Parque Farroupilha

Parque Farroupilha is a big urban park with lots of different features. It is designed to give some variety. When we lived in Porto Alegre, I used to run around the park. It is – was – not big enough and I would have to double back and go in loops, but the variety made it seem a little better.

We lived in Porto Alegre when I was in my early 30s. This is a tough time for erstwhile athletes. You just cannot run as fast as you used to. You fool yourself that somehow harder work will stave off the slowing. It does not. All that happens is that you pull some muscles more often. The good news is that eventually you get old enough that it doesn’t matter.

I appreciate the park now in a different way. I just like to look around and notice the things that I ran past too fast.

A cool thing is how the tree roots grow. Trees in the tropics and semi-tropics seem to develop much wider roots and bases. I took some pictures of these.

Marizaland in Moinhos de Vento

As far as I am concerned, the parks around our neighborhood in Moinhos de Vento is “Marizaland,” since everyplace around there reminds me of our little daughter, Mariza. She is not so little anymore, but the little white-haired girl abides here. Ironically, Mariza herself can have no memory of all this.

First three pictures are from Park Moinhos de Vento. That means windmills. This is some of the highest ground in Porto Alegre and they evidently had windmills here at one time to take advantage of the stronger wind. None are left now, except a ceremonial one in the park. Picture # 4 is our apartment. We had the top floor. We were always afraid that Mariza would fall out of the windows. They had locks, but parents worry. Last picture is La Basque ice cream shop. We used to love the double chocolate.

Recall that it is winter in Porto Alegre. It never gets very cold here and today was warm, but some of the trees do not have their leaves. It will be very beautiful in spring in a couple months. I said it does not get very cold and it does not by Wisconsin standards. But the relative warmth makes people not concerned about heating buildings, so have to have some warm coats and sweaters for the inside weather.

World's Best Steak in Porto Alegre

Things are often better remembered than they are lived, so it was with some trepidation that I went to the churrascaria Santo Antônio. I remembered the steak there as the best steak ever and I did not want to confound that good memory. On the other hand … I had to know and I really wanted a good steak.

So I walked down and had the steak with mushrooms that I so liked. They used to make a big deal of cutting the steak with a spoon and they do that still. It was as good as I remembered, the experience and the steak.

Santo Antônio is a modest place, family owned and operated since 1935. Lots of the waiters have been there a long time, but I did not expect anybody to remember me and nobody did. I thought it proper, however, that I mention my thirty years of appreciation, so I told the waiter.

I got to meet the chef and family member Jorge Aita, as you see in the first picture. Next picture is Santo Antônio itself and the last three pictures are from the street where we used to live, Rua Santo Inácio. We were very lucky to live there for our first post.

Consulate will Reopen in Porto Alegre

I got to go to Porto Alegre to tell the Gauchos that we were going to reopen the consulate in Porto Alegre. Well, not really inform, confirm. Everybody who might care already knew. It had leaked in Washington and was becoming general knowledge. Nevertheless, confirmation was appreciated. I got to do print, radio and TV. They appreciated my enthusiasm and previous connections to Porto Alegre. Mariza being born there was a big hit.

I did the usual public affairs work besides this.  The Federal university did its first CONX program.   They gathered about a dozen students to talk about U.S. elections with an American expert.  Universities in Santa Catarina, São Paulo, Pernambuco and Roraima also participated, presumably with similar gatherings.  

I spoke with deans at the Federal University about connections with American universities.  We agreed that so much is happening that it is hard to keep track.  It is an embarrassment of riches. But we have to get a handle on it.  It is great when professors set up cooperation or exchanges, but the key to happiness is sustainability.  We need champions to get things rolling but we need institutional relationship to keep it moving.

My last stop was the law school. They are working on investment laws. I didn’t know, but they told me, that Brazil has no bilateral investment treaties. This obviously is not a crippling impediment to investment, since there is a lot of it here and American firms have been investing in Brazil for hundreds of years.  But it does add to uncertainty and creates unnecessary risk. Until recently, the Brazilians were not very interested in the idea of investment agreements, but now that Brazilian firms are making big investments elsewhere, interest is growing. We (in this case the Consulate in São Paulo) will probably participate in a program on investment law in September.

