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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Now That’s More Like It!

Global Dressage Forum 2007 Day Two

The second day of the forum gave us much more of what everyone came for: some great training demos (Jean Bemelmans), putting the judges on the spot, and wrapping up with the big bang of the Coby and Jo show. Bemelmans was inspiring: passionate about the horses, humble in aspect, but firm in his knowledge and philosophy. In response to some lady trying to categorize him as either ‘classical’ or ‘modern’, he dismissed her by saying he was tired of such labels: “there is only good training and bad training.” Too bad Jean is so busy with his Spaniards. He’d be a kick ass Canadian coach.

Stephen Clarke Stands Tall

It was perhaps a blessing that Mariette stayed away this year, since it gave the eloquent Mr. Clarke the opportunity to apply his speaking and defense skills during the analysis of the judging of the European Championships. Like last year with the WEG analysis, comparative videos of specific movements were shown of several competitors, followed by much animated discussion about scoring. Stephen had pointed out in his opening remarks that judges are actually human (despite the popularly held belief that they are the Devil), and that when one or two judges in a panel of five gives out a too-high or too-low mark, it is usually the result of human error. Admitting fallibility – now that’s a breakthrough! When Wim Ernes, one of the judges at the Europeans, confessed that in seeing the video he now believed he had given too low a mark for an extended walk, the crowd became near-orgasmic. If only men like Stephen and Wim were the norm in the international judging community…

Where’s Coby?

Richard announced that it was Coby up there for the last presentation of the day, but I have my doubts. I suspect it was a robot made up to look like Coby. The robot read from a script in a monotone, never looking up from the notes, not even when addressing the issue of the red-handed photos of Power and Paint cranked in like a circus pony. The Coby-tron did heed Richard Davison’s pre-speech advice to deliver her defense about the lunging photos before talking about her ‘main’ topic – the pony-to-Grand Prix rider program that she and Jo Hinnemann have developed together over the years. Richard had quite rightly told her that until she said her piece about the photos, no one would pay any attention to the training presentation. Before the session started, a high-profile participant in the forum (who shall remain anonymous because I don’t quite have the balls to name him) said to me that in his opinion Coby should admit she had made a mistake and apologize. She did nothing of the sort; she simply reiterated the story that the whole world and their dog has already read on line, that the photos were a misrepresentation, that the child lunging him had made them too tight (must be a hell of a strong kid) and that Coby immediately loosened them when she came to help with the lunging.

With that bit of fluff out of the way, the Coby-tron gave a presentation that was a finalist for ‘driest presentation of the week’, making the system of training children to become Grand Prix competitors sound about as much fun as military school. There was a small betting pool in Journalists’ Row about whether Power and Paint would be one of the demo ponies, and I was a winner. His was the first adorable face to peek around the curtain for the mounted demos. Jo now took over the mike, and although I’m sure it was really him and not a robot, his style was not much more animated than Coby’s. But it WAS more opinionated. One little gem he threw out (and one final jab at the judges) was that he teaches the kids two different shoulder ins: a correct one without bend, and one for the judges, who naively still look for bend in the movement. Because of course everyone else knows horses can’t bend in the rib cage. Too bad Hilary Clayton wasn’t on hand with some of her overhead photos of horses doing shoulder in – with body bend.

Send in the Lions!

Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for: question period. Coby herself spoke no more in her defense, but there was plenty said from other quarters. A spokesman from the Dutch federation said that an investigation into the lunging of Power and Paint is under way, and a man with the ominous title of Prosecutor is on the job. A German from the magazine St. Georg (the same mag Sjef sued for slander) voiced what was on everyone’s mind: “as a Grand Prix rider, and an Olympic team member, you can never have the reins that short by mistake. Also you said you didn’t trot but the photographer produced photos of the pony trotting.” The federation guy jumped in to say he didn’t want the scene to turn into a ‘court case situation’ (he was definitely in the minority), and that the prosecutor would get to the bottom of things. I did have one question for Coby: “in retrospect, would you have done anything differently?” But I didn’t get to ask it because Richard Davison never gave me the mike. Maybe he thought I was going to cry again.

So that’s it folks. The Forum that puts all the players together: riders, trainers, coaches, judges, wannabes, groupies and journalists. If I were you I’d be marking it on your calendar for next year. I can recommend some lovely cheap accommodations very nearby.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Let the Controversy Begin

They didn’t take my advice! They let Monty come back and talk, even if it was only in the opening remarks. In his speechifying he told us a forum necessitated everyone leaving their egos at the door, but of course Monty’s own ego was right there in his pocket. Kyra and the jumper rider Franke Sloothaak gave a joint presentation about how much jumpers and dressagers can benefit from one another, but it never really got off the ground (no pun intended). The most impressive part of that session was watching Franke ride his Grand Prix jumper and do really rather good canter pirouettes in a jumping saddle and almost buckle reins. The session contained a bit too much mutual back slapping and not enough real information sharing or dialogue. Kyra always has so much of value to say but things didn’t go quite in the right direction for her to share her pearls of wisdom.

Quote of the Day Since the action was a bit slow during the Kyra and Franke show emcee Richard Davison decided to spice things up by asking Coby van Baalen (out of the blue) to comment on the roll kur issue. Coby would have none of that: “Tomorrow we will have our presentation and that’s when it will be time to talk about it.”

Things definitely warmed up during the session on Learned Helplessness by Australian animal behaviourist and trainer Andrew McLean. One of the photos he used in explaining what causes Learned Helplessness in horses was a shot of a circus pony in a very tight side rein; both the pony itself and the extreme position of its neck looked identical to the photos of Power and Paint being lunged by Coby van Baalen that appeared on various websites a few weeks ago. I bet Coby won’t get much sleep between now and her presentation tomorrow.

