Wednesday, May 28, 2008

São Paulo Pride

If you don't count my trip to Buenos Aires, which is only a short boat ride away, São Paulo was my first real "trip" since my arrival in Buenos Aires. I decided to come for the weekend of May 25th since that was the date of this year's gay pride march, which by all counts is by far the largest in the world. This year, officials are saying 3 to 5 million people took to the streets in support of the gay community, or perhaps just to party.

Knowing that São Paulo is known more for world-class dining, nightlife and other indoor pleasures than for quiet parks and pedestrian-friendly streets, I decided to splurge just a little by staying in a hotel room and enjoying a trendy meal or two. Here I am at the top of the BANESPA building in the city center. 

This only gives you a small glimpse into what is an absolutely sprawling city, home to something like 13 million people and one of the most populous cities in the world.

A definite highlight of the trip was getting the chance to reunite with four of the Fulbright Scholars I had met about 6 weeks earlier during the conference in Buenos Aires. Here we are on Avenida Paulista in the heart of the parade.

Somewhat serendipitously, the theme of this year's parade had plenty to do with my research topic. The poster below reads "12th GLBT Pride Parade: Homophobia Kills! For a De Facto Secular State!" The organizers of the parade wanted to advocate the removal of religious influence from state policymaking, with respect to legal protection of gay and lesbian persons in the workplace and same-sex partner benefits. The image on the left depicts the many religions that make up Brazilian society, and advocates a form of "secularism" that is not anti-religious but rather respective of all minority groups, both religious and sexual.

Given Brazil's reputation for a somewhat libertine attitude toward the topic of sex, I thought this next photo was very funny. 

All in all, the parade weekend was an absolute blast. I also thought the city itself was spectacular, in spite of the warnings of the Brazilian consulate officer who issued my visa that I was wholly ill-advised to go to São Paulo instead of Rio for tourism. While not atmospheric like Buenos Aires, and nowhere near as cheap, Sampa wins high marks for its great food, nightlife, shopping, and impressively liberal attitude.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Settled in...

No real common theme to this post, just some photos from Montevideo and other quick trips I have taken in the past 6 weeks. 

In case you are wondering where exactly Uruguay is, you can see it indicated on the map below.

You'll notice the map is a bit crude and that South America is inverted from what we usually see. That's because it is art. Joaquin Torres Garcia, the artist, wanted to suggested that the traditional North-South orientation of maps subordinate Uruguay and the Southern Cone to the great powers of the North. Inverting the map puts Uruguay in a position of greater importance. This concept is important to the Uruguayan psyche - evidenced by the fact that this image can be found on T-shits and mugs all over the country.

Here's another image of my apartment - from the inside this time. My terribly cluttered table accurately suggests that I do more studying than entertaining in my apartment.

The following picture is of a string of nice streeside restaurants located only a block from my apartment. The restaurant in front is an example of one of many Armenian restaurants found throughout Montevideo. How's that for random? Turns out, Montevideo and Buenos Aires are home to very sizable Armenian populations that have done a great job integrating their cuisine into the local flavor. An Armenian pizza-like dish called Lemeyun can even be found as a late-night snack at many bars throughout town. This Armenian restaurant is located next to a Hungarian restaurant, a typical Uruguayan steakhouse, and a Chinese carry-out place - evidence of Uruguay's surprisingly diverse ethnic mix.

One very pleasant excursion outside of Montevideo is Cerro Pan de Azucar, which makes a nice day hike and has a large concrete cross at the top that you find climb into and enjoy a great view. 

This very public display of the Christian faith is interesting for my research. It demonstrates how much the idea of "secularism" in Uruguay has evolved since the days in the early 20th century when crosses were banned in public hospitals, Holy Week and Christmas were renamed to Tourism Week and Day of the Family, and the president would hold barbecues around Lent and other holy days to spite the Catholic Church. This shift is one aspect I'll be focusing on in my research.

Speaking of my research, the following graphic will help you understand just a little better the interesting aspect of Uruguayan culture I'm studying here. Uruguay finds drastically different from the rest of Latin America in the very high number of people who claim to have no religion whatsoever. I'll be combining theory with survey data and other interviews to uncover why Uruguayans ended up so apathetic to religion and if this has changed as a result of the economic crisis of 2001-2002.

The definite highlight of the past month was the chance to spend couple days with some good friends from Denver during their trip to Buenos Aires. After about two weeks of enjoying beautiful architecture and people, fantastic steak, wine, ice cream, and world-class nightlife, Peter and Phil are already plotting return visits. Here is Peter at a famous hotel we hope to be able to afford some day.

I was also able to make a visit to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, only an hour boat ride from Buenos Aires. The town began as a secret Portuguese smuggler's port used to undermine the Spain's commercial monopoly in the Rio de la Plata. It was eventually turned over to the Spanish and became part of Uruguay, and nowadays it draws in lots of tourists from Uruguay and across the river for its cool breezes, great restaurants, and quaint Portuguese architecture. This is a typical street in the old part of Colonia, with a conveniently placed old-time cart for the casual photographer.

Finally, this last photo shows one of the quirky facts about Uruguay, and that is the surprising presence of well-preserved classic cars from the U.S. and Europe. Uruguay's prosperity early in the century and in the 1950's led to the import of vehicles from Europe and the U.S. The country's economic problems since then have meant that these old cars are kept in great condition and not discarded for shiny new imported vehicles, and Uruguay has become an unlikely hotspot for antique cars.