The View from the Crib

So, I’ve settled into a new one-bedroom apartment in Downtown São Paulo. The place has character: huge rooms, high ceilings, French doors leading out to a small terrace where I can sit and write (theoretically), with my feet being massaged on top of the clothes dryer. My street is one of those formerly-grand boulevards gone to seed, complete with prosties and crackheads (think ’70s Times Square). In fact, twice, I was propositioned on the sidewalk in front of my building by unscrupulous and sordid characters. It’s all novel-worthy, if anything.

Here is the view from my living room, at night and in the day. Come visit…I’ll protect you from the crackheads!

Haiti, One Year On

After a devastating earthquake one year ago, the first colony in the hemisphere to throw off the yoke of slavery – a place that has forever been punished for that courageous act – is still in major need of financial and physical assistance. I have asked two of my fellow bloggers, native Floridians, and all around Fly Sistas (Dr. Brandi Reddick, The Green Pharmacist, and Frenchie of Black in Cairo) who have intimate contact with the country to recommend legitimate organizations that are worthy of your help:

The NEGES Foundation, a small non-profit, environmentally-focused organization with which Dr. Reddick worked back in 2009 (remember, grass-roots organizations need help, too).

Volunteers for Peace, a coordinating organization that arranges placements for volunteers interested in doing work on the ground.

Partners in Health, a medical NGO with a long reach and proven results.

Oxfam International, a highly-regarded development-focused NGO.

Prayers and peace to the millions of Haitians and their families who have suffered in the wake of the earthquake, as well as to the thousands of foreigners working to help make Haiti a sustainable nation (big ups to Brazil for its role in assisting Haiti).

Global Juke Joint: “On Air” by Air France Music

Last year, Air France decided it would compile a bit of its inflight musical entertainment into half-hour podcasts that you can download every couple of months. With an esoteric mix of relaxingly ambient and soulfully acoustic selections, the “On Air” podcast is excellent accompaniment for a lazy Sunday afternoon in the hammock, a lounge-y late night in bed, or an early morning en route to Paris. Below are some of my favorite tracks from artists I discovered via Air France Music. Get lifted.

OK, I didn’t just discover Me’Shell, but she’s not been on my radar since Bitter.

I never knew the harpsichord could sound this good.

“Who asked you if you want to be loved by me?” Nuff said.

Why is the UK producing the best soul singers these days?

This youngin’ might just replace Carla as my favorite French chanteuse.

Better than Bey anyday (DAMN YOU, UMG!!!!!).

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A Thank You and a Goodbye

Photo by Paul Downey

First, I want to start the new year giving thanks to you, my readers, for traveling with me this far.  I know I’m not very communicative via the comments section, but I sincerely appreciate every person who looks at my blog and takes away even the smallest bit of inspiration – be it to travel, to encourage someone else to travel, to move overseas, to start a blog, or to bring an end to a dead-end situation.

The purpose of Fly Brother is indeed to inspire and encourage a positive interaction between the reader and international travel, albeit through a very specific demographic lens.  But then, the way I experience the world – as black, as an American, as a man, as a son, as a lover, as a writer, as an educator, as someone who passes for Latino or Arabic or Canadian when need be – isn’t necessarily all that specific, either.  Regardless of its specificity or universality, I hope that my writing grants a minimum of disappointment and maximum of fulfillment in 2011, and beyond.  And I hope you stick around to see where we go next.

Thank you, well and truly, for reading.
-Fly Brother

Second, as we’ve started the Year of Consolidation here at Fly Brother, it pains me to say that I’ve had to sell my lovely Fiat Palio Fire Economy, Negrita. I’ve only had her for seven months, and she really is a dandy companion, especially when traffic’s light and the music’s right. Still, I bought her when I lived in Brasília and needed a car most desperately. Since moving to São Paulo – very much New York when it comes to traffic volume and lack of cheap or adequate parking – she’s become a liability. That being said, I’ve not sold her in a traditional way. I’ve exchanged her with a good buddy of mine who’s also a personal trainer. I’m going back to a serious weight-training regimen and was able to get four one-hour training sessions a week, plus a nutrition plan, in exchange for allowing my trainer unlimited use of Negrita.  Of course, I’d still pay the monthly car note, but in the end, I get his services for 40% of what he normally charges and he gets to get rid of his miniscule, boxy, burgundy really-very-late-model Fiat Idontknowwhat. I can also snag her back for a couple hours or a weekend when need be.  Either way, considering the value of his services, I think I’m getting an excellent deal.

