Thursday, November 18, 2010

Compare and contrast

Last Sunday afternoon was both sunny and dry and as the two don't generally come together very often at this time of year we decided to make the most of it and spend a little family time in our local postage stamp of greenery, Praça Gastão Vidigal. It turns out, by the way, that Gastão Vidigal is a name and not, as I had previously assumed from context, portuguese for 'the dog's toilet'. But canine faeces aside (or underfoot in David's case) the park was looking lovely after its recent makeover. The kiddies' play area now has a new fence to keep dogs out and the equipment inside has been given a much-needed overhaul. Some of the more barren patches have been replanted, paint and varnish has been liberally applied to many things and there is now a scattering of signposts blossoming out of the grass which say something along the lines of, 'It's your park - why not try looking after it for a change!'

All in all, a lovely place to spend a very pleasant half-an-hour. But any longer than that and the place starts to lose its charm. There really isn't much to do there if you're not four years old and still find it immensely pleasurable to climb up one way and slide down another. James tries, spending his time excavating complicated tomb complexes in the sandpit, but even that gets boring after he's deliberately collapsed the roof on his team of imaginary archaeologists for the second time. So we find ourselves going to the park less and less often these days, preferring to find entertainment around the house instead. Admittedly, now that we have our possessions there's a lot more to do indoors, but the lack of convenient, interesting and free outdoor spaces is one of the things I'm missing most from our life back in Cambridge.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not getting homesick. Of course, there are many things I miss from our life in England - it was less bureaucratic and a lot cheaper for a start and most people could generally understand what I was trying to say - but life out here is interesting and challenging and it has forced me to climb out of the rut I was happily plodding along in back in Cambridge and that can only be a good thing. I would, however, disagree with anyone who says a change is as good as a rest - this change has been physically and emotionally exhausting and I could really do with a nice long rest right about now - but it has certainly been as good as a motivational kick up the backside.

For one thing, I'm writing again. For now it's just the blog, but I've been making notes for my long-promised novel for James and will probably start work on it soon. I've been teaching myself to come and sit at the computer and start typing rather than play games and now I look forward to working in a way I haven't done for a long time. Having said that, I've now been struggling with this blog entry for three days, trying to decide what it is I actually want to say. It was going to be a broad sweeping comparison of the two countries and how we've changed our way of life to suit our new home. Then, when that seemed like way too much, it was going to become more of a list of things we miss, possibly with a discussion of why. Now it seems like a much better idea just to see what photos I have available and throw some text at them to see what sticks.

One thing I did want to write about though, and which has come as something of a pleasant surprise, is how little I've been missing my friends and family. I don't, of course, mean that I hate them all and I'm glad I'm finally on the far side of the world from them. What I mean is how easy it is these days to keep in regular contact with everyone. The last time we lived abroad, in Finland from 1996-98, contact with home was limited to an expensive phone call once every couple of weeks to my parents and the occasional letter (you know, in an envelope, with a stamp) to friends and relatives. Now I'm Skyping my parents every weekend and seeing much more of them than I ever did when we lived in Cambridge! I'm having ongoing email conversations with friends on a daily basis, I'm chatting on Facebook to people I haven't seen for years... honestly, I'm more socially active now than I ever was back in England.

But possibly the strangest connection I've managed to maintain has to be with the book club I was in back in Cambridge. Five-and-a-half thousand miles is a bit too far to go for our monthly meetings, but I've made a real effort to stay in touch with the others and I make sure I still read the same book as they do so I can send my views by email on the day of the meeting. Getting hold of the books is proving to be less of a challenge than I'd thought as well. So far, I've been able to download one from the iTunes bookstore and get hold of the other two from the kids' school library, but once they start choosing really obscure stuff I may have to skip a month. Buying books on Amazon is (ironically) not really an option as the import duties are so huge and the local bookstores that do stock books in English tend to stick to the popular classics and teenage fiction. I do still miss the conversation, but perhaps I could persuade them to send me the sessions as podcasts!

As for all the other stuff I miss about England? Well, there's not that much really - especially since one of our friends out here has just returned from the UK bringing me three large jars of Marmite and another delivered a Red-Cross parcel of Ibuprofen and curtain rings (the former is nigh on impossible to get in any sort of sensible quantity or delivery system, the latter only seemed to be available at £3.50 per ring!) In the words of Helen... "Oh for a John Lewis!"

But mostly, life out here is just different. Some things are worse than in England, some things are much better. It seems to me that the best way to be happy is just to accept Brazil for what it is and not try and make it like England with sun.

Less dog poo would be nice though.

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