Independence Park at Ipiranga

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Independence Park; Ipiranga, São Paulo, São Paulo State, Brazil

Cultural Spotlight – Acai

Acai is my favorite thing about Brazil. It is difficult to choose a favorite thing here, but it is the first item on the list that comes to mind. Something so tasty and so nutritious is definitely worthy of my #1 spot. Difficult to find outside of the country and definitely not of the same flavor, taste or variety, Acai is a unique treat that Brazil is rightly known for. Whether it’s made into ice cream, a shake, a juice, or even yogurt, Acai is healthy for you and full of antioxidants. In addition, it really is a kind of superfood that boost your energy levels once you taste it and finish your fill.

If you are having an off day which happens sometimes, you may want to drop the coffee and put down the red bull and make a nice acai juice instead. You are likely to be glad you did. That extra energy boost can give you hours of extra productivity and even added focus allowing you to do your work better and faster. Be careful not to each too much acai as it is full of calories but if you want to substitute a meal like breakfast or lunch, having acai instead may not be the worst option to consider.

The acai berries come from the acai palm tree. The berries are small, round, and have a black-purple color. The acai palm tree is mainly found in the Amazonian region of both Brazil and Peru and has been a staple food in those areas since the 18th century. I would say that the fruit has gained popularity not only in urban cities within Brazil recently but even internationally as demand for the delicious superfood has skyrocketed due to the variety of health benefits.

The acai palm is usually harvested twice a year between January and June and then August and December making it more readily available than other Amazonian fruits. Acai has been part of the Amazon River for centuries and wasn’t only just used for food. Its other uses include a type of cooking oil or for salad dressing as well as being used for certain cosmetics or for grain alcohol or dietary supplements. The palm tree that acai comes from has been also used for hats, baskets, brooms, roof thatch for homes from the leaves of the tree and the wood trunk.

While its health benefits are not clearly known, it has a higher level of antioxidants than other fruits such as oranges, apples or cranberries. One bowl of acai with granola or a fruit like a banana is more than just a snack but rather a full meal that can pack up to 550 calories. What is definitely known about acai is that it has a high amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium content. Part of the reason why Acai can give you a boost of energy is that it is full of nutrients that we need to have each and every day.

Acai may not have the best taste even if it does contain sugar, but it tastes like something that really is of the Earth and can be drank or consumed naturally without any harmful additives. You can tell from the first time you taste it how unique a flavor it has and to feel the energy it gives you just a few minutes after you have the first bite or the first sip. I would not have acai every day but compared to coffee, tea, or other energy boosting products, this one may be the healthiest for you.

Acai does not have a lot of sugar when it is eaten naturally and is high in fats which is good for the body especially after you’ve been hitting the gym or playing a sport for an hour or two. If you need to replenish your calorie intake and to do so in a healthy way, acai may be one of the best options out there. If you can mash up acai fruit into a pulp, you may be able to get the most antioxidants out of consumption compared to a watered-down juice. The antioxidant content of acai can help someone by neutralizing the negative effects of ‘free radicals’, which to those who don’t know are uneven or unstable atoms that damage cells and cause illnesses and/or premature aging.

Having acai and other superfoods in terms of daily or weekly intake may help in preventing cancer, heart disease, and other serious ailments. Acai can also lower a person’s blood cholesterol level although more research is needed from what I have been reading. The plant compounds that are active in Acai can also assist in improving memory and boosting brain function partially because the antioxidant content can counter inflammation of these parts of the body and provide further clean-up of toxic cells that no longer function well.

While not a perfect snack, the high level of fats, proteins, and vitamins as well as active antioxidants can make acai a good choice especially when you are in Brazil for a visit or a longer stay. I would just be aware of the sugar content and to be aware if there are any other ingredients which could diminish the nutritious content. Acai berries do not last very long so many people have to eat acai after it’s been watered-down or sugared-up as opposed to its natural form. If you can have an acai puree or pulp instead of a smoothie or an ice cream bowl, that may be the best option if you can’t get it directly from the Amazon.

Acai is a flexible kind of food so you can always add more nuts and berries to it or even other ice cream, but you have to watch carefully to make sure you are making the food more nutritious and not full of sugar. Due to its healthy content of fats, fiber, protein, and vitamins, you would not go wrong if you find yourself in Brazil and want to try one of its greatest natural resources, the acai berry. You will be glad you gave it a try and may want your friends to try it too.

Avenida Paulista

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Avenida Paulista; São Paulo, São Paulo State, Brazil

Downtown São Paulo

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Downtown São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

Movie Recommendations – Volume III

Movie Recommendations – November 2019

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‘Eastern Promises’ (2007) is an excellent film focusing on the role of a mysterious hitman / bodyguard for the Russian Mafia who is forced to be drawn into a situation which forces him to take drastic measures to hide his true intentions. He must do this while protecting a woman who cares for a baby born out of wedlock whose mother died of a heroin addiction after being forced into prostitution. The man must choose where his loyalties lie as he becomes more and more intertwined with his allegiance to the mafia and his affection for the woman caring for the baby and her family.

