Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nanowrimo begins on Saturday!

Nanowrimo. Sounds like the name of a tribe, doesn't it? In a way it is. The word stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's a challenge (not a competition) to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. It may not be started before November 1 and it must be finished by November 30. The key is quantity, not quality. Just whomp those words out and see what happens. This is the tenth year that people all over the country will decide to stop thinking about writing a novel and just write one.

The way it works is that when you finish, you upload your novel to the site, not for the content but for the all-important word count. The only way it can be read on the site is if you put bits of it up where it can be read.

My sister Mary and I have decided to do Nanowrimo again this year. We did it in 2003. Yup, I finished, and the proof is a very bad manuscript that has not moved off my desk since then. I also have the tee shirt. I liked the story I wrote, even as I realized that it was a piece of hack writing. At one point, one of my characters died unexpectedly. I sat at the computer sobbing for Joseph, who was such a gentle soul.

I have no idea yet what I'll write. I'm also keenly aware that November is a hugely busy month, with 40 performances. There's no changing Nanowrimo--it's in November, no matter what.

Wish me luck--oh, and let me know if you're also putting 50,000 words on paper (or on computer, as the case for me will be).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Change of season

Last week was spring. I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt in Sao Paulo on Saturday, where the temperatures were in the high 80s (fahrenheit). Now I'm home, with a fire in the woodstove. I'm having a hard time making these adjustments quickly. My daydreams are all in Brazil.

Doing some physical work can be grounding. Yesterday I mowed the lawn, put the front storm door up, moved the picnic table and benches to the garage, took the porch swing down for storage. Today I stacked this pile of wood, which should keep me warm for about a month if it doesn't get too cold outside:

This is what my friends Granny Sue and Batsy refer to as a "hedge fund." In this case, that's accurate: much of the wood in this pile is Osage Orange, also called hedge. Those tins are for the ashes from the stove.

I also cleaned the gutters this morning, pulled up the morning glories and the tomato plants, fixed a faucet, did dishes and swept the front walk.

That's enough grounding for now. Back to my daydreams. Oh, and maybe some office work.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fruit at home

No papaya for breakfast. I went to the grocery store yesterday and looked at the sorry (and expensive) papayas in the produce section. No, not local. I did have a couple of wonderfully crisp apples, giant thanks to one of the elves who delivered food to my house before I got home. There were also a couple of perfect pears on the table, and my tomato plant had some fruit that the squirrels didn't eat. Also fresh jalapenos off the plants in back. 

And look what I found at the Community Mercantile, our food coop: 

The one on top is acai pulp for making smoothies. Also expensive, but I seem to be indulging myself today. The bottom one is just the fizzy stuff for getting a good dose of vitamin C.

Acai is pronounced "ah-sah-ee" with the stress on the ee. I'm not quite sure how to put the cedilla under that c.


Monday, October 27, 2008

One more Sao Paulo picture

Where were these going? This was on a quiet street, near St. Francis school. 

Miscellany from Brazil

I'm home. That is, my body is here, but my heart is still in Brazil. 

On Saturday, before I left, we went to a free concert in the park in Sao Paulo. Funny to get to hear the amazing Sonny Rollins in Brazil! It was a beautiful day, with lots of great people-watching and great music. From there to lunch at a little organic foods cafe, then on to the airport for the 26-hour trip back to Kansas (slightly longer than expected, due to a mechanical problem on the plane in Miami). 

Anyway, I had a few more photos from Friday I wanted to put up. First is Daniel, our taxi driver for several days: 

He didn't speak English, but Cris said he was full of opinions. On the last day, he insisted that we eat at a particular restaurant near Cultura Inglesa. It was very chiqui, very expensive, and not quite as good as some of the other places we ate, but I think we ate there because of the force of Daniel's conviction. He wasn't even with us for the meal!

On that day, we walked around the neighborhood near Cultura Inglesa. Here's a Bird of Paradise we saw on our walk:
Did I mention that the Cultura Inglesa branches all kindly provided a huge amount of food for the two of us? Here's part of the spread at the first one last Friday. You can't see the giant bowl of grapes (possibly the most delicious I've ever had), or the plates of sliced turkey and cheese.

Yes, I think there were ten rolls there. 

I loved the names of the table napkins:
Then again, we've got Chinet and Coronet napkins, so who am I to comment?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thanks, thanks, thanks!

"If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." Meister Eckhart

Every now and then a storyteller becomes speechless. I don't have all the words to say thank you to Cris and Pati, not just for taking extremely good care of me as part of their tour manager job description, but for becoming such good friends.  These are some of my favorite pictures of them. 

Don't we all look so chiqui here? 

