Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Being a bad student

Yes, I'm being a bad student. Since this is something that doesn't happen very often, I wanted to share my feeling with you guys (I seem to have more than one reader, now). I anticipate this post will not be a long one, so don't worry.

Well, everything started a couple of weeks ago, when I had a class and my teacher gave us homework, which I diligently wrote on my notebook with my heart filled with good intentions (I'm reading Jane Eyre...can you tell?). When I came home, I found out I wouldn't be able to go to my next class, so during the week, instead of working hard on my homework trying to make it up for not going to the class, I just relaxed and did nothing. I know: bad, bad, bad!! What kind of example am I setting for my host-kids?

When I missed the class, something inside (conscience?) started to feel bad, and I decided that the very least I could do was to send an e-mail to my teacher and ask him what happened in the class I missed and what would be the next homework. However, I knew the teacher sometimes would send us a reminder of the homework anyway by e-mail...I decided to wait. When I finally realized the e-mail wouldn't come, it was Friday already, the day before the class. Therefore, I just gave up sending any e-mails.

If you think this is irresponsible, wait to see more! I did know I hadn't done the homework for the previous class, and I did know I had copied it down on my copybook...but on Friday evening I was feeling so tired I just went straight to bed. I did not even open my notebook. Saturday, when I finally went to class, I found out a terrible thing: I have so many things to hand in to my teacher! And all of these things will be evaluated and will grant me a good (or bad) grade.

So, don't behave as I do! Be good students/workers! Don't be irresponsible! And reproach me when I am behaving irresponsibly!! I should go to my TOEFL mini-tests...

Monday, April 21, 2008


No, I haven`t given up, as Emmanuele put it, but I've been very very bad, I know. I can't explain what happened even to myself...I know I used the computer almost every day but I just wasn't able to reply to any e-mail, to write (or think of) anything to write on my blog, to do any of my homework, to do any laundry...what happened to me? I just don't know. I do know I feel bad about my homework (which I intend to start as soon as I post this) and I do know I feel tired too, in the morning and in the evening. Don't ask me why...maybe I`m just doomed to tiredness.

One of the reasons I haven`t been able to write is Jewish Passover. At around this time of the year (but the exact date changes according to the lunar calendar), Jewish celebrate Moses and the freedom he brought from the Egyptian Pharaoh. This is probably the most popular holiday in Jewish families and its beginning is celebrated with big dinners called Seders. Personally, I took part in two Seders for the first and second day of Passover. So, this time, instead of looking up the holidays on Wikipedia and write about Jewish tradition, I`m just going to rely on my memory and try to re-tell the experience from a very personal point of view.

The first thing I found out about this holiday is that it requires a lot of cooking. Since my host-mom was hosting the first night Seder, we had to prepare some of the traditional Jewish meals. First of all, the famous Matzo Ball Soup, which is chicken broth with some spongy balls made out of Matzo, oil and eggs. Now, I imagine you are wondering what Matzo is. It's a sort of cracker (actually, it tastes a lot like Doriano, my favorite Italian crackers!), the only sort of bread that Jews are allowed to eat during the 8 nights of Passover (it's unleavened bread made out of white flour and water). Well, for how simple it can sound, making a good Matzo Ball Soup for around 20 people takes a really long time. Along with Matzo Ball Soup, Jews usually have on their tables Brisket, Tsimmes (something that goes with the Brisket), roasted chicken, Gefilte fish and some sort of vegetable.

Besides having all of these dishes ready for the actual dinner, there are some other things that need to be set on the table before the ceremony that precedes the dinner begins. Before the dinner starts, in fact, the whole family likes to remember the reason why this holiday is celebrated reading prayers and passages from the Bible, and singing songs together. This is when they re-tell the story of Moses, the suffering the Jewish people had to endeavor in Egypt before they achieved freedom. While they go through the story/history, they have food that represent feelings and parts of the story:

  • Karpas - usually parsley (but it can be celery too) which is dipped in salt water. This symbolizes the pain and the tears of the Jewish slaves in Egypt.
  • Maror or Bitter Herb - usually horseradish. It represents the bitterness of Jewish conditions as slaves.
  • Charoset - a yummy mixture of nuts and honey which represents the abundance of food.
  • Shankbone - which represents the Passover sacrifice
  • Beitzah or Hard-boiled egg - which represents the festival sacrifice. I still didn't understand the difference of the Shankbone sacrifice and the egg one.

