Monthly Archives: June 2011

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Oh, Woody, ye of a thousand neuroses. You’ve gone and hit mine right on the nose: that romantic yearning to experience a particular place during a particular time that’s not my own. I’ve almost always felt a disconnect between the time and place where I grew up, the conservative port city of Jacksonville, Florida, and Woody Allen’s newest film, Midnight in Paris, spoke directly to that disconnect and its resultant desire:

To have been in Paris as the Jazz Age unfolded, black American expatriates providing the soundtrack that literary luminaries lived and loved by. Or over in burgeoning Berlin, when every artform known to humankind flourished in unbridled creativity and “divine decadence” during the Weimar Republic. To have hob-nobbed with our people’s best and brightest during the Harlem Renaissance of the 30s, or at the same time, rolled the dice in the casinos and opium dens of salacious Shanghai. To have been a part of on-and-popping LA in the 1940s, with Hollywood and “The War” leading SoCal’s economic boom; or in 1950s Havana, which rivaled Rome for La Dolce Vita. To have swung through the youth explosion in 60s London, and then grown out the ‘fro and got funky in chaotic, melodic 70s oil boomtowns Caracas and Lagos. To have dodged bullets for multilingual street culture in the vice-ridden Miami of the 80s and made a name for myself in the booming New York of the 90s. I know, I know…segregation and Giuliani and whatnot; it’s all fantasy isn’t it? And I am, increasingly, a creature of the 20th century.

But those times, when culture and commerce conspired to make those cities great, are happening right now in other cities – in São Paulo, in Bangkok, in Johannesburg, in Dubai – and the history that gave us Zora and Fela, Hayworth and Fellini, Crockett and Tubbs (seriously!) is what informs our current travels and the way we interact with present times and present places. And I don’t think honoring the past means being in denial of the present or avoiding the future. To the contrary, I think it allows previous greatness to feed our own.

So go get lost at Midnight in Paris, then lose yourself in the pages of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, a phenomenal novel about a writer that lived through both World Wars, partied with Prince David and Mrs. Simpson, chilled with Ernest Hemingway and Ian Fleming, and subsisted on dog food in his later years. I wouldn’t doubt that Woody read it himself.

“What’s past is prologue.”
-William Shakespeare

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Back in 2009, I took a three-month round-the-world trip to a planned five continents, and with the help of Fly Mother and some Zip-Lock bags, I was able to squeeze an adequate amount of clean underwear and other necessities into two very light-weight carry-ons. Observe:

That would be: One dress shirt and a pair of khakis, some jeans, 6 pair of draws, four pair of socks, 3 white tees, swim trunks, gym shorts, four short-sleeve t-shirts, two long-sleeve tees, and a pair of size-13 loafers.


Gracias, Mamita!

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I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge, but doubling-up, as I’m not a daily blog poster. So…

Day 06 – What does “home” mean to you?
Of course “home” will mean wherever my family is, but I consider my circle of good friends as family as well, so there’s no geographic limit to “home” for me anymore. There’s also the feeling of belonging to a place, of walking down the street and being claimed by that place. For the moment, that place is São Paulo.

Day 07 – Besides people, what did/do you miss from home?
Barbecues, driving through cities at dusk with the perfect music for each place, cheap domestic airfares, cheap everything.

Day 08 – A favorite food from another country/culture
Mangú (mashed plantains) from the Dominican Republic. Yum! And a nice, flavorful chai from India (though they sell that at Starbucks here).

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Folha de S.Paulo

New York might have the “Naked” Cowboy and Tokyo might have outlandish Harajuku street fashion, but São Paulo’s where you’ll see 40 skateboard punks commandeer a city street and a truly-naked homeless man walking down the street swinging low amidst the skateboarders. Then, seeing people coaxing the man into his clothes without the slightest tinge of judgment, as if this manner of streaking were a common occurrence.

Two streets over from my house is the world’s highest concentration of transsexual prostitutes in existence, where a truly woman-like person in fishnets and stilettos shivers on the street corner, every now and then letting out a heavy cough from a man-sized esophagus, not unlike the sound of a construction worker choking on asbestos. The humor is in how many passing cab drivers actually slow down as they pass her/him in order to get a better look. The other day, I saw an addict (heroin?) stumble in front of a moving moving van that, fortunately, squealed to a halt as dude bounced Meet Joe Black-style into the street before slurring angrily in unintelligible Portuguese at the driver, at the same moment a couple of cops were harassing two more homeless addicts in broad daylight, one of whom stood defiantly against the wall looking like a mix of Minnie Pearl and the light-skinned half of Kris Kross in a “What the hell y’all want, pigs?” pose. Oh, the hilarity.

