Culture

My Farewell Letter to Alberta

Eleven years ago I boarded a plane headed to Canada for what should have been a short exchange program… little did I know that this “short trip” would lead me to discover a new life that I had for so long dreamed about.

As a kid I used to watch NBA games on Friday nights, and we would always get Denver Nuggets games. I loved watching the pre-game show as it would show the players landing in the Rockies in the middle of a snowstorm all bundled up. For a kid who had never experienced anything colder than 5C I used to fantasize about what life was like in North America. That eventually became a reality, but a little more north of the Colorado Rockies…

Red Deer, Alberta was my new home. I remember flying over farm fields that would disappear into the horizon. I had never seen anything like it growing up in Sao Paulo. I would eventually go on to open some doors through basketball, going to college and graduating from a Canadian university. There were times I had to pinch myself as it all felt like a dream.

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Despite being away from family and friends for so long, life was flying by. I built new friendships and a new family who made sure I always felt loved and that I belonged here. I never spent a Christmas or a Thanksgiving alone thanks to those people.

The life of an immigrant is different, and that was something I accepted from the beginning. Going a couple of years without seeing family and filling out endless visa forms every year were my new reality. I had grandparents and great-grandparents who were immigrants themselves and I knew the stories about their struggles to build a new life in Brazil, where hope for a better future drove them to work hard every day. It was my turn now and I wasn’t going to forget the shoulders I was standing on.

I’ve worked construction jobs, sold car cleaning supplies at gas stations, helped with start ups, drove delivery trucks, stocked grocery store shelves, and more. Those were all teaching me about life and about the people of Alberta from all walks of life: different religions, different home countries, different social classes, and different political views. Those are life lessons I’ll carry with me forever.

Today I say goodbye to beautiful Alberta… I grew up in the big city but learned about myself in the Canadian prairies. I’ve had the opportunity to visit every corner of this province and picked up so many amazing stories along the way. This place will forever feel like home to me.

Last Photo Apartment

Our last picture in our Calgary home!

As Sarah and I pack our bags today and make our way out East, we will never forget our roots, but we will also not look back. You can’t swim against the currents of life and this is where this river is leading us next. Life has a funny way of teaching you lessons and putting you through experiences that you need to go through… such as that short trip to Canada eleven years ago.

Toronto, we are coming with open arms and open minds… we will adopt your way of life, embrace your history and give back along the way. You’re our new home now.

The show must go on…

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PPA

 

Earth Gazing Through The Lens of Astronauts

” To have that experience of awe is, at least for the moment, to let go of yourself, to try to send that sense of separation, so it’s not just that they were experiencing something other than them, but that they were at some very deep level integrating, realizing the interconnectedness with that beautiful blooming ball…” – David Loy, in Overview

On this mini-movie “Overview” released in 2012, through a series of interviews with astronauts and philosophers, you really get to see Earth from a different perspective.

There’s one thing astronauts said they caught themselves doing more often than not while in space, which was what they they called “Earth Gazing”. In their respective missions the focus often was on the Moon, or on the Stars, or on Mars, but once they were up there they had a profound realization when they looked back at what was behind them.

They describe Earth as a “oasis in the middle of nothingness”. In “Overview” a series of images and video clips takes you to a place of speechlessness, of just pure amazement where talking about what you’re seeing doesn’t matter at the moment.

Seeing Earth just floating in the middle of infinity, with its constantly changing ecosystem mutating through auroras, thunder storms, cloud formations, ocean currents, and human presence makes you wonder what are you here for.

Being here is extremely hard to think about these things, because we are so caught up in the lives that we’ve created for ourselves, our problems, our jobs, our relationships, that we never take the time to look at what’s around us.

I’ve always said that, so far, the one thing that has amazed me the most in this short period of life that I have gotten to experience on Earth is the human spirit.

Looking how far humanity has come, from hundreds of thousands of years ago to today, we get to look up to the skies and “see” people adventuring into the cosmos. Just imagine going back and telling our cavemen ancestors that one day we would be up there.

