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The Works

They are into this quality certification process here big-time. Man,
it is just sensational. I went to one of these gas stations the other day, when I went on
a sales trip with an amigo in his car in Niterói.
By Postcards from Rio de Janeiro

They are into this quality certification process here big-time. Man,
it is just sensational. I went to one of these gas stations the other day, when I went on
a sales trip with an amigo in his car in Niterói.

John Miller

My Bicycle

What would I do without my bicycle? It is just so valuable and a lot of fun. It is
total freedom. The great part is Rio de Janeiro is so well catered for bike riders
especially in Zona Sul and towards Centro. Now Marta is just so protective, and really
worries about me on my bicycle. That’s nice, but gees, it’s a bicycle for Christ’s sake. I
do not ride very fast most of the times, but sometimes I like to race down a hill in
Leblon or São Conrado.

Also I use the bicycle to make deliveries of wine in Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, Leme,
sometimes to Lagoa and Gávea. I can carry about 12 bottles maximum without losing
stability and control, and any more than this I will hire a boy to deliver by bus or get
the customer to collect. I am a penny pinching stiff, so for short deliveries I go by
bicycle.

Now Marta wants me to wear a helmet so she bought me one of those white plastic
helmets, très-chic, NOT. Man, I hate this helmet; it makes me look like Uncle Fester in
the Adams family. And it is just so dangerous. Let me explain.

In late September I had a long delivery run, to Gávea, Lagoa, back to Leblon, and
Ipanema then home. I head off about 3:30 PM with the wine (1 mixed dozen) in my haversack,
and this bloody helmet. I can see the storm clouds building up in the south, I will have
to finish this delivery in less than two hours I think, or else I am going to drown.

So today I am riding a little faster than normal, not much, but I am cranking the shaft
up a notch or two. I am sweating; it is dripping off me by the time I get to my second
last delivery in Ipanema about 5:30 PM. I am just about finished, and peddling through the
back streets of Ipanema, although it is peak hour and there are a few cars about, and some
gridlock. The sweat pouring off my brow is running in my eyes, it is so hot with this
blasted helmet. Suddenly I cannot see properly because of the sweat in my eyes; a car cuts
in front of me at an intersection and just props dead still due to the gridlock, and wham,
I plough into him (not him in to me thank Christ).

I actually just take a big tumble over the back of the car. I somehow manage to fall
and use my hands and knees as a cushion for the rest of my body to land on. I get up and
carefully lift and scrape the outer four layers of my knees and hands that now cover the
road and put them approximately back on my body (I’ll wash the dirt out later). Time to
check the important things. My bike is built like a tank, so no problem there. Double
check the wine is ok (that would have been a real bummer, all is ok). The driver gets out
and apologizes; I hand over the business cards. "Hey Fernando, you want to apologize,
buy some Aussie wine?"

This is all because of this bloody helmet. About three days later Marta asked where is
the helmet? I said it was stolen.

ISO-9002—and good old fashion service

Yep, they are into this quality certification process here big-time. Now one of the big
petroleum companies has been hammering away at the service stations on this front, and a
few petrol stations have finished ISO-9002. When this happens, the service station
attendants wear this really great plastic coverall all with ISO-9002 plastered all over
it. So what is like?

Man, it is just sensational. I went to one of these stations the other day, when I went
on a sales trip with an amigo in his car in Niterói. He was low on fuel and pulled
into one of these service stations just to top up the tank, nothing else. Anyway, we pull
in and man, I think it was the pit crew from Formula One racing team practicing here on
how to give good fast service. There are six guys working our car, one on the pump, one on
the tires, one under bonnet, one doing the windscreen front and back, and two guys with
huge pearly white teeth selling icy cans of Coca-Cola or whatever. Now, Yuri (the guy in
the driver’s seat), just hands over $R15 (about $8) and I buy a can of coke, that is $R16
total, and six guys worked us over.

When was the last time you had service like this? 1920. Nah, NEVER!

Another example. One of the big supermarket chains in Rio is Zona Sul. Marta and I had
a Festa de Cachaça e Cerveja (Liquor and Beer Party) one night in October for about 50
people. A lot of work goes into running a party as you know, and at the last minute I
forgot to get some plastic cups. So I race around the corner to Zona Sul and no cups in
this store. The manager comes over and says wait a minute. He pulls out the mobile phone,
two phone calls, asks me how many cups, ten minutes later a guy on a bike comes up to the
store with 200 plastic cups from the other Zona Sul store down the road. It cost about
$10.

