The conversation I never had: a belated Valentine’s Day tale

15 02 2011

In the early 1990’s, I was just starting in my first real job at Unisys in São Paulo, Brazil. One of my first assignments was a visit to the data processing centre of a government agency, an impressive facility in the outskirts of São Paulo:

 


PRODESP Processing Data Centre in Taboão da Serra, São Paulo, Brazil (Source: Google Maps)

The person giving the tour was proudly describing the place as state-of-art, from the façade made of concrete-based frames that ensured efficient protection from sunlight, to the internal sound-absorbing panels that allowed you to have a private conversation standing a few meters away from the next person. Many years later, I learned that the two architects responsible for that project were Pedro Paulo Mello Saraiva and my future father-in-law, Setsuo Kamada. It was quite a surprise to me back then, but a bigger one was still about to come.

I married Setsuo’s daughter in 1999. As it’s common among new comers to Canada, our wedding ceremony was at the Toronto City Hall. It was a simple but unforgettable event in our lives, and my in-laws came from Brazil to attend it, along with a close circle of friends.

Sadly, in 2005, he passed away, and I still sorely miss his calm demeanour, his wisdom and his never-ending pursuit of knowledge. An accomplished architect, he was a bit of a geek at heart: I recall him trying out solar panels much before they were fashionable, and was an early adopter of webcams, digital photography, and one of the first people I saw to connect his cable TV to a computer. I used to have these long conversations with him about everything from biology to technology to world cultures to language oddities.

Roughly two years after his death, my wife and I were spending a few days in São Paulo, when she accidentally found this postcard, sent by him to my mother-in-law in 1974, while on a long work trip to North America:

 

The message, in Portuguese, reads:

Toronto, May 27, 1974

Dear Y.

The United States, not so much, but Canada, I would like you to get to know. One day, we will come together. Be sure about it.

Setsuo

It took him 25 years to fulfill that promise. In 1999, he finally came back to Toronto for the first time since writing that card, to attend the wedding ceremony of his only daughter with lucky me. In the same place depicted in the postcard, the Toronto City Hall.

It was mind boggling. That is the conversation I never had with him that I’ll regret forever. That postcard for me will always be the definitive Valentine’s day card.





A Time to Meet: The Book

22 12 2010

The first “serious” book I read in my life was a Portuguese adaptation for young readers of “Sans Famille” (“Nobody’s Boy”), by Hector Malot:

Not the best choice in the world, I admit, but hey, I was 9 or 10, and was influenced by my dad and my sister, who were both avid readers. If they could read “Ulysses”, I could certainly start my reader list with the thickest book in that 50-volume “Youth Classics” collection. Silly ambition: to this date, that’s the saddest book I ever read, a 19th century precursor of “The Kite Runner”. Not for the faint of heart for sure.

After that, I have read my fair share of books until my early 20’s, but not so much since then. Professional life changed my reading pattern abruptly from “Animal Farm” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude” to “The C Programming Language” and “Design Patterns”. In retrospect, perhaps “Sans Famille” was not that bad :-) . In the last few years, my leisure reading has been pretty much restricted to vacation time. Back in the fall, instead of going for some new material, I went for more homey fare.

Even after all these years, my favorite book is one that I read for the first time in my teens: “O Encontro Marcado” (“A Time to Meet”), by Brazilian author Fernando Sabino:

Most people would probably find this a very average book, and even a disappointing one, as it does not actually have an ending, it just vanishes at some random point in the storyline. Note that I’m not saying that this is the best book in the world, I’m just saying it’s the book I liked the most: it has to do with a time in my life, and reading it again is a travel back on the memory lane. I usually see it as a Brazilian counterparty to Huckleberry Finn, with the difference that you follow Huck until his 40s.

