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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Paulo Coelho, on the monuments that immortalise cities

2010-26In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh talks with Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian best-selling author of The Alchemist, The Devil and Miss Prym, and The Witch of Portobello, among many others.

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When I asked Paulo Coelho to take part in the “Location, Locution” concept, he was happy to oblige.

But he wanted to do it his way. So in a change to our usual format, here’s Paulo Coelho on place.

The moving monument

I have visited many monuments in this world that try to immortalize the cities that erect them in prominent places. Imposing men whose names have already been forgotten but who still pose mounted on their beautiful horses. Women who hold crowns or swords to the sky, symbols of victories that no longer even appear in school books. Solitary, nameless children engraved in stone, their innocence for ever lost during the hours and days they were obliged to pose for some sculptor that history has also forgotten.

And when all is said and done, with very rare exceptions (Rio de Janeiro is one of them with its statue of Christ the Redeemer), it is not the statues that mark the city, but the least expected things. When Eiffel built a steel tower for an exposition, he could not have dreamed that this would end up being the symbol of Paris, despite the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and the impressive gardens. An apple represents New York. A not much visited bridge is the symbol of San Francisco. A bridge over the Tagus is also on the postcards of Lisbon. Barcelona, a city full of unresolved things, has an unfinished cathedral (The Holy Family) as its most emblematic monument. In Moscow, a square surrounded by buildings and a name that no longer represents the present (Red Square, in memory of communism) is the main reference. And so on and so forth.

Perhaps thinking about this, a city decided to create a monument that would never remain the same, one that could disappear every night and re-appear the next morning and would change at each and every moment of the day, depending on the strength of the wind and the rays of the sun. Legend has it that a child had the idea just as he was … taking a pee. When he finished his business, he told his father that the place where they lived would be protected from invaders if it had a sculpture capable of vanishing before they drew near. His father went to talk to the town councilors, who, even though they had adopted Protestantism as the official religion and considered everything that escaped logic as superstition, decided to follow the advice.

Another story tells us that, because a river pouring into a lake produced a very strong current, a hydroelectric dam was built there, but when the workers returned home and closed the valves, the pressure was very strong and the turbines eventually burst. Until an engineer had the idea of putting a fountain on the spot where the excess water could escape.

With the passing of time, engineering solved the problem and the fountain became unnecessary. But perhaps reminded of the legend of the little boy, the inhabitants decided to keep it. The city already had many fountains, and this one would be in the middle of a lake, so what could be done to make it visible?

And that is how the moving monument came to be. Powerful pumps were installed, and today a very strong jet of water spouts 500 liters per second vertically at 200 km per hour. They say, and I have confirmed it, that it can even be seen from a plane flying at 10,000 meters. It has no special name, just “Water Fountain” (Jet d’Eau), the symbol of the city of Geneva (where there is no lack of statues of men on horses, heroic women and solitary children).

Once I asked Denise, a Swiss scientist, what she thought of the Water Fountain.

“Our body is almost completely made of water through which electric discharges pass to convey information. One such piece of information is called Love, and this can interfere in the entire organism. Love changes all the time. I think that the symbol of Geneva is the most beautiful monument to Love yet conceived by any artist.”

I don’t know how the little boy in the legend would feel about it, but I think that Denise is absolutely right.

© Translated by James Mulholland

Read JJ Marsh’s 2011 interview with Paulo Coelho for Words with JAM magazine

Next on Location, Locution: Janet Skeslien Charles, author of Moonlight in Odessa

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JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts!

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Image: Paulo Coelho, 2010 –, used with permission.

Mark Hillary delivers reality check to gringos who moan about Brazil, in self-published book (2/2)

Mark Hillary Part 2 CollageIn Part 1 of my interview with Mark Hillary, a fellow Brit and amigo in São Paulo, we learned about what spurred him to write a book called Reality Check: Life in BRAZIL through the eyes of a foreigner.

A lively discussion ensued about what makes Brazil such a contentious country for expats (short answer: it’s a country of extremes).

Today I’ll ask Mark about his decision to publish Reality Check as an e-book. As I mentioned last week, Mark is well published in his chosen field of technology and globalization. He is a HuffPo columnist and has also blogged for Reuters about British politics. But Reality Check represents his first venture into the Amazon e-book platform.

I was curious about why he chose this route and also had some questions about his reading and writing habits generally.

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Mark, Reality Check isn’t the first book that you’ve written. Can you tell us something about your other books?
It’s actually my tenth book. I used to be quite a senior IT manager in a bank, managing people all over the world. I had already started contributing articles to technology magazines while I was at the bank, and eventually I was sent off to India to help the company build up a big new office in Bangalore. I was hiring hundreds of technical team members and then trying to sell their services bank to other sections of the bank. It was quite an experience, especially as it occurred right at the beginning of the big push to India by many technology companies.

I wrote a book about it all, which was published by the respected German publisher Springer and well received in journals and newspapers such as the FT.

After that I carried on writing about the connection between work, technology, and globalization.