Finally, I found out that Passover Seders make you gain a lot of weight. Going on a scale the day after definitely wasn't the fun part. I guess I`ll e spending a lot of time at the gym this week...:/

Monday, April 14, 2008

Restaurants & culture

Writing everyday has become more and more difficult lately. Don't ask me why - I have no idea.

Well, these last days I have been talking of different foods, cultures and restaurants a lot, so I decided this might offer a good topic for my post today. By the way, going back one paragraph, I might actually have some ideas about why I haven`t written as I should these days - it's just too hard to find something to talk about every single day.

I remember my talks about food started with my host-dad, who happened to have a business meeting at a Brazilian Restaurant. he really enjoyed the food, which consisted on a buffet of vegetables, cheese and pasta and meat that the waiters would bring to you and cut on the spot. This is what Brazilians usually refer to as a Churrascaria. Personally, I am not a lover of this kind of these restaurants, but I remember going there a couple of times.
After that, my host-mom started talking about the next (and most important) Jewish holiday: Passover (I will write more about it). During this holiday, Jews can't eat bread, rice, pasta, all the by-products of corn, but they have special food. One of the most tradizional is Matzo, with which they make soup, crackers, sticks, pizza, and all sort of things.

Yesterday I went out with Isia, my friend from Indonesia, and her American friend Paul, who lived in China and Japan for a long time. Talking with them about food, I realized for the first time any things of the Asian cuisine I had never thought of before. First of all, I realized they don`t eat raw vegetables there: they cook everything, even lettuce. So, if you go to Asia, forget about Caesar salads, Greek salads and also Asian salads (no such thing there). Also, I realized they don`t have cheese there. As a result, most Asians don`t really like cheese. I thought Tofu was considered a kind of cheese, even though it is made out of soy, but it seems Tofu is not considered to e even close to cheese. Finally, Paul told me it is very difficult to get meat in India, where almost all the dishes are vegetarians. The same cannot be said of Indian restaurants around the world ( I remember having a hard time to find a vegetarian dish in a Indian Restaurant in England).

Finally, we also extensively talked about Italian food. As a matter of fact, it was impossible not to, since we had dinner at Mamma Lucia. Personally, I really enjoyed my Ravioli Romana (I know, it should have been Ravioli alla Romana, but it is too much to expect a correctness in Italian that goes beyond orthography, at least from restaurant Menus), which I hadn't eaten for ages :) We also talked about Italian cheese and pasta. Finally, we agreed that a mediterranean diet is good, it keeps you healthy and pasta on its own doesn't do any harm (if consumed in moderate portions).

My weekend ended up with a movie (of course) : the Kyte Runner. Once again, I was immersed for a couple of hours in a very different culture: the Afghan one. Sometimes I wonder what is the meaning of living in the US...there are so many people from other countries and the Americans themselves seem so interested in going abroad (for a while). More specifically, I often ask myself how it is like to live in the US the way many immigrants do, inside their communities, getting married among themselves, longing for their original countries, yet not being able to go back there for good. I think immigrants` identities work a little it like that children game, the one that begins with as many chairs as children set in a circle. At the beginning all the children can sit down, but then music`s on, and the have to stand up and run and walk around the chairs. When the music goes off again, they all have to sit down again. But some grown ups removed a chair from the circle and one of the kids won`t have his place any more. The solution might be to sit in someone else's lap; but this solves the problem in part: the child will have a place to stay, but it's not his own. He wishes to get his chair back, but it`s not there any more. The same with immigrants: they think they want to go back to their countries, but they only want to go back in time...geographical and historical dimensions mingle to gether into something that is just too hard to explain.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I know what I mean...do you?

