400 Steps of Faith or Brazil is more conservative than you might think

400 Steps of Faith or Brazil is more conservative than you might think

It’s a common misjudgement about Brazilians, especially about women, to be liberal maybe even sexually liberal. I understand how this misunderstanding comes to exist, because often Brazil is portrayed outside of the country with images of endless beaches with the famous beach beauties – gorgeous women wearing their next-to-nothing string bikinis (which the Brazilians call “dental floss”) or the bare-breasted almost naked women dancing Samba at the carnival. And while both of these images represent a small part of the Brazilian culture, reality is quite different and much more complex. But to reflect the simplicity of these images, let me just say, that Brazilians tend not only to be overweight instead of skinny and sexy, but also conservative and quite religious.

It is a country of many coexisting religions, be it the lesser known Santo Jaime religion or the well known Candomblé to name only two. But most of all, Brazil is a very catholic country with two thirds of the Brazilian population defining themselves as catholic. You can observe this every day while surfing the public television with it’s many religious TV stations. And Brazil is also a conservative country where abortion is still illegal and being gay can result in crazy discrimination! Just look at Marina Silva, she is not only the most prominent presidential candidate for the upcoming election besides elected president Dilma Rousseff, she is also considered a liberal – coming from the green party – an anti-establishment figure and a fervent evangelical Christian who is trying hard not to comment on the topic of abortion, because it simply is too controversial.

Just how religious this country is can easily be seen on one of the numerous holidays, honoring local patron saints, like “Nossa Senhora de Monte Serrat”, which is the patron of Santos. Every year in the end of august, a statue is taken in a big procession from the small church on top of the characteristic hill with the amazing view over Santos. People chanting and walking down the hill behind a statue of the saint, carried on the shoulders of a group of soldiers (Youtube).

The statue is then brought to a big open-air mass and later to the cathedral, where it is on display for about two weeks until September 8th, the holiday of Nossa Senhora de Monte Serrat, when the statue is carried up the hill again. Hundreds of people are having a big party in the historic center (Youtube) for this event and they will later follow the soldiers carrying the statue again, some of them take the more than 400 steps up the hill on their knees, like hard-core sinners. It is a day of happiness and love for many religious Santistas – at least that is what the governor says – and it is a fact about living in Brazil which should not be forgotten. Next time you see pictures of an amazing wonderful Brazilian beach with the happy bikini girls on them, just remember that these girls are either married or living with their parents and that beach wear is as normal as the morning cup of coffee on the Brazilian coast.

A visit to the king – Museum Pelé

A visit to the king – Museum Pelé

One week into the World Cup and some days after the official opening it was time to visit the king. And since the intelligent and beautiful wife is Brazilian she is interested in football as well and was also looking forward to visiting the new Museum Pelé. The king himself had opened it five days ago, almost 60 years after he started playing for Santos at the age of 15. The rainy and cold day seemed just the right reason to visit him.

Museum Pelé is located in downtown Santos which is unfortunately a rundown and sometimes a little dangerous part of town. But it is the oldest part of the town and has some amazing buildings and one of these big buildings, close to the old railway station, had been restored and now houses in two separate wings and on more than 6 floors a lot of what there is to see and to know about the king of football. Pelé.

It is hard to not be affected by Edson Arantes do Nascimento – so his real name – simply because in Brazil he is hard to avoid. While in Germany he is maybe best known for starring in a Viagra commercial, in Brazil he endorses a pharmacy which you find in every fifth street and there is a almost life-sized cardboard version of him in front of these stores. He is the Beckenbauer of Brazil, but this comparison also a bit unfair, because Beckenbauer has never been as favourite and maybe as good as the king.