After dinner the two patriarchs of dressage in Europe, Joep Bartels and Aachen’s Frank Kemperman, delivered their much anticipated criticism of the sport as they perceive it at the moment – that it is being run from the wrong end by the judging community. Stephen Clarke jumped in to say he was ‘fed up with’ the judges always being attacked, adding that ‘until you can get computers to do the job you are stuck with us.’ Kemperman got the last word in with ‘so when do we get the computers?’ There was no sign of FEI dressage chair Mariette Withages, who is usually so eager to promote the sport in her own vision – nor was Italian judge Enzo Truppa, whose histrionic open letter on showed such indignation at the gall of Kemperman to suggest the European Championships in Turin were underpromoted. Well if you folks don’t turn up for the match you can’t win!

Wine, Horses and Song

It was worth the whole trip to see Wibi Soerjadi play Imke Schellekens-Bartels’ freestyle live on his own grand piano. The diminutive but charming Soerjadi proved he’s no introverted musician-type by enthusiastically sharing his approach to composing The Spirit of Sunrise. The presentation left many people with lumps in their throats, including mine. Unfortunately for me, I had been invited to be on the the three-member panel that commented and asked questions afterward, and Richard Davison shoved the microphone under my nose before I had composed myself. I managed a blubbery ‘I’m speechless’, though I did recover enough to ask Wibi and Imke a couple of questions after the other panelists had had their say. So now I’m known as ‘the journalist who cried’. What a distinction.

Monday, October 29, 2007

All The Pretty Horses

If you want to see how rich Dutch horse people like to throw their money around, the Elite Auction is a pretty good starting place. Not that all the buyers on Saturday night were Dutch – but the mood and primary language of the evening was definitely of the wooden clog variety. I think Diederik and Craig may have made a tactical error with their choice of Lou Vega for the half-time entertainment. By the time Lou and his go-go girls had made their way through a third Mambo#5 sound-alike the crowd was barely acknowledging them. The last horse at the 2006 auction fetched more than 400,000 Euros, but this year not one horse broke the 300k mark. The top priced ponies this year (a gelding at 220k and stallion at 280) were also in the first half of the evening, which meant there wasn’t the same climactic finish as last year.

My impression of this year’s crop was that the horses were higher quality than last year, but for some reason the bidding was not nearly so frenzied. It could even be said there were deals to be had this time around, with a few horses going for perhaps less than market value. But like last year, the horse I thought would get the highest price went for less than some that I didn’t care for at all. My favourite this time was a three year old grey mare called Zonneschijn (Sunshine in Dutch apparently). She did have an ugly scar on one hind leg but she was quite the mover and very brave in the crazy atmosphere. Prevalent on this year’s auction list were stupid ‘Z’ names. Instead of using words that really start with ‘z’, the breeders took lots of ‘s’ words and converted them: Zilver, Zwarovski, Zan Tropez, etc. Not one Zebra! And what’s wrong with Zamboni for a name?

Everyone knows that wine leads to loose purse strings, so it was no surprise that glasses were kept topped up by the servers, leading to some heavy nappers during the second half. An English lady at our table just couldn’t keep her eyes open by the end of her fourth glass. No matter; by the after-party she was back in action with a spring in her step and fresh glass in hand. The presentation was top notch as it was in 2006, but for whatever reason the dollars just didn’t quite flow so fast, even if the wine did.

Tune in tomorrow for my report on Day One of the Global Dressage Forum. Monty Roberts is giving part of the opening address – yikes!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Brazillions of Brazilians

Someone told Jan a slightly contrived George Bush joke before we came here: it was along the lines of Bush being told that three Brazilians had been lost in the war, to which Bush replied, “how much is a brazillion?” The joke comes to mind every time anyone mentions Brazilians, which is often, given our current surroundings. We skipped the closing ceremonies, having seen the opening ceremonies, which were impressive more than anything else for the more than one hundred thousand Brazilians that cheered, booed, and did the wave throughout the evening.

Friday night we opted for the authentic Rio experience rather than the touristy (and perhaps non-existent - I don't think our jumpers were there) party at the Hard Rock Café. Our trusty taxi driver Edmar, after giving us each a hand-made fridge magnet as a souvenir of our visit, dropped us off in the Samba-friendly neighbourhood called Lapa. We had an incredible evening of eating, drinking and absorbing the scene, which I have to say ranks up there with some of my most memorable cultural experiences. The street life was everywhere abundant: people dancing, live music inside and out, and guys walking around the sidewalks selling Tequila shots to anyone sick of Caipirinhas. We particularly enjoyed staring at the transvestite prostitutes, and bless their kinky little hearts, they appeared to enjoy our stares too.

The Globe ran a story on the jumpers' silver medal in the Saturday paper. It was posted on line so I took a peek. The writer managed to make the team sound whiny instead of happy about their medal, and there was more than a little bit of exaggeration: “came within a whisker of winning gold”…well actually it was quite a few whiskers in the end. The report also made Ian sound like he was blaming nothing but bad luck on our jumping faults, as if the poles rolled only for Canada, but stayed in the cups for everyone else. There was even a quote about the brush of a tail being enough to bring the jumps down. I can tell you that no rails fell from being touched by a tail, Canadian or otherwise. When we interviewed them only a few minutes before the Globe writer, the Canadians had expressed happiness in achieving the Olympic qualification, and they said they were fairly beaten by a very strong Brazilian team.

Last week we heard about the fracas at the softball. To make the field the Brazilians (see what I mean?) just slapped turf on top of concrete, with no drainage. When it rained it became a shallow swimming pool, taking a couple of days to dry out. It rained so much this last Saturday that they didn't just have to postpone games; by Saturday night it became clear that even if it stopped raining right then (and it didn't, it poured all night) the field would never drain in time for Sunday, the last day of the Games and the last day to give out medals. So they just gave out the medals based on current standings, without even completing the semi-finals. Fortunately for our show jumpers, more care and forethought went into the drainage of their ring and the footing was quite unhindered by the wet.

The first round for the individual was kinder - shorter and less technical - than the Nation's Cup on Friday. One rider from Colombia galloped up to the aqueduct wall jump, the horse stopped too late, knocked it down with his chest, then popped over the two foot high remains. It counted as a knock down, not a refusal!