Translating excerpts from the book to English to include in this post turned out to be an impossible task for my poor literary skills. Luckily, over the past weekend, while casually browsing the net, I found a company in South Africa selling a rare English translation of that book (by John Procter, published in 1967), making me buy my first paper book since I started using the Kindle and the iPad. I’m looking forward to seeing how good that version is. You can find some quotes from that edition in Wikiquote:

  • Dante would not have forgotten: they say that when Dante was a boy, he was asked: Dante what is the best food? to test his memory. Eggs, replied Dante. Years later, when Dante was a grown man, he was asked only: how? and Dante replied: fried. p30
  • Gide says the hell of this life is that between a hundred paths we have to choose only one, and live wih nostalgia for the other ninety nine. p51
  • Conmigo se hay vuelto loca toda la anatomía. ¡Soy todo corazón! p64
  • writers without books, poets without verses, painters without pictures p198
  • the circle of politicians which surrounded him–flatterers, eventual profiteers, chaged ideas and convictions like changing a shirt, followed the expediency of the moment. p245
  • The other passengers gazed at each other and there was established that silent solidarity of those who secretly hope to God that the plane will not fall. p264
  • Everything one sees is merely a projection of what one does not see, its true nature and substance. p315
  • I was going to tell you something very important. But it is so important I’d rather not say it. Only that which is not said is sincere… Only silence is sincere. The silence of someone who is sleeping, for example. How sincere is a sleeper! Sincere as a flower… It is in sleeping that everyone reveals themselves, because of the silence.

To finish this post, this is what the book author, who passed away in 2004, had written on his epitaph, attending his wish (and reminding me of the Benjamin Button movie):

Aqui jaz Fernando Sabino, que nasceu homem e morreu menino.
(Here rests Fernando Sabino, who was born a man and died a boy.)

If you get that, you get the essence of “Time to Meet”.

Enhanced by Zemanta




Vestiges of Life: Blogging and Tweeting

18 12 2010

Last week, four different people from my post-IBM world told me in person that they read my blog regularly. While tempted to reply, “do you mean that abandoned thing that’s collecting virtual dust somewhere in WordPress land?”, or “oh, you are that one weekly hit I get in the stats”, I actually feel that I’m the one missing a lot by not blogging, even if nobody else ever reads a line of it.

When I started this blog, I named it “The Bamboo Raft”, with the high hopes that the posts here would be “floating around freely through places and thoughts”. Then, as always, reality sets in, and I found myself blogging very rarely over the last 2 years. Looking back, there’s a clear pattern where the blogger in me wakes up every 6 months or so with a renewed intent of doing it more often, as you can see in “Blog, Interrupted” and “The Bamboo Raft is a submarine”. This post is probably just the latest installment of that series. In my attempt to rationalize my poor blogging and twitter efforts, I’m resorting to a common theme here at this Raft: calling Darwin to my rescue.

Darwin and gradual change
Parody of the Shepard Fairey Obama poster
by Mike Rosulek (Feb 2009)

One of the main arguments used against Darwinian evolution is that the fossil record shows no evidence of the gradual transformation that is supposed to take place according to that theory. The counter-argument, of course, is that circumstances that allow fossilization to occur are extremely rare. Thus, trying to understand the history of life on Earth based solely on the fossil record is like trying to understand the original version of “The Brothers Karamazov” when you know only a half-dozen words in Russian.

As you can see in the diagram above, the fossil record does not register every single event that took place on Earth. That’s for computer logs:


Computer logs: definitely not like the fossil record

Over the last 5 years or so, several folks referred to blogging, then Facebook, then Twitter as tools that allow people to write their autobiographies in real-time. Some people are actually very good at that. Some have even been logging actions and thoughts ages ago, using the ol’ and good pen-and-paper. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau kept very detailed journals that resemble to some extent Facebook status updates or tweets, and used those to feed their more formal work. I love this excerpt from “Autobiography in Real-Time: The Journals of Emerson and Thoreau”.