Elsewhere in Cracolândia (yes, that’s what it’s called), things took a New Jack City-ish turn last week when an exec in suit-and-tie got caught on camera chupando the glassy phallus (see photo above) while the police do nothing, and just a few blocks away, the March for Jesus rallied thousands of evangelicals in “take our city back” mode yesterday.

This Sunday: the world’s biggest gay pride parade, according to the 2006 Guinness Book of World Records, with an estimated 3 million gays, lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and non-homophobic straight folk trying to pack onto Avenida Paulista, screaming what they think are the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.” At 1:30, there’s an extra-special city-sponsored flash mob Waltz for Diversity, where you’re supposed to grab whoever’s next to you and twinkle-toe to the strains of “The Blue Danube.”

That might be kinda fun, actually. See, you gotta be freaky to live here.

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Does this move you?

What about this?

Of any place on Earth, Brazil probably comes closest to delivering on the hype – for vacationers, at least – and I’ve lived moments here that were pretty damn similar to those evoked in these (absolutely amazing) commercials. If you come with the right attitude – and the proper documentation – you can too.

US citizens will need one of these:

And you’ll need patience. Lots of it.

Now, Brazil states that their tourist visa process reflects the process that the US requires Brazilian citizens to undergo in procuring a tourist visa. Both visas cost US$140 and are valid for ten years. The big difference, however, is that almost all Brazilian tourist visas are approved, while American visas for Brazilians can often be denied arbitrarily, after the person has spent months waiting for an appointment and paid the non-refundable fee. And whereas the US has ten Brazilian consulates distributed fairly evenly around the country, the US only has four consulates in Brazil – a country larger than the Lower 48. Brazilian bureaucracy may seem maddening to Americans accustomed to “efficiency,” and it is maddening, but remember that you have much less at stake than Brazilians (and many others) who spend much more time and money procuring a visa just to get to the Magic Kingdom and Sawgrass Mills.

That being said, check this list of Brazilian consulates to know in which jurisdiction you fall. It may be more convenient for you to get to Atlanta from Tallahassee, but as a Florida resident, Miami’s your consulate.

Pay attention to the information on your consulate’s website. Each office operates differently: some turn visas around in three days, others in ten days (NO same-day, so if you’re grown and buy your ticket to Brazil, then think you can swing by the consulate the day before your trip, you’ll be rudely awakened when you’re on the phone with the airline trying to rebook your $1500 plane ticket the week before Carnival). Some consulates require appointments, others don’t. Some accept mail-in applications, others don’t. Operating times vary. Folks, again, pay attention to this stuff so you know what’s required of you and the process can go as smoothly as possible.

Before you go, get three 2×2-inch headshots of yourself with a white background (Walgreens, Kinkos, wherever). You’ll only need two, but it’s always better to have a spare, just in case.

Your passport needs at least six months validity left on it and two blank pages left in it.

Get a US$140 money order from the post office (some consulates accept other forms of payment, but all accept postal money orders); there’s an extra US$20 handling fee if by mail or third-party.

Have the print-out of your flight itinerary (the last time I applied, the printed itinerary of the flights I had planned on purchasing was good enough; not sure if this still works). Airlines flying nonstop between the US and Brazil include TAM from New York, Orlando, and Miami; United Airlines from DC, Chicago, Newark, and Houston; Delta Air Lines from Atlanta, New York, and Detroit; US Airways from Charlotte; American Airlines from New York, Dallas, and Miami; and Korean Air from Los Angeles. Air Canada, Aeroméxico, Copa, Avianca/TACA, and LAN all offer connecting services through their national hubs.

And for special cases: “Any application that shows ‘self-employed’ or ‘unemployed’ must be complemented with a current ‘Balance Account Bank Statement’ with applicant’s name and address;” “if traveling by land, provide proof of financial capacity to pay for ones stay in Brazil;” and if you’ve previously visited certain countries, you may be required to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever.


Once granted, your visa is valid for 90 days and renewable for another 90 days for a maximum of 180 days per year for the duration of the visa (these days, ten years, so I hear…I’m on a work visa, and you can read all about that circle of hell, here). And you’re not allowed to work.

But you are allowed to Get Fly in Brazil!

*Admitted hyperbole.

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I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge (though I might have to double-up on posts, as daily might be a bit unmanageable), and today’s challenge is to post about the favorite place(s) I’ve been to.

Berlin is fly as hell!

My favoritest city in the world is São Paulo, and since I’m now living here, that doesn’t count.

