Capoeira em Florianópolis

“É uma dança mas, é uma luta…” is how Mestre Sardinha succinctly describes the practice of Capoeira.  “It is a dance but, it is a fight” also.  We met Mestre Sardinha, or just Sardinha for short, at the UFSC campus and he walked us the 30 minutes or so to where we would train.  Sardinha does not speak very much English, just a few words here or there, but he very much wanted to communicate.  Between our patchy Portuguese and some hand signals we were able to determine that he hoped we would not judge the place we were going to, too harshly.  He kept telling us that it was a humble place, just a garage behind a student flop house, referred to here as república or casa república.  He assured us over and over that the people there were bem boas and muito legais, both different ways of saying “good people”.   When we arrived sure enough the walls were covered in graffiti murals, there were dogs and cats hanging around, doors and windows were open, students were in various states of dress and some sleeping on a couch here or on a mattress there.  There were clothes hung up to dry everywhere, beer bottles in the corners, and otherwise it was not unlike your basic frat house scenario.  The back garage though, had nicely painted walls and a clear space to practice.


On the walls students, I assume, had painted various sayings, poems, and verses along with other art.  The one pictured above struck me in particular.  My rough translation goes like this:

It is necessary to be strong,

But not all of the time.

For, if the stone and the mountain are molded by wind,

Why does being, not surrender to movement?

Mestre Sardinha himself, is an unassuming fellow.  When he met us he was in some ripped jeans and a t-shirt walking with a borrowed bicycle he had used to get there.  He was just any guy off the street.  In a city full of surfers and young people, and we found out later he surfs as well, he didn’t stand out as someone who could acrobatically kick your head clean off.  This was a good lesson in not judging people too quickly because we found out that he could, and easily, as evidenced here.


That is not really the point of Capoeira though.  As with many martial arts, it has a rich history and its practitioners are serious about the discipline of their art.  Capoeira as a practice originated from African slaves, mostly situated in the northeast region of Brazil far from where I am.  Sardinha himself is from the state of Bahia which is considered the heart of the Capoeira tradition in Brazil.


Nicknames are common practice in Brazil and that carries over into the Capoeira tradition.  Mestre Sardinha literally means “master sardine” which doesn’t sound incredibly flattering to the American ear.  However, a Capoeirista’s nickname is part of an very real identity and carries over into all of their life.  Mestre Sardinha, for instance, has a given name which is Luis.  I only know this because it was in an informational email I received before we met.  He never introduced himself as Luis, and no one he knew that we met ever referred to him as such.  Sardinha is his name and saying Mestre Sardinha relays both a respect for his skills as a master of his art and for his good reputation in the community.


I could go into detail about the actual movements we learned, how hard it is to do the basic ginga movement correctly, or other technical elements of Capoeira, but I am certain any reader can find more and better information on those elements elsewhere.  What I am most interested in relaying is that the masters in the Capoeira discipline, in my experience, are humble students of movement, history, and culture.  Mestre Sardinha went out of his way to invite us to cultural events in the community and to invite his students to our class so that we could get a better sense of the Brazilian practice of the art form.  The depth of the practice is what stood out to me most.  I am paraphrasing here but Mestre Sardinha told us that when you practice Capoeira you have to give your whole self to it.  When you move you move with focus and when you sing you sing to heavens to channel the right sort of spirit into the room.  When Sardinha closed his first session with us he said something that has stayed with me.  He said that for him Capoeira is his work, his life, and his religion.  That we could all find something to dedicate ourselves to in this way.

Uma musica!  (A song!)

Até breve!

Why Florianópolis?

When most Americans think of Brazil the city of Rio de Janeiro comes to mind.  If you happen to know a little bit more, maybe you know something about the enormous city of São Paulo or of the city of Salvador in Bahia.  Florianópolis is the capital of the state of Santa Catarina with a population of around 500,000 and estimated total metropolitan area of over 1 million people.  However, not many North Americans have heard of the city of Florianópolis or know remotely where it is.  So why would I choose to study here?


The first reason is the major University situated here.  The Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC) is a top Brazilian institution.  It has over 35,000 students enrolled in 106 undergraduate degree programs, 82 master’s degree programs, and 55 doctoral degree programs.  This makes for a vast and vibrant academic community which, as a graduate student, I very much appreciate.  My studies are organized through a US based non-profit group called the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) who has a student exchange agreement with UFSC.  This means that while I am here, I am a guest student of UFSC and can utilize the on-campus restaurant, library, computer labs and other services.

