#6 Stranger in a Strange Land

Updated: Jun 24

This week marked my first time on the road working in Brazil. I was in residence at the State University of São Paulo at Campinas, or Unicamp, as it's known. Unicamp is probably Brazil’s best-known popular music program and attracts students from across the country. I was the guest of Budi Garcia, who runs the guitar side of the popular music program. I know from experience that it’s hard work to host a guest. They’re unfamiliar with the place. They have no transportation. Basically, they know nothing. So you're their guide the whole time. And you don’t get time off from your classes. You just squeeze in their visit around your regular duties. Budi did all this and a lot of upfront work scheduling events before I arrived. I’m truly grateful.

With students at The State University of Sao Paulo, Unicamp, after a jazz guitar masterclass


I worked with students in a jazz guitar masterclass on Thursday and performed that night in a concert with a band made up of Budi, Leandro, the percussion professor in the popular music program, on drums, and Daniel, a graduate of Unicamp, on bass. The concert took place at the ADUnicamp Theater. AD is short for Associação dos Docentes, or, Professors Association. Most universities in Brazil have an AD which sponsors events. The title of our concert was “Laços Americanos,” or American Connections. We played a program of varied music from across north, south, and central America, including one of Budi’s and one of my original compositions. We had a terrific crowd. Backstage in the green room waiting for us was a wonderful spread of Brazilian treats. A class act all the way around.

ADUnicamp Theater in Campinas


On Friday the same band played a show at Battataria Suiça, which means “Swiss potatoeria,” like “pizzeria,” only with potatoes. This was no ordinary potato. It’s a massive hunk of a hash brown-ish thing, fried in oil, and filled with various fillings you choose. I chose the pizza filling, cheese and basil and ham. Ham is not a traditional American pizza topping, but it’s quite common here in Brazil. I guess this is how they eat potatoes in Switzerland. If they do, they eat well. Battataria Suiça marked my sixth gig in Brazil. They're starting to add up. I made a little collage of some of the posters venues have created for my shows. They're really so cool.

At Battaria Suiça in Campinas

How they eat potatoes in Campinas or Switzerland or... both.


While in Campinas, I had a chance to reflect on some things. For the first time, I was on my own, far from family or anyone else I know in Brazil, really. I've done lots of tours in the U.S., but this one in Brazil was different. Not bad, just different, which is ironic, because Campinas is easily the most American place I’ve been to in Brazil. One block from the hotel is a Pizza Hut on one corner, a McDonald’s on the next and a Shell gas station with an attached convenience store. At the same intersection, a bike path leads to the university. Splintering off from either side of the bike path are quiet, suburban side streets, lined with trees and neatly trimmed lawns. I might as well have been in Southern California or Florida, because Brazil generally doesn’t look like this. But as American as Campinas looks on the outside, as soon as I walked inside I felt displaced, because everything changed. Suddenly I was in a world not in my native language. Yes, I do speak some Portuguese, but I often feel dislocated, because people aren’t expecting me to be American, and they start talking to me as if I were Brazilian. So, usually, I have no idea what they’re saying, and I have to ask them to repeat themselves. I’ve talked about this previously.


Even after finally making myself understood, when I sit down with my food or whatever, I become acutely aware of the people around me. I find myself eavesdropping on their conversations to see if I can understand what they’re saying, but I usually only catch bits and pieces. I can’t divine the true meaning or the subtext. It feels disconcerting to not understand things around you, to feel that you might not be grasping the nuances of a situation. For example there was something happening among the flight crew right after I boarded my flight to Campinas, some kind of commotion, people getting up and down and switching seats, a lively discussion about… something. I tried to just relax my mind and listen passively as I would in English, but I couldn’t catch the meaning. Good thing it wasn't an emergency or something!


Being in Campinas by myself, where I couldn't often sit down and have a one-on-one chat and at least have some control over the conversation, made me feel a little bit like an alien. It reminded me of our flight from Orlando to Brazil. It was like we were stepping onto the space shuttle to another planet— everyone spoke a different language, the customs were different. It felt magical almost, like we were being transported to another world. On the seatback in front of me I tracked our journey through the night as we traveled across South America. It didn’t feel real that we were traversing all these countries. When we finally got to Brazil, it was like we had crossed over to another side of the universe, and when we stepped off, we were on a new world.

A collage of some of the posters for my gigs. They're so cool!


I continue to be mesmerized with this new world. Take parking spots. In Brazil, there are regular parking spots and there are handicap spots. But there are also “Idoso” spots. Idoso means elderly. Every parking lot has Idoso spots. Paying respect to your elders is part of Brazilian culture. It’s common for a younger person to address an older person with “sir” or “ma’am,” and children, even as adults, do the same with their parents. I love this aspect of Brazilian culture.

An elderly parking spot in front of my hotel in Campinas. I love the culture of respect for your elders in Brazil.


The animals in this new world are also interesting. I talked about birds previously. Today, it’s dogs and horses. People love their little doggies here in Brazil. Our neighborhood in Uberlândia is buzzing with people walking their dogs or playing with them in the park. They’re mostly small, because big dogs don’t do as well in the typical city apartment. They're even allowed in stores, but they can only be as tall as the sign stipulates, about a foot or so-- small dogs.