So I’ll go with my Number Two: Berlin. Gritty, soulful, and borderline schizo, Berlin mixes classically European culture (museums, architecture, urbanism) with a wild party scene, avant-garde music and art, and a cool friendliness that draws you in. And it’s cheap (for now). If it weren’t for those Central European winters (and falls and springs)…

Runners-up: Mumbai and Cairo – enthralling chaos on both counts!

Avenida São João – aka Saint Johns Ave, baby – in the ‘new’ half of ‘old’ downtown São Paulo. For a few decades, The Ave was the place to see and be seen, with the sidewalk cafés, movie houses, bijou apartment blocks (like mine – the Palacete Ibis, built in the 30s), and an efficient trolley whisking the aspiring elite and their maids and doormen to and fro. Now, there are crackheads, sex workers, retirees, Bolivians, Nigerians, bohemian artists, foreign pseudo-intellectuals, surprised out-of-towners staying at one of the many faded business-oriented hotels, all buzzing on the streets and in-and-out of bedraggled and salacious commercial businesses all hours of the day and night, anchored by the 35-floor, Empire State Building-inspired Banespão. Damn, I love this street!

The famous street corner from Caetano Veloso's urban hymn, "Sampa."
At the turn of the 20th Century.
1949 (Credit: Carlheinz Hahmann)
Bem Nova Iorque, hein? 1960s
2008 (Credit: Paulino Tarraf)
Dayum! Oh, and that's my building; the cream-colored one in the middle. (Credit: José Patrício/Agência Estado)
Avenida São João from the Banespão, 1986 (Credit: Cristiano Mascaro)

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Fly Brother Service Update: This weekend, subscribers will continue to see older posts in RSS feeds due to blog platform conversion. We apologize for any inconvenience, but hope that you enjoy some of the older quality content here at Fly Brother. Thank you.

When it comes to music that transports you out of the banality of your office cubicle, there’s no one like nuyorican house DJ “Little” Louie Vega, one-half of 90s music production team Masters at Work – not Lou Bega of that “Mambo No. 5” foolishness – to pilot you from Harlem to Havana to Harare and back. You don’t have to be “into house music” to appreciate the melodious, dance-inducing journey of Vega’s one and only full-length album, 2004’s Elements of Life, which sits squarely atop my list of the most inspiring cross-cultural music collections in existence.

Having grown up with Puerto Rican salsa legend Hector Lavoe as his uncle and the re-mixing of black and Latino cultures Uptown in the 70s, Vega connects all the cultures of the Diaspora with a solid polyrhythmic foundation on each track. He seamlessly links salsa, samba, bossa nova, R&B, jazz, tango, house, and a little Santería for good measure, while singers coo and croon in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Yoruba. Vega harnesses the energy and verve of each rhythm in a way only a New Yorker born-and-bred can: the rumba “Summer Night in Spanish Harlem” is a popping percussion-only paean to the spirits that inhabit black folks’ music, recorded live on the subway, that morphs deliciously into a raucous salsa.

This is the perfect starter for your new, internationalized music collection. Get this album and get lifted.

My favorite track: “Cerca de Mí,” house with a sprinkle of soca (a French Caribbean beat) and smooth-voiced Raúl Midón laying it down in English and Spanish. Religious. (Ignore the video…just close your eyes and listen).

As of January 2011, only 37% of all American citizens possess that little blue book with the eagle on the cover. That’s a whole lotta people not getting fly!

By age thirty, everyone should have a government-issued passport. If you are over thirty and don’t have it, I won’t waste any time criticizing (triflin…). I’ll just say that there’s no better time than now to start the process, and I’ve tried to make the process a little easier by sifting through the US State Department’s travel site – – for information on obtaining a US passport. I’ll also say that the folks thinking they can pop down to Mexico or the Bahamas with their driver’s licenses these days are in for a rude awakening at the border.

The State Department operates passport agencies in Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Honolulu, Hot Springs, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Norwalk (CT), Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson, and Washington (click the city name for info on that particular agency; all charge the expedite fee – see below). Lastly, passport applications can be picked up and submitted at almost all US Post Offices (without the expedite fee).

You can also download and print a first-time passport application: here.

The total cost (in United States Dollars) for a first-time passport is now $135 for anyone aged 16 and over and $105 for anyone under 16. The charge is broken down into the passport fee ($110 for 16 and over/$80 for under 16) and the execution fee ($25 for both). If you apply for your passport directly through the State Department at a passport agency, the total cost may be made in one payment and in several methods. If applying through the post office, the application fee must be made payable to the US Department of State, while the execution fee must be made payable to the US Postal Service (check or money order only).