This film will have some profound effect on you the same way it had on me. Enjoy and share it with others!

 

PA

Jazz: an American Story

When we think about music today, popular music has been on the decline. The market has become a lot more segmented; rarely you will find artists’ fan bases as large as The Beatles anymore.

Miles Davis continues to be one of the biggest legends of Jazz.

Miles Davis continues to be one of the biggest legends of Jazz.

People have more freedom to choose. With the iTunes revolution, you can now download individual songs from various artists and group it into a playlist – or the so called mixed albums. Unless you are a die hard fan of a band, chances are that you won’t download the full album. Music producers have been struggling to put out strong albums that will sell in its entirety (and the vast majority is illegally downloaded online anyways). Marketing has more than ever become a crucial tool in the industry.

But let’s rewind a bit. Let’s discuss the origins of most of the music we listen to today… I am not talking about African music (the actual root of things), I am talking about Jazz.

Early days

By mid-1800s enslaved American people, who were extremely religious, were widely known for playing spiritual music. This genre was a major driver in the African-American community’s involvement with music. In turn, by the end of the 19th century another genre began to appear: the ragtime.

Some might argue that ragtime isn’t jazz, others would argue otherwise. So let’s put it this way, the genre was the embryo of jazzScott Joplin – a Texan born in 1867 – was widely known for it and played it in the red-district streets of St. Louis. The sound was very simple, yet extremely happy. Joplin liked to describe ragtime as something “that’s not to be played fast”:

In the transition to jazz, another artist had a great impact in the birth of the genre: Jelly Roll Morton. He likes to call himself the inventor of jazz. Born in New Orleans, the pianist had a foot in ragtime and a foot in jazz. His music was also very happy and people loved to dance to it. And he was the major influencer of the first type of jazz, known as Dixieland jazz.

Dixieland Jazz

Also referred to as Hot Jazz or Early Jazz, dixieland was originated in the beginning of the 20th century in New Orleans. The musicians were often very poor, since most of them were African-American. But this humility gave dixieland a distinguishable touch to its sound.

Artists strived to help each other rather than to steal the spotlight. It was a very easygoing sound, and often played in the streets. The standard band composed of  a banjo, a trumpet, a clarinet, a tube, and a piano or drums. There were also lyrics and it quickly became very popular in Louisiana. Musicians, such as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, like to describe dixieland as a style of playing rather than a style of music:

Kid Ory, another great dixieland musician, took the genre to Chicago where it developed a different variation. Since there were richer people in the Windy City, most of them white, dixieland was being played by people who had better quality instruments – which is evident when you listen to it. Ory brought with him a student by the name of Louis Armstrong, who eventually took the genre to New York. And that is how the early days of jazz began spreading.

With more sophisticated people jumping into the jazz scene, by the mid-1930s a new style was being born: Swing Jazz.

Swing Jazz

Swing had a Manhattan air to it. It was more sophisticated and the music was no longer improvisation. Great artists were born from Swing, such as Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Bobby Short and more.

Duke Ellington was an African-American academic from NYC who played the piano. His music was a little slower, and if you try closing your eyes as you listen to it you will be able picture the elite dressed up in suits dancing to it. It sounded “very NYC”.

Benny Goodman was another legend who played swing. He was a white man from New York who played the clarinet, and his sound was even finer. The transition of jazz from New Orleans to Chicago and New York began attracting richer and more academically inclined people, what highly influenced the genre.

Since the elite had money, they were often traveling to Europe, and with them they brought Jazz to France. A notorious artist from Paris who went by the name of Django Reihardt made the American swing jazz sound very French. The man had only three functioning fingers and that’s how he played his guitar (alongside his good friend Stephane Grappelli):

As the the African-Americans began losing their “market share” in jazz to the white people, they grew mad and that is when a new style was born in the 40s: the Bebop Jazz.

