Monthly Archives: May 2010

8 922

Like Florida and California and any other sun-shiney place that boomed in the 50s and 60s, Brasília’s spread way, way out. So an afternoon of running errands without your own private vehicle just might look like this:

12:00pm – You finish work early with the anticipation of making a deposit at the bank, stopping by the TAM office downtown to pay for a plane ticket that can’t get paid through the website because of a glitch, and pick up tickets for Saturday’s tango and milonga event at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (because if you wait until Friday, they’ll be sold out…trust).

12:15pm – A kindly coworker who’s waiting for her own lift to the airport offers you a ride to the bank, which is on the way. That’s 3 reais (pronounced hay-ICE…as of May 25, 2010, USD 1 = BRL 1.85) and at least 30 minutes of walking/waiting/bus time saved.

12:30pm – The friend arrives to pick you and your coworker up. They chat about flying up to Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon, to work on a government project and return two days later.

12:50pm – You arrive at the bank, take a number, almost make it to the counter when some relatively-healthy-looking 50-year-old shows up and gets to skip you because he’s “elderly,” but aside from that, you make the deposit with relative ease.

1:15pm – You run out to the bus stop to make sure you catch the bus actually headed to where you’re going. The first bus that passes is not one that’s going where you’re going.

1:35pm – Neither is the second.

1:50pm – Neither is the third.

1:53pm – A small car with three women and a male driver pulls up and yells, “Rodoviaria” (which means bus station, which is where you’re going). You say, “sim” and one of the ladies squeezes in the back while you squeeze into the front seat with the broken seatbelt and hope to high heavens that homeboy doesn’t wreck the car. Oh, and your knees are pressed into the dashboard, so really, you wouldn’t go anywhere if there were to be an accident, you’d just have shattered kneecaps.

2:10pm – You arrive at the Rodoviaria, thank your driver and tip him the R$3 you would have paid the bus driver, then navigate the few blocks through the concrete ant farm that is downtown Brasília, dodging cars, soaking up sun, and feeling heady about the fact that you’re navigating the few blocks through the concrete ant farm that is downtown Brasília.

2:22pm – You get to the TAM office, located at the once-grand Hotel Nacional, and take a number: 162. They’re now serving number 148.

3:40pm – You leave TAM, ticket in hand, but got-damn if it wasn’t like pulling teeth to get them to waive the R$30 “administrative fee” for processing a ticket that you should have been able to do yourself, if it hadna been for that glitch. Cute office manager, though.

3:42pm – The free “hourly” shuttle bus to CCBB, which is located way off in BFE, despite its rich and profound cultural programming doesn’t come until 4:50pm. You say, “screw that,” and walk back to the Rodoviaria. There’s gotta be a bus heading that way.

3:58pm – You ask a couple of random, blue-shirted bus drivers which greenhound is headed for the CCBB until you score; the driver of your chariot agrees to drop you off as close to your final destination as possible.

4:16pm – The driver drops you off as close to your final destination as possible: on the side of a six-laned highway with traffic zooming by at, I don’t know, 100 kilometers per hour and the CCBB squarely on the opposite side of that highway and a barbed wire fence. Lucky for you, the sun’s starting to hide behind some clouds, so that should cool things down a bit.

4:19pm – You dash across three lanes, then straddle the middle divide.

4:21pm – You dash across the other three lanes.

4:36pm – You arrive at the ticket booth of the CCBB because it’s located on the exact opposite side of the complex from where you crossed the highway and have to circle the entire thing on foot. Brasília really does hate pedestrians.

4:40pm – Tickets purchased! Next free shuttle bus departure back to downtown is at 5:50pm. The free wifi is out. You’ve got paperwork for your job to do while you wait, and eat an overpriced pancake wrapped around some chicken and cheese at the gallery cafe.

5:25pm – The shuttle bus arrives, but the driver says it isn’t leaving for another 25 minutes. Real quick, snap some pictures of the twilight sky being covered over with rain clouds and some of those cool cosmic-clover streetlights they have all over Brazil.

5:50pm – It’s actually pouring rain, uncharacteristically, since it’s supposed to be the dry season. The bus departs. You can’t see shit out the windows.