The man is Nikolai Luzhin, played by the brilliant Viggo Mortensen, whose Russian accent and tattoos make him as feared as he is believable as a Russian gangster caught in the middle between his obligations to his mafia superiors and those of to the British-Russian midwife, Anna Khitrova, played by the excellent Naomi Watts, who pleads for his help and assurance of safety, when she comes upon the newborn baby of mysterious origins. The film’s title says it all in many ways as both of the main characters struggle to hold on to the ‘Eastern Promises’ they are sworn to uphold either by allegiance or by a simple diary left by a dying woman who fears for the future of her baby.

From beginning to end, the film ‘Eastern Promises’ is unique in its subject matter, its portrayal of the inner workings of the Russian mafia, and for the dramatic storyline that leaves you in suspense until the final scene. There are a few plot twists that make the experience even more enriching along with the brutal and realistic fight scenes that are enthralling. Above all else, Viggo Mortensen gives a thrilling performance for someone who had to exert a lot of effort to play a Russian gangster with the tattoos and the accent to show for it. I highly recommend this film.


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‘Ad Astra’ (2019) was an underwhelming box office hit but it was critically acclaimed for a number of good reasons. There are a lot of well-done special effects, heavy themes, and good acting performances especially by the legendary Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones. While it has not gotten much press, I find it to be on par with other great science fiction movies about space that have come out in the past decade including Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian.

 ‘Ad Astra’ is unique compared to those other films in terms of its plot line and its themes. Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) is a decorated and distinguished major in the U.S. Space Command, who is emotionally detached yet very good at what he does regarding being an astronaut. He has both fame and notoriety as the son of Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who has been gone by Earth for 16 years and last heard from near Neptune from the last transmission. While he does not have a close relationship with his father, a new threat emerging from that part of the Solar System may be related to ‘Project Lima’ that his father captained. Roy is looking for answers and that is why he enlists to find his father, help save the Earth from these electrical surges, and even discover if we are in fact alone in the universe or not.

Without spoiling too much, this film ‘Ad Astra’ does a good job of showing the likely outcome of interstellar space travel to how Moon bases would shape up to be and how Mars would be used for research purposes among other missions. It also shows the dark side of human nature with rogue scavengers carrying out attacks, overt commercialization coming from Earth-based companies to turn the Moon into a shopping mall / food court, as well as the desire to leave Earth to colonize other planets when the one planet we have has all we need in terms of family, nature, and our search for meaning.

Roy’s character transformation throughout the film is the best part of the movie and he is a reliable narrator to show how space travel may change the course of humanity, but it does not change human nature. At the end of the film, you may be asking, why should we be asking if there is life on other planets when we should be valuing the life, we have here on Planet Earth?


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‘Joker’ (2019). What more can I say about a film that has garnered extensive media coverage, been on the subject of many debates, and been both acclaimed and scrutinized for many different reasons? All there is left to say is that one should see it for themselves and cast their own judgment. Overall, the film is a remarkable tour de force with excellent acting, cinematography, and direction along with a brilliant and moving soundtrack. Joaquin Phoenix is a shoo-in for winning Best Actor at next year’s Academy Awards and definitely deserves it. Any actor who can lose 60 pounds (32 kilograms) for a role, develop an insidious laugh, and show a huge range of emotions in all of one scene deserves huge praise and recognition.

I highly recommend seeing the film because it is more than just a movie about the world’s most famous fictional super villain. There are weighty themes that every audience member should think about such as the role of a society in producing a murderer and how we treat mental illness or the lack thereof. It is also about the gap between the rich and the poor as well as how we tend to live separate lives from each other based on our social status, which could lead to inevitable protests and unrest.

The film, in my opinion, does not condone the actions of Arthur Fleck or Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) but it holds a mirror up to the society that makes a man turn to madness and murder in that the very spot-on assumption that we too play a role in creating a monster like that. When certain people, especially the mentally ill, fall through the cracks, bad things can happen, and it is important to serve those people to get the help and care they need.

I think the main lesson of the film can also be that it is important to always do your best to treat others with kindness and respect because you do not know what is going on in their lives. While the ‘Joker’ is a monster and commits heinous acts worthy of severe punishment, this origin story shines a light on a society that fosters a man like him to turn to crime and murder to feel meaning and purpose. While ‘Joker’ is the one who pulls the trigger, it’s clear that had he gotten the help and support he needs as ‘Arthur Fleck’, there would be no ‘Joker’ to begin with.

“Tudo Bem?”

Tudo bem? or Tudo bom? is a simple yet intriguing greeting that has been one of the most culturally interesting aspects of living in Brazil. You might be thinking what is so interesting about these two words but the greeting itself when you translate it has much more of a significance than what you would think. I find it fascinating for a number of reasons, which I will divulge during this article and it is important to keep in mind that languages including English have different ways in which people can address each other from the very neutral to the very positive.

