December 2003


I did some more sightseeing in Rio — went and saw the big statue of Jesus Christ in at the Corcovado, which overlooks the city. He was big, and art déco. Enough said. I also went to the botanical garden, which was huge and trpoical. I saw many lizards and weird birds, but no monkeys. In fact, there has been a distinct lack of primate participation in my tropical adventures. I am going to have to write someone about this. Maybe the Brazilian Tourism Board.

I think I inadvertently walked through the background of several photos over the last few days, simply because at touristy places you can’t avoid being in someone’s picture. Perhaps years from now, when I am rich and famous, these people will look back though their photo albums and say “oh my god! There’s Anand Sarwate in my photo! I was so close to meeting him!” This brings up an interesting point about biography. In this age where we have so much documentation of things, will writing biography still be a form of detective work?

I read a biography of Jean-Paul Marat last week, and came across the odd phenomenon in which the biographer could not account for some two months of Marat’s life, during his revolutionary phase. Perhaps he went to England, perhaps not. But it is impossible to say for certain. The novel Possession, by A.S. Byatt, revolves around the filling in of this kind of historical hole, using lost correspondence. The students of literature and biography are detectives unraveling a mystery. In Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine series, we are only given the correspondence between two people, and we get to unravel the mystery ourselves, and generate our own stories for these two people.

But in the future, a biographer could reconstruct my trajectory using credit card histories — I bought my ticket to Rio using a Citibank card, I made ATM withdrawals at certain times. A biography made up of merchantile activities would be mundane indeed, but then there will be hundreds of tourist photos, correspondence (email of course, who writes letters these days?), home videos. Will there be real mysteries left? Or will the nature of the mystery just change from being “what happened on the night of…?”

I also saw Return of the King, subtitled in Portuguese. There was lots of chatting towards the end of the movie in the crowd, obnoxious guys insinuating that Frodo and Sam were gay lovers, giggling, etc. Homophobia knows no language barrier. But the medium popcorn/soda combo was R$6.50, which is about US$2.50. Hell, a can of lager here is less than a dollar, as was the caipirinha I had on the beach at 1 AM.

One thing that separates the US from all other countries that I’ve been to is that in the US they rarely name streets after a musicians/artists/authors/architects. And when they do, it’s always some tiny street like Mies Van Der Rohe in Chicago. When Antonio Carlos Jobim died, the city of Rio renamed various streets after him, eventually settling on a park. I’m still waiting for Jimi Hendrix Boulevard…

I looked through the comments on this excuse for a blog, and noticed that spammers have taken to auto-spamming blog entries. For the example on mine, see the entry I want to axé you a question. I guess Radiohead inspires penis growth advertisements. I would delete them, but it is awfully amusing that there are two comments made in December on a post from June. Who is going to read that far back? Me, I guess.

Yesterday afternoon I went to the hippy-feira, a sort of artisan street fair that happens every Sunday in Ipanema. Apparently it used to be real hippies, but now it’s hippies with cellphones and distribution systems. Ram’s sister Lakshmi helped me negotiate some good deals, since the rule there is to haggle, and as I noted before, I should have learned more Portuguese.

Later we went to a free concert on the Copacabana beach — the first act was Maria Rita, and she was three shades of enh. The second act was Lenini, which makes one thing of some sort of opera guy, but in fact was more rockin’ out. Hard to place him in terms of American music, but he veered near Blues Traveler, Spacehog, and RHCP at times. Not too close, but in a nebulous middle ground between the three. The metropolitan bus systems in Brazil are cooler than the US. There’s a second guy who sits in the bus and gives change (within reason), so the driver doesn’t have to be responsible for fare collection as well. Much smarter than in Boston, where they used to get pissed off at you for not having exact change all the time.

So my inability to detect racism in Brazil was explained by Ram, who said that discrimination here is based on economic grounds, and less on skin color. But there is a correlation between the two. Some of the complexities of 19th century race are exemplified by the author Machado de Assis. Thanks to Dan Good for introducing me to him. The hosting site of that previous link is pretty cool in its own right. The Library of Latin America series has a wide range of information about 19th century Brazil, from history to literature to essays and commentary. All of Machado de Assis’s novels have a very informative essay at the front to put the novel in context. Well worth reading!