It’s impressive that you can span the range from big IT questions to a foreigner’s take on life in Brazil.
I’m interested in many areas, which is probably why my three times at university have included courses on computer science, business and management, and psychology. My earlier work on outsourcing naturally led me to how companies are changing and globalization, and this has naturally led onto my writing about being an expat. If there’s a connecting thread, it’s work and the changing nature of work in our time. That said, I wouldn’t want to only ever comment on a single topic. Life is a lot more complex than that.

You decided to release Reality Check in the Amazon Kindle format. Why did you make that decision?
I’ve been asked that question a lot. Six of my books were published using traditional publishers, and three were self-published via Lulu. And now, with the Brazil book, I’ve used the Amazon Kindle format. I went into some detail on the pros and cons of each of these methods in a recent Huffington Post article, but in short the important thing to remember is how the publishing market is changing. Obviously there is still a lingering sense of kudos with the traditional publishers. A novel published by Penguin is still seen as “better” than something self-published, but it doesn’t have to be. The platform and process of publishing itself has just been democratized and made available to all.

If you know how to write and you can market your work to an audience, then it is much faster to publish with Amazon or Lulu. And, not only can you reach a global audience instantly—you earn a far greater percentage of the sale price.

In the case of Reality Check, I wanted it to be available around the world as quickly as possible, and Amazon has a great system for doing that. Plus you don’t actually need a Kindle: iPads and phones are all being used to read this book.

Do you think it helps that you already had a following through your writings and other books?
Reality Check has has been in the Amazon top 20 books about Brazil since publication on September 1st, and yesterday when I checked, it was the number one book about Brazil and number two book about South America. So people have been noticing it.

I think it does help if you already have a following. It used to be that publishers and agents acted as the gatekeeper, so readers could be confident a book that ended up in the shops was good. Now anyone can publish any old rubbish, so there is no longer that guarantee of a published book being any good.

The much-celebrated poet Seamus Heaney is a good example. He has been lauded as one of the greatest writers of the past century, and he had plenty of work published by traditional publishers. But he was self-publishing new work before his recent death.

Do you plan to make Reality Check anything other than an e-book?
I’m planning to also release a paper version of the book, but it will not be until the second edition—planned to come out just before the World Cup football competition in June next year.

Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment?
The present one is about my own experience of ghostwriting. I’ve written for ambassadors and company CEOs, and I once had to help astronaut Neil Armstrong add a few jokes to his standard Apollo 11 speech. The work I have written for others to be delivered in their name has often, but not always, gone down well, and I wanted to explore that. And in the tech area, I’m working on a book project that aims to be a graduates’ guide to how you get a job in a job market where nobody wants to pay you a salary.

10 Questions for Mark Hillary

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that we’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:

1. Last truly great book you read: I recently read all of Ira Levin’s novels back to back—all great; but I’ll go for Paul Trynka’s biography of David Bowie, which I just now finished.
2. Favorite literary genre: Dystopian novels: Burgess, Orwell, Ballard.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I read fiction and non-fiction and always carry my Kindle because it’s so much better for travel than lugging around a lot of books. This week I was on a plane and I read The Default Line, by Faisal Islam—about the financial crash of 2008 and what has happened since.
4. The one book you’d require David Cameron to read, and why: Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The new global revolutions, by Paul Mason. It’s a study of the various riots, uprisings and protests around the world, particularly in 2011. I think the UK has more unrest to come because living standards and earnings are in decline—the people are going to kick off again one day.
5. Favorite books as a child: Those by Roald Dahl, though everyone seems to think he was actually a nasty piece of work in real life.
6. Favorite heroine: Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird was her only book and she never courted any publicity. It challenged racism over 50 years ago and still retains its power today.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Oscar Wilde. He wrote 20th-century books and plays in the 19th century and despite his sad downfall, is still remembered and loved today.
8. Your reading habits: I mostly read in the evening. I don’t watch TV, other than for movies so that gives me more time. I tend to read one or two books a week unless I’m traveling a lot then it’s more just because of the endless time spent in airports or on buses.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: The Drowned World, by J.G. Ballard. Life after the oceans have risen and the world we know now is flooded.
10. The book you plan to read next: Jesse Norman’s biography of Edmund Burke—already on the Kindle waiting for me.

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Readers, any more questions for Mark? He may sound a bit intimidating, but in fact he’s very approachable and happy to answer any questions about e-publishing. (Though he doesn’t write fiction, he also has views on publishing platforms for novels.) Meanwhile, if you’re interested in Reality Check, you can purchase it on Amazon. I would also recommend becoming a fan of its Facebook page and following Mark on Twitter: @MarkHillary

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, by another Englishman who is also an expat albeit in California: Anthony Windram.

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images: Mark Hillary surrounded by his traditional books and his e-book cover.

Mark Hillary delivers reality check to gringos who moan about Brazil, in self-published book (1/2)

Mark_HillaryA little while ago I interviewed Megan Farrell, a fellow gringo in São Paulo, about the book she had written about “exbrat” life in the city. As far as I’m aware, Megan’s was the first book to be written about life in SP by a foreigner, although she seems to have started a new trend because within the last fortnight another has emerged: Reality Check: Life in BRAZIL through the eyes of a foreigner.

