Full Disclosure

March 31, 2009 at 9:07 am | Posted in Life | Leave a comment

I am manipulating the posting time of my Zucchini blog so that it’s not plop in the middle of my Brazil blogs. Because, five years from now, I think I will be puzzled as to why I was blogging about liquor stores and zucchini while on a beach in Rio.

Because there really would be no excuse for that.

The Rule of the Drawer

March 31, 2009 at 8:55 am | Posted in Life | 2 Comments
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The Brazil posts, they are late. They wait in various word processing programs and little paper notepads for me to transfer them here, to the interwebs, aging and maturing like fine wine. They will resume, shortly, surely, but until then, a tale from Hartford that mirrors an experience that I used to have more than most, I surmise.

In the Advocate this week, the tale of how local thieves are stealing items like liquor, meat, and baby formula in order to sell or barter them to small businesses for other items. 

This actually happens, people, and with greater frequency than you may imagine. I know this because I spent several years of my misspent youth working behind the counter in a local liquor store in Worcester, Massachusetts, where I was offered, over the course of my stay there, CD’s, ham (as in, an entire ham), stereo’s, and, one time, a zucchini.

crusader-zucchiniWhen you are waiting on a very long line of people fresh from work and stopping for their required fifth of booze on their way home (this is true, and working at a liquor store does a lot to reveal the sadness of the human condition), it is hard to know how to deal with a customer that has just requested a forty-ounce of Old English and is now attempting to pay for it by trading you a zucchini. 

You can get upset (my colleagues often would), you can act indignant, or, as I chose, you can have a little fun with the situation. I would invoke, on these silly, silly people, the rule of the drawer.

The ROTD went like this: “Sir, I would love to accept your zucchini/ham/basketball as payment for this alcohol. I would. But my boss has a strict rule that if it doesn’t fit into the cash register drawer, then I cannot take it. I would like to, but I just can’t. Here. Let me show you.”

You would then take the item from the customer, the clearly insane customer, and attempt to manipulate it into the cash register drawer. I would try to close the drawer, but would, alas, fail, as the zucchini would stick out of the top of the drawer or the ham wouldn’t even fit in the first place. I would sigh, hand the item back, and apologize. It was all enacted with great drama, the actions full of emotions and very, very overdone.

Thing is, this worked. They wouldn’t get upset at me like they did at my colleagues. They wouldn’t curse me out or yell at other customers.

I suspect that, when you’ve reached the point in your life where your mind has reasoned that yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to trade dubious produce for forty-ounce quantities of malt liquor, then it’s not that far of a leap for you to believe that the nice liquor store clerk would accept your plunder as payment if he only had a larger cash register.

If only not for the rule of the drawer.

It ends again…

March 31, 2009 at 8:45 am | Posted in School, Travel | 1 Comment
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Lewis and Clarkdsc04864

The last two afternoons in Salvador, spread out across a weekend, were spent exploring the winding streets and hills of this decidedly African-feeling South American city. Spanish colonial architecture, narrow roads, oppressive heat and hand-crafted goods and food all combined to leave me with a feeling not unlike the one I had upon my initial arrival in Brazil.

Organic. Alive. This house, on this hill, is not here because some developer mapped out its exact location and placement. Its here, most likely, because somebody wanted a house next to that other house on the hill, or perhaps some other sensible, natural reason. The beauty here is not planned, it just happens. A fascinating, and admirable, way of life.

We wandered about and marveled, purchased trinkets and drank and ate. The experience was ending, the days spiraling towards their inevitable conclusion, and there was a sadness, a melancholy about the bunch. This has been a fine trip, with a fine group. Smaller, tighter than China, but richer, warmer. More connections made, better conversations had. New things learned and old things remembered in this marvelous country, these two beautiful cities. Life and growth, a simultaneous quickening and slowing of pace, rolled up together and baked in the heat and the fires of this Brazil.

Obrigado.

The (entire name) is silent

March 31, 2009 at 8:07 am | Posted in Music, School, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Not Rio

We arrived at our next destination, Salvador, and were, admittedly, a bit let down after the splendor and the beauty of Rio De Janeiro. There were no towering mountains, no majestic beaches. There were, though, malfunctioning air conditioners, little buggies in the beds, and the Brazilian equivalent of The Fast and The Furious taking place right outside our hotel window that night.

Such was our disappointment in this new venue, that for one full day we refused to speak its name, referring to it instead only as Not-rio. Take heart, though, and note the full usage of the name above, and here again – Salvador. For we ultimately came around, were wooed, won over and convinced that this was a fine city indeed. The initial impression, and our lodgings in particular, just left us a bit…down.

Ooba Gooba

Our business visit in Salvador was with the Brazilian construction giant turned conglomerate, Odebrecht Group. It’s name – odebrecht5b15dnative to Brazil, appearing German, pronounced…well, full disclosure, I’m still not quite sure. As a group, we mis-pronounced, misspoke, and mismanaged this proud company’s name in so many new and different ways that it was a wee bit embarrassing.

Nevertheless, I found them to be an impressive company indeed, possessing, in their history, a story that would make any American MBA student salivate upon hearing. Founded in 1944 by Norberto Oderbrecht, one of these titans of the mid-century that fabricated entire industries out of whole cloth with nothing but their bare hands and a good idea, the pride of the employees telling the tale was practically seeping from their very pores. As it should.