In the evening I had churrasco with Elio Lee, a friend from my first time in Porto Alegre. We have both grown older, but after a little while we found that we had not changed all that much. 

Porto Alegre has really improved. I was not bad before, but today it has become a truly pleasant town.  The neighborhood where we once lived, moinhos de vento, was a nice place back then. Today it is positively great, with lots of nice little shops and restaurants within minutes of our old apartment. You can see our old street, Rua Santo Ignacio, and a nice beer restaurant in the pictures. We could have bought the condominium apartment for around $60,000 back then. Today it would cost millions. We missed that boat. Of course, back then we didn’t have money to invest anyway.

Urban Landscapes

Above and below are jacaranda trees along a street near the hospital Moinhos de Vento in Porto Alegre where Mariza was born. Trees really make the place. In a short time, the flowers will come out. I got here with the nearly bare branches. The long little leaves are from other plants that grow along with the trees.  It is still early spring in POA.

Below is the Hospital Moihnos de Vento where Mariza was born. I took a picture of the old part. There is now a really big complex. Porto Alegre has become a health care center.  This hospital started out as the deutsche krankenhaus, when POA was still a German center.

Below is the farmer market and below that is a church. I liked the view but don’t know more about it. 

Quality of Life in Porto Alegre

City life peaked in the late 19th & early 20th Century.  It was before cars took over cities, but after lots of important things like clean water, electricity and trams were available. It was also before planning and architecture fell under the sway of  modernists, who forgot how to build attractive things. People still felt proud of their accomplishments and built to reflect civic pride.

Above and below are churches

They Don’t Build ’em Like that Anymore

I took a little more time to look at Porto Alegre. The city has improved a lot. I was familiar with some of the buildings before, but they had often been a a poor state of repair or in bad neighborhoods. Both conditions have improved.  The first group of pictures is from an old Brahma Brewery.  When I lived in POA, they actually made beer there and you couldn’t see much because it was behind a wall.  It is now up-scale condos and shops, but you can see the original buildings and the details that they rarely include in buildings anymore.

Above and below details from Brahma

Below is King Gambrinus, the legendary inventor of hopped-malt beer we all know and love.

Below is the Caixa da Aqua – the water works – build about the same time as the Brahma Brewery. It must have been a heady time for Porto Alegre. Pure water has done more for public health than almost anything else. 

Happy Port

I didn’t appreciate Porto Alegre when I was here a quarter century ago.  Your feelings about people and places often reflect your feelings about yourself. Times were hard, for me and for Brazil. Chrissy and I were abysmally poor. I didn’t make much as a junior officer and more than half of my take home pay went to paying off student loans. Beyond that, starting off in a new career, I had to buy suits and other work-related stuff.  Because of my particular position, we also had to buy all sorts of reasonably high-quality dishes and plates for at home entertaining. To top it all off, Mariza was born in Porto Alegre.  Babies bring great joy, but they are hard work and they cost a lot of money. 

Now add in professional problems. This was my first independent post. My boss was thousands of miles away and they really neglected me. I liked being left alone, as I mentioned in the previous post, but I realize now that I really needed a little more direction or “mentoring” than I got.  I worked too hard. Well, I worked too hard in the wrong way. I didn’t understand the old saying that you have to first seek to understand before being understood. I would have been better off “working” to get to know the society better rather than working on the ostensible work in the office.  It would have been more fun too. Sometimes you can go farther faster by running slower.

Finally, it was a hard time for Brazil.  The Brazilians were not happy with themselves so it was harder for them to be happy with us.  I was there during the “Cruzado Plan”.  They changed the currency and put on all sorts of price controls. This created shortages and black markets.  I remember it was even hard to get Coca-Cola.

It is better now for me, for them and better in general.