Reality Check is by Mark Hillary, a fellow Brit in São Paulo (he recently moved outside the city), who is an author, blogger, and advisor on technology and globalization. He has already published a number of books and is a contributor to Huffington Post, Reuters, The Guardian, and Computer Weekly.

Mark is also a friend of mine. We connected through Twitter just over a year ago. We eventually met at a local bar when—unsurprisingly, given his background in technology and social media—he organized a meet-up of gringos who had connected online but had yet to meet up in the flesh.

Since then he and I have continued to meet up, although less so since his move to the countryside. We had a particularly memorable trip in June to Rio to watch England play Brazil in football at the brand new Maracanã Stadium. (As anyone who follows my posts should recall, I’m a bit of a football geek.)

Over the past year Mark has written, in his column for the Huffington Post, a number of insightful articles about life as a foreigner in Brazil—most notably, “No HP Sauce, Endless Red Tape: Would You Want to Live in Brazil?, which responded to a gringo Facebook forum that had listed all the reasons why foreigners hated living in this country.

It was to my pleasant surprise, then, when Mark announced he had extended his account of life in Brazil and intended to publish it as an e-book.

Leaving aside my acquaintance with Mark (and the fact he gives a nod to my personal blog in the book!), I must say that I found Reality Check a very enjoyable read. It is a thoughtful and critical, yet balanced, account of his experiences in Brazil and of the country in general—and frankly, I’m rather annoyed that I haven’t written it myself.

Mark’s book also seems to be a good accompaniment to Megan’s. Whilst hers is a straightforward, step-by-step guide to life in São Paulo, his is a narrative providing a broad overview of gringo life. Either way, both books will be of use to those who are either moving to Brazil or perhaps are simply interested in finding out a bit more about South America’s largest and most populous country (it’s also the world’s fifth largest economy).

Anyway, enough of my wittering on. Let’s hear more from Mark himself.

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RealityCheck_bookcoverHi, Mark. Congratulations on your new book and thanks for agreeing to this interview. First off, can you say a little more about what inspired you to write it?
As you already mentioned, I wrote the book in large part as a reaction to the negative posts about Brazil in online gringo communities. Everyone has their own reasons for moving and living away from their home country, but the majority of the groups I’ve encountered online are full of complaints about Brazilian food, prices, bureaucracy… Anyone who reads the posts made in the Facebook group for would think that the UK and US offer a utopian paradise that would be madness to ever leave.

As you said in your intro, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post where I tried to give a more balanced view on life in Brazil.

Then I thought that, as someone who has rented and bought a home, started a company, hired people, and married a Brazilian, I could probably give a more detailed opinion on the experience—hence the book.

So being married to a Brazilian was what brought you to Brazil?
Yes, we were living in London, but after the financial crash in 2008 my business was much slower than before. By 2010 it became clear that there were many more opportunities for me to build a research and publishing business in Brazil than in the UK and so we moved just before the end of that year, nearly four years ago.

We recently featured another book about expat life in Brazil: American Exbrat in São Paulo, by Megan Farrell. Megan’s focus was on the “exbrat” community in São Paulo—i.e., those who are transferred here for work by a large company. My impression is that your focus is less specific and more of a broad overview of life in Brazil as a foreigner.
I’m not really interested in the exbrats. If a big company transfers someone to Brazil and they have their home taken care of and a driver to ferry them around, and they only ever go for a drink in expat pubs, then I don’t think they are experiencing the real Brazil. I’m not suggesting that the only authentic Brazil experience is living in a favela, but there are other kinds of foreigners here—journalists, teachers, people from all walks of life—who are constantly looking for ways to explore their new home.

Did you have a specific audience in mind when you wrote the book?
I really set out to explore some of my own experiences, with the expectation that people investing in Brazil or looking for a job here might have an interest in the book.

The book has only just been published (2nd September) so I guess it is a little early to tell, but how has it been received so far?
It is very recent, but there is already a very positive review from a Brazilian reader on Amazon. I started my author Facebook page when I published the book, and that community is growing by around a hundred people every day—so people are noticing it. One of the biggest newspapers in Brazil (Folha de SP) has been in touch to interview me about the book—despite my not having done any press promotion for the book due to my traveling almost every day since the publication!

Did you connect with São Paulo and/or Brazil in any new ways whilst writing the book?
It made me more determined to plug areas outside of Rio, which has a lot of friends already. I’ve really enjoyed living in both São Paulo the city and interior—SP needs a few gringo fans to speak out and remind people that the city is not just about concrete and cops murdering civilians.

You recently moved to the countryside outside São Paulo—how and why did that come about?
We spent two years living in the centre of São Paulo and just wanted to find something a bit quieter. I love it where we are now. There is a great sense of community; the neighbours all know each other. There is none of the security paranoia you find in the city centre, and there is some fantastic scenery on our doorstep.

Do you miss SP at all?
I miss being able to go out to see my friends in the city, or go to concerts by international bands that will only ever play in major cities. But we are planning to get a very small apartment in SP soon, so we don’t completely lose touch with it.