Cultura Inglesa, last day

The last three sets of this Brazilian tour were at branches of Cultura Inglesa, where kids come to study English language and culture. In all, I told at ten branches. Some were great, some were challenging, depending on the level of English the students had attained and also how much preparation they'd had. Here are a few pictures of this last day:

And here's Trixie, giving an autograph. She's left handed. It's a good thing her name is short and easy to write!

St Francis

What a week! This was the second-heaviest week of the tour, with 17 sets (I count 2-hour workshops as two sets). The last one was the 53rd show of the month. Is this my record? I can't remember. As you might guess, I'm a bit tired.

On Wednesday and Thursday I told stories at St. Francis College (for those of you in the US, that means private school, not university), a lovely school in a quiet residential area of Sao Paulo. I eyed their swimming pool jealously--my bathing suit and goggles were at the hotel, where there is no pool.

Though the school only takes up a small area, the space is lovely and well-thought out.

I did a workshop for the teachers on Wednesday. They were great! When they came in, they sat mostly at the back of the room or behind desks, clearly tired from a long day. I let them stay behind their defenses for a little bit, then coaxed them out of their seats. Off they went! The rest of the workshop was relaxed, full of laughter and connection--and even some insight.

As I left the school on Thursday, after four good shows, I could hear the children telling each other The ghost with the one black eye. Aah.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Spring weather

Faith asked about the weather here in Brazil. It has been warm here this week, around 85 today (29.4 celsius) and sunny for most of the day. However, I took these two pictures out my window about half an hour ago and now I hear thunder.

It has rained many of the days I've been here, but usually not much. In the first week I was in Sao Paulo it was chilly, around 65 degrees (18 celsius).  In Rio it was warmer. In both cities I've worn shorts and tee shirts, in both cities I've worn sweaters and long pants. A fellow at one of my workshops said that in Sao Paulo, you have to dress for five different seasons all in the same day.  

On a side note, many of the trees I noticed when I first arrived have stopped flowering. I'm so glad I got to see them!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pictures from the sarau

I just received pictures of the sarau at Regina Machado's last Saturday night. Here I am telling The great sharp scissors while Pati translates:

And here is the dancing. The dancers are wearing chita, a traditional Brazilian fabric with a vibrant floral pattern.

And this is the picture I was most hoping to get, from the very end of the evening. On my right is Regina Machado, the elegant hostess of this evening, on my left is my friend and tour manager, Cris (her sister Pati is the other tour manager), and on her left is one of their friends.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"I could skip lunch"

After one of the performances today at St. Nicholas School, a student stopped me in the lunchroom. "Tell another story, please!" I said it was time for lunch, for both of us. "I could skip lunch," she said.

This was another really nice school, following on yesterday's good performance day at Red Brick Preschool. At both, it was clear that the children understood English (and puppets) and were having a good time. Just as important, the teachers were having fun. Cris and I noticed that at both schools, there was an atmosphere of kindness and respect for the children. I love that. 

Here's a picture from Red Brick. We're doing a finger story.

And these are some of the attentive listeners at St. Nicholas. My sister Mary is right--the children enjoying the stories in Brazil look very much like children enjoying the stories in the US. 

When there's time and there aren't too many kids, Trixie likes to shake hands with the children as they leave the performance space, if they want to. If they don't, she sometimes just blows them kisses. 

Here we are at Red Brick, saying goodbye:

And at St. Nicholas, with a bouncy child: 

Yes, that's my Halloween vest. I'm also wearing socks with skeletons on them. I don't mind starting a little early for my favorite holiday.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Surprise in the park

Yesterday Pati and I went to a large city park for a walk. Gray day, but not rainy, so it was pleasant. I find that sometimes the colors on a gray day are even more vibrant than on a sunny one. We wandered around the nursery of this park, which was fascinating. Once again I was struck by the plants growing in the ground that I've only seen in pots at home (many on my own windowsills). Rows of spider plants, for example.

This tree and the plants covering it seem to have a symbiotic relationship.

Pati stood next to this one for perspective on these enormous leaves.

I love the shape of this palm surrounded by other trees.

As we were moseying along, at the same time we both saw something unidentifiable in the road. A bit of trash? Leaves? Something dead? Fur? Fur! 

At first we thought one of them might not still be alive, but it moved. Both had gunky eyes, though the more alert one cleaned his off. 

Pati went to ask the gatekeeper nearby if these cats lived here, or if there was a mother around. No. Somebody had abandoned them. We sat down to consider what to do. The weaker one got up and came over to me. She let us pat her. The other one wouldn't let us get near. He hissed at us and jumped away. Both were scared and meowing piteously.