Meanwhile, I’m going to miss riding around in my little Negri. Traffic in São Paulo is a total cluster fuck, no doubt, but it’s less about the volume than about how silly and slow these people drive.  [Begin rant here] They’re like drunken penguins, bobbing about between lanes, driving ten kilometers under the speed limit, sitting through green lights, stopping at yellow lights!, straddling the lane markers, riding their brakes, ssssssslllllllloooooowwwwwlllllllllyyyyyyy turning right from the left-hand lane!  Just holing up progress, in general.  In Brasília, seat of government and power, people had important places to be and they expected to get there as quickly as possible and drove like it. I liked that, as I have the innate necessity to be everywhere in 20 minutes, regardless of distance.  Not here in São Paulo.  There’s always some damn body in the way. And don’t even get me started on the motoboys [End rant here].  It’s probably for the best that I’m handing over the keys to someone else and going the way of public transport.  Goodbye, mi negrita linda!

Here’s video of me on my way home from work, coursing through the very cool and futuristic Ayrton Senna Tunnel underneath the city’s expansive Ibirapuera Park (I love this tunnel; you wouldn’t know it was named after a race car driver, the way these folk creep along).  I tried to go as fast as I could, but you can see the blockers in full effect.  If you listen closely towards the end, you can even hear a bit of profanity. ;-)

Take a ride with me:

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Transition and Consolidation: Annual Review 2010

New Years on Avenida Paulista.  No, I wasn’t there…I was at a friend’s house eating lentils for prosperity, then I went to the club. ;-) Photo Credit: Hélvio Romero/AE

As the Earth begins its 2011th revolution around the Sun since Baby Jesus was born, I’m following the sage advice of Non-Conformism personified, Mr. Chris Guillebeau, and conducting a review of my life as Fly Brother during the year that was.  I hope to use the experiences and interactions – positive and negative – that I accumulated in 2010 as markers along the flight path for 2011, as I fly higher and farther in the pursuit of professional and personal development.  Based on last year’s review, 2010 ended with about half of my planned objectives realized, and a few major and unexpected directional changes that occurred mid-flight:

Last year’s goal #1: A deepening and diversification of what you can find here at Fly Brother. I completed (well, almost) two seasons of podcasts, featuring commentary on travel, history, and culture as well as some of my favorite music.  The episodes started out a bit long-winded, but for the second season, I found a format that proved more useful to my audience, offering succinct variety that maintained the listener’s attention far better than before.  I also increased the number of blog posts I wrote for a few months during summer vacation, before admittedly dropping the ball as I transitioned, stressfully, from one job and one city to another.

I did not, unfortunately, schedule any interviews for the podcast (decent-but-hardly-state-of-the-art-technology coupled with a tumultuous personal life) nor did I succeed in monetizing the blog through affiliate sales or my own products.  This will change, I ga-ron-tee, in the coming year.

Last year’s goal #2: An increase in overall presence and name recognition. With limited fanfare, I officially launched Fly-Brother.com in June, the sharp, slick WordPress replacement for the Blogger site that I happen to like a lot (WordPress, not Blogger).  Below are the statistics for the last six months (since I only transitioned to WordPress in June).

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 97 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 238 posts. There were 384 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 97mb. That’s about 1 pictures per day.

The busiest day of the year was July 26th with 338 views. The most popular post that day was Fly Favorites.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were fly-brother.blogspot.com, facebook.com, stumbleupon.com, clutchmagonline.com, and monaga.net.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for fly brother, james bond, errol barnett, isha sesay, and dr. william p. foster.

—————–

This year, I served (barely) as a featured contributor at the witty and acerbic Desonesto Doctrine, and had a short essay published in the e-book anthology Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level (download it free!).  I also tweeted more frequently, though that was still maybe a scant 5 or 6 tweets per week.  I’m working on my aversion to tweeting about each time I pick my nose or poop so I can get a better handle on the whole social networking thing.

I haven’t, as of yet, created fan pages on Facebook or MySpace, and I’ve certainly not had the time to write many articles, let alone ship them off for publication somewhere (where they’d probably get trashed anyway).  My email response time: total fail.

Last year’s goal #3: A shorter, yet exhilarating list of international destinations for the coming year. Very short, yet still pretty exhilarating, I started off the year freezing in Miami and Key West for New Years (hell, 2009’s freeze seemed to be downright balmy compared to 2010’s) before jaunting off to San Francisco for my first official Fly Brother meet-up and always sassy Tallahassee while I awaited my work visa from Brazil to be approved at the beginning of the year.  Finally, in March, I moved to Brasília to take my position as the new English professor of an international, bilingual high school.  During holidays, I popped over to colonial Pirenópolis or prairie boomtown Goiânia to get a good look at the heart of the country, or up to Recife or Rio for some tropical soul.  I hit São Paulo about a hundred times (ok, more like six) and New York in the summer.  And in October, I had the opportunity to chill in fantastic Berlin for three weeks, visit my first small European village in the guise of charming little Güstrow, and even scrounge up a refreshing weekend in neighboring Warsaw with one of my best buds.  Not exactly a community service project in Haiti, or a four-hour hop to Buenos Aires, or a trip around the world via the Southern Hemisphere, but still fly.  Oh, and I drove my car, Negrita, along 680 miles of halfway-decent Brazilian highways from Brasília to São Paulo in one day.