Yes, I have arrived in Rio! When I return, there will be pictures. I have even tanned a bit. Actually, people here assume I speak Portuguese, and I have managed to gain a rudimentary grasp of 3-4 phrases, including “I don’t speak Portuguese” (não falo portugues) and “one caipirinha please” (uma caipirinha, por favor). I think it’s that people here are all different colors, and the society seems much more homogenized than in the US. This is just my naïve interpretation though — perhaps racial divisions are still strong here, but it just doesn’t seem possible, given the physical appearance of the population.

I am here with my friend Ram (warning: in Portuguese), and staying with his family. It’s been a blast so far, and there’s still a whole week left. I’ve discovered a new kind of music that I like, called forró, but I can’t dance to it. Maybe I will take some classes while I’m here, or learn how to samba or something. I’m too much of a chicken when it comes to dancing.

On a side note, green coral is pretty awesome looking. And the ocean is really salty, a fact that I had somehow forgotten in the many years that have passed since I last went for a dip.

I am chickening out on the “hang gliding tour of Rio,” because (a) it’s kind of pricey, (b) I’m not sure I could handle it, and (c) my parents would probably freak out. I already run enough of a risk walking around Rio, given the insanity of the drivers here. And here I don’t have as many friends to take care of me. Or land on top of me. But no more morbid thoughts, I’m off to enjoy the sun.

Suppose one finishes a first stab at some MATLAB code around 1 AM and decides to celebrate by having some sake and reading a little. One might then read a very anti-labor short story by Heinlein (“The Roads Must Roll”) and get a little irritated, and then decide to play some solitaire. And one’s solitaire game may end up with all cards face up except for three in the hand — the 4, 5, and 6 of diamonds, only in the wrong order. This might just tempt one to break the rules, just this once, to make oneself feel better. But then one would have cheated, and one couldn’t have that. Thus one is relegated to the legions of those who didn’t quite made it. Luckily, however, success at solitaire is not a universal measure of success, so one can sleep with full assurance that a lack of success at solitaire means very little in the grand scheme of things.

I had a Pummelo today, and it was pretty tasty. Sweeter than a grapefruit, but with those huge cells of pulp that grapefruit has. It occurs to me that I don’t know what the cells in citrus fruits are called other than “pulp,” but pulp to me connotes the squished up cells. But the Latin name for the Pummelo is Citrus Maxima, which is just awesome. Apparently it’s a precursor to the grapefruit.

Why is it that when I want to sneeze, looking at a bright light will induce the sneeze? I was told once that it was a male thing only, but that has since been refuted.

I met a freshman who doesn’t know who Aerosmith is. I think talking to undergrads is bad for my sanity.

It was pointed out to me by the illustrious Rikin Vasani that google now ranks this site as the #1 hit for “ergodicity.” This alone should speak volumes about the efficiency of google as a research tool.

I was cast in Marat/Sade as one of the four singers. It is going to be awesome. And by awesome, I mean totally sweet. This play is one of those ones that you read and it changes your life. Or at least your outlook on life. Or at least your outlook on how dramatic art can function.

A well known result in the literature states that “all the world’s a stage” [2]. Thus it suffices to consider only those outlooks on theater in order to prove theorems for outlooks on the world. This technique was first used by Artin [1]
to prove some simple results on dilations. It is clear that we have the following lemma:

Corollary: Marat/Sade is an awesome play that will change your life.

[1] E. Artin. “Algèbre géométrique.” 1962.
[2] W. Shakespeare. As You Like It. Act II. Scene 7.

Auditioned for marat/sade, will find out about casting soon. It all reminds me of how long it’s been since I’ve done a production, and gets me thinking about whether I’ll ever do “real” acting again. I miss it terribly.

But on a brighter note, in less than one week I’m going to Rio. Time to do some hardcore Portuguese learning. Tudo bem? Tudo bom!

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