Ok, enough with Literature. I guess that with my last posts I managed to scare away even my one reader...gosh! I'm hopeless, aren't I? I will stay in the language field and talk a littl ebit of my experience in English as a foreign language.

First of all, I have to say that with the status of my identity, being considered a foreigner is not really new to me. Having people making fun of my accent, then, is just something I got used to. As well as having people asking me: where are you from? This happens on a regular basis here, but it also happened all the time in Brazil.

Now, of course, my English is not as good as my Portuguese. I`m not saying I have an excellent Portuguese, but my English is definitely far below. When I first got here, my English wasn't as good as it is now, and when I started speaking to people, specially on the phone, I experienced some huge problems. With the Americans it is pretty fine...not always, but most of the times. When I speak too other nationalities, though, i`m never sure they understand me and I`m not sure I understand what they mean. I find myself asking repetitively the same thing just to make sure I got it right. Sometimes it's because I really don't understand what they are saying - this happens a lot ith an Autralian friend of mine -; most of the times, though, I do understand the words, but I don`t understand the meaning these words are trying to convey. I do understand the literal meaning, but it is hard to understand the intention that underlies (and is part of) the meaning. I believe part of this difficulty is due to the cultural factor. Different cultures convey meanings, and specially intentions, in different ways. When I hear a Thai speaking English in the US, there are too many cultures involved: my country`s, the American and the Thai. In deciphering the intention, my brain doesn't know to what culture it should refer to. As a result of this insecurity, I end up trying to make sure my interpretation is the right one, and there`s no other way but asking the speaker himself.
I was thinking aout this problem yesterday, when I was talking to a girl from South Africa. She was trying to tell me something, but I wouldn`t understand her. Looking at my puzzled face, she asked me: "do you understand what I`m saying?" and I innocently told her the truth: "No, I don`t". Then, she came up with something totally unexpected: "I know what I'm saying". It was funny, because before I could realize it, I had already answered her: "Good for you!". She`s right, though...things do always make sense in our mind. However, in order to uild up a meaningful and pleasant conversation, we have to ear in mind that those who listen to us have access to our words and not to our heads. It is important, then, to pay attention to our language and use it wisely.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Pulitzer Prize

Let`s continue the saga of posts on Literature :) as you can see, I really enjoy the subject.
Well, this Monday the Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded, and I couldn't not mention anything about it.
First of all, do you know what the Pulitzer Prize is and how it came to be? Everything started a long time ago with an experienced and revolutionary journalist: Joseph Pulitzer. He was so interested and fond of his work, that in his will he donated US$ 2,000,000 to Columbia University so that the first School of Journalism could be opened. As a result, Pulitzer Prizes are awarded mostly in the field of journalism (14 awards). In his will, though, Joseph Pulitzer also explicitly requested that important work in literature, drama and music also be rewarded.
In response to Pulitzer`s will, since 1917 every year the Pulitzer Prizes are awarded to those that proved excellence in journalism, music, literature and drama. The Board that choses the winners is composed y the president of Columbia University, the dean of the School of Journalism and other important teachers and journalists.
This year i know that 6 Pulitzer Prizes went to the Washington Post (the newspaper I tend to read almost daily), one went to Bob Dylan and another one went to an author I had never heard before coming to the US. It was on the cover of the Style section of the Post, in Septemer, that I saw his picture and read one of the first reviews of his (then new) book. This author is original of Republica Dominicana, but lived in the US for most of his life. He is an accredited writer but also a professor at the MIT. His name is Junot Diaz, and his book is " "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao". It is a book about immigrants from Dominican Republic, it is a book about cultural shock and cultural mixture, it is a book written in code-switching. In short, it is a book I can`t wait to read :) I`d better hurry up with Jane Eyre....