I did not know a lot about Pelé because I was simply born too late for the World Cups he won or took part in (’58, ’62, ’66 ’70). I’ve seen enough videos of him to understand that he was a great football player. But he must’ve not only been a great one, he must’ve been extraordinary in his time – not only as a player but as a person. One part of the fun in visiting this museum is to see the pictures of Pelé with all the people who wanted to shine as well in his fame: popes and politicians, movie stars and singers – everybody. It is funny to see so many US politicians with the world’s best football player of their time, and this is one thing that the museum unfortunately does not transport: the fascination and admiration that the person Pelé received in his time especially off the football field. Where his opponents did not tackle him in a World Cup match, because he was injured and substitutions were not allowed – the respect for Pelé was so big, that the players waited for Pelé to pass the ball before the next player was attacked.

But let’s talk about the rest of the exhibition. There are many objects to see (and many more to come), some are kind of cute like the piggy bank he saved his first money in, others are strangely absurd like the saber he received from the Queen of England, making him the only owner of a football saber made by the gunsmiths of the crown. The main exhibition also has levels dedicated to each of the Wold Cups, showing a few emblematic scenes and stating over and over again by many people, what an amazing player Pelé has been.

The other part of the building, separated by the entrance, the souvenir shop and the not yet working Café Pelé is the interactive part of the museum, with some video projections, a video quiz, three not completely working exercises (sprint, dribble and shoot like the king) as well as having a quick photo montage produced with you in one of the historic photos of Pelé. This part is fun as well but aiming more towards children, which is also a nice thing, that there is something for kids to do while their father is watching old videos.

All in all the intelligent and beautiful wife agreed with me, that our expectations had not been very high and that the 18 Reais per person were well spent. Regardless if you are a football fan or nor, if you are in Santos you have to visit the Museum Pelé, otherwise there will be one thing about Brazil you will never understand.

Top 5 rules for taking a local bus in Santos (and how I ignored all of them)

Top 5 rules for taking a local bus in Santos (and how I ignored all of them)

For the last week I’ve been struggling with a bad cold, that I had gotten sitting on the beach last Saturday having maybe one caipirinha too much, but mainly freezing like crazy, because autumn in Santos can get chilly and my German mind is still in summer mode. Because some days still are like summer in Germany.

Going downtown

So I’ve been sick, staying home, not doing too much and I was looking forward to going downtown today to visit (my friends at) the Polícia Federal and ask about my “permanencia”: why the website where I am supposed to look up the information never works. And while we are at it, I wanted to have them extend my “protocolo” which is the official document stating, that I am in the process of applying for the “permanencia”. And in order to go to downtown, the best wife ever and me took the bus.

Taking the bus in Santos is nice, they seem to run frequently, are not overly expensive and though I have never seen a complete bus plan or a schedule, people rely on them. Since Canal 1, one of the main streets leading downtown, is close to our home it was easy to find a bus: we just went to the next bus stop hopped on and arrived downtown 15 minutes later. Piece of cake.

A quick stop at the Policia Federal

To my surprise the Policia Federal also seemed to be in a good mood – after waiting for only about an hour I was told, that everything is going ok in the process, that I should check on the website (haha) and with a stamp my “protocolo” was extended for another 6 months. The only problem seemd to be, that I was getting very tired again, due to me not being completely healthy. I grew even more tired after a nice “comida por kilo” lunch at a Japanese restaurant and so we took the next bus back to our hose to have a nap. At least that was, what we thought.

And taking the bus

The downtown of Santos is a grid of one-way-streets and finding the one where a bus to Canal 1 leaves was difficult. We ended up on a street with bus stops every fifty meters. And there were many different buses leaving: inter-municipial buses, buses to all parts of town, official ones, small and unofficial ones. In short: I did not understand. And I was too tired to ask and be patient. We headed into the direction of our home, which by coincidence is also the direction of the bus terminal, and when we saw a bus with “Canal 1” among other things on the front arriving, we hopped on. Big mistake. Sometimes I can’t get the German out of me.

