“Gri-i-i-innn-go!” (Jornal de nossa viagem brasileira, pt. 1)

I said a while back I’d be writing a journal about our trip to Brazil in 2004. I never actually told anyone else, so I don’t expect anybody’s been sitting on pins and needles waiting for me to get started, but start I will.

This was the first foreign country (not counting Canada) that we visited. I, for one, am glad about that. Last year, we went to northern Italy—Venice and Florence, mostly. That was great. Venice was a floating, run-down, creaky amusement park for the super-rich, kind of like Santa’s Village with boats and better food. Florence was a gaudy, shiny thrill ride with tiny little cars shooting out at you. But I got the feeling in both places that they didn’t really need us around all that much. I felt in the way a lot of the time, a big, dumb American in the midst of all these impossibly beautiful people with perfect clothes, skin, hair, shoes, etc.

People seemed a lot nicer in the small towns, like Mantova, where we stayed with a family we met when they visited here in 2003. Mantova’s the same size as Hudson, Mass. (pop. 50,000), but culturally, it could kick Hudson’s ass around the block.

Europeans in general can take care of themselves now, thank you very much. Yeah, we saved their ass in the Big One, but what have we done for them lately? Our money doesn’t even go that far there anymore. Anyway, you can read all about our trip there and see the pretty pictures on our Italy Web page.

In Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, to be specific) I felt like people were glad to see us, mostly. One day, we went to a favela (a shantytown) in Rio de Janeiro. We were standing on the sidewalk outside some guy’s kitchen window. As he was fixing breakfast, I heard him saying in a low voice, Gri-i-i-innn-go! Gri-i-i-innn-go! I wanted to say “Sim, eu sou!” (Yup, that’s me!), but I decided not to. I felt like anything could happen there, which was part of the attraction.

Most of it, actually. Italy seemed a little predictable to me. It’s stable and prosperous. They’ve worked damn hard to make it that way. I hope they can keep it that way. I hope they can continue to preserve their art and architecture, their food and fashion, and figure out how to get through the economic difficulties they’re going through right now.

Italy’s becoming a nation of immigrants. After going through the kind of hard times Brazil is going through right now, Italy had a period of great productivity. Today, things are slowing down. I think the country will figure out how to weather the times ahead, but it may be rough. Some in the north (called Padania) want to secede from the south. They have their own party, the Northern League (Liga Nord).

Where Italy seems to be hitting some speed bumps, Brazil seems to be lurching forward. The country has become a major producer of crops like soybeans and sugar. They’ve converted their cars over to ethanol. They’re paying off their national debt. They just sent their first astronaut up into space

Anyone around here can tell you they work their asses off. Brazilians seem to own almost every Dunkin’ Donuts franchise in the Boston area. Our Brazilian housekeepers just bought their first house and are expecting their first child. They also paint houses and shovel snow. The husband is going for his electrician’s license.

Brazilians put me and my lazy white male ass to shame. Even when they were irritating me, I had to admire the cabbies in Rio who were also trying to sell us jewelry or take us to Sao Paulo. I had to admire their aggressiveness even when they couldn’t speak English very well. “You make visitation” to the H. Stern jewelry store, one cabbie said over and over. I almost broke down and bought a souvenir map off the guy who followed us for four blocks.

. . . to be continued . . .