Let`s discuss literature

Ok, I know, I said would have written yesterday, but once again I fell asleep on my PC. What`s wrong with me? I don`t know...according to the doctor, I`m just fine. I hope he`s right...Anyway, today I`m a little better than I was yesterday, even though I`m still a little tired, so I won`t be able to write too much (lucky you, right?).
In my last post I told you I had read another interesting article about Books and Literature. Joe Queenan wrote an interesting -and, in my opinion, hilarious - essay on those questions that come at the end of paperback books. Most certainly, when you finished the book, you also give a look at those pages in the end and you might end up reading the set of questions that some editors publish to promote the book discussion. In itself, I do agree with this idea: it is very important to finish a book and to have something to say about it. It is sad, instead, not having anything to say when we finish the book. Yes, because, you see, reading a book is not about being passive receivers of the information that the book contains. We need to be active in our reading activity, we need to interact with every page,every line of the book, because this means interacting with the very author in the book. Yes, interacting with the writer is possible, I would say fundamental. Everything goes back to this question: "why do writers write?". Do you really think that writers would go through all the troubles of writing a 300 pages novel if they didn`t have anything to say? Writers do have something to say, and it is not something easy to understand. This is why we have to build a dialogue with the book, because only through dialog we can really understand and learn something from the writer. Starting from the premise that we do need to create a dialog with the text in order to understand it, some editors decide to facilitate our jo as readers giving us the questions that we should ask ourselves and th book. The idea is very admirable, but the way it is put into practice is not as pleasant. The questions that can help build a dialog with the text should also stimulate us to dig into the text and read in between the lines. As Joe Queenan shows us, though, it seems that the questions we see in our paperbacks are far from accomplishing their purpose. Citing a couple of examples will help you understand what I mean:
  • “Would divorce and remarriage have helped Anna Karenina? If Anna had lived in our time, how might her story have been different?” (in Anna Karenina)
  • “Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was asked how he could explain the killing of six million Jews. He answered, ‘One hundred dead are a catastrophe, a million dead are a statistic.’ Have we become more or less tolerant of murder since he made this observation?” (in The Diary of Anne Frank)
  • “Have you ever seen a movie version in which the woman playing Jane was, as Austen imagined her, truly more beautiful than the woman playing Elizabeth? Who doesn’t love Elizabeth Bennett?!! (in Pride and Prejudice)
  • “What do you make of Hyde’s appearance? (He is small and subtly deformed.) Do you think he should have been depicted as tall and hypermuscular, or obese and debauched, or pale and cadaverous? Why? (Or why not?) Is there a specific meaning in, or reason for, Hyde’s appearance?”
Joe Queenan tried himself to see if he would become a good paperback writer:
  • If it took Odysseus 10 years to make a short trip across a microscopic body of water, why does everyone in “The Odyssey” keep insisting he’s so smart?
  • If Heathcliff were alive today, would he mention Cathy’s death on his Facebook page and change his relationship status to “It’s complicated”?
The really funny thing is that, reading Queenan`s artcle, I realizes I myself had to make up a lot of questions to promote discussions in my classes. Personally, i`ve always tried to do a good job, ut now I`m not so sure aout my results. Did my students make fun of me? Were my questions just too stupid?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What are you reading?

I know I haven't been very good with my posts lately, but these days I`ve been a little tired, and in the evening I would always fall asleep in front of the PC even before checking my e-mails. Yep, getting old is really really really sad...

