I pictured myself living in São Paulo and I was comfortable
with that. However, my
indecisiveness started as I
talked to other people who regarded it as a
crazy move to a violent Third World country.
Over the course of the few months that I have lived in São Paulo, I have had to explain my reasons for choosing to
move to this country countless dozens of times. To some Brazilians the fact that I visited Brazil, liked it and wanted to move
here, usually does not sound convincing enough. As if the truth were not interesting enough, I sometimes get the feeling that
it would be best to make up a more dramatic story. This whole scenario has given me ample time to think of the real reason
that I decided to move here without a job or a place to live while knowing only one person in São Paulo. What follows is the
story of how I fell in love with Brazil, in abbreviated form.
The most beautiful language in the worldBrazilian Portuguese
My first introduction to the language of Brazil, came in the form of a Brazilian
telenovela, Tropicaliente. One winter
while working as an executive search consultant in the snowy and dark capital of Russia, Moscow, I used to jealously watch
the drama which would unfold nightly between the daughter from a poor fishing family and the son of a rich industrialist,
their romantic passions played out on the sunny, tropical beaches of Bahia.
While the gorgeous scenery and the lack of clothes made a permanent impression on my sun-starved psyche, it was
the Portuguese language which was interspersed with the dubbed Russian translation, which convinced me that this was
the most beautiful, sensual language I had ever heard. I was determined to one day learn it. For someone who had studied
numerous languages, and even managed to master a couple of them, I was certain that someday this dream would become reality.
Several years and careers later, I finally got my chance to learn the mysteriously beautiful language while working in
Los Angeles for a major film studio. I started learning from scratch and loved this language unlike any other, the
pronunciation was a bit difficult, but my previous knowledge of Latin, French, Spanish and Italian helped my efforts tremendously. I
never had trouble speaking any of the languages I studied and Portuguese was no exception.
I mercilessly butchered the language and spoke a strange mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, most people taking me
for an Argentinean or an odd Italian. I began earnestly planning a trip to Brazil, a travel adventure which would perhaps
include a chance to study the language in the country.
Brazilhere I come!!!
While studying the language and trying to figure out where to go and what to see, I realized there was no way I
could come to Brazil for one or even two weeks, the country was vast with so many exciting and interesting places, from the
Amazon to the architectural marvels created by Niemeyer in Brasília, to the beaches of Rio and Bahia and the wetlands teeming
with life in the Pantanal.
I knew I had to have more time to travel and also study the language. After much thought and internal turmoil, I
decided to quit my dead-end job and take the time to study Portuguese, travel and see if I would like to live and work in Brazil. I
planned a flexible trip, which would include visits to Rio, São Paulo, Belém, Cuiabá, Fortaleza and a two-week language study in
Salvador, state of Bahia.
Rio de Janeiro
The very first stop on my trip would be to the beaches and postcard beautiful splendors of Rio. I arrived at the end
of August, but Rio was not exactly what I expected. I had arranged to spend the first night in Brazil at the home of a friend
from LA. Julian, my friend’s dad, was a sprightly 75-year old who had arrived in Brazil over fifty years ago from Barcelona.
Amazingly enough, although Julian had a successful career in Brazil and was now retired, he did not speak Portuguese and we
spent the first day sightseeing while I got to practice my now rusty Spanish.
As Julian’s house and car were robbed many times, he advised me to be very careful. I took his advice to heart and
left all of my valuables at the house and carefully placed my money inside my underwear (since I did not bring a money
wallet) and spent the entire first day walking nervously around the city and being embarrassed when it came time to pay for
something as I had to remove my now sweaty money from somewhere deep in my shorts.
That first day in Rio was very overcast, there was no one on the beach, the city looked dirty and needless to say I
was very disappointed. This was not the Brazil I imagined. Where were those sun-seeking beachgoers wearing tiny bikinis,
where were the football and volleyball players, the music, the romance, the girls of Ipanema? Day two however was much
better, as I moved to a small hotel in Copacabana with a friend of mine who arrived from the US.
We visited the Christ the Redeemer monument, Sugarloaf Mountain and various other tourist spots and night spots
in the city, ate great food, and drank coconut water on the beach. As the weekend came and the clouds parted, hordes of
Cariocas flocked to the beaches. Here finally was the Rio I always imagined, the city with the most interesting people watching,
where the beach is never dull and is filled with exotic characters from all walks of life. My week’s stay passed quickly and I
really grew to love Rio, the most memorable moments being the sunset view from Sugar Loaf and the long walks down
Copacabana Beach at twilight.