Bebop Jazz

This was a more modern style of jazz, which was extremely hard to play because it was a very broken-up sound that only specialists could manage the chords. Due to its level of difficulty there were not many musicians in the scene – some artists hated the style, claiming that it took away the romance from jazz, and often boycotting the bebop musicians. With that, bebop didn’t last very long, but it was a very important phase in the history of jazz.

Charlie “Bird” Parker played the saxophone and was a major player in the scene. His music had a lot of improvisation – like usual bebop sound – and consisted of a very complex melody. Parker had a lot of problems with drug addiction and died at 34, but his footprint in the history of jazz inspired many others who came after him:

Another great artist who played bebop was the one and only Dizzie Gillespie. Although Dizzie started in swing jazz, the trumpet genius had many talents and his great friend Parker eased him into bebop.

As mentioned earlier, bebop didn’t last very long, specially because of a popular jazz style that was about to take over in the late 40s: Cool Jazz.

Cool Jazz

With the intention to take out the “excess” from bebopMiles Davis gave birth to Cool Jazz with the release of his historical album “Birth of Cool” (1957 – but recorded in 1949).

This was a slower jazz and in it you could really listen the notoriously known “walking bass”. It was a radical movement that incorporated elements from classical music. It was popular in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York – it was exactly what people needed after the war:

By the 1960s, the African-American jazz musicians began a new movement: Free Jazz.

Free Jazz

This style did not have a fixed harmony anymore, it was free improvisation. Geniuses like John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman led the way with its often criticized style of play.

Coleman drew a lot of attention and generated some controversy due to the lack of harmony in his music – even more than Parker and Gillespie did with Bebop Jazz. Not anyone could follow because it was so free and open:

Alongside Free Jazz in the 60s, another movement was occurring: Fusion Jazz.

Fusion Jazz

That is when jazz players decided to join forces with Rock n’ Roll. Although rock musicians often lacked instrumental skills at that time, they were taking jazz’s audience away. So Miles Davis decided to take the leap.

Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” (1969) was the first fusion jazz album of all time. If you listen to it you might ask yourself: where is the rock? That is because only a few elements of rock were incorporated into the jazz genre, such as the beat and the electric guitar. Although there aren’t any heavy rock and roll solos, you can listen to some guitar “attacks” here and there.

Now, in Chuck Corea’sReturn to Forever” album (1972) you can feel the rock a little more. And with that, most of the jazz after the 70s was a style of fusion. This is V.S.O.P. (with Herbie Hancock) – another great fusion band:

You can really see how jazz influenced rock after this phase, when bands like YES and Pink Floyd – which played with a higher level of complexity than others in the past – began to run the progressive rock scene. The superior instrumental skills from jazz musicians had been transferred over.

A parallel movement that began in the 50s was also unfolding: the Third Stream.

Third Stream

This was a mix of jazz with classical music. Extremely complex which also had some improvisation involved. Bands like The Dave Brubeck Quartet released a really good album named “Time Out” (1959). This was very classical, with a little bit of jazz here and there:

And here it “ends” the main jazz styles that really took off over the years past. But this isn’t all, as jazz has an amazing way to adapt with any genre of music…

Jazz Nowadays

Nowadays a lot of music is considered jazz – what makes jazzists really mad. But sometimes it is hard to classify what kind of jazz certain sounds are, as the art is so easily adaptable with any other music genre. And this is what makes jazz so dynamic and interesting.

It is important to note that all the styles discussed above continue to be played today, some more than others, but overall the spirt has not died for any of them. However, with so many cultures being affected by the “jazz contamination”, I have selected a few really good jazz adaptations seen today worth listening to:

  • Jazz + Bossa Nova: Stan Getz Quartet
  • Jazz + Samba: Pat Metheny Group – “The Road to You”
  • Jazz + Spiritual: Take 6
  • Jazz + Pagode: Dizzie Gillespie featuring Trio Mocoto
  • Jazz + Latin Music: Machito (Cuba) featuring Cannonball Adderley (USA)

Enjoy!