Ever have this happen at Safeway or Woolworths? Brazilian service, awesome some days,
other days, well, I think I’ll leave that for other people to write about.

Bob Marley & The Wailers

Bob could not make this episode, but his band did. When I was finishing high school,
Bob Marley and the Wailers were a huge influence on my musical tastes. It was also a great
time for calypso cricket, and I guess the two just seemed so compatible. Anyway, 20 years
later, I get to see the Wailers in Rio de Janeiro. They are not young any more, they have
a new lead vocalist of course (Bob died 14 years ago I think), who sounds pretty similar
to Bob.

The Wailers are playing at the Metropolitan, an indoor concert venue in Barra da
Tijuca, holds about 4,000 people, standing room only. It is under a Shopping center. Cost:
$10 per head.

So it is Saturday 28th September, and Marta, Rob, my Portuguese tutor,
Tamara, and a girlfriend head off at 9:00 PM to the concert. We arrive just in time for
the traffic jam, park the car (sort of), and head over to the gates. We join the queue to
get in, and in about three minutes flat we are guardians for about ten under-16 teenage
girls who want to go to the concert, have tickets, but need to show the security people
that they are in good hands. No problem. Marta, Rob and I just play the roles of parents,
uncle or whatever for this scam.

The crowd is reasonably well behaved in the line, but it gets a bit intense for a while
as there is a bit of checking to do to get in, usual metal detector stuff. Finally we get
inside, and it is just a beautiful feeling, a good mixture of teenagers, and adults, this
is family night, the Wailers fan club spans a couple of generations. Lots of people in the
traditional colored clothes of red, black, green and yellow, plenty of guys that look like
they could do a stand in on an Iced Tea commercial.

It is a capacity crowd, but everyone is so well behaved. You can buy alcohol inside,
beer, cachaça, everyone is just so well behaved, no one drunk, but as usual
enjoying to the maximum. And as you know the Wailers and Rastafarian culture has a lot of
involvement with maconha (marijuana), so it is just everywhere. The place is just
one big Bong! Man, it is so chilled out in here, you could get high just breathing the
exhaust fumes from the air conditioning vents. And it is pretty warm in here.

OK, show time is about 11:30, and it is incredible, all the great songs. "Stand
up", "Freedom", "I Shot the Sheriff", "Trenchtown
Rock", "The Redback on the Toilet Seat" (joke), all the numbers made so
very popular over the years. Now, one part of this I did not expect was just how well
behaved the crowd was. Tamara wanted to go to the front of the concert, and I said this
would be impossible, based upon my experience of concerts in Australia. She says no, so
Tamara and I head to the front. No sweat, right to the front, no pushing, no panicking, no
aggression, just very good Karma, but so much maconha. The band is even tossing
joints to the crowd.

The concert finishes about 2:30 AM. Everyone is very happy. I have been assigned the
task of getting autographs of the band. Now a little Aussie knowledge helps here. The
crowd waiting to get autographs is pretty thick, so I am at the back, 4 deep, about a 10
minute wait coming up. But I use the magic words and scream at one of the Wailers:
"Viv Richards is God!" I had a complete set of autographs in less than 30
seconds. Cariocas are just staring at me, wanting to know what I said. A couple of
them ask me what I said, and pretty soon they are all saying "Viv Richards, Viv
Richards". Man, this is just so much fun. The Wailers drummer is beaming at me and
winking away.

We head off, typical post concert traffic, boy, do I need to eat a lot of pizza now. I
have a serious case of the munchies. I wonder what caused that? Must be all that dancing.
Eat at home dial a pizza. Bedtime: 5:30 AM. Make love for eight seconds. ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz.

My Visa

They have this process of registering documents in Brazil. What happens, is you go to a
company, which has a license from the government, that is authorized to say your documents
are authentic. When they see your documents (for example a passport, or wedding
certificate), they photocopy them, then stamp them that they are legal, official,
originals, legitimate. Then you can take these photocopies of the documents (with the
official stamps that say they are legitimate) and get them through the system for whatever
process you desire.

In my case, this process is about gaining a more permanent residency status (and
eventually onto Green Card type status). So Marta works the system (for about three days
of standing in line with me just watching and tagging along), meeting bureaucrats. I am
bored shitless, but the number of people involved is just mind boggling. At the end, you
think you have made it. Nup, wait another twelve months, but in the interim, you get this
piece of paper with a number on it that says you can stay as long as you behave yourself
for 90 days and come back again in 90 days to renew.