Porto Alegre seems like home and is familiar even with the big changes.  It is funny. The place is full of Mariza. I keep on “seeing” my baby girl in all the places we took her and even in the places we didn’t because she was always on my mind.  That was another thing I didn’t appreciate at the time.  I get a similar feeling in SE Washington, BTW, near the old Oakwood. It is filled with Alex from when he was a baby. Sometimes I just used to sit on the bench there and absorb that.  I have never really understood those feelings.  They are bitter-sweet, as it is with remembering intense things past.

So there were lots of reason I didn’t appreciate the place or the time.  I am better now and so the beauty of the place is easier to see.

The pictures show the beauty of the place. The first two are Parque Farroupilha where I used to run. Below is the street we lived on in a neighborhood called Moinhos de Vento.  The streets are lined with jacaranda trees. I got to POA a few days to early.  Soon they would be in beautiful purple flowers. It was a nice neighborhood then; it is fantastic now, with lots of shops and restaurants within walking distance down pleasant streets.  The swings are in Parque Moinhos de Vento, where we used to take Mariza to play. It looks like it is the same equipment.  The bottom picture is Zaffari, the grocery store where we used to shop. It is within walking distance from our old house. Zaffari is a chain of supermarkets. They are really nice, maybe like Wegmans in the U.S. 

Here are a few more pictures relevant to the story that I didn’t post.

Old Folks

O tempo se foi e não volta mais. 

We were reunited, my old staff in Porto Alegre.  It has been almost twenty-five years since I went boldly & over confidently to run the USIA post at the southern end of Brazil. Paulo, Ula and Cezar came to the reunion, along with Ulla’s niece. Our driver, Azambuja,  died, so he didn’t show up. At least nobody saw. But we told stories about him, which kept him there in spirit. Azambuja had the interesting habit of talking about himself in the third person and talking to himself generally, so maybe it was not that different. 

Paulo and Ula are in their 80s. Cezar is a little younger than I am, i.e. a very young man. Reunions are always bittersweet. Porto Alegre was my first post. I made all kinds of mistakes and my loyal staff saved me from the embarrassment of getting knocked my own overconfidence. The initial condition has a great influence on subsequent developments. My bosses were thousands of miles away in Brasilia and they generally neglected me down at the end of the road. I got to/had to make decisions that were beyond my pay grade. Being in PAO in POA helped me develop a sense of self reliance, which today makes me admirably independent or weirdly idiosyncratic, depending on who you ask or when. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The work was different back then. We were really isolated.  I don’t think that you can be that isolated anywhere in the world today.  Even in the desert in Iraq, we had the latest news.  In Porto Alegre I couldn’t get an English-language newspaper until a couple days later. Most days I had no contact with either Washington or Brasilia.  I didn’t really miss that. We didn’t have easy access to CNN.  We had a couple of horrible computers, that didn’t really do anything but word processing and didn’t do that well. Generally, I would write with pen and paper and Ula would type or use the telex.  Back then, I could plausibly deny that I had the chance to consult with my superiors. It is different now. I like the Internet, but I think we communicate too much now.  It is better to let the person on the spot make decisions whenever possible. Because we can, we too often ask for advice even on small matters and too often want to micro-manage the work of far-off colleagues.  My father told me that you should not spend a dollar to make a dime decision. He was right.

Talking to my old friends, I remembered the lines of an epitaph, “As you are now, so once was I; as I am now, so shall you be.”  I remember back then looking at Paulo & Ulla as a little behind the times.  I was young, up-to-day & filled with best ideas a new MBA could have.  I was riding the wave of the big trends of the late 1980s. It gets harder to keep up with trends and eventually you just don’t.  Some of the trends are going nowhere anyway. The things I learned from reading the Greek classics are still with me and still useful. Many of the things I learned as a sharp MBA are perniciously out of date.

Ula and Paulo have had good lives, full of accomplishments and generally good health into old age. That is all we humans really get on this earth.  The young look forward with great expectations. The view from the other end is  a little sad, but it shouldn’t be if you can say “I fought the good fight, I finished my course, I kept the faith.”

I recall the story of Solon & Croesus from Herodotus.