Through an American website I had found a school in Salvador, which would provide four hours of Portuguese
instruction per day and also arrange a stay with a Brazilian family. I had heard so many great things about Salvador that I thought it
would be a great place to study Portuguese because of its baroque historical town center, the proximity of great beaches, its
fascinating cuisine and its unique contributions to Brazil’s cultural diversity in the forms of Bahian music,
capoeira and candomblé.
I lived with a very friendly family in the heart of Barra; all of the children had grown up and the parents rented their
rooms to students from the language school. Every morning, I would be treated to a huge breakfast feast, which included fresh
juices, toasted sandwiches, several kinds of fruit, cake, eggs and lots of other delicious hot foods, a far cry from a similar family
I lived with in Lisbon where the breakfast consisted of a roll and cerealthe same exact thing every day.
Besides the parents, the cast of characters included a lot of friendly relatives and neighbors and there was the
ever-visible maid, whom everyone called Negra (as I came to learn, this is a term of affection in Bahia). She was about 25 years old
and went to night school as she had dropped out of school at an early age. It took me a while to figure out that the maid had
actually lived with us as I never saw her at night.
Those several weeks spent in Salvador were truly unforgettable. My language class had four other students, they
were from Switzerland, France and Japan. We all got along really well and our after-class routine involved eating lunch at a
great vegetarian por-kilo (by-the-kg) restaurant, which would be followed by lazy sunning and swimming at Barra beach; then
we would head home for a nap after which we would meet up again at night and go out for dinner, drinks, music and dancing.
It was in Salvador that I became addicted to
açaí, the great Brazilian invention full of vitamins, nutrients and calories,
an acquired taste which looks like purple mud. There is one place in Salvador which is said to have the best
açaí in town, it is located near Barra Shopping where they make a great big bowl of the stuff and add
guaraná, banana, raisins and granola.
Tuesday nights in Salvador are especially interesting as a lot of the locals and visitors head to Pelourinho, the
historical heart of the city to see performances by percussion groups such as the famous Olodum as well as many other bands
that play in the city’s bars and restaurants and musical groups that start practicing for Carnaval.
The impressive Baroque architecture of the churches, squares and buildings all date from the time when Salvador
was the country’s capital during the colonial period. The weekends in Salvador were spent visiting the gorgeous beaches,
which were adjacent to the city as well as the beautiful island of Morro de São Paulo. The island is an idyllic paradise, which is
surrounded by gorgeous aquamarine waters and palm-strewn beaches, where the hotels are sophisticated shacks with electricity and
As I was staying in Brazil longer than one month on a student visa, I had to be registered at the Federal Police
station in Salvador. After putting off this task numerous times, I decided to take care of it once and for all on what seemed like a
Tuesday unlike any other, September 11, 2001. My Brazilian host mother took me to the police station in the morning. While filling
out a very long application form in the department for foreigners, getting pictures taken and waiting to be finger printed, I
was watching a small black and white television in the waiting area.
There was no sound coming from the TV, but the picture was now showing CNN with a shot of the World Trade
Center on fire. I had understood that a plane had crashed into one of the towers but would not learn that it was a terrorist attack
until much later in the day. This event had a profound effect on me, it was very strange to be an American and to be outside
the US during such a difficult time especially as I had grown up in New York and my family and friends still lived there. It
made me want to go back to the US and I was questioning my decision to want to move to Brazil. After almost three weeks in
Bahia, I said goodbye to my Brazilian family and friends in Salvador and headed North.
Next stop on my Brazilian journey took me to the capital of the state of Ceará, Fortaleza. A friend of mine
recommended it highly and said that the beaches surrounding the city were some of the most beautiful in Brazil. In fact the beaches
were very impressive, some of the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen were in Ceará. The gorgeous sand dunes of
Praia Lagoinha, the multi-colored sand of Canoa Quebrada and Morro Branco, the moon-like landscape of the dry serra,
which surrounds one of most beautiful and also the poorest states in Brazil.
The people here spoke Portuguese with a funny accent, which added even more color to the place. Visiting one of
the beaches with a group of Brazilian tourists from São Paulo and Santa Catarina, we all went out
forró dancing at night. Everyone was so friendly and as the token foreigner, they all made sure I was enjoying myself and tried to explain the nuances of
the comedy show which preceded the dancing. My next stop was at the biggest waterfalls in the world, Foz de Iguaçu.