The unexpected events of 2010, however, were the most impactful: leaving the teaching profession mid-year to take some time off, then taking a job at Time Out (infinite thanks, Lola and Julie!), in essence becoming a Journalist, as opposed to a mere Writer.  The subsequent move to São Paulo, a city that’s been on my to-live list for five years now.  The connections I made with fellow bloggers this summer at the Travel Blog Exchange conference in New York.  The friendships I forged via my old job and CouchSurfing in Brasília and Sampa.

The loss – the freezing, rather – of certain friendships that at one time had been the truest and bluest, mostly related to said friend(s) now being married.  The extremely unfortunate and ill-timed appearance of bed bugs in a country ill-equipped to manage them, and the related, severe, and abnormal allergic reaction to them that I’ve had for a month now, sidelining my workouts and deeply impacting my finances, ending in a forced, unexpected change of address.  The startlingly strong sense that, despite everything, my move to São Paulo was nothing short of necessary and timely, evidenced in random eurekas that cumulatively communicate my love for this place.

2010, Year of Transition, closed on a battered, but energized Fly Brother.

2011 begins as the Year of Consolidation.  It’s time to get my house – or hub, as it were – in order.

1. The Day Job – In spite of sometimes tortuous hours, virtually zero vacation time, and a salary that encourages moonlighting, I love my job: brainstorming for story ideas, interviewing interesting people, reviewing off-the-wall places, diversifying my writing portfolio, honing my journalism skills, holding the finished product in my hand.  This year’s goal is to ensure Time Out São Paulo upholds the strong international brand name by providing content that’s engrossing, entertaining, and intellectual.  I have a direct hand in that process and my name don’t go on no foolishness.

2. Fly Brother – This year, monetization and completion are the key words for the website and the travel brand.  New sections of the site will be coming online within the next few months and I’ll be posting new content twice a week.  As the aforementioned Day Job does not allow for extended academia-style vacations, Fly Brother has turned into Interminably Delayed Brother; that means many of the posts will be Sampa-centric, but a) that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all and b) I’ll strive to limit material referencing Brazil to 40% of the overall content of the site.  The social media fan pages will be finished by the end of the month and emails will – sigh – be responded to on time.  I also probably just need to break down and get a damn iPhone.

3. Traveling – Lack of true vacation time means destinations relegated to the five-hour flight zone: Buenos Aires, Santiago, Salvador, Florianópolis, Porto Alegre, Vitória, and, of course Rio.  Still, I’m in the financial rebuilding process and my job is to know São Paulo in and out.  That means, for the next six months at least, a moratorium on all non-essential travel for Fly Brother.  That doesn’t mean I’ll not be going anywhere for six months, but sometimes, you have to stay put for a while so you can move forward when the time is right.  It’s still too early to speculate what the second half of the year will bring, and that’s okay.  But this will be my first bout against my natural and craven wanderlust, so pray for me, y’all.

4. Relationships – I used to be really good at staying in contact with the important people in my life.  I also used to be very insecure about relationships – platonic or otherwise – because I did have a childhood/adolescence with fucked-up interactions between my peers and I (if I had telekinetic powers, many a high school gym would have burned to the ground in the early 90s).  Needless to say, I’ve taken off for a life overseas while many of my friends have forged ahead domestically, building families and strong ties to the communities in which they live.  It’s easy to say, “well, phone lines work both ways,” but with me being the one out of sight, the one who chose to be out of sight, that is, sometimes I have to swallow a bit of pride and reach out to friends and valued acquaintances with whom I haven’t spoken in a while, just to recharge the friendship (if I truly value it, after all).  And despite many elements of my life being currently unsettled, I have to make the time to do it.  I have a rack of miss you and thank you emails I need to get cracking on, and being more rapid in my response to emails from friends or fans is a must in 2011.  Besides the clichéed but true mantra of people being in your life “for a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” you never know when you’ll see someone last.

5. Hubbing – Not since moving to Washington in 1999 have I felt such a strong connection to the place in which I’m living.  The incessant buzz of São Paulo, the constant exhilaration – traffic, shitty service and all – enchants, intoxicates me.  Here, I can engage with and actualize every element and facet of myself.  I fucking love this place, and I’m reminded of it in numerous little ways every day, just like when you’re in love with a person.  This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Sampa and I, especially since I’m open to the relationship.  I could easily exchange my rent payment for a mortgage by the end of next year.  And I’ll give myself that long to see if me and SP are for keeps.  Besides, Fly Brother’s been in need of a permanent hub for a while, now.

So, folks, I’m entering 2011 with itchy, red welts due to bed bugs that bit me weeks ago and a heart and mind full of positive energy and, dare I say it?, optimism.  Something tells me 2011 is about to be off the hook.  Happy New Year!

Higher.  Farther.

What about you?