April 6, 2015

An Easter in POA

I had finally arrived in Porto Alegre on Tuesday night after approximately a 16 hour trip(transit via GRU). A quick 15 minute taxi ride took me to neighbourhood of Bom Fim, where I’d be staying in a hotel until more permanent living arrangements were made. Marcelo, my cab driver was a helpful guy and offered a lot of advice and information about the city as we drove through it. I was too bewildered and tired to take note of any of it. I noticed main roads used a two way system with a bus lane in the middle. He apologised as we passed through some district where there was “bad bars and prostitutes” (as he put it).

Looking out upon the city skyline and streets in the day quickly dispelled all notions of the Brazil I’d imagined from its portrayals in pop culture. I have worked with a few wonderful Brazilian colleagues in Johannesburg and even though I knew that the colourful and gritty Brazil portrayed in the likes of City of God is at best a caricature of only one city, there is always some romanticised attachment to the clichès and perspectives of the imagination.

POA Skyline from hotel elevator Lots of little apartment buildings in Bom Fim.

The city of Porto Alegre is situated in the state of Rio Grande du Sol (Big River of the South) and is known for having a very European vibe to it. There are still lot of old buildings down town though most of them are left as facades for parking or some other modern use behind.

The streets look clean to me but for the abundance of graffiti ranging from small murals to more common “tags”. You will not find the grit and chaos of Bree street here1. You will instead find giant, ancient Jacaranda trees covered in beautiful vines. Which totally messed with my perception of where I am since I grew up in the Jacaranda City.

Giant Jacarandas in POA Wait, am I back home?

To be quite honest I do not know much of the history of Brazil, let alone Porto Alegre (POA for short) but I hope to discover more in my year-long adventure here. It’s one of the lesser known cities despite having hosted a world cup match2. I had in fact not heard of it before meeting coworkers who hailed from there.

What I did find out is that it’s right next a big river that makes it look like a bay in Google Maps. And then I found out the the river I was looking at is actually a small part of a HUGE river. POA is situated on the edge of fractal!! And “Big River of the South” needs a better name like “MASSIVE river of the South” or “Rio Godzilla du Sol”.

Map of Porto Alegre Cool, it’s a bay!

Map of Porto Alegre zoomed out Oh. Hang on…

POA’s WikiTravel page is shorter than most destinations, its biggest feature being its parks. And boy, are the parks plentiful and beautiful. Parque Farroupilha was a short walking distance away from our hotel so my colleague Andrew and I decided to brave a walk and maybe get some lunch on the way. It turns out this is a difficult thing to do on Good Friday since all the usual restaurants are closed and we don’t speak Portuguese. We settled on some hot dog “especial” from a food truck next to the park and much awkard gesturing and sheepish “sim”s and “obrigados”3. It was more than a hot dog, the man layered a dozen sauces and stuff on top of it such that it could pass as modern art. And it was delicious.

But enough of this deliberation, have some photos from that walk:

Awesome mural painting on what's presumably a hot dog and chips joint when it's open. When fast food attacks!

Posters for an anti capitalism protest Anti Capitalismo Proteste! I like this place already.

Abacaxi truck Abacaxi is the “cellar door” of the Portuguese language, except it actually makes sense.

Tortoise and Swan Tortoise and Swan.

The next day we enlisted the help our Bolivian colleague who had been living in POA for around 3 years now. She knew the area and Portuguese (although she says it’s difficult, being a native Spanish speaker herself4). We went back to the Parque Farroupilha for a longer walk without the edge of not being able to communicate and then we went down town to the Mercado Público, a big old building in the city centre with dozens of stalls selling stuff from curios to meat and cheese. Unfortunately I didn’t snap any pictures from there.

After that we went to Praça da Alfândega nearby which had MARGS (Museum of Art) near it. Now MARGS is free to enter and has a permanent collection with some peripharel exhibitions sometimes. It had a lot contemporary pieces but the most amazing work I saw was the painting below.

"Emigrante" painting

It is a portrait of an immigrant by a Napoleone Grady, an Italian artist, painted in 1887. Every now and then you see a painting that has some ineffable, metaphysical property - you can swear by it. This was one of those. Looking at it for a few moments, you could hear the waves in the background and the same impossible light that you find in Rembrandt’s paintings illuminating the lady. I would definitely like to go back and view it again.

On Sunday, to contrast the previous day’s high cultural experiences I joined some of my new colleagues who were attending an Anime convention. I don’t think it needs much explanation than the photos below.

Crowd inside Anime Convention More cosplayers than casuals.

Excellent costume Award winning costume.

Girls with big guns Obligatory girls with big guns who later turned out to be the judges of the cosplay competition.

The anime enthusiasts, geeks, nerds etc… in POA seem to take cosplay very seriously, as evidenced by the quality of costumes and props. What struck me is that despite being a relatively small convention (I estimate only about 500 people there), there were more people dressed in costume than not.

Overall, my first weekend in Brazil has been very surprising and a lot of fun. I’m currently trying to learn more Portuguese and enjoying my time here. Happy belated Easter!

Street Art in the Park Murals at Parque Farroupilha.

Amazing sculpture from entrance of MARGS Amazing unmarked sculpture at the entrance of MARGS

Doctor Who stall at Anime Convetion A stall for every fandom.

  1. Bree street is in Johannesburgs’ CBD (Central Building District, or Downtown) and has a very post-apocalyptic feeling to it because of it’s crumbling, abandoned buildings and trash everywhere. I drove through it at night a few times and navigating it is difficult, often having to avoid the odd piece of furniture on the road and disorganised side streets. [return]
  2. Marcelo, my cab driver from the airport, pointed out some roadworks that had been underway since before the World Cup and still has not been completed. Some roads were still closed. [return]
  3. Sim = yes, obrigado = thank you (male). Incidentally these will be the most spoken sounds you make when in your first week in Brazil. [return]
  4. Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking country in South America. This is okay because it is also the biggest country on the continent. [return]

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