You mentioned the “security paranoia” in SP. In my observation, most of us gringos carry a fear that is at odds with how our Brazilian partners and/or friends feel. I enjoyed reading the section of your book covering this perception gap. Do you think that more positive accounts of Brazil by writers/bloggers like you and myself can help to shift these perceptions?
If people like you and me can get visitors to realize that they can walk down Avenida Paulista or along Copacabana Beach without fearing for their life, that would help. On more than one occasion I have met business contacts who flew into town and then were shocked when I suggested meeting away from their hotel. Standard advice from American and European companies is often to stay inside when in Brazil because of all the street crime.

The Brazilians, too, should play a part in correcting this situation. I don’t think we have much influence because we are seen as outsiders, but as more Brazilians get exposed to alternative cultures through travel, I hope it can change a little.

Last year I brought my wife’s teenage cousin on a trip to the USA, just to show her what life is like outside of Brazil. She found it incredible that you could walk up to the front of so many celebrity homes in Los Angeles—that anyone could walk into Sylvester Stallone’s garden. That’s unimaginable in Brazil.

What are you thoughts on foreign media portrayals of Brazil? Do you feel, for example, that persistent foreign criticisms of Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup and Olympics have been fair?
Every World Cup and Olympic games gets this negative press, so I don’t know if it is any worse than the last time. Anyone from the UK should be able to recall how the London Games were going to be a disaster right up to the week of the Games—the attitude seemed to change only when everyone saw that spectacular opening ceremony.

All I know from personal experience is that when you and I went to the Brazil v England football game at the Maracanã in June, the organization was superb. The stadium looked good, the public transport all worked, and the volunteers helping the crowd were great. I couldn’t fault it—so I’m really looking forward to the World Cup.

From the way you write so passionately about Brazil it is clear that you love living here, but there must have been the odd difficult moment when you wondered whether you’d made the right decision in fleeing the economically stagnant UK for your wife’s native land. When have you felt most displaced?
Sometimes the bureaucracy in daily life does get perverse and goes beyond just the criticism of a foreigner claiming that it all works better in Europe. Examples include having to pay someone to get my car registered to a new address or being fined for not paying my stamp duty on the day I agreed a mortgage with the bank—even though I paid on the day I got the documents myself. Sometimes I wonder if there is ever going to be any government that sweeps away this nonsense. I also fear that the job cuts created by improved efficiency means we are stuck with much of this.

Conversely, when have been your least displaced moments, when it all seemed to make sense?
I live in a really beautiful place now surrounded by a lot of wonderful people. Every morning when I take my dog for a walk then start work for the day I know I’m lucky to be here.

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Readers, I will be talking to Mark again on Tuesday of next week, when we focus on his decision to self-publish his book. Any further questions for him, meantime? And don’t forget, if you’re interested in Reality Check, you can purchase it on Amazon. I would also recommend becoming a fan of its Facebook page and following Mark on Twitter: @MarkHillary

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our “Location, Locution” series, by JJ Marsh.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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images: Mark Hillary’s author image and book cover

Why “exbrats” in São Paulo need their own book to appreciate life in Brazil’s largest city

MeganFarrell CollageThis week’s guest interviewee is Megan Farrell, who like myself is an estrangeiro (foreigner) in São Paulo and married to a Brazilianalthough unlike my good British self, Megan is American and also has a young daughter (sounds like far too much responsibility if you ask me!).

Megan and her family previously lived in New York, but she took a sabbatical from her job on Wall Street in 2009 to become a full-time mum. Then, when her husband was offered a job opportunity here in São Paulo in 2010, they decided it would be a perfect opportunity for Megan and their daughter to learn Portuguese, experience life in a different culture, and learn more about Dad’s home country.

I first came to know of Megan when I moved to São Paulo myself at the start of 2012 and found her blog Born Again Brazilian whilst doing some research for my own blog. Ever since, I’ve kept up-to-date with her tales and travails, and was pleasantly surprisedif not a little enviouswhen she announced earlier this year that she would be releasing a step-by-step guide for foreigners who are living (or planning to) in São Paulo: American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

I say envious because a similar idea had occasionally cropped up in my mind, but having read Megan’s book, I’m actually rather glad I didn’t attempt it myselfthere’s no way I could have had done the topic justice to the same extent. Megan has done her research, even offering advice on visas, taxes and other mundanebut extremely importantdetails that a move to São Paulo can entail. She includes things I would definitely not have thought of or, to be honest, had the patience to cover.

My only quibble—which perhaps tells you more about me than it does about the book, which is excellent—is that it reflects the experiences of a small minority in Brazil: exbrats. As someone who loves history as well as current affairs, I tend to prefer books that provide a holistic overview of life in a particular country. What’s more, the life of the exbrat seems completely outside my realm of experience. Though a cynic might suggest that I’m on an extended holiday, I didn’t move to Brazil on an all-expenses paid work package.

And to be fair, Megan doesn’t fall into the “exbrat” category either: her husband is Brazilian so didn’t qualify for the relocation package that makes countries like Brazil so enticing to non-Brazilians.

So, who exactly are these exbrats? And why write a book for them? Megan and I had the pleasure of meeting up I person a few days ago and talking about the audience she had in mind for her book. The following are some highlights from our conversation.