To give some background first, I have studied a few foreign languages thus far and one of the first things you learn in any language are the greetings / salutations. The way you greet someone in another language can teach you a lot about the culture and also about the country. No one greeting is the same although the meaning is usually quite similar. What has thrown me off about ‘Tudo bem?’ is not just the brevity of it but the significance regarding its inherent positivity. I did not expect this greeting to be so prevalent, but I am fundamentally glad that it is used so regularly.

Let us start by breaking ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ down in terms of trying to translate it into English, which is not so easy on the surface. You would think it means ‘How are you?’, ‘How is everything going?’ but that is not the right translation. If we are to translate it into English, it would be more like, ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’. Instead of saying ‘Como vai voce?’ (How are you doing?) or ‘Como voce esta?’ (How are you?), I have been surprised to learn that these greetings are not as popular while ‘Tudo bom?’ or ‘Tudo bem?’ are used frequently in polite greetings whether it is with a shop keeper, bank teller, a cashier, or your neighbor from next door.

What I really like about ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ is that you are being positive and outgoing right from the start. Even if everything is just okay or you might be having a bad day, it is almost expected to say in response ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ to indicate that everything is going well and you’re doing fine even if that might be the case. To me, this represents something very unique about Brazilian culture in terms of airing on the side of being positive and upbeat. Even if you are going through some tough times or don’t think everything is alright, you are unconsciously drawn to saying that it is and to stay positive.

You do not have to always respond with ‘Tudo bem’ or ‘Tudo bom’ but during my time here, I have not really heard any answers in Portuguese with the equivalent of ‘I’m doing alright’, or ‘I’m doing okay’, or ‘I’m fine.’ Even rarer would be to say that you are not doing well, or you are sick, or you are tired. ‘Tudo bem?’ is a very casual greeting and it is usually only common to respond with the same reply or with a ‘bem’ (good), ‘bom’ (good), or even ‘tudo certo’ (all right). You don’t really say that you are doing amazing, fantastic, wonderful, or any other exuberant English equivalent when asked about ‘Tudo bem?’ but this kind of greeting in Portuguese is much more positive, and warm than I have encountered with another languages.

Greetings tend to be neutral at the outside when the person asking expects a positive answer, but the response can also be neutral or negative depending on the language used. However, I have found that Portuguese among the languages I know or have studied is the only one which leaves very little room for a neutral or negative response. I do believe that is a good thing although it can be a bit difficult to express those emotions right away. It is kind of expected to start out any interaction on a positive note by saying ‘all is well?’ and ‘all is good?’. Unless you are with a family member or a close friend, it can be tough to really express how you truly feel because they are likely not asking how you really are but just trying to be polite at the outset.

Regardless, when you compare Brazilian Portuguese to English or to Spanish, the initial greeting is much more positive in terms of the translation. While you can say ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’ in English, these are not really the initial greetings that you would use when you are talking to someone for the first time. It is much more common to say, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ instead. Saying ‘Hello, all is well?’ or ‘Hello, everything fine?’ at the outside to an English speaker would be a bit strange at first whereas ‘How are you?’ is much more of a common occurrence.

In my opinion, the same could be said with Spanish where you would address someone you have never met before with ‘Como estas?’ or ‘Como vas?’, which is a very similar translation from the English of ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ Now, you could do something similar in Spanish with a greeting of ‘Todo bien?’ which is similar to the meaning of ‘Tudo bem?’ in Portuguese. However, from my own experience, while ‘Todo bien?’ is more acceptable and can be heard from time to time, a more proper greeting in a first interaction with a native Spanish speaker is ‘Como estas?’ rather than ‘Todo bien?’ An exception would be if you had met that person before or a few times previously and consider them to be more than a stranger. That is when ‘Todo bien?’ would be used but not really when you meet someone for the first time.

Lastly, even with Turkish, the last language I have learned, you would say to somebody new: ‘Merhaba, Nasilsin?’ (Hello, how are you?) similarly to English or Spanish but there is no formal greeting used in the Turkish language where you would ask if everything is well right off the bat. In English, Spanish, or Turkish, it seems that the greeting to ask how someone is starts off as being very neutral in its meaning whereas with Brazilian Portuguese, it is fundamentally a different story. Out of all the languages that I have learned and studied, the greeting of ‘Tudo Bem?’ is fundamentally the most optimistic and positive out of all of them.

I have to say that it took me back at first when I arrived in Brazil how common it is and how it is customary to reply with a ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ in reply, usually with a smile. It is a testament to the positive and upbeat culture where even if you are having a bad day and things aren’t going well, people here try to have a happy outlook on life and to boost their spirits with a ‘Tudo bem?’ and a thumbs up. I am not a psychologist, but I can imagine seeing someone smiling and wishing you a ‘Tudo bem?’ will do wonders for your day and for your overall mood.

If you can learn any two words in Brazilian Portuguese, I would recommend that you first use ‘Tudo bem(?)’ because it is probably the most important words in the language and can both be a great question and a great answer to have under your belt as you navigate this fascinating and unique culture.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral and Templo Mayor

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Mexico City, Mexico