Jill Henselwood had a “Special” day, becoming the first woman to win jumping gold at the Pan Ams since Anne Kursinski back in 1983. Captain Canada dropped a rail that had a silver medal attached to it, but Eric Lamaze finally had Hickstead tuned to his usual way-over-the-jumps style that earned bronze, behind Captain Brazil (I know, that's lame), Rodrigo Pessoa. My God you should have seen the mob scene when we came out of the press conference. One girl grabbed Rodrigo's arm so hard I thought she was going to break it.

The crowd in the jumping was relatively polite with little or no booing; but they still got too excited for their own riders, so there was lots of loud shushing going on during the Brazilian rounds. We watched US vs. Brazil volley ball on TV and the crowd was far from well behaved, booing and whistling every time an American was serving. It's definitely been a big story here, though the Argentinian photographer who snapped Waylon's ignominious moment told me he fears that the situation would be no different if the Pan Ams were in his country.

Ciao Brazil, Hola Argentina

Eighteen days have flown by, even if a few too many hours were spent on flying buses. It has been great fun to see Canada meet or exceed its goals in all three disciplines; it allows even a skeptic like me a little bit of optimism for the direction elite sport is headed in our country. We ate well, drank plenty, had some wonderful encounters with this fun-loving, hospitable culture, and didn't feel unwelcome or unsafe (barring the time spent in moving vehicles) the tiniest little bit.

I have filed all my press releases, all my articles, and I have thoroughly enjoyed blogging you with my take on these Pan Am Games. Now we are off to Buenos Aires to take the 'good air', drink some wine, eat meat and enjoy Tango culture in the land of the Gaucho. We may also freeze our asses off - it's winter down here and Buenos Aires had its first snow in 40 years last week - but I've been dying to go there for years, and it seems loco to be so close and not visit. Our holiday will not be a horse-interested one (I checked, there is not a single polo match in August!), so I will not be blogging our progress.
And besides, I need to spend some time living up to the name on our van back home: “No Work Team”.

Cheers everyone!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

Remember how I said that there was some crash-and-burn going on yesterday? Well it continued in a deadlier way over today's much bigger fences. The poor Salvadorian horse, trying his best in spite of carrying a grown man on his teeth, jumped his jockey out of the tack on the last fence, and stepped on him as he fell off at the finish line. I am actually surprised it was the morning's only exit on a stretcher (the rider is apparently fine) - the potential for even worse was definitely there. One Ecuadorian rider, AFTER being eliminated at number seven, and coming closer to falling off with each refusal, decided he wasn't leaving until he finished the job…so he galloped at the jump a third time and fell off into it, trashing it and holding up the show while crew put it back together. My prediction about the Peruvian horse was accurate after all. He refused out at number one.

At the opposite end of the scoreboard, there was real edge-of-your-seat excitement as Brazil, Mexico, USA worked on beating each other and Canada. Laura Chapot rode with her reins well on the wrong side of long (like my mom used to say, long enough to hang both of you), but her horse Little Big Man is a hero. One of the Brazilians had those funky new open sided stirrups yesterday and did most of the course with one or neither attached to his feet. Today? Bright, shiny fully-enclosing stirrups! It helped him go clear today and put Brazil just a teeny weeny lead over Canada: 1.05 points.

Jill's first ride had us swallowing our tongues, but she got 'er done. Which was good because Mac had a poopy three rails. Eric had another cheap rail (!) same as yesterday - at a fence that didn't cause any problems even for some of the nightmare watch-with-one-eye-closed pairs. Then good old Captain Canada cruised around with his stylin' horse, and we were still in the race.

I told you it would be a nailbiter! Things got more hand-wringing in the second round as Brazil did some top class work and Canada had a couple of unlucky rails they couldn't afford. Team Canada, bridesmaids again, but at least for once it was to someone other than the US. In round two Eric pulled his pants up but both Jill and Ian left their flies open and caught a rail. They are still in the top three, and Eric climbed up to sixth, so maybe more shiny objects will come Canada's way on Sunday.

Apparently Bruce Springsteen bought Todd Minikus' horse Pavarotti a few weeks ago, with the agreement that Todd could do the Pan Ams with it. The Boss might be tearing up that cheque, after the horse ran out at the first jump yesterday and ate some sand today at the water jump. The horse wanted to quit before the water, but Todd would have none of it, so the horse went from an impossible spot, landed in the water and tripped on the way out. Todd flew off, but the horse managed to bounce its head off the sand and not completely bail.

If I'm not satisfying your hunger for sporty details, check out the USEF's press releases, where the indisputable facts are not quite the same as those in my releases, the jumps are much more than mere jumps and the horses go clear-and-clean in a virtual landslide of adjectival excess., follow the links to the Pan Am Games.

Out of respect for the sensitivities of my new friend Leonardo (see below) I will refrain from outlining Fear Factor Brazil for today, but I promise to give it to you on Sunday.

Sorry, but I'm just not Sorry

A communicative gentleman by the name of Leonardo, a Brazilian who lives in that warm and fuzzy city known as New York, NY, has posted a response to my blogs. If you would like to read it, simply click on the word 'comments' at the bottom of Blog 9. Most of his harangue is beneath the dignity of a response, particularly since he both misquotes me and takes my words out of context with the same enthusiasm that his countrymen have been booing Pan Am competitors from other countries. But I do feel the urge to clarify that the goal of my blog is not to promote tourism, nor to be an ambassador - for Brazil, Canada, or any other country - nor to bore people with stories of how nice everything is. You see Leonardo, it's the bad stuff that makes good reading. I encourage you to pick up the writings of Paul Theroux, Tim Cahill or any other travel writer who both entertains and gives an honest assessment of his experience of a place or culture. Honesty isn't always pretty, and the stories that people most like to hear are not often those where everything went swimmingly.

So, dear Leonardo, I would like to respond only to your most aggressive line, the one in which you wrongly accuse me of claiming that Canada is superior to Brazil (how on earth could I say that when we can't Samba, we definitely don't have the physiques of the average Brazilian specimen, and we certainly haven't a clue how to have fun the way Brazilians do?) and ask me what you incorrectly call a rhetorical question (a rhetorical question is one in which no answer is expected). Here is my answer:

Call me crazy, but I would venture to surmise that maybe, just maybe Brazil exceeds Canada in the medal count for these reasons among others: Brazil's population is more than six times that of Canada, historically host countries do better proportionate to their averages in other years, and Brazil has the largest number of athletes at these Pan Am Games.