* * *

AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmHi, Megan. Tudo bem? Why did you decide to write a guidebook for non-Brazilians who come to live in Sao Paulo?
If you are making a move to a country such as Brazil, you need to have your expectations managed appropriately. Much of the pain my fellow expats have experienced has been because they were unprepared to deal with some of the idiosyncrasies of life in São Paulo.

What do you mean by an “exbrat”? Was the book specifically aimed at them?
I used “exbrat” because it feels rather fitting of the collection of people I’ve come across here. Expats, including myself, often stomp their feet over inconveniences they’ve encountered here, yet still expect and enjoy all the benefits of being in Brazil. Not necessarily in a pejorative way, but it felt very bratty to me. You also meet people who were previously army brats and were never able to shake their nomadic waysso “exbrat” is also an adult term for these foreigners.

So exbrats are primarily the foreigners who move to Brazil because of job opportunities?
Yes, the target audience is largely people who are moving to São Paulo or have recently arrived in the city for work, as well as human resource managers at companies who send employees to Brazil.

You included yourself just now in the “exbrat” category. But you are married to a Brazilian who didn’t get an expat package.
Believe me, some aspects of the things I’ve experienced here in Brazil have been a shock, as they probably were to you as well. So, while the book is definitely aimed at exbrats, I don’t think it’s too “exclusive.” There is an element of the “exbrat” in all of us. Some people are never able to get out of the exbrat cycle and as a result, fail to take advantage of the opportunities living in this country offers. My hope is that my book will give them a clearer picture of what to expect, and how they can prepare for that reality, so that they can get over the culture shock and go exploring. One of the world’s most fascinating countries awaits.

I think I know what you mean. I particularly remember reading in the book about your shock of attending an officially organized children’s “play-date” and there being seven paid staff to run it, as well as each child returning home afterwards with a crystal tea set as a parting gift!
Yes, exactly! That is far removed from my experiences in New York but is not so uncommon if you and your family start to mix in the same social circles with people towards the very top end of society in Brazilwhether that be through expat communities, your child’s school, or spouse’s workplace.

Has the book reached other audiences besides those who are moving to São Paulo? Perhaps people moving to other South American countries or those where English is not the first language?
Thus far the audience has been very specific to people moving to São Paulo, as opposed to other countries in South America—or even other cities in Brazil. It’s also attracted a few readers who work with Brazilians but in other countries.

Injecting her own anecdotes, and photos, into the book

Which section of the book are readers enjoying the most?
People tell me that they really enjoy the humorous stories I’ve included, which are based on some of my most painful and awkward experiences. For example, I tell the story of how I visited the same bakery for over a year before someone explained that because I wasn’t emphasizing the appropriate accent in the word pão (bread), to a Brazilian ear it sounded like I was asking for pau (penis)! Living in a non-English-speaking country provides plenty of opportunities for embarrassment or frustration, but when something goes wrong, I’m the kind of person who chooses to laugh, not cry.

Did you connect with the city in any new ways in the process of writing the book?
Definitely. I wanted the book to be as complete as possible (without taking ten years to write) and so I did more exploring on some of the subjects I wanted to include. Also, the photos in the book, minus a few I purchased the rights to, are ones I took. Much of the photography I already had in my collection. But there were gaps, so I had to get out and take pictures, which always gives you a second perspective on what you are seeingmore removed and analytical.

The topic of domestic servants

What was your most displaced moment when doing the research for the book, when you wondered why you’d embarked on this mission?
Trying to explain the culture of the people who might work in your homethe culture of the working poor in Brazil.

What do you mean when you say “culture of the working poor”? In your book you seem to suggest that household workers, who are of a far less lower rung on the lady in Brazilian society, are just taking advantage of the situation that they are in. Do you think this is cultural, or the impact of their socio-economic circumstances?
Half and half. I think it is definitely a Brazilian thing to try to take advantage of different situationsand this exists at all levels of society. For example, there’s the term jeitinho Brasileiro, which Brazilians use for situations in which they “creatively” try to get round complications in life.

However, yes, there is also a socio-economic component. If you are from a poor neighborhood and are working in the home of a rich family or person, it’s probably not too surprising that you might want to take advantage of your situation by asking for a loan or a raise.

From blogging to book-writing (she hasn’t looked back!)

Why a book instead of a series of blog posts?
Believe it or not, people still like reading books! HA. Over the past three years, since I’ve written my blog, I’ve received a number of questions about moving to São Paulo and life here. Most of the answers were already within the posts of my blog. I wanted to create a document that was more comprehensive, arranged by topic and easier to navigate. I also did a survey of my expat friends, and almost all of them said they would have purchased at least three books about moving to São Paulo before they camehad any actually existed. So I decided there was at least a bit of demand. Blogs are great, but sometimes you want to read a story from beginning to end. Plus, I’ve always just wanted to write a book.

What was the most challenging part of the book-writing process?
Editing. The editing process was a collaboration with my awesome friends, as well as my mother. It’s difficult to edit yourself. Actually, it is impossible to edit yourself. And when you have a pile of people helping you sort through the stories and facts, you get lots of opinions. But it was all good. However, I don’t think I can advantage of my friends again, so I’ll probably hire an editor for the next one.