The second reason, is security and safety.  My primary goal while in Brazil is to learn Portuguese as well as possible.  Learning a language can be hard enough without the added difficulties of a large and relatively dangerous city like Rio or São Paulo.  Florianópolis is considered one of the safest and most “organized” capital cities in Brazil.  Some Brazilians, like my Portuguese professor in the US who is originally from the Northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará, argue that Florianopolis is actually too safe and organized to experience Brazil fully.  At the very least, it is a great jumping off point for someone who has never been to the country before.

The final reason, is the natural beauty and beaches here.  Florianópolis is known locally as the Ilha da Magia (Magic Island) and is well known for its over 40 named beaches, picturesque hiking, surfing, and any number of other water sports.  In fact, I start surfing lessons soon and will report on how that goes in an upcoming post.  It’s hard to imagine a better place to spend one’s time learning a beautiful language.

Até pronto!

A little excitement

I had just sat down to write a new post when one of my roommates ran by shouting, “there’s a car on fire man, there’s a car on fire!”  We ran over to the balcony to look out on our street and sure enough, a small white passenger vehicle had flames licking the air and smoke billowing in the street.


A few things go through your head when you’re in a strange country and a mild emergency situation occurs.  How did the fire start?  None of us saw what started the fire and there weren’t any other damaged cars in the street.  In a country notorious for street crime, one immediately assumes something nefarious but there was no indication of bad intention we could see.  Most likely, faulty wiring or poor maintenance caused the fire.

How long does it take for emergency response here?  It was midday on a Saturday and the firefighters (os bombeiros) arrived in under 10 minutes to deal with the situation.  In the meantime workers at nearby buildings tried to put out the flames with handheld fire extinguishers with minimal effect.


As you can see from the picture above, the fire truck itself was new and in good shape.  It is hard to tell from the picture, but the truck brand was Ford.  The firefighters did not attach their hose to any street water connections and instead appeared to be using water stored on board the fire truck.  The fire was put out and the situation well under control in under an hour.  The road was never blocked off to through traffic so cars and motorcycles simply made their own way around the smoking car and fire truck.  The ensuing traffic jam almost caused a separate accident, but drivers and traffic on Brazilian streets will be for a separate post!

Até logo!

Bem-Vindo a Florianópolis

Coast or Brazil while landing

I arrived in Florianópolis in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina on August 22, 2017.   I flew on Delta airlines which has an international hub at the Atlanta, GA airport and went directly from Atlanta to São Paulo.  The airport in São Paulo is very nice and modern with lots of shops and places to eat.  My flight from São Paulo to Florianópolis was on a Brazilian airline called Gol.  The flight with Gol was short, just about an hour long, but very pleasant.  The seats were roomy and the staff was very nice.  The usual flight and safety information given over the plane’s intercom was read in both Portuguese and English.  Water was served on the flight and with it came my first Portuguese usage lesson from Brazilians in the real world.  Water comes in two ways:

água gelada = this literally means ice water but it refers to chilled water as there is no ice in it when served

água natural = this refers to water served at room temperature

I was also introduced to the welcoming and interested nature of Brazilian people.  One of the students I was travelling with was sitting next to a Brazilian couple who I would guess is in their mid to late 20’s.  The woman, Marina, overheard some of us Americans talking and asked in English where we were from.  Marina then proceeded to give my classmate a lesson in Portuguese that lasted the rest of the flight.  By the time we were departing my classmate and Marina exchanged numbers and Marina insisted that we call or text if we need any help getting around Florianópolis.

We were lucky enough to land in good weather and I was able to capture the nice picture of the coast I have included with this post.  Since almost all of Brazil is in the Southern Hemisphere, I landed at the tail end of winter.  As you can see from the picture, winter is generally mild in Florianópolis.  The airport in Florianópolis is tiny but sufficient.

While I am here, I am taking Portuguese language and cultural courses through a non-profit educational provider called the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC).  In a later post, I will detail my experiences with this excellent group.

Até logo!


Studying in Brazil

I am a graduate student at Texas State University and a Boren Fellow.  My Boren Fellowship has given me the amazing opportunity to study Portuguese in Brazil for the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 academic year.  In preparation, I also attended a six-week intensive Portuguese program at the Summer Languages Institute at the University of Chicago.

I am using this site to document my experiences in Brazil as part of my work with the graduate program at the Center for International Studies at Texas State University.  It is my hope to provide useful information here for anyone with interest in Portuguese language, studying abroad in general, and living in Brazil.