Oh and just one more thing Leonardo. We are having a wonderful time, and I have not had a single unpleasant experience with a Brazilian person. Unless I count you.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Go Go Go Go Canada!

Looks like Jill’s little circles paid off. She set the time to beat in the first half today, crazy but clear in 79.66 seconds. Eric had a cheap one at the single combo 11, looked over his shoulder to confirm it was really down, and then went to Plan B: hell bent for leather. Hickstead found the next gear, and Eric still managed to post a good time even with the four second penalty for the rail. Captain Canada slithered smoothly over the course and is now sitting second. And so far we are in the lead. Wheee!

I may have nailed the jumpers so far, but sometimes I’m as bad at calling jumpers as I am racehorses. The Peruvian that looked like she might jump one jump and never get her horse to turn to the second, had only one rail today, and it wasn’t too awful. Not like a few of the other Latins, who didn’t get around at all – and this was the small course. The painful one to watch out there today was the one from El Salvador: wonderful generous horse, with the rider hanging onto its face for dear life.

The weather has gone straight downhill, and it’s not likely to get anything but poopier until we leave. Waaah! No more sandals and tank tops. Sugar Loaf looks so sad with its little hat of cloud.

Well now we know what equestrian sport really matters in South America. There are suddently closed circuit monitors in the press tribune, TV cameras everywhere, the course is decorated with some serious effort, the media work room is packed and – get ready for this – there are people in the stands!

Big thumbs down to the souvenirs at these Games. I have taken great mementos back from past Games: posters, polo shirts, even a patio umbrella from Athens. But here it’s all polyester, and very expensive. If you want one of the cute lycra Team Brazil jackets, it’ll set you back a cool 400 Real. That’s more than $200 USD. They have no stickers, no posters (though Jan and I have our eye on a lovely one on the wall in the work room but that will require a little palm greasing since technically we would be stealing it), nothing desirable, especially not the cheesy little key chains with the bloated sunshine mascot that is plastered everywhere. Not even a sticker!

Tomorrow should be very very exciting. Less than two rails separate Canada from fourth placed USA. I really like the Brazilian course designer (he did Vegas this year and in 2005). I’m sure he’ll give us a real nailbiter of a Nation’s Cup!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It’s Party Time!

The show jumpers have arrived, and we’ve already been told that Friday night’s post-team-medal shindig will take place at the Hard Rock Café (very original). The jumpers are moaning because they have to get up before noon for once – competition starts at 9 am on two out of three days, which means we could see some stubble and blood shot eyes out there this week. Training day was this morning in the stadium. There was only one really disastrous looking pair, the female rider from Peru. Her nice looking black stallion kept rooting her right out of the saddle and it appears she has neither brakes nor steering. Canada played it cool, with only Mac Cone jumping the whole round. Eric just loped around the jumps, and as usual Jill did something random. After she jumped a few she seemed to be practicing her speed turns by making tight, fast circles around one jump, then turning the other way and doing the same in reverse. Ed looked completely baffled, since he’s used to jumping the fences, not circling them.

Team dad Mike Gallagher was comparing the DQs to the jumpers in their attitude toward transporting their horses. He said the dressage riders all wanted to be on hand whenever possible to load their own horses on the vans. In contrast, the jumpers were asked if they wanted to arrive in Brazil before the jog.

We have officially given up on the buses. I have arranged with yesterday’s taxi driver, Edmar, to pick us up in the mornings and fetch us at the site at a prearranged time at the end of the day. Edmar is a safe driver on local standards, and he sweetly showed me his Spanish language textbook. He’s simultaneously trying to learn English, but everything he says sounds like Portuguese to me, which means I don’t understand much. Now if that sun would just come back so we could use all this newly free time on the beach or admiring the view from on top of Sugarloaf.

I’ve been meaning to mention the bird life here, of which there is much. The official Rio logo has what I believe are doves on it. It’s one of the nicer logos I’ve seen since I started going to these gigs, but vultures would have made a more apt representation, since they far outnumber the doves. I saw a bunch of them (I don’t think ‘flock’ suitably describes a group of scavenging carrion eaters) circling over a hospital the other day.

Got a bit of a grip on the caipirinha thing. I can handle two, as long as I spread them out over at least an hour and a half. Last night we went out for dinner and Jennifer Anstey ordered fish. She got the whole fish, and it was no pan-sized trout. There is a pound or so of it in a doggie bag in the fridge.

Apparently Waylon’s picture made it into the local paper the other day, but the article that went with it supports the position that the Brazilians were behaving badly, not that Waylon was behaving badly. Whew! International incident averted!

Anyone who is flying TAM Airlines to get out of here is in big trouble. I’m sure you all heard about the horrific plane crash in Sao Paulo last week that killed more than 200 people. Turns out it was caused by trying to land an Air Bus on a city airport runway that is too short for a wet landing (it was raining heavily, as it often does all year around in Brazil). The pilots are all going ‘work-to-order’ because TAM is continuing to land Air Buses at that airport. The report is that half of the flights in Brazil never left the ground yesterday. We aren’t flying TAM to Buenos Aires, but as the airline we are flying, VARIG, has changed or cancelled our flights three times in as many weeks, we are not absolutely sure about getting out of here either.

Tomorrow round one of team show jumping. I’m not only rooting for our team, I’m counting on them to bring home gold. Let’s go Canada, let’s go!

Until tomorrow,


Monday, July 23, 2007

Whoa! Harry Potter Flips the Bird!

It's probably made news back home. A shot taken by an Argentinian photographer went out on news wires last night. Waylon Roberts (aka Harry Potter) gave the finger to the Brazilian crowd that booed the Canadians and Americans, and that cheered when they had a knock down. I was busy typing a press release in the work room during the victory gallop, so I missed the silent rebuttal. I'm not sure, but I think Waylon was following Karen O'Connors lead; apparently there is a photo out there with her doing the same thing. It's politically high on the incorrect list, but I say good on both of ya! It made my blood boil to see the Brazilians appear to be trying to interrupt their shot at success. I'm not sure that's what they intended, it's just what they do at sporting events in Latin America and they really don't know anything about horses. We polite, nodding, smiling, sanitized northerners started feeling rather Latin by the end of it all.