Additional requirements include a copy of your birth certificate as proof of United States citizenship and a state- or federal government-issued photo ID for proof of identity, along with two 2×2-inch passport photos that can be taken at any FedEx Office or certain stores and pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, or Wal-Mart. A list of other acceptable documents and forms of ID can be found here.

Passports can take up to 6 weeks to arrive, but can be expedited by visiting a passport agency, or requesting rush service with the application at the post office, for an additional $60. More information on an expedited passport can be found here.

You can also check on the status of your passport application here.

Passports for adults are usually valid for 10 years. Passports for children are valid for less time and require a different application procedure (check here).

Most foreign governments require that a US passport be valid for at least another six months after the conclusion of the trip. An adult renewal passport costs $110, and more information can be found here.

For international ballers who are running out of room in their still-valid passports, extra pages can be ordered, or you can get a newer, thicker passport here.

September 11 has, of course, caused a tightening in travel documentation requirements, hence the establishment of the WHTI – Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Essentially, all the formerly passport-free areas for road trips and cruises – Canada, Mexico, and much of the Caribbean – now require either a passport; a newfangled device called a passport card, good for border crossings by land or sea; or other “WHTI-compliant document.” The cards cost $55 for a first-time adult applicant, $40 for a first-time child applicant, and $30 for current valid passport holders. All air travel to these regions will continue to require a traditional passport book.

Any other information you might want, need, or forgot to ask…check the website, because, hell, the State Department ain’t payin’ a brother.

Please tweet your comments @FlyBrother, or email me (see About page).

The third episode of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates’ four-part documentary, Black in Latin America, takes place in my current country of residence: Brazil. He uncovers part of the mystique of this exotic, exoticized country by visiting favelas in Salvador and Rio, beauty salons in Belo Horizonte, and historical sites in Recife and Diamantina, discussing race relations with professors, rappers, actresses, activists, beauticians, community leaders, and religious leaders in a place that has historically billed itself as a “racial democracy.”

Gates expertly outlined a lot of the history of Brazil – as a plantation-based colony of the already mixed-blood Portuguese that saw an incredible amount of carnal relations between the European colonizer and the indigenous people and Africans who were colonized – that I personally knew after having traveled to the country numerous times before settling here, combined with extensive reading (here’s a start). But elucidating this history to an audience that was unaware of it (including the fact that an estimated ten times the number of enslaved Africans brought over to the Americas went to Brazil than to the United States and that the government sponsored a whitening program from the 1880s well into the 20th century) was a very good thing. His butchering of Portuguese names, not so much. Call me pedantic (as someone did in the comments to a previous post), but you are a Harvard professor making a multi-million dollar production; ask a native speaker how to pronounce the shit and at least try! You don’t have to sound like José Carioca, but ‘maya day san-toe’ and ‘Bwah Gentay’? Gimme a break.

Loved the interviews with stunning actress Zezé Motta (you KNOW there’s a racial problem in a country where this woman was described as “ugly”), grounded and affable hip hop star MV Bill (“look at the economic disparity in this country and you see ‘racial democracy’ exposed as a lie”), and elderly firebrand Abdias do Nascimento (bruh is not playing…his bitterness is aged in wood). Loved the images of Salvador, Diamantina, and Rio – the beauty of the people and the natural wonders is virtually unmatched. Loved finding out that one of the identifying rhythms of capoeira developed to warn the slaves, who practiced the martial art clandestinely, of approaching cavalry. Loved the shot of the newsstand with absolutely zero women of color on the magazines (Beyoncé pops up every now and then, but she doesn’t count anyway because she’s Creole, right?). Did not love Gates’ spiel about the necessity of affirmative action in Brazil: while I agree that it has been and continues to be necessary in some form in the United States, we had a university system and a parallel class of qualified, professional blacks who were prepared to move into companies and institutions when affirmative action was first established in the States. And we had the one-drop rule, which – legally – established who was who. Brazil’s public primary education system is a damn disgrace and the same American binary system of race just doesn’t work in the same way; yes, parity programs do need to be put in place in Brazil, but it needs to be a bottom-up approach that is better-tailored to Brazilian realities. That’s just my two-centavos.

My grade: A-

Watch the full episode. See more Black in Latin America.

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Hello good people:

I’ve been in New York this week taking a much-needed vacation and finally decided to stop trying to force myself to sit still long enough to finish my assessments on the last two episodes of Black in Latin America. I fly to Portland, Oregon, tomorrow evening to attend the World Domination Summit and will have plenty of sitting-still time on the flight.

Meanwhile, if you’re in New York or Portland, drop me a line and let’s make a meet-up happen!

Fly Bro