Now that that’s completed you think you are in the clear. No way, Jose. That’s just the
start. You have yet to get a CPF (IRS card). Then you may try to get your Identidade (ID).
What about a work book (carteira de trabalho)? Do you want a driver’s license (carteira de
motorista)? How about opening a bank account (conta bancária)? Would you like medical
insurance (seguro saúde)? Video store card? Man, the system. How much more of this is
there?

Lochness Scottish Pub Restaurant

Lord Jim’s was an institution Bar in Ipanema for many years as a watering hole for the
ex-pat community people. Times change, and Lord Jim’s has changed hands, and so have the
frequenters. This is a frequent event in Rio. Pubs, bars, restaurants, discos come and go
with great regularity. Bars can go from being the most popular bar in Rio in one month, to
desert the next. Loyalty is the most sought-after thing amongst restaurant owners.

Lochness Scottish Bar Restaurant was opened in the Paddington of Rio, Botafogo, some
years ago. It does fairly good trade on a Friday & Saturday. Lochness Bar has the bag
pipes playing on most Friday nights, stirring music for Anglo-Saxons, but not even
remotely understood by the Carioca (the expressions of pain on my wife Marta’s face
when she hears this music is something to see).

This bar is loaded with ex pats from the Commonwealth. Also a lot of Cariocas
that have spent time in London, and the usual Royal Navy boys in town for R&R. One of
the really charming things about talking to Cariocas in English, is you can tell
where they learned English by their accent. Hence, those Cariocas who lived in the
USA talk with an American accent, those who learned in London with an English accent,
those who learnt in Brazil, have a Carioca accent.

Anyway Marta & I and couple of amigos went to Lochness in October one Friday
night. It’s 10:30 PM and the bar is in full swing. Anyway, I am chatting away to a couple
of British sailors, and one says to me:

"See that silver-haired elderly gentleman in the corner with the other guy, is
that who I think it is?"

I say, "Look, I have never met the guy, but I think yeah, it’s him, right age, and
he does live here, that is for sure".

So whispers start to do the round and all the British sailors are wondering how to
approach the guy.

So I walk over and extend my hand, "Boa noite, Senhor Ronaldo. My name is
John Miller, my father knew you when you lived in Australia and you were working as a
laborer on the construction of Tullamarine Airport. Can we talk for a moment?".

Ronald says, "Good God man, never say that name in my presence again. You know of
course that the British detective who kidnapped me in Rio de Janeiro was also called John
Miller. You have taken 2 years off my life. And I do not have too many to spare."

So we start to talk a little about the time he spent in Australia. About his memories
of six o’clock closing, the times he spent on Yeppoon Beach, traveling around Australia,
his son who played Aussie Rules football. How his wife died recently. The bars and discos
he has owned in Rio de Janeiro. He asks about the Australian wine of course and is
naturally curious. I said that Australia was a vastly different dining experience to those
of the sixties, the influence of the Italians, Vietnamese, Thais, etc. He fondly remembers
dining in Little Bourke Street Melbourne at a Chinese restaurant.

By this stage, a few more sailors have got up the gumption to talk to Senhor
Biggs, and they are moving in for autographs and T-shirts that he sells. I decide it is
time for me to leave him with his little business in peace. I am sure we will have more
time together at some stage.

A Visit to the Dentist

Let me put this into context. I was given a book to read recently, about Nazis in South
America, pulp fiction stuff, written in the seventies when all these types of books were
so popular, and well, supposedly based upon fact, but you know, hard to believe. So I read
it, and it was ok, the best pieces were about describing the geography of Paraguay, Brazil
and Argentina. The central character was a German doctor of a very dubious background who
did villainous things in the concentration camps in the Second World War. And yeah, I have
read Marathon Man and saw Dustin Hoffman in the film version. Dentists and me are
never comfortable, even if I have had very few problems with my teeth, but I guess I am
not too different from most people on this front.

Anyway, a very old filling of mine works its way loose during one of those infamous churrascaria
afternoons and so it is time to go see the dentist. Marta comes along with me as the
dentist does not speak English, and I figure with a hand in my mouth and screaming, my
Portuguese is not going to sound too good. So it is off to the Copacabana Public Clinic.

OK, so we arrive and check in. The place has all the usual standard cream tiles, very
clean, not too much screaming and whaling taking place, so I figure this may still be OK.
We fill in some paperwork, and then we wait about three minutes, and we are told to go in.
Thank Christ it is not some old German dentist. I am deeply relieved.

The dentist’s name is Alexandra, a Carioca, and I make some jokes, and I sit
down in the usual "Jason reclining" rocking chair. She speaks very little
English, so I explain to her that screaming in pain like this
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" means the same in English as it is in Portuguese.