A counterpoint to that low moment in the eventing was the inspiration of watching 14.1 hand Theodore O'Connor win individual gold. For those of you who are curious about how a _ TB got to be that small, he's an eighth Arab and an eighth Shetland pony. I found out that Kyle Carter is an irrepressible card, and he had a very upbeat attitude considering he lost bronze in the show jumping. And why couldn't Phillip Dutton have become a Canadian instead of American? They have enough eventing movie stars of their own. Come on Phillip - we spell properly and we drink more!

I have caught myself on more than one occasion giving the thumbs up like a local. Hand gestures are easier to learn than Portuguese, I can tell you that. Apparently the Brazilian equivalent to the finger is making a circle with index finger and thumb, with the other fingers extended. That's a bit dangerous considering at home that gesture means 'ok'.

I'm getting desensitized to the driving habits here. When our taxi went through two red lights the other morning, Jan and I just shrugged. What I'll never get used to is being a passenger (and potential victim) on the wilder bus rides. 'Hurtling' is the word that best describes yesterday's trip to the Main Press Centre. I actually started to feel car sick, though I can't be absolutely certain that wasn't caused by the two gigantic caipirinhas I'd downed the night before. Caipirinhas, made with cane alcohol and lime, are an excellent alternative to Margaritas. The two drinks also share the common trait of going down real easy…then wham!

I wonder how common it is for people to go deaf here. The noise is unbelievable. The only flaw in our lovely beach front apartment is that it is right on Avenida Atlantica, a favourite late night spot for drag racers, party animals, and Brazilians in general, who are LOUD. This is one of the most densely populated spots in the world. Our seven floor building is sandwiched between other taller buildings, and the small concrete column between them acts like an amplifier. What sounds from the bedroom window like ten village idiots throwing a tantrum always turns out to be just some people having a late night street-side chat. It's not just a Brazilian thing either. The other day I asked an Argentinian photographer sitting beside me in the press centre why he was screaming. He said, “good question. I don't know.” Several times I have thought that people were having heated arguments when it turned out, after the laughter started, that they were just having a conversation.

Last night we had our most entertaining ride back from the equestrian venue so far. Our good friend Fernando, who works in the press centre (and linguistically screws Jan and me up because we communicate in French with him), came out to the street to help us flag down a cab. When he put up his hand at a passing little yellow box, another car stopped as well. It was driven by a retired Army commander who is involved with the equestrian venue and who thought he was being flagged down. Lucky us! He immediately offered to give us a lift to Copacabana, where he and his passenger were headed. The first thing I noticed was that the passenger had a can of beer. The second thing I noticed was that the driver had a can of beer. After we spent a while watching him juggle two cell phones that he dialed and answered alternately while he drove, Jan leaned forward from the back seat and commented on his having two phones. “I have three!” he replied, dragging the other one out of his pocket and putting into circulation with the beer and other phones. The passenger was continuously on his phone during the 45 minute drive.

Two beers and many phone calls later, our chauffeur delivered us alive to our door. As we got out of the car, he shared with us the fact that he was on the Brazilian event team in Winnipeg in 1999. They won silver, I found out on my stats list this morning. He may be the very same rider that Jenn Ward described to me. After the medals in Winnipeg he jumped off his horse to hug his family, leaving the horse unattended. Jenn says you could see the horse's thoughts pass through his expression as he realized he was free to take himself back to the barn, which he then did at 'mach 10', according to Jenn.

We have a little break before show jumping starts (and I predict possible goldenness for our kick ass team), so you won't hear from me for a day or two. But keep checking in because I still haven't written about my Fear Factor Brazil proposal.

Ciao (they say that here) for now

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Truth Day – Cross Country

Apparently the Captain (Mark Phillips that is) was not very happy about Canada’s proximity in points to the US after yesterday’s dressage. I guess he thought less of our team’s DQ potential than they were capable of. There has been some buzz that Canada could actually challenge the US for gold. But my opinion has been that things would have to go very, very well for us and very, very badly for them today on course. The Americans are all on four star horses, and all but one on the team is a veteran, even newly minted American Phillip Dutton, who has not so far shaken his telltale Aussie accent.

We have a lovely tent with tables here at the water jump, which sees every horse twice and is definitely the place to be to watch as much as possible. I’m seated at a table only about a meter from where the horses gallop past on their way to the first part of the water (maybe too close?) and 15 meters from the splash. Cool! Something that worked out even better than at other big events!

Like Mike Winter said yesterday, when you see the jungle they hacked this course out of, it is truly amazing that there is a lovely green turf track and beautifully presented obstacles. One of the water jumps is an alligator. Mike also mentioned that the timber on many of the jumps is a little lighter than North Americans are used to, and I see what he means. It really is true, the rainforest is disappearing, and the size of these logs is evidence.

It wasn’t an auspicious start at the water. The first horse to jump in over the logs, Theodore O’Connor, knocked the top log off into the water. They spent the next half dozen gaps between horses putting on rope to replace the baling twine that had been holding the jump together. So far it’s stood up to subsequent abuse.

Well I called it: the Americans have not toppled from their pedestal , but Canada had a great day. All four team riders went clear (some with time) and the individual Jessica Phoenix had just one stop at one of the toughest complexes on course. The Canucks looked GOOD out there. Kyle Carter is in fourth (tied with an American) and he had arguably the best run through the water. It was really exciting to see Canadian eventers look confident on the cross country. Maybe Super Dave O’Connor is turning us around! I only see cross country courses at Olympics and WEG these days, so I must admit this course looked less terrifying than what I’ve become used to, but that doesn’t diminish the Canucks’ achievements today. Rock on!

Tune in tomorrow for news of the eventing medals and my proposal for a new hit reality show, Fear Factor Brazil.