Note: I must give credit where credit is due: Paulo Porto Alegre (my father, acclaimed musician and professor) who gave me a compressed Jazz course one afternoon. He’s a Jazz specialist and the reason why I began listening to this great genre.

 

PA

 

Band of the Month: Run River North

I came across these guys when was listening to some playlists on 8Tracks, and I comboed: Chill + Mountains

I know weird combo of key words (my inner hipster was talking louder than my brain) but an awesome playlist came up and there were about 2 songs by Run River North in there.

I YouTube’d these guys and now they are one of my favorite bands.

They formed in 2011 and were formerly known as Monsters Calling Home. They’re from California and are a Korean-American indie rock band.

Not your average hipster band. These guys are original.

Here are some of my top picks from their last album:

“Growing Up”

“Somewhere”

“Excuses”

 

PA

My Trip to the Tropical Paradise of Foz do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Falls)

Over the summer of 2014 I got the opportunity to visit Foz do Iguaçu in the state of Parana, Brazil.

There are plenty of stuff to do there but I would not recommend staying there for longer than 4 days (unless you intend to adventure into Argentina or Paraguay for a few extra days).

Day 1

When we arrived in the airport of the city of Foz do Iguaçu and picked up our rental standard vehicle, we drove down the Avenida das Cataratas and saw multiple hotels and resorts along the highway. Most people prefer to stay in those rather than finding a place in the city, since the national park is just 10 to 20 minutes away from any hotel along the road.

Av. das Cataratas

Av. das Cataratas

We stayed at the Harbor Hotel Colonial, on kilometer 20 of the Av. das Cataratas. It is a nice hotel with a pool and a restaurant. The rooms provide you with just enough of what you need. Since we were planning on spending most of our days outside, we did not care much about the fanciness of the hotel.

The national park of the Iguacu Falls opens daily at 9am and closes at 5pm. By the time we arrived at the hotel, it had already been closed so we decided to go into the city to have dinner. We had heard a lot of good things about a place named La Mafia, an italian restaurant based on the film The Godfather.

And wow, what a unique place.

The restaurant is situated in a house that had been turned into an eatery, located in a skinny dark street – perfect scenario for the italian mafia themed place. All the waiters were dressed like in the movie and the rooms were decorated differently from each other, portraying a different scene of the movie. The food was great, and so was the wine. 10/10.

Day 2

The following day we we went to the National Park. They charge you a daily fee of R$52,20 for foreigners and R$31,20 for Brazilians. After you pay, you hop into a air conditioned bus (trust me you will be glad it is air conditioned) which takes you into the park. There is only one two-way road that reaches a final destination at a restaurant, but along the way you can choose to get off at multiple locations to start your trail throughout the falls.

We chose to go on an adventure with Macuco Safari, which takes your through the forest and explains to you in english and portuguese a little bit of the history of the place and the different types of trees and animals that live in that ecosystem. When you reach the end of the ride you hop in a boat that takes you under the gigantic falls. Yes, they take you right under one of the largest water falls in the world.

It is scary as hell and people had told us that a boat had flipped upside down before during one of those tours. I was holding on for my dear life during the ride, but I could not understand how one of those boats had flipped. They are massive and the pilots do that on a regular basis. There is no need to be afraid about that sort of thing.

Macuco Safari boat

Macuco Safari boat

We also spend the day walking through the trails and taking photos. The scenery is absolutely jaw-dropping. Make sure your camera is charged, and that you bring extra batteries and a plastic bag.

The waterfalls are so massive that water sprays all over you and you will get wet, and so will your camera if you don’t cover it.

I got to walk on a catwalk over the Devil’s Throat. Yes, they named a place the goddamn Devil’s Throat. This is a massive water fall that kind of makes the shape of a half moon and millions of tons of water go through it every second. It is loud, it is wet, it is nature telling you who’s the boss.

At the end of the day, after we finished walking through all the trails in the Brazilian side, dodging hungry Quatis and slapping mosquitos off of our arms, we visited the Parque das Aves (Birds’ Park), where you get to see Rio 1 and 2 in real life. There are so many different birds and walk in cages that at one point a toucan was trying to pick a fight with me. At the end of the tour you get to put a macaw on your arm and take a picture with it.