The spotlights go, it’s "abra mais" (open wide) time, and she dives in
with the instruments, and starts poking around. Some Portuguese equivalent to "this
may hurt a bit" sends me flaying around on the chair, and Marta chides me for being
such a big baby. OK, diagnosis is over, this is a big job, canal level stuff, need to do
this in two steps, a temporary filling for the next four weeks, then a proper block mould
for the entire tooth in about four weeks time. "Any allergies, Senhor?" Ummmm,
yep "German dentists in Brazil". She looks at me with a puzzled expression.

Alexandra then hits me with the first of two elephant tranquilizer dart gun bullets,
and I can feel my mouth going numb, plus the whole side of my head, neck, and I am
starting to lose control of my right shoulder and arm when I start thinking about losing
control of my other bodily functions (what happens if this novocaine gets that far down my
anatomy?). I could swear that she could remove my right eye and I would not feel it. Marta
and Alexandra are jabbering away like I do not exist, meanwhile I have the cold sweats,
and wondering where are the certificates on the wall that says Alexandra is a dentist?
This could be the local McDonald’s attendant for all I know. Gee, do anesthetics make you
paranoid or what?

OK, so in go the wads of cotton à la Marlon Brando in the Godfather, in comes
that stupid gadget that makes the sucking noise inside your mouth that never removes the
saliva, and more "abra mais". Now the day they can make one of the
dentist drills without the high pitch whine will be a big step forward in dentistry. And
why do they not ever issue you with earplugs. The whining commences, bits of old filling
and teeth, the smell of burning something or other, I am really freaking now, man, Get me
out of here quickly. Marta is just so kind in a firm way, and is reassuring me that
everything will be all right. That’s OK for Marta; she has perfect teeth.

I get a break after 10 minutes to gob up the contents of my mouth (I hope this conjures
up a pretty sight because I am pretty freaked out now). Now it’s time to put the temporary
filling in and Alexandria works the paste into my mouth into some form of a tooth.
Perspiration forming on her brow, me too, she is working overtime to get this in place
before it sets rigid.

Now, just to diverge a little, you know when you go to a hairdresser to get your hair
done, at the end the barber passes the mirror around to see if you like the workmanship.
Why don’t dentists do this?

We finish with me mumbling if we can take the cotton wool out now and if I can keep the
old filling as a souvenir. Cost: $15 per 45 minutes work. MMMMMmmmmmm. No one is making
money, that’s for sure. I am not complaining, and my temporary filling works a treat. Next
I mumble: "Ah, Alexandra, do you like wine?"

That night, there was considerable dribbling of beer and cachaça from the side
of my mouth till the Novocain wore off.

Portuguese Lessons

You know in the movie & play My Fair Lady there is this wonderful scene
where Eliza Doolittle is practicing to speak "proper cultured" English and
professor Higgins is getting her to practice her "H" and rid herself of the East
London accent. It goes like this:

"Of Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire, Hurricanes hardly ever happen".

Of course, Eliza has a little trouble at first with this and it comes out like this:

"Of `artfod, `erefod, end `ampsheer, urricairns, ardlee ever appen".

This would be almost perfect pronunciation in Portuguese. The leading "h" is
silent in Portuguese.

Let’s move onto "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain".

By the way, professor Higgins in Rio is a girl named Tamara. She gives me Portuguese
lessons 2-3 times a week, and Marta is a sort of surrogate mother to her. Tamara is a
really cool Carioca. Loves a beach. So shall we begin with the lessons this month.
OK, how about the days of the week.

Sunday—domingo

Monday—segunda-feira

Tuesday—terça-feira

Wednesday—quarta-feira

Thursday—quinta-feira

Friday—sexta-feira

Saturday—sábado

See easy as pie. Took me a month to remember that.

Now how about the seasons:

Spring—primavera

Summer—verão

Winter—inverno

Autumn—Look, I knew it last week, it’s umm, on the tip of my tongue, oh yeah, can
you give me a clue, it’s like, sounds like, ummmm, gees, my mind’s gone a blank, OK, I
give in, you tell me. Tamara, can I have a beer now, por favor? Now I remember: outono.

John Miller is an Australian, living in Rio de Janeiro, selling
Australian wine. `Postcards from Rio’ is a journal of his journey in the land of the Cariocas.

For contact:

John and Marta Miller
Rua Joaquim Nabuco, 106 / Apt 1001
Copacabana CEP 22080-030
Rio de Janeiro
Brazil
Tel: +55 (021) 521 8568
E-mail: millerj@gbl.com.br 

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