Pati called her friend Paulo who lives nearby and who loves cats. He and his partner Estela came right over. In the meantime, Pati got a cardboard box from the gatekeeper and we managed to put the weaker kitten in it. The other kitten escaped into the brush, but he couldn't stand to hear his sister crying, so he came back. Paulo was able to catch him and put both of them in a cloth cat hutch they'd brought. Whew! We walked back to Paulo and Estela's apartment, where the kittens had a little milk and got their eyes cleaned off. 

We left them there, in very good care. Today they went to the vet for antibiotics. This is how I know that one is a girl and one is a boy. The kittens will stay together for the week, and then Pati will take Charlie (the feisty one) home. 

Isn't this an interesting life? A simple walk in the park can so easily turn into an adventure.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Music, dance, poetry, clowning, puppets--and even a little storytelling!

What a nice day yesterday was. I sat in a coffee shop and wrote while I waited for my laundry to be finished, wandered around a bit, had a big lunch (wishing I'd remembered to take a picture of the buffet), and eventually met Pati at SESC where we watched a show for children called As Aventuras de Bambolina, based on the book by Michele Iaccoca. It's put on by the group Pia Fraus, which from their website I see means "a lie told with good intentions." 

It's a combination of live actors with puppets and dolls, with no words. Bambolina herself is a big floppy doll (manipulated by the actors as a puppet) who gets thrown away by a child but who continues to live on, taken in by various people. She finds her own true life in the end. It's a lovely show. The audience was packed, mostly families with small children. Some of the tinies got alarmed at a scary police siren and a couple of other tense scenes, but they calmed down and thoroughly enjoyed the show. As did Pati and I.

From there we wandered back to the neighborhood where my hotel is and had a snack at a temaki place. Yum.

Then we stopped off at my hotel so I could change clothes. We met Pati's sister Cris and her partner Fernando, and off we went to an evening of music, dance, poetry, clowning, puppets and even a little storytelling at the house of Regina Machado, probably Brazil's most-honored and respected storyteller. It was wonderful to meet her--I wish I had more time so we could sit down and talk story. Next visit, I guess.

Regina has a lovely studio on a hill behind her house, with a covered outdoor performance space underneath it. I was deeply jealous! It was all well-organized, with candles, flowers, plenty of seats, and food and drinks for sale. Old friends greeted each other in an atmosphere of pleasant anticipation.

I really wish I'd brought my camera to the sarau. There must have been over 100 people there, happy to be enjoying the arts together. I knew there was a chance I would be asked to tell a story, but I wasn't sure until Regina sat me and Cris down to discuss it a little beforehand.

I was in the second half of the show. In the first, there was poetry, dance, and puppets. Chita the clown was emcee for the second half, so when it was my turn, we played a little first. Then I told The Great Sharp Scissors by Philippa Pearce, and Pati translated. I don't think I've ever had a translator before, other than sign language. I did step on Pati's lines a few times, but she did a stellar job. Just as I began, it started to rain, so the people in the back weren't able to hear as well, but those close in were listening attentively, laughing at all the right parts, even joining in the small bit of participation I build into the story.

When I was done, there was more music, poetry, clowning, and of course dance. The evening ended with a big dance, and everybody was invited to join in. That was a tremendous end to the evening.

This was also the night to turn the clocks forward, so when I turned out my light in the hotel, the new time was 2:45. I fell right asleep, content.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Story Games workshop

On Thursday I gave the second of three workshops on this tour, for teachers at Cultura Inglesa. The request had been for interactive storytelling, so I gathered up my workshop on story games and was ready to roll.

I love this workshop. My goal is to give the teachers tools they can take back and use, to engage the participants in a meaningful way, and to have fun. That last one is often my goal in whatever I do.

After I introduced myself, we dove into story games. Some highlight story structure, some just loosen everybody up. In one, used by many storytellers in workshops, I tell a story and the participants split into groups and retell it by turns. This gives everybody a chance to feel successful. 

One game I planned to teach, but didn't have time for, is Magic Box. In Rio, I found a great box in the shape of a book in a kind of craft store (eventually I might decorate it). It's perfect for this game. 

I begin by opening the lid and telling the participants what I see inside. It could be a couple of chickens playing football, it could be a big birthday party for the queen, it could be anything. I pass the box to the next person who describes either a continuation or a new scene. I learned this years ago from somebody on the storytell listserv (who?) and have had a great time with it ever since. Another version is to fill it with small toys or figurines and make up a story from these.

I hadn't expected to teach puppetry, but Sylvia, who helped organize this workshop, saw me perform last week and asked if I would add a little in. I gave a basic introduction to using hand puppets in storytelling (different from using puppets in a stage show) and answered questions before the break.