Friday, July 20, 2007

He’s A Maniac!

Today is my first day traveling to the site alone. I left Jan snoring happily at the apartment – no need to make him come out and photograph eventing dressage. A tremendously fat bus driver took me on my scariest ride so far. He wasn’t too bad on the straightaways, but he rally drove the curves, crossing three lanes in the process. At one point we came so close to squashing a car that I still can’t believe we didn’t make contact. The Maniac song from Flashdance kept playing in my head. I can’t decide if it’s better to look so I can brace for the crash, or gaze out the side windows and pretend I’m on a train instead of a bus.

So what is with eventers riding around doing flat work on warm up day with hunt caps on? It’s many years since anyone seriously considered an unfastened helmet to be any protection at all, so it must be a fad. If any eventers are reading this and can enlighten me, please feel free to do so.

I forgot to tell you about the judging booths. Each day they are more complete than the day before. They are made of the kind of particle board that looks like shavings glued together. The first day they weren’t painted at all; then the roofs were painted white; finally today for the eventers they are completely white. Of course it can’t touch the hay bales at our dressage selection trials for spectacular insufficiency, but it’s been fun watching the progress through the week.

I thought I was done with Mariette but there is one more thing that has made itself evident today at eventing dressage that I’d like to share. The score board is showing marks movement by movement, judge by judge. But they weren’t during the dressage, only the running total that takes a mathematician to figure out. It’s reminiscent of Athens, when the dressage and eventing dressage overlapped. Movement by movement scoring happened for eventing dressage only. In Athens I asked Mariette why there wasn’t movement by movement scoring for dressage, and she replied that it wasn’t available. When I pointed out to her that the eventers were using it her eyes glazed over and she said nothing. Too bad she’s not still here. I’d ask again.

These eventing dressage judges are making the DQ judges look like saints – though of course being able to see the individual scores makes a difference. The Australian judge Barry Roycroft gave Waylon Roberts a 2 for his counter canter and a 6 for the flying change. Waylon did a nice counter canter but completely flubbed the change, cantering a few disunited strides before the horse trotted behind and changed. Jo Young from Canada gave American Gina Miles a 4 for an extended canter that got her an 8 from another judge (I think the third judge was a 6). What on earth did she see go wrong? It was a really good extended canter. Either these guys are wearing the wrong glasses today or the automatic scoring is being Brazilian.

They won’t let us walk the course today. We’ll have to just run around it tomorrow morning before cross country starts. I hear that the course is a good solid three star. I was feeling apprehensive about watching because of a suspicion that some of the Latin riders don’t have the mileage. But I interviewed the Jamaican rider Samantha Albert, and she assured me that the South American horses really know how to jump. In my efforts to interview Samantha in a cooler place than the blazing sunshine of the mixed zone I tried to take her back to the press area with me. The security guy wouldn’t let her, a rider, into my area.

Eventing dressage will wrap up soon, with the US firmly out front. And I mean firmly.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Freestyle Day!

For the first time I made it through security without any confiscations. Jan put a couple of sandwiches in his vest pocket too. Whee! Food when we want it! But now our bathroom privileges have been revoked. The first day we were using a real bathroom (you know, flushing toilets, sinks, water, soap). Then it was decided that those would be for the exclusive use of VIPs. The VIP part of the stands is right now, at this moment, just before the final five freestyles, populated by three people. We have been granted outhouses. Just in case any of those VIPs try to sneak into them they are marked with paper signs that say ‘for the exclusive use of the press’. Exclusive! Yes, because who wants to wash their hands anyway?

I am, however, fully enjoying the high speed internet on site. The organizers were planning to charge media US$900 per person to use ADSL (can you say Internet Café? $3 per hour thank you very much), but there is a big fight among the media and the organizers about the exorbitant fee. In the meantime it’s free. You got it, my thumb is up.

I’m managing to make myself pretty well understood to taxi drivers and waiters now. I link my few Portuguese words (the important ones, like ‘cerveja’ and ‘vinho’) with Spanish, throw in the odd French word and swap some of my ‘S’ sounds for ‘SH’. The result sounds kind of like Portuguese. Unfortunately I still can’t understand much of anything that is spoken back to me.

Wheels are falling off buses like crazy for the top five freestyle riders, but the scores are not reflecting some of the booboos that are taking place. (For the record, our bad girl Mariette who was president of the jury today subsequently used the word ‘booboo’ in response to my question about today’s performances.) Clean rides are as rare as food around here today. Tom says, quite rightly, that his ride was mistake free, but gosh Beaumarchais’ head was high in the pirouettes. Not one of the three who placed ahead of him and made the podium had clean rides. But anyone who has been to the Olympics or WEG knows that isn’t usually what determines how the cards fall in the end. Tom missed bronze by 0.05%. That’s gotta hurt!

I had three clients compete in the freestyle. I was chest-puffy proud of my Mexican JoséLuis – he nailed his music, and his wonderful 20 year old stallion Lohengrin really put out for him. Andrea’s horse finally decided to join the team completely, and she had her best ride of the Games – so I got to have more prideful goose bumps . My third client was from Guatemala, Christa Dauber; she had a big problem getting her horse to trot from canter, and the whole ride was unfortunately coloured by that.

Okay, now the part you dressage queens have been waiting for: my daily detailed judging analysis. Let’s look at that score sheet (I believe you can find it on the site if you try hard enough) and see what goodies we find. Mariette was certainly consistent to her policy from day one in some regards. She killed Lauren Sammis once again, ditto Andrea Bresee and Diane Creech. By how much? Not enough to have influenced where they ended up. With two tests being counted, and the judges giving out both technical and artistic marks in the freestyle, the spikes have less meaning. Which might suggest the format for individual medals works as well as anything when you put all the power in the hands of five human beings. And in spite of some FEI judges’ protestations, man is a political animal.

But how about Tom’s marks? One little change could have meant the podium for him. Stephen Clarke had him first in the freestyle. Good old Nigri had him sixth artistically, with a lower artistic score than technical (that only happens when someone really hated your music and even then it’s hard to justify). So let’s blame the Brazlian judge. Yeah.