6:28pm – After fighting through a sea of flashing tail lights, the shuttle arrives at the drop-off point closest to your house: a taxi stand near the subway station at which there are no taxis standing. It’s still raining, but not pouring. Some people are like, “screw that,” and walk out into it. You do, too.

6:35pm – You’re walking faster than the pack of cars inching along the road next to you and you’re glad you didn’t waste money just sitting in a cab. Your shirt’s getting soaked, though.

6:49pm – You arrive home, your three goals accomplished.

Total elapsed time: 6 hours, 49 minutes.

Afro-Belgian musical group Zap Mama has effused pan-African rhythm and flow for the last 20 years, badooing and doowapping on politics and partying in English, French, and Bantu. Started by the striking Congolese-born, Belgian-bred Marie Daulne, and using their voices as musical instruments, the all-lady ensemble carries you from London to Lyon to Lagos with a mix of traditional West African rhythms and their diasporic progeny: soul, reggae, funk, jazz, salsa, and house. I’ve recently rediscovered them on my iPod, so I thought I’d share.

Nicolas Raymond/Flickr

Many Americans might think the question of how many continents exist on Earth should be settled (of course, the demotion of Pluto as a planet a few years back ought to remind everybody that even “established” facts can change). But in Latin America, where I’ve lived and worked since 2005, the established number of continents students learn is five: Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and…America.

Already, us United Statesians are considered arrogant for claiming “American” as a nationality, when it’s seen as a continentality akin to “European” for most in the rest of the hemisphere (that’s a whole other post), so trying to separate the Americas is viewed as a knock against Latin Americans: “North Americans don’t want to be on the same continent as Latinos.” This, of course, conveniently ignores the grouping of Central America and the Caribbean, regions soaked in Latin-based languages and their associated cultures, soundly in North America.

I’ve had arguments with both students and other professors regarding this slight difference in continental calculation. Fivers argue that America should be counted as one landmass because it’s so separate from the others, and that Europe, Asia, and Africa—all three of which are connected to each other—should be counted separately because of the varied cultures. Poor Antarctica is consigned to continental limbo because she has no human population native to her frozen expanses.

I, a staunch sevener, counter that technically, there should be four continents, since the very word comes from the Latin, terra continens (thanks, AskOxford!*), which means “continuous land.” Ignoring the divisions caused by the man-made Suez and Panama canals, America, Eurafrasia, Antarctica, and (maybe) Australia are each continuous lands. My argument, however, is that since Eurafrasia is indeed considered three continents by both camps, North and South America, connected by svelte and sexy Panama and her 37-mile waist, should only naturally be counted as separate. And, considering continental drift and geologic history, the isthmus that comprises Central America is indeed very, very young, having risen from the ocean a scant three million years ago, while South America started separating from Africa 130 million years ago and North America from Europe 70 million before that.

I don’t know how the Brits or other English-speaking countries view things, or how many continents other teachers accept in their classes; on my tests, it’s seven. Get it right.

*In the interest of fairness, I consulted the Real Academia Española for the official Spanish-language definition and got cada una de las grandes extensiones de tierra separadas por los océanos (“each one of the large extensions of land separated by oceans,” basically, no real help for either argument).

Atlanta-based fly blogger and brother Jay interviewed me a few weeks ago for his international travel site, Jay Travels. The resulting madness went live this Tuesday, featuring my musings on Greenland, Mickey Ds, and prostitutes. Here’s an excerpt:

Have you ever experienced a problem when traveling (passport, victim of crime, etc.)?
Once, in Rio de Janeiro, I was walking home from the gym with a Brazilian friend and while we were talking, a kid of maybe 9 or 10 came up to me and started talking in Portuguese. I told him, in Spanish, that I couldn’t help him and he grabbed my wrist. I, in typical American fashion, yanked my arm back and told him not to touch me (or as we say in Florida, bag back!). He started yelling at me in Portuguese and I yelled back in Spanish, then turned to make my way home. He came up and kicked me in the butt, then ran back across the street.

