there is a different function, language and rhythm that you can only learn form listening and play with great players. There is an amazing sete cordas player in that group named Danilo that speaks no English, so for a while all he could do to help me is to play what he might play during a song and I’ll play it back.
At times we could go to Alfredo’s, a pizza place in the quadra closest to Colina that plays 90s rock and has an amazing sausage pizza. From there, we might meet up with some friends or go back and practice. I don’t know, it depends.
Entry Two – Forró
Today I slept in until about 11. I did the same the day before. Normally, I wake up at 7 so I have time to practice in the morning, work on whatever I have to and drink 2-3 cups of coffee, but because Bruno took us out to a Forró last night and the night before until 4 in the morning, any sleep that I get is brief and interrupted by about 17 hours. Yet despite intermittent yawning, I’ve been surrounded by amazing music so I not complaining. On Thursday we went to Clube do Choro to see Anat Cohen, an Israeli clarinet player, playing with the Trio Brasilerios. This trio actually came to U of L two years ago and played the first Choro I ever heard. Anat played more traditionally than I expected her to, calling classic Choro tunes like Cochanido, but also many Choro-inspired originals by Anat and the Trio. I should try to find if they have any recordings together. In the final set for the last two tunes a chromatic harmonica player that was in the audience, Gabriel Grossi, came up and played with them. I have been getting into harmonica a bit, only yet able to play basic blues lines and with some easy bending, and I have heard a bit of his first album, but hearing him live was unbelievable. I literally did not think it was possible to do what he did on harmonica. His fantastic technicality and precision with his instrument and used bending and other idiomatic harmonica techniques to create a deeply expressive sound. Gabriel is actually a good friend of Bruno’s and played on this last album, so we got to meet him and talk to him briefly after the concert.
After this our professor that took us to the Choro, Bruno, our guitar teacher who we have almost all of our classes with, told us there was a big Forró show going on later on that the musicians from the connect where going to. “Yeah, it would be good for you to learn how to dance; it helps with rhythm” he said, so we thought, yeah, sounds good. So we went and saw everybody dancing and realized, we don’t know how to dance Forró. We knew before we got there that it would be different than any American dance that we (don’t) know, but we thought we could pick it up. Bruno told us “All you do is move,” Easy right? “But you have to move like this,”
Forró is a dance from the North-Eastern area in Brazil, from a state called Bahia, that is traditionally played with a trio consisting of Accordion, Triangle and a deep drum called a Zabumba. Tonight they were joined by a few more musicians, a Violão Sete Codas and a Caviquino, later by Gabriel and Anat. I have been learning about the music a bit in my Brazilian Rhythms class; there are two styles of rhythm with the tradition of Forró, Baião and Xote, each with their own groove and dance. The dance itself is with partner, very close and can be very sensual. Susan, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be and I didn’t try. What made it really difficult for us to pick up is that the man leads the woman, so nobody wanted to dance with the Americans guys that can’t dance Forró. The first group of girls that we asked said they didn’t know how to dance either, but then within the same song they were all dancing with another guy.
So that night was pointless. We stayed out until four just talking with some of the Swedish girls who also didn’t know how to dance – although they had a bit better of a time because guys are more than willing to teach them. The next night was much better. As we stood looking at the dense crowd of couples dancing incredibly close, closely studying the feet of some of the more advanced dancers, a girl walked up to me and asked, in English, if I wanted to be taught how to dance.
Another story that I am obligated to add is this; as we were standing and talking, a girl walks up to me and I thought, as I was in a very loud in environment and really not that good at Portuguese, she said something like “Sua barba é limpa,” meaning “Your beard is clean.” So I just kind of looked at her, confused like ‘how do you know that and why are you telling me?’ and when she finally gave up I turned to Ben and told him “I think she just told me my beard is clean.” – “Did she say ‘limpa’ or ‘linda’?” – “Linda” – And he starts laughing, “She said your beard was pretty.” A basic compliment probably with the intentions, as I see in retrospect, to get me to ask her to dance.
With this basic knowledge of the dance, I worked up the courage to ask another girl. It is fairly obvious to tell when they want to dance with you; they will walk up, sometimes from across the room, and stand next to you or in front of you and try really hard to make eye contact with you. What’s more is that I knew this girl saw me dance, so she knew I was bad. She taught me a bit, I learned a lot more from just doing it.