Existing primarily as a construction company for forty years before transforming into a holding company and embarking on a domestic spending spree, it is easy to admire the patience and planning of a company that was content with doing one thing, and one thing only, very well for almost half a century before making the leap into aggressive expansion.

dsc04762The presentation advanced and the slide moved on to an overall chronology of the company, and I found myself speechless. For this slide was not a mere time line of a company, but rather a portrait of a man’s will, spread across seven decades, dozens of countries, and millions of affected lives. To have done this thing, to have created this multi-billion dollar empire on your back– the satisfaction this man, Norberto Oderbrecht, must have, the ease with which his head must hit the pillow, and the excitement that must come when each day starts. Remarkable. Breathtaking.

Responsible now for the building of power plants, bridges, subways and stadiums, this is a company that is producing, on a daily basis, the cornerstones of the world. $18.3 Billion in 2009, from nothing in 1944, and still privately held. Epic.

The business-speak soon gave way to the requisite social-speak that was so prevalent among each of the companies that we visited. Talks of re-forestation, green processes and a walking tour through an actual nature sanctuary behind the company offices followed, with an almost unstoppable determination to prove to us that, yes, they cared about the environment.dsc04769

We found this type of thing at each company; I’m not sure if it’s a Brazilian cultural thing or a reaction to a bunch of MBA students thing, but there was a much more significant, and consistent, focus on cultural projects than I’ve ever seen at American companies (or Chinese ones, for that matter). It was a bit odd. Maybe because they’re on top of a rain forest and surrounded by poverty, two of the three holy trinity issues for American social wack-a-doos, they’ve developed an almost Pavlovian response to the arrival of pale skin. Yes we care about the earth and the poor! Let us show you.

One final observation, from the Q&A session when asked about the declining global economy. The high comedy of companies, both in person and every day at home in the WSJ, saying that they were “growing too fast” and that they’re “happy for the slowdown,” is getting to be a bit much. I mean, really? Really?

Overall, though, one of the best business visits that we’ve had. Inspiring.

Squawk!

A stop at the hotel, a quick drink, and back into the brink once more. A cab, cabs, actually, were summoned, a recommendation was obtained, and we were off. A snippet from the actual conversation with the Salvadorian (?) cab driver:

Cab Driver: I will drop you there. But if you go left down that hill, be careful, you will lose your pen-is. (said just like that, like pen is.)

Us: Uhhhhh. (silence)

Cab Driver: And you need your pen-is if you are going to stay in Salvador.

Us: Uhhhhh.

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The restaurant. Goodness. Pronounced universally to be the best meal that we all had in Brazil, it was at this point that we finally cast off the shame of Not-rio and fully embraced the name of our new, temporary, home. It was here that I ate, for the first time in my life, an ostrich steak. Delicious, more like red meat than a poultry, and a fine complement to a Brazilian Jameson, which, by the by, bears a striking similarity to American Jameson. Thank heavens for small consistencies.

Dinner finished, the evening mayhaps over, we left the restaurant, turned the corner and found, to our astonishment, a reggae band. In an alley. With chairs and table sat up haphazardly around them and available for the resting of the feet, the soul, and the heart.

The crown jewel of Brazil, this fine evening. A letting loose. Good friends, great music, moderately acceptable beer. The cobblestones, the churches, the people. All of it right, none of it planned, reproducible or available, I think, once more. A unique lifetime experience, one of those rare moments that you recognize, while still in the actual moment, will never happen again.

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Perfect.

Taking Flight

March 30, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Posted in School, Travel | Leave a comment
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There were indications earlier in the week that this thing might happen, this event. The anticipation built, was dashed, and lay dormant for days, the promise of the act always remaining within reach.dsc04710

But now here you are. You are climbing the hill, slowly, steadily, but climbing nonetheless, riding shotgun in an uncertain vehicle to an unlikely destination where you are still unsure about what exactly awaits you. The anticipation is building, the butterflies are coming, and your mind is racing with both the excitement of the thing to come and the danger of the act itself. The wait is interminable, your breathing is tight in your chest and you are hesitant, confused, unsure.

dsc04716But then you crest the hill, you look below and see all that there is to see before you, and you know instantly, immediately, that you must do this thing. You must take this leap, you must soar in these skies, you must breathe this rarefied air. It is all so close, so immediate. Just a short run, five steps at most, and you would be off, you would be flying.

Pause. Wait. dsc04713Precautions need be taken, harnesses, straps, protection. Language barriers must be overcome. Process must be discussed, consequences explained. Uncertainty, reality, once more injected into the day, threaten to overpower your mind, halt your actions, slow your speed.

It fails. You are there now, upon the precipice, staring at your fate, accepting, ready. And then you are running. You are running and the edge is approaching and the wind is behind you and gravity is taking over, it is now, this thing is happening, your legs are pumping and the ground is…the ground is gone, there is nothing beneath you and then suddenly –

Flurg!cimg6852

You are flying.

You are soaring and diving, racing through air and wind, breathless yet calm, certain, focused at the same time. Falling faster now, pulling up, cutting left and right, and then slow. The pace has lessened,  a moment to breathe.

Circling. Hovering.

Looking down, seeing it all, this place, this time. Knowing this was right, this risk was worth this reward, this moment, and then falling again. Faster now, over houses and friends, comfortable with the thing now, certain in its aim and course, confident in its direction and stability and so now bold, decisive with it. And then slow, again.

Circling and hovering.

Circling and hovering.

And the absence is more anxious than the action, the time between movements too long and the tightness in the chest returning. You see the ground below, the end approaching up to you, the momentum of time determined to end it before you were ready, before you were done with this, and your mind revolts, your senses abscond.

You just want to be in the air forever.

You will find a way to be in the air forever.

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