Why did you self-publish the book?
A few of my writer friends encouraged me to try and find a publisher. But I just couldn’t figure out what a publisher was going to do for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I have a strong network and a background that includes marketing. I also don’t have the patience to go through a bureaucratic publishing process with an extended timeline. I knew that even if I did manage to find a publisher, I would not be their priority. The market for this is not on the level that would make a publisher move fast.

What’s next? Are you working on any other writing projects?
I am. I’ll probably update this book sometime in the next year. I also plan to write one for Rio. My husband is from Rio, and most of my experiences in Brazil (prior to moving to São Paulo) were in that city, so I know it pretty well.

You mentioned at the outset that you like broader books. I’d love to write something about Brazil as a wholeto counter the focus I put in this one on the expat life. It won’t be another step-by-step guide but a more of a general analysis, including politics, culture and so forth.

Finally, I’m working on some fiction stories that take place in Brazil. When living in New York, I did a screenplay course so have some experience in writing fiction. Currently, my idea is to write two series of short stories. The first will be based around Brazilian folklore, and the second, around some real-life episodes I’ve witnessed that are difficult to record in a blog or non-fiction format.

Ten Questions for Megan Farrell

Finally, we’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:

1. Last truly great book you read: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems. I have a five-year-old. But we’ve read it more than a hundred times and it still makes me laugh. Okay, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late is another contender. Mo Willems is a genius.
2. Favorite literary genre: I’d love to lie and offer up a more intellectual answer, but my favorite genre has always been horror. I enjoy a good creepy tale. After that, humorous memoirs from people who have overcome great obstacles, like Jeannette Walls‘s The Glass Castle.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I’m most happy if I have a copy of The Economist with me on a plane
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: I wish Michael Bloomberg would write a book that Obama could read, because I think the USA would benefit by being run more like a business. But since Bloomberg has yet to put pen to paper, I’d have to say Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
5. Favorite books as a child: I loved any book that involved a child in a new world. James and the Giant Peach. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Little Prince. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pippi Longstocking.
6. Favorite heroine: Wonder Woman. I think if Brazil had a Wonder Woman, or the collection of super heroes that we have in the States as—albeit fictional—role models, people would emulate change for the good of the people. Brazil needs to believe in something other than futebol—but that seems to be in the process of changing, as Andy and I discussed last month on this blog.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Hands down, Stephen King. I hope he doesn’t die before I get to meet him. I just need to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t involve stalking.
8. Your reading habits: I used to spend the weekends (sometimes all weekend) reading. But now that I have a child, I usually read right before I go to bed—in bed.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: American Exbrat in São Paulo, of course!
10. The book you plan to read next: I suppose I should say Fifty Shades of Grey, because I haven’t read much of it and people keep bugging me about it. But if you’ve read Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (I only read the first), Fifty Shades is like reading Judy Blume. Yawn. I think I’ll wait for Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. How could anyone resist a sequel to The Shining?

* * *

Readers, as I said, Megan was a delight to meet in person, a sense of which I hope I’ve conveyed above. Any further questions? Have I pressed her too hard on the “exbrat” point?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our “Location, Locution” series, by JJ Marsh.

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images: Megan Farrell’s author image and book cover; photo of Sao Paulo from MorgueFile.

Pay no mind to the travel experts — beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Matador Network published an article last month bemoaning “travel pornography” — in other words, the kinds of photos one often sees in polished travel guides, making an exotic place look so much better than it does in reality.

This is significant because many of us make our decisions about where or where not to go on the basis of travel Web sites, guidebooks and even Pinterest boards — with their slick photography and accompanying reviews.

As the Swiss-born British philosopher Alain de Botton noted in his book The Art of Travel:

Where guidebooks praised a site, they pressured a visitor to match their authoritative enthusiasm, and where they were silent, pleasure or interest seemed unwarranted.

Case-in-point: São Paulo vs Rio

In Brazil the travel experts have influenced and help perpetuate contrasting perceptions about the country’s two biggest cities: São Paulo (where I live with my Brazilian wife) and Rio de Janeiro.

In most instances you’ll read that Rio is the jewel in the nation’s metaphorical crown, the princess; whereas São Paulo is the ugly stepsister that is best avoided at all costs.

To be honest, when I moved to São Paulo just over a year ago, my own first impressions were not much different. It struck me as a place with ugly skylines, overwhelming traffic and polluted rivers. However, as time went by and I got to know the city better, those impressions changed.

And when I recently went traveling around Brazil with a visiting friend from London, I discovered something quite interesting — I was actually becoming as defensive of São Paulo as the natives.

The bad rap on SP

I started to notice this shift when my friend and I encountered other travelers. Anyone who has traveled recently will know that it’s common to meet all sorts. Typically, your first interactions — long before you decide to become best friends and end up downing shots of tequila in some godforsaken bar (even though you’ll probably never see each other again) — consist of small talk along the lines of:

“Where do you come from?”
“What do you do?”
“How long will you be in [insert city, town, country, etc]?”
“Which football team do you support?”
“Who the hell are Gillingham?”