Day 3

This was our last full day at the tropical paradise so we decided to go visit the Argentinian side. Most of the falls are located on that side, so instead of observing them from a far, now we were walking through them.

Massive waterfall on the Argentinean side

Massive waterfall on the Argentinean side

It was quite the experience as you get a lot wetter. Oh, and make sure that when you cross the boarder you exchange your Brazilian reais for Argentinian pesos, because otherwise you will starve.

Our South American neighbors were very receptive and understanding of the fact that I could not speak spanish to save my life. They also have great meat at a ridiculously low price. It is a great place to eat and drink.

Day 4

We used the morning to relax by the pool and read. The previous days had been very hard on our legs, so taking this time off is essential to give yourself a break. Our flight back to Sao Paulo was in the early afternoon and that was the end of our amazing trip to one of the seven wonders of the world.

I highly recommend this place to anyone looking for some adventure as you can go skydiving and do white water rafting if you have the guts. The scenery is beautiful, the people are great, the food is impeccable, and it is really easy to get around.

 

PA

Nebraska (2013)


In this movie Alexander Payne (director) does a great job portraying the lives of most North Americans.

The main character, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), gets a sweepstakes in the mail saying he had just won $1million and he had to go pick up his prize in Lincoln, Nebraska. He lives in Montana, and the movie revolves around his 860 mile journey with his son David (Will Forte), an electronics salesman, to Nebraska (and there comes the name of the movie).

NEBRASKA

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) in Nebraska.

As the film develops, Woody’s family keeps telling him how crazy he is and that he has won nothing. But his son decides to take him to Nebraska because he feels that his father should leave his home for a while, since his monotonous life had been taking the best of him for the past years.

On the way to Lincoln they stop at Woody’s home town where everyone greets him with joy after finding out he was the newest millionaire around. People begin bringing up past stories of how they had lent Woody money years ago and now it is only fair of him to pay them back. However, Bruce Dern does a great job portraying a confused man who seems to have had his life sucked out of him throughout the years. He never gets angry, nor happy. He just coasts through all these frustrating experiences, while his son stands up for him when people try to take advantage of his dad.

With a great soundtrack done by Mark Orton which fits perfectly well with the atmosphere of the film, the viewers keep expecting something great to happen. But nothing ever does. When we think that something is building up, the outcome is nothing short of a disappointment.

But isn’t that what life tend to be?

As we are constantly chasing “That Moment” which will revive our soul and make us thrive over everybody else, when we believe that success is just around the corner, when we believe in that Hollywoodian finale…

“That Moment” tends to always be just a quick rush. Nothing outside of norm.

As you might notice when watching the movie, the picture is in black and white. You should get that right after you press play. Alexander Payne does that with the intent of portraying the lifeless and monotonous spirit of Woody Grant. And as the film develops, of everyone else.

NEBRASKA

Will Forte as David Grant (Left) and Bruce Dern as Woody Grant (Right)

Payne does a great job by throwing in small hints here and there of Woody’s qualities (always doing things for others without expecting anything in return), and his defects (cheating on his wife years ago). It seems like all these things go unnoticed by the characters, they don’t give much value to anything that is being disclosed. And Woody is indifferent about it, as well. He doesn’t seem to care all that much.

All of these things are so subtle that they also go unnoticed by the viewers.

In life society is constantly trying make us conform to the reality around us. We are in the constant battle of balancing our disappointments with our dreams. As humans we tend to believe in everything we are told, and often we end up hitting walls, just like Woody did.

And just like that child inside all of us has in the past.

We all have a little bit of Woody Grant in us, a far from perfect hopeful soul tirelessly striving towards “That Moment” which we all believe is just around the corner.

Although, some of us might experience “That Moment” in life (mostly during our teenage years), the vast majority of people won’t.

Nebraska is the perfect real life drama. Something we can actually relate to.

 

PA