….to the terminal…

The bus continued to the bus terminal, where we could’ve changed. But since we thought we were on the right bus, we did not ask. Big mistake number two. Because the bus left the terminal and headed out of town. I was not too worried for a while, because it could’ve taken a turn and continued to our neighborhood and a little later I just hung on to my believe, that what had “Canal 1” written on the front would eventually go there – even via São Viçente.

…and far out to the west of the city…

Half an hour later and well beyond the Botanical Garden of Santos the best wife ever gave up the witing and asked the bus driver. He (or she, because our bus driver had the voice of a woman while looking vaguely like a man) told us, that the bus was (of course) not going to Canal 1. We had to get off at the next stop and take another bus back into town. You know these moments in which you feel extraordinary stupid? This was one of them.

…and being stuck…

But it would not be Brazil, if people were not very friendly and helpful. Our bus driver explained that this was the end station of many bus lines, he/she led us to the right bus (back into town) and even talked to the next bus driver, that he would let us enter the bus without having to pay again. It turned out that we were not the first people who had taken the wrong bus. Actually it seemed pretty common. We only had to wait another 15 minutes until the next bus would leave.

At this point I want to remind you, that I was extremely tired and even though I was happy, that I finally knew where the Botanical Garden was located, I wished I were in my bed like nothing else.

… and back at the bus terminal.

About forty-five minutes later we arrived at the bus terminal (again, only this time in a bus with air-condition!). It turned out that our bus (of course) did not take the shortest possible route to Canal 1, but went through downtown again. So we ended up being in exactly the parallel street of where we had taken the first wrong bus, only about 2 hours later. At this point I was getting very humble, happy that the bus did not go through the whole city back to Canal 1, but seemd to go there fairly directly. We finally arrived at Canal 1 about two and a half hours after we took the first bus downtown, and we were asleep about 10 minutes later. And here are the

Top 5 rules for taking a local bus in Santos

  1. Never trust the schedule!
  2. Never trust what is written on the bus (or your map).
  3. Always ask the driver (when and where the bus is going).
  4. Just to be sure: ask a passenger as well. Or a waiting person.
  5. Take water and some snacks. Because of a traffic, the weather, a detour or whatever the trip might take longer than you expected.

Other than that: have fun.

Just another ordinary Brazilian day (of strange things happening)

Just another ordinary Brazilian day (of strange things happening)

When moving to a foreign country like Brazil everything seems to be exciting at first. But you will settle into a daily routine after a while and after my first summer here it happened to me too. You know, the daily life of working, going shopping, watching tv. Boring stuff. But sometimes even in your boring life, you will have one of those crazily ordinary Brazilian days, and my day today is worth telling about.

Our crazy neighbours

My agenda was go to the doctor. I had spread my ankle some weeks ago and since I keep having pain from time to time, I wanted a doctor to have a look at it. I left my house around noon to go to the appointment. On the way out I talked to our porteiro (the doorman) about our neighbors, because two days ago the woman and her teenager daughter who live next door had started their usual yelling and shouting and making loud noises at 6am in the morning, which was a little outside the things I can take easily. I find the mother and her daughter yelling and shouting making strange noises like slamming the doors very sad, but usually I don’t mind it. But 6am was too much and so I talked to the porteiro what to do. He shrugged and said “nothing we can do, really”. People in the house have already gotten used to the noise and the shouting. I told him that I found this strange and not very satisfying. But he shrugged his shoulders again and added: “Some time ago the girl threw a cooking pot out of the window. You know, she is really crazy.” Just to makes this clear – he was talking about a metal cooking pot for pressurized cooking of about 4 kg, thrown from the 9th story onto a street. This could’ve killed someone. But since we are in Brazil: “tudo tranquilo” (take it easy). That was an interesting way to start the day, but it would get stranger.