Foz de Iguaçu
This truly is one of the wonders of the world. The most beautiful waterfalls, which are surrounded by a rainforest
teeming with lots of fauna and flora. In fact, Iguaçu, has numerous waterfalls and is located on the border between Argentina
and Brazil. The Argentineans and Brazilians are constantly arguing about which side of the falls is more beautiful, what is
even more interesting about this senseless debate is that while standing in Brazil, you are actually looking at the Argentinean
side and vice versa.
The falls are quite breathtaking and I spent a lot of time looking in the rain, the sunshine and the moonlight. Among
the many interesting creatures which inhabit the forest such as toucans and giant butterflies is a furry little critter called
coati, a South American version of a raccoon, which digs around garbage cans for food.
I had always dreamt of going to the Amazon, but my guidebook and several friends suggested that I instead go to
Cuiabá, state of Mato Grosso, and arrange a trip from there to the Pantanal, a wetland which has many rare species of animals
such as the anaconda, jaguar, marsh deer, cayman, as well as lots of birds, and fish such as the piranha.
The Pantanal is a national park where most of the land is privately owned by cattle ranchers. The Transpantaneira,
the only road in the Pantanal, is made of dirt and traverses only half of the territory and includes about 160 bridges made of
wooden planks. Lots of tourists come to Cuiabá to arrange tours to the Pantanal. There are many unscrupulous guides operating
in the city and you have to be very careful in hiring a good guide as I luckily found out before choosing one.
My trip to the Pantanal lasted three days and included stays in
fazendas along the way. We saw lots of animals and
birds such as the endangered blue hyacinth macaw, which lives in groups in tall trees. The trip included piranha fishing,
horse-back riding in the forest, and waking up very early to look at animal life by canoe along the banks of the river.
A newly created private park called the Jaguar Reserve was started by an American environmental group and
Brazilian cattle ranchers who are turning their farms into eco-tourism stations. This area has the highest rate for spotting jaguars,
one out of every two people see one. This has to be done at night as jaguars are nocturnal.
After hearing horror stories from Brazilians in other cities about São Paulo, I was pleasantly surprised to find the city
to my liking. It was certainly huge and spread out over a large area, very chaotic with a frenetic pace sort of like New York
on speed. However what the city lacked in utter charm and grace, it certainly made up for in sophistication, especially when
compared to the other cities in Brazil.
I loved the incredible restaurants, great contemporary art museums such as MASP, MAM, MAC, Pinacoteca,
interesting shopping, the variety of cultural events and the hip nightlife. Upon my arrival in Brazil I had arranged some
informational interviews in the city, but since my change of heart after September 11th, I was unsure if I wanted to move to Brazil.
However, I still decided to meet with people and discuss potential job opportunities. According to these contacts
with my previous experience and language skills, I would be able to find a good position. All I had to do now was make a
decision about moving here. After a week spent enjoying the various sights of the city, my two month Brazilian odyssey came to
I was really looking forward to going back to the US and felt that I had experienced enough of Brazil. What I found in
the US though, did not agree with me. Los Angeles is usually a very happy-go-lucky city, people think about the beach and
the sun, about hiking in the mountains and about barbeques. The city was really affected by the terrorist bombings in New
York and Washington.
There was a general feeling of gloom and doom, the entertainment industry had laid off workers as the recession
worsened and most companies had put a freeze on hiring and salary increases. I really missed Brazil and wanted to go back
immediately. Things that I missed about LA did nothing for me and I spent several months trying to figure out what I wanted to do
and where I wanted to do it. Deep in my heart, I knew that I wanted the challenge and the excitement of living and working in
Brazil, but the idea sounded preposterous and scary.
I pictured myself living in São Paulo and I was comfortable with that. However, my indecisiveness started as I talked
to other people who regarded it as a crazy move to a violent Third World country. I decided that I would make up my mind
somewhere around the holiday season which starts with Thanksgiving and ends with the New Year. Well all the holidays came and
went, my indecisiveness and anxiety grew, and I was not even close to making my decision.
Finally I just decided to give it a chance, thinking that if I did not make the move, I would always regret it and if I
really did not like Brazil, I could always come back. I decided to move right after Carnaval. I proceeded to sell my car and my
furniture, packed and stored most of my belongings and finally arrived in São Paulo on February 28. Ever since then, I have really
enjoyed living here, it has been challenging at times, but I have not ever regretted making the move.
This article appeared originally at the Globond site
Steve Rozengauz, 32 years old, has lived in São Paulo during the last 7 months and has worked as a consultant to the
Russian-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. He is currently launching a marketing company. E-mail:
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