After the break, we moved on to the importance of body, gesture, voice and emotion in stories. We played a few more games to underline these elements, including Park Bench, which I learned many years ago from Heather Forest 

One of the most valuable parts of this workshop was at the end, in the reflections. This is a new component of workshops for me, something I learned from the Lied.Art.Teach seminars led by the folks from the Kennedy Center. The teachers talked about what they learned, about how they might use these techniques with their students, about other things they noticed. In the Kennedy Center seminar, I learned a useful tool: the six-second rule. After asking the participants a question or for other feedback, wait six seconds before filling the silence. Participants will often jump in at this point. 

I'll do another workshop on Wednesday at a school. I hope it goes as well as this one did.

Just in time for Halloween...

Don't I look creepy here? I think my camera may be dying. Every third picture is blurry and the digital viewfinder is stuck closed. I'll see if I can eke out a few more pictures for the blog in this next week. It's also possible that new batteries will help.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Centro Cultural Sao Paulo

I was not performing earlier this week, so Pati took me to see where she works, at the Centro Cultural Sao Paulo. This is the tallest part of the building, I think.

This next picture was my first view, from an overpass. The Centro Cultural is the low structure just past the building on the right. It is built into the ground, unlike everything around it. It's modern in that exposed-beam-and-concrete way, but it felt airy and light. 

Here's the roof on one side. The gardeners were working on the other side. It's on the other side that they have periodic saraus in collaboration with the planetarium, with telescopes set up for night sky viewing (in this city of 19 million, it's still possible to see the stars and moon, I can attest). 

There are many places for people to sit. If it hadn't been quite so warm out, I might have made myself comfortable on this bench, or on another like it nearby:

Inside, here is one of the ramps going down to the next level. Lots of clean lines everywhere.

In the middle, there's an garden with a wonderfully jungly feel to it. I love the big tree in this picture. I'll try to get another shot of one somewhere in the city.

All this was quite striking, but even more so was the wide range of activities available. Here is what I did there in a few hours in the middle of a weekday: 
  • Toured an exhibit about the Salao de Maio, an artists salon in the 1930s
  • Sat and watched short documentaries, part of an exhibit on city life in Latin America (I'm hoping I got this right)
  • Heard a storyteller in the library, as did a group of schoolchildren. There's a circulating collection, a Braille library, a collection of graphic novels and a music library. 
  • Watched an open dance jam. Every Tuesday dancers come to play together at noon.
  • Wandered through the bookstore.
  • Sat in a quiet spot and wrote.
  • Ate lunch at the cafe, another of those pay-by-the-kilo restaurants that is so prevalent (and good) here. 
There is a large materials conservation and restoration lab at the center, a multimedia archive, and archives of ethnographic materials collected from around the country in a massive project begun by Mario Andrade. (In that article, he's called "Brazil's national polymath."  Imagine being called that! At any rate, even sixty years after his death, he still commands great respect.)

There's so much more at the center: dance, theater, arts, music, movies, debates, lectures. Pati said there are around 80 events a month here, so the joint is jumpin'. You'll just have to come see it for yourselves. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Converse All Stars

I misunderstood some directions today (not related to my work) and consoled myself with a new pair of shoes. As I mentioned earlier, Brazilian women tend to have smaller feet than I do. Never mind, I found some shoes that just crack me up. I know many friends and family members will roll their eyes--how many pairs of Converse All Stars does a person really need, after all?

How could I pass these up? I've always wanted the really tall ones and these are just in time for Halloween. Make no mistake, I intend to wear them at other times of the year as well.

There's an incredible choice of Converse shoes here, much better than at home unless I get online. I even considered buying the green low-tops that say "Brasil" in Coca-cola script on the side, but I restrained myself.

Sorry about the blurriness. My camera has been a little odd lately. Or maybe I moved.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Green Sao Paulo

Everybody told me what a big city Sao Paulo is. Everybody told me that it's polluted. Everybody told me it's dangerous.

Nobody told me about the trees and plants. Nobody told me that there are small houses mixed in with tall apartment buildings, and that many of these have lovely gardens. Nobody told me that it's safe in the way other big cities are safe, if you just pay attention and don't do stupid things like walk around late at night alone.

Here's another view from my 9th floor hotel room. Click on it to see it larger so you can see the orange flowers.

I believe this is an ipe tree, though you can't quite tell how stunning the flowers are.  They come in different colors--is that an ipe outside my hotel window as well? And what's that on the trunk? 

Okay, so maybe the streets are dangerous--these cacti are growing in a wall next to the sidewalk!  Ouch!

Late this afternoon we went to a park that overlooks the city, near a green zone. I loved the shape of the branches on this tree in the park.

Here's a view of the green zone and then some of the city. I'd need a panoramic camera to capture how massive Sao Paulo is (19 million is one estimate I've heard). Once again, if you click on it, you'll get a better sense of the size.

One more of the view.