Monday, November 26, 2012

Vertical Gardens in Sao Carlos

An integral component of urban agriculture is to make cultivatable land where there isn't any.

Much like cities grew vertically to allow more people to live there, urban agriculture tries to take advantage of growing vertically to grow more plants in the same amount of space.

Here are some of the things that my host was doing in Sao Carlos to grow plants where one normally wouldn't be able to. They're not the most complex systems ever, but they are effective and take advantage of reusable materials.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Art and gardens

One of the guiding principles at the farm that I stayed at in Sao Carlos was the relationship between art and the garden.
Rare is the wall without a mural on it. And if you see a wall without a mural on it, you are encouraged to cover it up with some art.

Although this site is in the middle of the city, the combination of plants and art give the impression of it being in a totally different reality. 

I didn't contribute to any of the murals around the property, but I did put another coat of white paint on the chipped wall in the kitchen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Contact juggling

So these guys stayed at the house in Sao Carlos while was there.

I believe they will do birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.

Street performers are a great crowd. And one of the best activities to do with them is to watch YouTube videos. I believe we started by watching Hurricane surfing. Then we watched Parkour. Then we watched Kyrie Irving's Pepsi commercial. Then one of them said his friend put together a compilation of videos that shows the limits of the human body.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Rosh Hashanah to remember

I would have liked to put this blog post up after Rosh Hashanah, when it was much more relevant. But I wasn't in the blogging mood then.

Now that I'm on the blogging wagon again, I will continue to blog about my adventures in chronological order.

I was staying at an urban permaculture site in the city of Sao Carlos during Rosh Hashanah. I had been there for a week and was planning on staying there for another week. I didn't want to leave town for a couple of days to go to services. Plus, I was certain that I would be able to find a Jewish community in the metropolis of 500,000 people that boasts two large universities and some large industry.

I googled a bit and found several references to a small Jewish community in Sao Carlos. After some more in-depth searching, I found the contact info for the "Comunidad Israelita de Sao Carlos."

Everywhere I had gone in South America until that point, "Comunidad Israelita" is another way of saying "Jewish." Jackpot.

I called the phone number and asked about Rosh Hashanah services. They said that they were going to convene on the first night of the holiday and that I was more than welcome to join.

After spending a half hour searching for the synagogue (the address, Google Maps, and everybody who we asked for directions disagreed on where the place was actually located), my host dropped me off in what looked like a squatter settlement on the outskirts of town. The guy at the door greeted me with a "shanah tovah" and a giant kippah.

As I stepped into the sanctuary, there was a CD playing some prayers on repeat. The walls were covered in posters with pictures of Jerusalem and Israel. It looked more like a Hebrew school classroom than a sanctuary. 

And as soon as the prayer leader made the first reference to Jesus, I realized what kind of congregation I was visiting.

I stayed for the rest of the service, which didn't really follow the structure of any service I had ever been to. It was a fascinating experience, nonetheless. The ambience sounded much more like the evangelical churches I have seen in South America than a synagogue. The prayer leader had the highest Hebrew level of anyone of the members, but even he was struggling through basic blessings.

They frequently chose to play a CD of the prayers, instead of singing them. At the end of the service, they went with the special Rosh Hashanah mix, which included shofar sounds. 

Once the abbreviated service ended, there was a festive meal that included apples and honey, fish, lots of fruit, and shmoozing.

From what I understand of the holiday, the mitzvot of rosh hashanah are to hear the shofar and eat apples and honey, which is exactly what I did. I also got a great story out of it. 

The next day I made some of my favorite Rosh Hashanah foods for my hosts. They loved the kugel, apple cake, challah, carrots, etc.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


As I learn more about the culture and get a better understanding of the Portuguese language, I get a better sense of the slang and idioms.

A couple months ago, my friend asked me "traveling mayonnaise" meant anything in English.

For a second, I thought he was pulling my leg and telling me some sort of joke. Then he explained that in Portuguese, "to travel in mayonnaise" is a slang for crazy or absurd.

If someone does something that seems a bit odd or is just rambling, you ask them "are you traveling in mayonnaise?"

I have asked some people, including a linguist, if they knew the roots of this phrase. He told me that it emerged in the 1990s and is much more common among young people. It's obviously not a formal study into the phrases history, but it's enough for me.

The phrase can even been shorted to just "traveling."

For example, yesterday I was rambling about something. My host asked me if I was traveling. Because I understood the context and the word's double meaning, I told her that I was. She very much enjoyed the joke.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

We, the people

In Portuguese, "gente" means people.

But it doesn't only mean people.

It is commonly used to refer to multiple people in the first, second or third person.

Let me try to explain.

"A gente" should mean "the people" in the third person. But in Portuguese, "a gente" is another way to refer to "we."

One would think that "A gente vai" would translate to "the people are going." But in context, it would mean "we are going."

It can also be used in the second person, especially if you are trying to get the attention of a large group of people.

You can yell "oh, gente," and everyone would ideally turn and listen to what you are saying. This would be the equivalent of saying "Hey folks."

Then you can also have the standard third person meaning of "people."

I had some trouble the first few times I heard these constructions, but eventually I picked up on it enough to start using it myself.

I have tried to think of examples of English words that can refer to the first, second, or third person, but my English is really weak these days. None came to mind.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The finest piece of art I've ever seen

Coincidentally, my visit to Sao Paulo happened at the same time as the city's biennial modern art exhibition. 

For three months, the show fills a giant expo center at the city's largest park. It is so full of stuff that one would need three or four days to get a good sense of it. My friend and I opted for one of the tours that starts every thirty minutes.

Between an exhibit of a guy who took a picture of himself every hour for an entire year, a display of mattresses and sounds from one of Sao Paulo's orphanages, and an exhibit where a guy took a Polaroid of his own bowel movement was the single greatest piece of art I have ever seen.

A photographer stood on a street corner in Shanghai on Oct. 1, 2005 between 10:50 and 12:30 and took pictures of people walking down the street with their shirts rolled up. He then put those pictures in a frame and produced magic. 

You could walk down any street on the Ecuadorian coast between 4:00 and 4:15 and do the same thing. The challenge would actually be to find enough guys who still have their shirts on. 

He included that frame in a display of hundreds of frames and submitted it to the Bienal Art Show. Each one of the frames says where the photographer was and what time of day. There is a common theme in each frame. 

 This was shot in New York in the span of an hour and half.
This was shot in Amsterdam in the span of two hours.
This was shot in New York in the span of two hours.

Maybe I exaggerated a bit on the greatness of the rolled-up shirt photo. It's difficult for me to think of all the art I've ever seen. So I'll be cautious on this one and place the photo in the top ten.