The other way you can tell there are dogs here is by the minefield on the sidewalk. It’s a real dance to avoid it when I’m out for a run. For every dog on a leash, there’s probably another wandering the city with no owner. They trot into the halls at UFU. The door to building 3M where I teach is left wide open, and there’s a hallway that goes straight through to the other side of the building and back out to a courtyard (see the video). Dogs use it as a shortcut. I can hear the clicking of their little nails on the tiled floor while I’m teaching. Lol.

A little tour of the Institute of the Arts Building where I teach


Now horses. It’s not uncommon to be driving on a busy thoroughfare in Uberlândia among the rush of vehicle traffic and see a guy in a horse-drawn cart on the road doing some type of collection. I guess sometimes actual horsepower is more affordable than mechanical horsepower. Cars and horses seems an odd juxtaposition of transports, and even after two months, it's still startling. It looks unsafe to me, but people are doing all kinds of questionable things in their cars, motorcycles, and bikes, so a horse-drawn cart in vehicle traffic isn’t that crazy.

Brazil, where cars and horses coexist in peace. This is on our street, a couple blocks from our apartment, the taller building on the left side of the photo.


Also in this new world is new food. Brazil has delicious local fare and plenty of American junk food. Sometimes it mixes the two. For example, a Snickers caught my eye while I was checking out of the convenience store one night in Campinas. I looked closer and saw among the usual varieties a “pe de moleque” Snickers. Pe de moleque, which literally means “kid’s foot,” is like Brazilian peanut brittle. Snickers was making a limited-time pe de moleque flavor. I *had* to try it. Food companies do this, make their products with local flavors. For example, you can find a doce de leite (sweet milk, another Brazilian favorite) milkshake at Burger King

Snickers's "pe de moleque" (peanut brittle) flavor... eaten of course


This past week we went to a restaurant around the corner from our house that we'd been eyeing for some time. It’s called Casa das Massas, or House of Dough. Massa can mean pasta or just anything made from dough, like pizza, and in fact, pizza is the specialty at Casa das Massas. In the Brazilian “rodízio” style, servers bearing trays of a million different varieties of pizza come to your table at a dizzying pace. They can be quite aggressive in offering you a slice, but you can take or leave it. Brazilians love rodízio. It’s most popular in “churrasco,” or Brazilian barbecue, in which the fare is massive skewers of salted meats. The mix of rodízio and pizza intrigued us, and as is often the case, the smell floating through the air as we approached the restaurant was alluring.


I guess one reason we hadn't gone into Casa das Massas to that point is because it looked pretty plain from the outside: an unadorned wooden storefront with giant open windows, almost like a cabin. But the unassuming facade betrays what’s on the inside. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. The restaurant stretched back way farther than we ever imagined, probably the entire block. It kept going and going. And every table was packed. No, I mean, more people than you’ve ever seen in a restaurant. We all agreed we’d never seen anything like it. Toward the end of the night, I got up with my daughter to get some ice cream. That’s when I saw it: “Maximum occupancy: 438 people.” Wow. The photo I included here does not even begin to capture the enormity of this place with its 400+ Brazilian diners engaged in lively (loud, ahem) conversation and servers leading one table after another in a round of happy birthday. They must be totally hoarse by the end of the night. The manager found out there was a group of Americans in his establishment and made it a point to come over to our table. He asked if we spoke Portuguese and let us know to let him know if we needed anything. Won over once again by the friendliness of the Brazilian people.

Casa das Massas pizza rodizio restaurant, maximum occupancy, 438


My Millikin colleague Carmella Braniger and her daughter are visiting. Carmella’s daughter and our son are dating. Carmella was a visiting professor for the week in the department of English and translation at UFU. I got to go to one of her presentations, in which students translated three of her poems. They did a fantastic job on complex and deep material that I, as a native English speaker, would have to read several times and really think about to get the full meaning. The students spoke English very well and asked penetrating questions. The discussion was fascinating. I was impressed by both the students’ dedication and by Carmella’s work, and I learned a lot. Stefano, the professor in charge of everything, told me Carmella’s visit over the week was “magical,” and that the students benefited “immensely” from their interaction with her.

My Millikin colleague Carmella Braniger guest-lecturing at UFU


This past week I was invited to be a guest lecturer in my colleague Carlos Meneze’s graduate research class. I talked about my dissertation and the professional projects it has led to. Great questions and comments from students and professors alike. There was considerable interest in having my book Entrepreneurship in Action: The Power of Student-Run Ventures translated into Portuguese. Hmm…

Guest lecturing in a graduate music research class


My wife Shaunna celebrated her birthday this past week. Shaunna's favorite food is Mexican, so everyone chipped in to create a Mexican-American meal with the ingredients available here in Uberlandia. But South American food is not standard across the continent. Cuisine can vary greatly from country to country. So if you think Mexican food means all food south of the U.S. border, think again. Taco shells are completely nonexistent in Uberlandia. We keep hearing about the one Mexican restaurant here in the city, but people are not quite sure. I did find a Chipotle-like place called Guaco while I was in Campinas that was actually really good, and I brought home some tortilla chips (also nonexistent in Uberlandia) for Shaunna.


At church on Sunday, the women in our congregation knew it was Shaunna’s birthday and literally formed a line to give her a hug. It was unexpected and very sweet.

A reception line to wish Shaunna a happy birthday at church


Until next time!

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