Nigri, that crazy guy. He was the loosest cannon in the booths this week. Guess how many riders he had first artistically in the freestyle. Give up? Four! And they ranged from gold medalist Chris Hickey all the way down to eighth placed Diane Creech. I think the man needs a freestyle symposium.

And of course this final installment from the dressage phase of the Pan Ams wouldn’t be complete without a final look at Mariette’s work. She was the proverbial bad girl for six out of fifteen riders, half of which were the entire Canadian team (Nigri was meaner to Tom in his placings compared to the others but Mariette was actually Tom’s low score in the freestyle). The farther down you go on the score board, the higher her marks are, comparatively speaking. Conclusion? No conclusion. It’s like trying to read the future by swirling tea leaves around a cup. Some people may claim to be able to make sense of those tea leaves, but I’m not one of them.

So on that note I bid goodbye to dressage, and hello to eventing. Four teams, 24 riders, should be a blockbuster. At least my days will be short.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

It’s Winter in Rio

The weather was a bit of a honeymoon up until Monday afternoon, when we experienced the kind of rain the tropics know how to deliver. Fortunately it waited until the competition was over for the day. The rain really cleared the air, but all the formerly air borne pollution simply transferred itself to the ground. Better on our shoes than in our lungs, I guess. The freestyles are at 9 am tomorrow, which seems an uncivilized time to hold them. I much prefer the cocktail hour for watching freestyles. The weather forecast is not good, which will make it hard for Jan to get decent photos. He has taken some really quality photos this week, and I admit I’m impressed. Maybe we should buy a decent camera for the job…a certain photographer commented that Jan is a photographer only ‘in his mind’ but he has proven to be adept, especially since he’s just got a high end point and shoot.

Speaking of equipment, when the men here aren’t busy giving each other the thumbs up, they occupy themselves with scratching, adjusting and otherwise poking at their crotches, making no effort at sublety. Jan fits in here perfectly.

The Americans are princesses and they don’t have much Pan Am spirit – not staying in the Athletes’ Village but in the Sheraton. People have been falling through the flimsy beds in the Village, but isn’t that part of the fun? I’ve heard our show jumpers are also Sheraton-ing it. Princesses!

The whole tone of the judging changed once the team competition was over. The judges seemed stingier in the I-1 test, and there were fewer spikes up and down. The judges who looked like maybe, just maybe, they were favouring their own nation, didn’t show nearly that tendency in round one of the individual competition. The only exception was our good friend Nigri, who gave Brazilian Rogerio Clementino almost four points more than all the other judges. His generosity didn’t extend to the young female Brazilian, fifteen year old Luiza Almeida. He gave her three points less than the next lowest judge, and almost six points less than the highest judge, former ‘bad girl’ Mariette.

Jan and I have started eating our lunch at 8 am on our second bus ride to avoid grief at the gate. Yesterday they found something new to take from me: some dried pumpkin seeds that I had forgotten were in a side pocket of my back pack, and that I had successfully imported to the starvation zone on the previous two days.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Two Thumbs Up!

Two thumbs up for seeing the Canadian team in a press conference with shiny medals around their necks, even if they are trapezoidal instead of round. This is my first Pan Am Games; I'm used to Olympics and WEG where Canada takes on the role of 'just happy to be here', like Guatemala and Argentina at these Pan Ams. Sorry everyone, just being honest here. And two big thumbs up to spending $35 on a taxi instead of three hours on buses to get back here to write and send my work out. It cuts a hole in my busman's holiday pay, but as Mastercard would say: Being home in time to watch the sun's last rays hit Sugar Loaf and Copacabana from your sixth floor balcony? Priceless.

Speaking of sunset, it happens early here, around 5 pm, as this is the depth of winter for the southern hemisphere. It's weird to go from summer daylight in Vancouver to essentially the same temperatures, but with a winter light schedule. It is actually a bit cooler here than it was at home when we left last week. It even looks like it might rain this afternoon, but I would say the weather is pretty close to perfect for any sport.

More thumbs up to not losing our back pack after all. Jan asked a guard outside the gate at the venue if he could pay him to keep the bag for the day. When he received 'no' for an answer, Jan shrugged in resignation and threw the bag into an eye-level fork in a tree right by the metal detector at the gate. And there it sat in full view of the gnarly guard five hours later when we came out. Warm beer and soggy sandwiches have never tasted better. The press conference after team medals was pretty interesting yesterday, if slow paced. All questions and answers had to be translated into English, Spanish (the two official Pan Am languages) and Portuguese. As if that weren't enough, Klaus Balkenhol, as coach of the US team, decided he would answer questions in German. Come on Klaus, you must speak English by now. And what did he have to say? I think he may have been hired as the new US Ambassador. He went on and on and ON (yes I really mean three 'ons') about how wonderful the organization and Brazilians have been. Funny, there was no mention of the fact that the US team threatened to pack up and leave the very night they arrived when Brazilian customs said it would be three days before the tack could be cleared. I guess Klaus didn't want the dressage team to be lumped in with the general image of the Americans, who were heavily booed in the opening ceremonies. I don't know if it hit the news back home but a staffer at the US Olympic team wrote "Welcome to the Congo" on a white board in their office at the Main Press Centre here, and it made it to the front page of Rio's big newspaper, O Globo. At least Canada wasn't booed in the opening ceremonies - the Brazilians sure don't hold back against their enemies. They even booed their own president. But they LOVED Cuba. They cheered harder only for their own team.

Klaus does have a point though. I have found the Brazilians to be absolutely hospitable and friendly (other than the booing). The cab driver yesterday didn't speak English, so he called his wife on the cell and handed the phone to me. I was mystified until I realized that she spoke English and wanted to explain to me that her husband needed to stop and get gas on the way - everyone has been spooked like crazy about violence here, so it was very thoughtful of him to make us aware that he wasn't kidnapping us when he turned off the highway.