I was thinking of talking about birthday parties in the US, since it was Natalie`s birthday on Friday. However, I decided to bag it for today...I had enough of birthdays for now! :P
Instead, I decided to write about some articles I have been reading on the newspaper. As always, I haven`t been reading much on politics and what is happening in the world. Instead, I came across some "essays" on books and literature.
The first essay I read had actually a lot to do with something that happened to me last week end. I was on the phone with my friend Emmanuele (who so far has proven to be the only reader of my blog) when he told me he was reading "Manager: Carriere e Successi" on how to pursue a career and become a successful manager. To me, these books sound as "self-help", so, when I heard my friend telling me that, I was in shock. So much so that I made fun of him and his book for a long time. Later this week, I came across this article in the New York Times
: It’s Not You, It’s Your Books. The very good-humored journalist tells us how important books and literature can be in a relationship - specially for women, she adds. In her essays, she seems to defend the idea that sometimes not sharing a common literary background with your partner might cause a rupture in a relationship. According to the people that the journalist interviewed, it really seems that women do care a lot about books and writers, and, for them, a slip in the literary field could be enough to end a relationship. According to the essay, well-educated women with a good literary background would hardly establish a relationships with men that read only best sellers or that do not read at all. On the other hand, men don`t seem to be so strict about their partner's literary background and, according to the men interviewed, a literary slip would not cause the couple to split.

Personally, I do not agree with the essay. I do think I value my literary taste much more than I value other people's -wrong, wrong, wrong, I know! - but, still, most of the time I am open to other people`s suggestions and I like to have friends that do not really share the same literary taste. I also like to have my friends "try" my literary taste and see if they like it. However, even though I try to be open, I think I`m still not open enough to read a book on becoming successful managers. Still, I would never "break up" with a friend that reads and enjoys it.

I read also another essay about books, but I`m sharing it with you tomorrow. Now I am too tired to go on...

Ops! I forgot to answer my own question...I`m reading two books now: Jane Eyre and a book by the famous Brazilian Rubem Alves.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

stay healthy!

Today I had a new experience in the US: seeing a doctor. It all started a few months ago, when I was feeling particularly tired and was gaining a lot of weight. Now I don`t feel that tired any more and I am trying my est with the gym and the ice skating. Plus, let`s not forget about my strolls! I walk at leasto 25-30 minutes every day! Some days I walk much more than that :) It is ironic that I find myself walking so much in a country where people hardly know what pedestrians are :P (it`s not a criticism! It`s sort of true...). However, it seems that it doesn`t matter the effort I`m putting into losing weight...my weight gets higher and higher.

This, together with other strange symptoms I've been experiencing, made me want to try to see a doctor. At first, I wanted to try a basic doctor, which is what here they call "internal medicine doctor". However, at the end, after scheduling and canceling several appointments, I went to see an endocrinologist - the doctor who is specialized in metabolism, thyroid and diabetes diseases. personally, I do have a thyroid problem (hypothyroidism, to be precise) , and this eventually may affect my metabolism. So, here are the steps to go and see a doctor in the US:

1. have an insurance (you don`t want to pay for the whole thing by yourself, trust me on that)

2. find what doctors your insurance can provide you with.

3. call the doctor and schedule an appointment.

4. confirm the appointment 24 hours before.

5. Go to your appointment earlier. On the phone, they suggest "to allow yourself some time for the paper work". I tell you: go way before your appointment. It took me half an hour to fill in all the paperwork! This is the US, where everybody sues anybody about anything! That`s why all the policies (that consists in 10 sheets of paper in the least) need to be written, read and signed.

6. Be sure to take a book with you. Personally, I hate waiting, specially at the dentist or doctor because on the walls they always have these posters on the diseases they deal with and their symptoms. These posters have very bad effect on me and they soon make me feel pretty uneasy. The fact is I have a tendency to hypochondrias, so that when I read about a disease and its symptoms, i`m soon convinced I have the disease myself. Having a book while in the waiting room helps me to keep my mind focused on something else.

7. I didn`t have to wait a long time (unlike in Italy or Brazil), the nurse soon took my pressure, measured my height, and made me step on the scale (gosh!! as I told you, I didn`t have any pleasant surprises). A few minutes passed by and the doctor came and had a look at my thyroid, my reflexes, my heart, and all this sort of things that doctors always do.