Emerson used his journal, as Thoreau used his, primarily as a means of facilitating more finished work. It was where he both developed ideas and stored information; it was a place where entire phrases and sentences—sometimes even entire paragraphs—were preserved until the appropriate time for their removal and transfer into essays and lectures. But that’s not to say that there aren’t moments here that are not entirely fresh. Actually, all of it’s fresh. It’s the essays that are borrowed from recyclable material, and there are, of course, plenty of readers who would prefer to receive their Emerson in this form. To call these journals unselfconscious or uninhibited would be to demonstrate a severe misunderstanding of their circumstances; but to call them spontaneous and unimpeded would not be. At their best—at their most mature and august—they are Emerson’s stated alternative to the meek young man in the library—they are “Man Thinking.” The same goes for the journals of Thoreau, too, of course. These are two men of unsurpassed perception and eloquence who made it their life’s mission to look and see, and then to record and share what it was they saw.

As I’m light-years from having “unsurpassed perception and eloquence”, my blogging and tweeting objectives had to be much more modest. Instead of running a play-by-play narrative of what I do and think, I’m settling for just capturing vestiges of life: random glimpses of what’s here, there, and everywhere. Like this Toronto scene that caught my attention Thursday morning on my way to work:

Glenn Gould statue holding a Calla Lily in front of the CBC building

Thus, I see my irregular social networking activities as the fossil record of a regular person’s real life. It’s incomplete, uneven and full of gaps, driven more by serendipity and entropy, and less than by direction and discipline. A bamboo raft may, after all, be an appropriate name for what this blog has become.





A little bit less wise now

10 07 2010

Swelling not too bad yet, but eating kind of sucks

After years of procrastination, this morning I underwent dental surgery to have two of my wisdom teeth removed. The two upper ones are still somewhere there, so hopefully I can still claim to be half wise. Last time I had a tooth removed I was barely a teenager, and, being in Brazil, had never heard about the Tooth Fairy at the time. If I only knew I could profit from all that pain…

I obviously took pictures of them and my gums after the procedure, but those photos just reinforced the idea that some things are better hidden in your personal hard drive rather than shared in Flickr, Facebook, TwitPic or WordPress – you’ve been spared from seeing very graphical images :-P . Having said that, it’s amazing what you find about the little buggers in Wikipedia:

Wisdom teeth are vestigial third molars that human ancestors used to help in grinding down plant tissue. The common postulation is that the skulls of human ancestors had larger jaws with more teeth, which were possibly used to help chew down foliage to compensate for a lack of ability to efficiently digest the cellulose that makes up a plant cell wall. As human diets changed, smaller jaws gradually evolved, yet the third molars, or “wisdom teeth”, still commonly develop in human mouths. Agenesis of wisdom teeth in human populations ranges from practically zero in Tasmanians to nearly 100% in indigenous Mexicans. The difference is related to the PAX9 gene (and perhaps other genes).

At least that makes me feel a bit less primate now :-)

After the surgery, I slept for most of the day because of the anaesthetics, and now am sleepless and craving everything I can’t eat. My dreams of surviving on Haagen Dazs ice cream and Lindt chocolate for the whole weekend were shattered: anything cold, hot or too sweet are still painful to ingest, so my mental motivation to finally go for the surgical procedure is now gone, and blogging here became the fall back alternative.

My small consolation is that this whole ordeal was not as painful as watching the complete meltdown Brazil had in the second half against the Netherlands in the FIFA World Cup last week. That one will take at least 4 years to heal.

Enhanced by Zemanta




The bamboo raft is a submarine

7 06 2010

It’s been two months since my last post – here at The Bamboo Raft anyway: I have written three posts as a guest blogger at Biznology and another one internal at RBC in the meantime. Life’s been busy. It’s ironic to think that the times I don’t blog are exactly when I have most to blog about. One of my favourite cartoons from a long time ago had this couple in the top of a mountain, looking at a fantastic sunset. The husband (boyfriend maybe?), while trying to take a picture of it, was saying to his significant other: “I can’t wait to be back home, get the pictures and see how beautiful this sunset was”. I suspect that even to this day, the vast majority of the key personal milestones, achievements and failures go mostly unblogged and untweeted. Perhaps we were too occupied to bother writing about it, or things were too personal to share. In my case, I confess, it was mainly a case of just being lazy.