Things escalated from there, with him throwing a rock at my foot and my friend pulling me away from the scene because Lil Man was about to get the whippin his daddy clearly wasn’t giving him. Meanwhile, my friend kept commenting how kids these days don’t even seem to fear two over-six-foot-tall men anymore. When we got back to the house, my anger had turned to anxiety because I was lucky the kid only picked up a rock as opposed to pulling out a knife or gun. And it didn’t matter that I understand all the socio-economic backstory behind this young, black street kid; I was identified as foreign and subsequently as an easy mark. That ended my short-lived love affair with Rio.

Check out the rest of the interview here. Thanks, Jay!

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This is the first of a new monthly series of eye candy at Fly Brother, imaginatively named VTP (short for Vintage Travel Posters). We’ll see how travel companies and bureaus have been enticing people off the couch since international leisure travel first became a bourgeois conceit. Our first destination: the marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro, where both terrestrial and corporal landscapes have been hot commodities since the 1920s.

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While the press and traveling public gawk at the news of merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines, another move towards industry consolidation is taking place south of the border. Last month, Brazil’s OceanAir (yes, in English), started a few years ago by Colombo-Brazilian multimillionaire Germán Efromovich, adopted the brand name of its much larger Colombian sister airline, Avianca, also owned by Efromovich’s Synergy Group. With this re-branding, the airline hopes to move up from its position as Brazil’s fifth-largest carrier, offer international flights from Brazil, and become a recognized name in the region. Avianca is following in the tradition of Chile-based LAN Airlines and Central American conglomerate Grupo TACA (with which it merged last October, forming the double-branded Avianca-TACA) in cross-border airline mergers and branding, turning national airlines into continental carriers.

El Salvador-based TACA was the first airline to jump into multinational consolidation in the early-90s by investing in the flag carriers of its neighboring countries: Aviateca of Guatemala, Lacsa of Costa Rica, and NICA of Nicaragua. Though maintaining different owners (with Lacsa retaining its airline code), the combined company created one brand identity and focused hub operations at San Salvador and San José, then later at Lima when TACA Peru signed on.

TACA’s merger with Avianca, in which both airlines will continue to operate under their respective brands, is the largest of the various mergers and acquisitions that Avianca has undergone in its history as the world’s second-oldest existing airline. After engulfing several smaller Colombian airlines, Avianca bought the tiny VIP in Ecuador and its new owner, Efromovich, started OceanAir in Brazil, both of which are now called Avianca in their respective countries, though they continue to function separately under local operating certificates.

LAN, the largest airline in Spanish-speaking Latin America and one of only a few anywhere that can fly you to Tahiti, works similarly; the Chilean branch and its subsidiaries LAN Peru, LAN Argentina, LAN Dominicana, and LAN Ecuador all operate with differing certificates, but unified branding. LAN also bypasses its hubs at Lima and Santiago, with nonstop flights from Miami to Bogotá, Caracas, and Punta Cana, furthering the concept of LAN as a super-national airline brand and having dropped the name LanChile years ago (they also have a thrice-weekly JFK-Toronto hop).

As the global airline industry contracts for its own survival, the major US carriers whittle themselves down to a handful of legacy (i.e. old-as-dirt) and low-cost brands, unable to merge with foreign airlines because of US legal restrictions. The major Latin American airlines, much like Air France-KLM or British Airways and Iberia, are steeling themselves for the future of air travel by offering broad networks and convenient transfers that transcend national frontiers. And now you’ve got three (or two?) more options for heading down Argentine way:

Avianca: Non-stops from Miami and New York-JFK to Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla; Miami to Cartagena; and Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and Washington-Dulles to Bogotá. Connections to all major South American cities through Bogotá.

LAN: Non-stops from Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK, and San Francisco to Lima; Miami and New York-JFK to Santiago; New York-JFK to Guayaquil and Toronto; Miami to Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Punta Cana, and Quito. Connections to all major South American cities through Lima and Santiago.

TACA: Non-stops from Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK, Orlando, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles to San Salvador, with connections to all major South American cities; Los Angeles, Miami, and New York-JFK to San José; and Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami to Guatemala City.

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