8. In the doctor`s office, then, we had the anamnesis, or medical history, where you get to talk to the doctor about what you are feeling. This is the best part, because at the end you can also talk a little bit. As I walked in, I saw he was drinking Lavazza coffee, and soon we were talking about his Italian teacher and the origins of his last name (Lithuanian, by the way, just like my host dad). However, my medical hostory didn`t really help much and the real results will come after my bloodwork is done.

9. This is the best part: they collected my blood on the spot, at the very practice, by the very nurse that welcomed me at the beginning! This is why the US are so effective...I can complain about many many things, but in terms of efficiency they really are impressive! This way, i don`t have to worry about a thing but coming back the next week! Isn`t this amazing?

10. Schedule your next appointment (if needed) at the front desk :)

You see? Wasn`t it easy? I was really really worried at the beginning...but now I`m very relaxed! Also, my insurance is paying for everything...:)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

gostinho brasileiro

Today I got an extra day off...aren't I lucky? Yep...so, I decided to enjoy my day off doing something I never do on my days off: going to the Brazilian Market! As I told you, since yesterday I have been in this nostalgic mood...I thought a Brazilian snack would make me feel better :) So, after working out at the gym (of course, every single morning I'm trying to burn my 450-500 calories), I decided to take the Ride On bus 38. I got to Wheaton (close to Silver Spring) in more than one hour...had I known it took so long, I wouldn't have done it.

However, once I was there I went to the Brazilian Market...I was about to buy a package of polvilho doce (sweet starch) and one of polvilho azedo (sour starch), so that I could make some paes de queijo following Nadir`s recipe. When I turned around, though, I saw Forno de Minas frozen Paes de Queijo (for those who don`t know, Forno de Minas are among the best paes de queijo), so I thought: why going through aaaallll the trouble of making Paes de Queijo if I can buy them ready? (ops...I guess the US are starting to have a bad influence on me :P). But I also wanted to eat a pao de queijo on the spot...and maybe drink a guarana' with it. As I was approaching the little cafeteria in the store, a customer asked for the last pao de queijo! Argh!! So, I decided to go to the other Brazilian store I know...and there I asked for two paes de queijo and a guarana'! I also could talk to the cashier, who was very nice and asked me all about my experience as an au pair.

While I was cheerfully talking to the cashier girl, another Brazilian girl that worked at the store popped into the conversation and she asked me if I was going back to Brazil. For as much as I realize how lucky I was with my stay in the US, I am 100% sure I don`t want to stay any longer. If I could study, of course, I would stay. But as an au pair, or a nanny, or a waitress, I don`t think so! I`m starting to get old...I have to start pursuing a career, and I see that staying here won`t get me going anywhere. The girl (from Governador Valadares) seemed to understand what I meant, but, still, she looked at me and said: when you go back to Brazil, you won`t get used to it any more and you`ll only think of a way to come back to the US. I`ve heard this many many times...and I`m sort of prepared for it. However, this time it was different: it really struck me. So, here I am, wondering about my future...

About the Brazilian community in DC, I have to say it is huge!! Brazilians are everywhere, evrywhere, everywhere!! However, there are some spots that host a particularly high concentration of Portuguese-speaking people. One of these areas is Wheaton, in Silver Spring, where you have Brazilian markets and salons at every corner. Because of the many and many Brazilians living in the DC area, the Brazilian community is always promoting events that celebrate their culture. You can check out some of the events any time by visiting the embassy website. On Saturday, for example, there is going to be a Brazilian Music and Dance Festival, with brief lessons in Forro, Axe and Samba.

Those who know me also know what a terrible dancer I am, so I guess I`ll skip the Festival. However, there is something else I want to see from Brazil: a movie (surprise!). The original title is O Ano em que Meus Pais sairam de Ferias (The Year My Parents Went on Vacation) by director Cao Hamburger and I think it was one of the nominees for the Oscar this year. It is about a boy whose parents have to hide because of the military dictatorship. The boy, Mauro, has to stay at his grandfather`s house, who lives in a Jewish community. Mauro learns how to live with this new culture in those difficult and mysterious times.