A visit to a special doctor

I arrived at the office building in which the orthopedist my health insurance had suggested had his office. There was a note on the office door saying “please use the door-bell and not the handle, the handle is broken”. Ok. So I rang and the door was opened to a very nice, and kind of cozy waiting area, with even some tasteful pictures on the walls. I did the paperwork and sat down to wait. Two older women were working behind the counter and I was waiting with some other patients for our call, watching the TV. No waiting area in Brazil without a TV! Germany is so old-fashioned when it comes to this, because in Germany you still find dozens of magazines in the waiting room and people actually reading them. Suddenly the TV showed this video of a boy being thrown out of a second story building down to a man waiting to catch him. Since the women were working and could not see the TV, they asked with a calm voice: “did he catch?” And a waiting person answered as it would be the most normal thing in the world. “He did”.After this followed silence again. Surreal, but it got more funny soon.

When I entered the doctor’s room the first thing I realized was the small cupboard with a few bottles of whisky and some colorful glasses at the wall. The doctor turned out to be about 60 years old and he started a bit grumpy, but soon opened up when he realized after a short examination of my foot that I was German and we could talk about the football. We shared our opinion about the World Cup (he thinks Croatia might be very strong, I don’t) and then he told me about the time, when he was doctor for FC Santos (home team of Pelé and Neymar back in the time). He told me about a tour of FC Santos through Spain and Italy and that he was watching the game against Bayern in Munich and that it was snowing. During all the time I could not help but wonder, if my doctor already had a couple of sips from the bottles behind me. But I loved this experience and when he told me I should have a CAT scan made “next door” and handed me a transfer paper, I thought the day could not get any better. But I was wrong.

The crazy taxi driver

To top off this day of awesomeness, I have to tell you about how I got home again. Since it was already late in the afternoon and raining, I chose to take a cab. But my cabdriver was obviously not very interested or bored, but most of all he was busy playing a game on his smartphone. For the whole 12 minute ride back to my house (where luckily no pots were thrown anymore) he was playing on his mobile phone. And while this is not only very disrespectful towards his customer, it is also quite dangerous (his eyes were longer on the phone than on the street on our ride). I admired his relaxedness and the fact, that what started out as a boring day full of waiting to see a doctor had become another day full of surreal experiences and a day, where I almost got killed because of “Diamond Dash”.Or: Just another ordinary Brazilian day.

Tomie Ohtake’s sculpture in Parque Roberto Mário Santini

Tomie Ohtake’s sculpture in Parque Roberto Mário Santini

One of the spots you can’t and won’t miss in Santos, at least if you visit the beach at least once, is the pretty impressive sculpture by Japanese born Brazilian artist Tomie Ohtake on the small peninsula between the main beaches of Santos and São Vicente. The impressive red sculpture is located at the end of the peninsula which is a small State park and which houses some playgrounds, a big skateboard ground, some cycle and running paths, open-air games tables, a Surf Museum (that never seems to be open) as well as a concrete seating for about 600 people. The last is also a beautiful spot, overlooking the waves and the surfers (if there are any) and a picture of the Santos beach front through the metal fence there is one of the classical pictures of Santos). There is also an observation tower for surfing competition judges and a police station, as well as a heliport, which is only used for pregnant women taking pictures of themselves in front of the beautiful island namend Urubuqueçaba.

But let’s get back to the 15m high sculpture, built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil (there are many, many Brazilians with Japanese descent!). It is not much more than a beautiful piece of classical Avantgarde sculpture but it’s location at the tip of the 400 meter long peninsula as well as it’s bright red color makes it stand out from the blue of the ocean surrounding it and the green of the dense forest on the island behind it. It is simply very beautiful. And it even offers more than that: when walking around the sculpture you will realize, that the artist also played with a form that reflects sounds in specific ways. So you might find yourself standing under the sculpture, looking out to the ocean and hearing the sound of the waves from directly above you…. or from the other side, where there is no ocean. Walking around the sculpture therefore makes you not only enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Santos/São Vicente beaches and Ilha Urubuqueçaba, but also questions your perception. It’s a nice short walk out and absolutely worth a visit. If you got hungry or thirst on your way, there is usually a stand selling hot corn at the Santos side of the park as well as a stand selling fresh coconut water.