It’s not that that the Bamboo Raft was totally inactive. It was just submerged. The little time I spent writing in the last few weeks actually went all to this ancient form of communication called email :-P . Some of my Brazilian friends and I have this tradition before every World Cup of writing our guts out about this passion that’s football (soccer). I love doing it, but our conversations are likely too hard core for anybody else to put up with in our picky attention to details and endless debates on anything remotely related to the beautiful game. Things like:

  • How a mathematician calculates the odds for a team to win the World Cup?
  • Are lefties bad in penalty shoot-outs?
  • Does the coach really matter in a 7-game tournament?
  • What are the oddest names / nicknames in the history of World Cups?
  • Are Zinadine Zidane and Mr. Spock identical twins?
Mr. Spock and Zinadine Zidane

Mr. Spock and Zinadine Zidane

As you can see, sometimes NOT using social media may be a good thing.





Winter weekend getaways

21 02 2010

Canada is a great place to live, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my 13+ years living in the Great White North. But I confess that the winter months still make me homesick, my sun-deprived self always demanding some sun rays and a vacation down South between December and March.

This year, however, a mid-winter vacation was not possible, so we overcame our cryophobia and decided to spend two 3-day weekends up North in Muskoka in February. Both mini-vacations went so well that I’m considering going for these cold getaways much more often from now on.

The first trip was to a place facing the beautiful Oxtongue Lake, just a few kilometres from the Algonquin Park West entrance:


Oxtongue Lake in Ontario, Canada

It was a weekend with clear night skies, no wind, cold temperatures and a full moon:

Frozen Oxtongue Lake under a full moon

The picture above is a bit crappy, but the actual experience of walking on the frozen lake covered by snow under a full moon was memorable. The snow absorbed the sounds and reflected the moonlight, the lack of wind and proper insulation made the night walking pleasant and a very unusual sensorial experience overall.

Also unusual was barbecuing under the snow:

Hummm… Picanha BBQ…

Best of all, we had the tobogganing hill for ourselves for most of the weekend:


L trying solo tobogganing for the first time

And then doing it all by himself

Last weekend, we went back to Muskoka, this time close to Sparrow Lake. It was not as secluded as the other place, but it was good to try a variety of winter sports. The hotel offered free gear rentals for skating, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and curling. It was the first Winter Olympics weekend, and L was very excited in trying stuff he was seeing on TV:

First time donning skates


Snow-shoeing


Cross-country skiing

Saying that I have two left feet for winter sports is an understatement. I excel in being bad in all sports, but there’s no word to describe my performance (or lack thereof) with skis or skates. Hopefully, L will not inherit my total ineptitude to brave snow and ice, and his newly discovered interest on winter sports will last beyond the Vancouver 2010 games. For the first time ever, I feel almost sad that the end of winter is already around the corner.





Itu 400 – Part 3: The land that Google forgot

30 01 2010

Google Maps still amazes me, even after all these years. It evolved from a plain online map to a full-fledged tool with niceties such as Street View and the ability to add your own location. If you live in Toronto, New York or Paris, you can’t help but expect that one day live images of your street will be available.

On the other side, if you live in a small city in South America, chances are that you won’t be that lucky. Here’s a snapshot of the satellite view of Itu in Google:


Itu, city core, Google Maps

As you can see using the red and green arrows as a reference, the map view and the satellite view are off by about 50 m. If you can read a bit of Portuguese, you’ll find that this map shows two city halls and, oddly enough, a campsite in the middle of the city! And if you ever lived there, you’ll spot many other errors in the map, with several points of interest with the wrong name or in the wrong location.

I wonder if a Street View of Itu will ever be considered by Google. Until that day comes, I’ll be helping them with my 2 cents: I’ve just visited their Local Business Centre and added my brother’s restaurant to it. After all, social media gurus told me that, if you are not Googleable, you don’t exist :-P

For my previous posts celebrating the 400 years of Itu, click here and here.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.