On this trip, when the mundanities came my way, I had to explain why I resided in São Paulo rather than in London. Then I would get the inevitable “Why the hell are you there?” along with repeated denouncements of São Paulo and how it is a city of doom and gloom, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah:

“I couldn’t live there” | “I don’t like the sound of living there” [delete phrase depending upon whether you’ve actually been to São Paulo].
“There’s too much/many…. [insert one of the following: traffic|pollution|cars|people].”
“It’s not a tourist city, there’s nothing to do or see.”
“It’s just a big, ugly city.”
“It’s too dangerous.”

There is, of course, an element of truth to most of these points. However, don’t these criticisms (apart from the lack of tourist sights) reflect the reality of 21st-century urban life the world over? I mean, isn’t the debate a matter of degrees?

I blame the travel pornography/travel guidebooks. Cities like São Paulo are constantly maligned because no one has taken the time to dig beneath the surface, or because they are not as immediately captivating as their outwardly attractive neighbors (namely, Rio).

Is beauty an illusion?

But whilst anyone can see that Rio is beautiful, it takes a keener to eye to observe beauty or virtue where it is embodied in less obvious forms. You need to become an explorer of the sort James Murray described in his post of yesterday.

Besides, as is the case of many places that are subject to so-called travel porn, Rio may not actually be as stunning as you first thought. It’s often said of that much-visited city that it is beautiful from afar but rather less so when you get up close.

Copacabana, for example, with its world-famous beach, may have once been the home of the glamorous, but today it’s tatty and parts of it, especially at night, are seedy and not massively safe.

And São Paulo?

Well, if Rio is beautiful from afar but less so up close, then I’d say SP is the opposite. As you approach Brazil’s largest city, its skyline advances towards and then engulfs you in its beige blandness, overwhelming and unending — an effect made more noticeable due to the city’s ban on outdoor advertising.

That said, once you get used to it, SP’s vastness actually becomes one of its marvels.

SP at its most splendid

When I moved here just over a year ago, I vividly remember my sister-in-law saying that living and working in São Paulo makes her feel like a “citizen of the world” — like a small part of something big and important.

What she said is true. Whilst I love venturing into the wild, I am more fascinated by cities — mainly because they are man-made and hence symbolize the complexity of the human condition (I’m a typical sociology graduate!).

Returning to our friend de Botton: he introduces the notion of the sublime in his book on travel, pointing out that certain landscapes can provoke sublime thoughts. Places, he says, can “gently move us to acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events.” (He sees this as a kind of substitute for traditional religious worship.)

For most people, the sight of a desert, canyon or rainforest is enough to elevate them to the sublime, helping to put their daily woes into perspective. But for me it has taken an encounter with a mega-city like São Paulo.

And then there’s that street art!

Whenever I start feeling this way — that SP has put me in touch with something sublime — I begin to appreciate the beauty in the things around me. (I’d missed those things before because of feeling overwhelmed.)

For example, I became acutely aware of the quantity and quality of São Paulo’s street art, which I think must rank amongst the finest, if not the finest, anywhere in the world. You can find fascinating street art everywhere and if you exclude pichação (wall writings done in angry protest), then on the whole it enhances one’s enjoyment of the city’s neighborhoods.

In my view, the street art alone is a good enough reason to visit São Paulo.

But if street art doesn’t take your fancy, rest assured the city also offers plenty of good food, culture and entertainment. Indeed, I cannot think of a place I’ve been to in the continent with as wide a range of quality museums and art galleries.

At weekends you can go for a walk in Parque Ibiraquera (SP’s Central Park), watch a top South American football team, catch a film at an IMAX or, if culture is more your thing, go to a play, opera or ballet. And if you’re a music fan, you’re in luck. Artists who tour South America usually have São Paulo as one of the first dates on their itinerary.

The thing about São Paulo is that whilst it can be intimidating and is perennially frustrating, it’s also pretty cool. As displaced actress Marlene Dietrich once said:

Rio is a beauty — but São Paulo, ah … São Paulo is a city.

And for me, there’s something rather exciting, not to mention awe-inspiring, about that.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post.

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4 films that will make you want to travel — and one that won’t!

Now, there’s a pretty standard list of travel-inspiring movies out there; it’s everywhere you look online, and it goes something like this:

But I wanted to give you some slightly more alternative choices — because I try to avoid being ordinary whenever possible. Yes, okay, you can say it — because I’m downright weird. So in place of those otherwise awesome films, may I present to you the following movies which have inspired me personally:

1) The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), directed by Stephan Elliot

Why I love this film: It’s ridiculous and lots of fun, which is pretty much how I think all life should be! As three Sydney drag queens travel through the barren Australian outback, we get to see that iconic terrain, vast and empty and aching to be explored. This film has it all: humor, a light-hearted way of handling a serious message (about homophobia) and visuals to die for as the trio procession through some of Australia’s most awe-inspiring scenery. In a big pink bus.
Personal note: Not only did I travel to Australia and fall in love with a woman who considers this her favorite movie ever –- I also had the good fortune to be with her when she decided to re-enact one of the film’s famous scenes, when the drag queens hike around King’s Canyon in their fabulous dresses! I’d say we got mixed reactions from the other tourists — probably me, most of all…
Memorable line:

Felicia: The only life I saw for the last million miles were the hypnotized bunnies. Most of them are now wedged in the tires.

2) Black Sheep (2007), directed by Jonathan King

Also ran: Actually, I was going to nominate The Lord of the Rings trilogy but then decided — NO! I can’t use it. It’s too easy. Plus we’ve already had one film with Hugo Weaving (the mighty Elrond played a drag queen in Priscilla!). I know, across the three films they showcase the sights of New Zealand at their jaw-dropping best — anyone who hasn’t watched these films and felt an urgent need to visit New Zealand needs to watch them again but ignore the kick-ass sword fighting… Yeah, I know. That’s never going to happen.
Why Black Sheep won out: The rugged landscape looks every bit as impressive in this movie as it does in Lord of the Rings — but it’s also populated by were-sheep, an accidental result of some unusual genetic manipulation… See it, and laugh at the New Zealanders. Oddly enough, they’ll love you for it. It’s the Kiwis’ love of poking fun at everything, especially themselves — their self-deprecating humor — that really made me want to visit the place. I felt like I would fit in there. And I did — I stayed for two years. By the time I left, I was on a first-name basis with the entire population.
Memorable lines:

There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand…and they’re pi**ed off!

Harry (as the were-sheep charge towards them): F**k, the sheep!
Tucker: No mate, we haven’t time for that.

3) Lost in Translation (2003), directed by Sofia Coppola

Why I love this film: It’s an odd one, this one. The first time I watched it, my mind boggled at how something so boring, with nothing remotely resembling a plot, could get made into a movie. Then I watched it again. And again. Because it was the rainy season in Thailand, where I was living, so I couldn’t go outside — and we only had three DVDs in English, so we watched all of them every day. For two months. Somewhere around the halfway point of this torturous process, I fell in love with Lost in Translation — maybe I just needed to relax to appreciate it? Once I stopped looking for something to happen, I started to understand what it was all about: loneliness, uncertainty, being adrift and confused in a completely alien culture. And ever since then I’ve desperately wanted to go to Tokyo. Well, not enough to actually go there — yet — but you know what I mean. I do travel vicariously — just sometimes — and this is one of ‘em.
Caveat: If, like me, you’re a fan of films where, you know, stuff happens — it might take you a few viewings to get used to it. Forty or fifty should do the trick.
Memorable line:

Charlotte: Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.

4) Ip Man (2008), directed by Wilson Yip

Why I love this film: The closest I’ve come to China are the little “made in” labels on almost everything I own. This film, however, kindled a desire to visit China that I never knew I had in me. It’s the biographical story of the most famous kung fu practitioner in the world — not Bruce Lee but his teacher in Wing Chun kung fu, master Ip Man. It’s set in Foshan, China in the 1930s-40s during the Japanese Invasion, but was filmed in Shanghai. It follows the family of the master as he becomes ensnared in the war, losing everything over the course of the Occupation and being forced to face the hardest choices a man could make. The insight into a lifestyle and culture so utterly different from my own was fascinating enough, but this is a story both moving and powerful.
Audience participation: I dare anyone to watch it and not leap off the couch at some point with a cry of “Yeah, kick his ASS!” Ahem. Okay, so maybe that’s just me.
In sum: Will it make you want to visit China? I think so. Will it make you want to learn kung fu? I absolutely guarantee it!

And because I’m a contrary kind of guy, I just had to retaliate against my own optimism by highlighting a film that made me NOT want to travel:

5) Cidade de Deus (City of God) (2002), directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund

Why I don’t recommend this film: The film is set in the 1970s, in the poorest districts surrounding Rio de Janeiro, where drugs and guns rule and the population live in a fear only matched by their misery. I saw it in South America, in its native Portuguese — but with Spanish subtitles. Given my fledgeling abilities in that language, as described in a previous post, I may have failed to grasp every nuance of the story, but basically what I took from it was: “DON’T EVER GO THERE! They will kill you for the hell of it.”
Analysis:There is poverty everywhere in the world — I’ve worked in homeless shelters in the UK and seen people every bit as desperate as the denizens of Brazilian favelas (shanty towns). But these kind of places, where automatic weapons are more readily available than McDonald’s hamburgers and life is so very cheap…they absolutely terrify me.
In sum: Brazil remains on my list of all-time favorite, must-visit countries — but no way am I going anywhere near the favelas in Rio. This film has put me off — for life.

* * *

And finally…there’s one character that stands head and shoulders (and hat!) above all the rest when it comes to inspiring my travels. I’ve carefully avoided mentioning his films, as I was trying hard to keep this a cheese-free list — but I can’t hold it in any more.


I know, I know! So does everybody in the world, ever. Even people in remote tribes that have never been contacted by the Western world, secretly harbor a desire to be Indiana Jones — they just don’t know how to put it into words.

So — now it’s your turn!
1) What films have made you want to travel? And why?
2) What films have made you want to run screaming from the very idea of travel — and why?
3) If you WERE Indiana Jones — what would you do?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post on cinema and the expat life.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images: Tony James Slater (yes, that’s really him!) playing out his fantasy of being Indiana Jones; film posters courtesy Wikipedia.

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