I decided not to go on the attack with Mariette in yesterday's conference, because I've done that the last two times she saw my face. It turns out I didn't have to because Ken Braddick (you only have to meet this man once to know he can be counted on to use the hot pokers) asked the question about the six point disparity between Mariette's and Jane's scores for Katherine Poulin-Neff. Ken pointed out in his question that the two judges were seated at B and E. Mistake! Mariette used the fact as an excuse, saying they saw different things, being in different places. Well of course. It's like Robert Redford. There is the good side of his face which he always tries to show the camera, and the bad side. I guess Mariette only saw the bad side of Brilliant Too and Jane saw only the good side.

Mariette then went on to say that she had started out as the low judge on the first morning, and that she had to be consistent with that. "I don't mind being the bad girl," she said. The low judge? Not for the Brazilians she wasn't. And I'm sure Chris Hickey wouldn't call her a bad girl either. She was the low judge only nine times out of 26. Jane Weatherwax was lowest on the score board seven times. But anyhoo, I think the right people ended up with the right medals around their necks. Andrea's test just had a few too many mistakes to have been a gold medal clincher. We'll see what happens with the individuals today and Wednesday.

Monday = our third day to get up at 5 am to get to the site by 9 = the day we met the Cuban journalist. He started out by giving Jan a nice fat cigar. He then asked if I had a hat to give him and could Jan and I please sign it (a moot request since I didn't actually have a hat for him). After a few more minutes of animated chat he asked Jan if when we get to Argentina in two weeks we could buy and send a carburetor for his (ancient) Peugeot that has been sitting unstartable at home in Cuba for the past six months.

When I was in Guatemala in November, their coach (canuck DQ judge Libby McMullen) told one of the riders to get her horse a tail extension for his weedy appendage. Lo and behold, a nice flowing tail followed him around in his test just now. The FEI permits fake tails, though I heard a rumour that you have to bring the 'wig' to the jog for inspection. Check in tomorrow - it's a day off for dressage but I will have news of today, and answers to the important questions 'does Nigri like men better than women?' and 'what did security take from me today?'.

Click here for unofficial Dressage Results.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

On the Bus Again….

Just can’t wait to get on the bus again. You know, the Willie Nelson song. There is only one bus per hour to the site, and we missed the 7 am one by about 10 seconds. Jan ran after it and a soldier tried to flag it down, but no dice. Thumbs down.

One lovely thing at the venue is that there is no food. Normally there is at least coffee and pop in the media work room, but yesterday the promised coffee never arrived. We were on water rations only. There isn’t even one of the dreaded Bob’s Burgers outlets for spectators. I guess they must have known no one would come to watch equestrian. This is a soccer culture, after all. Team dad Mike Gallagher says the riders have the same problem. They have been eating in the grooms’ restaurant but as of yesterday they were banned. The venue is in the middle of a military complex that is in the middle of nowhere, so there is no chance of wandering off site to eat, only wandering off site to be eaten. Now here’s the clincher: we aren’t allowed to bring any food or drinks into the site. It’s the Pan Am Diet Plan. I could stand to lose a few, but my writing might start sounding like the rants of a medieval saint. We packed sandwiches and Jan threw in a couple of beer because this is a working holiday after all. We’ll see if the food gets through security.

The judging has had a few interesting spikes. Nigri, the Brazilian judge, gave the Brazilian rider three more points than all the other judges, who were within a point of one another. He then gave Yvonne Losos de Muñiz of the Dominican Republic three points less than all the other judges, and again the other four judges agreed to within one point of each other. Mariette Withages had Lauren Sammis in third behind Tom Dvorak and Yvonne Losos, whom she had tied for first. She had Sammis three points lower than all of the other judges, who had Sammis first, in most cases by quite a margin. I can’t wait to see what the judges do today, when the pressure is really on. Most of the team riders are today, whereas yesterday it was largely the individuals from the countries that don’t have teams (read: countries that don’t normally use horses for recreation).

Post-medals: the US did deserve to win. Andrea’s horse unfortunately got a little wired in the canter work, though Wiona had a nice test. It has become clear that Mariette liks A: men and B: Brazil. I would love to be a fly on the wall at the judges’ dinner tonight - or in whatever room finds Mariette and Jane Weatherwax alone together. Jane had Brilliant Too (who is absolutely adorable) almost six points higher than Mariette. If it were up to Jane, he would have been second, and if Mariette’s score was the mean he would have been around ninth. Then the ladies went to the opposite sides like tennis players switching courts, and Jane low balled Chris Hickey while Mariette gave him her only 70+ score of the competition. Mariette was not Canada’s best friend today either. She was the low score for both Andrea and Diane.

There are a few more people watching here, mostly a bunch of very happy Brazilians as they won bronze. They completely devastated the performance of their own country’s best horse by cheering in the middle of her tempi changes, so I’m glad they did pull into third. Over all they had better performances than Mexico. And Canada a bridesmaid to America once again.

I found out there is food here on site. Bob’s Burgers – I’d rather starve – and some bagged popcorn in the media area. Jan and I had our bag of food and beer taken away, as well as the pepper spray I brought in with no problem several times yesterday and Jan’s Swiss knife (waaaaa!). Karen P. says she had two bags with her when she went through. They searched the little one that had almost nothing in it, and didn’t even see her pick up and carry in the bigger one that was full of food and drinks.

Click here for unofficial Dressage Results - Team Competition.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fun with Guns in the Sun

Sorry to keep you all waiting for news but logistics have been interesting, to say the least. If we don’t start using taxis Jan and I will be spending many of our waking hours riding buses during these Games. There is one section of about 20 km that we saw four times today, as we rode the press bus from our ‘hood’ (Copacabana) to the Main Press Centre, then back-tracked on another bus to get to the equestrian venue, which we had come within a couple of kilometers of on the first bus. Before the Pan Ams the Brazilians boasted that the venue was only 26 kilometers from the Pan American Village – what they told us only after we got here is that the distance if you use official transportation is 53.9 kilometers. It takes longer to get to and from the site than the actual competition takes ; there were only 13 horses today, and 13 more tomorrow. The official transportation uses only a couple of big roads, which judging from the INCREDIBLE number of police and military stationed along the way, is for security purposes. I have never seen so many police in my life. Oh yeah – and lots and lots of guns. Big guns. It may be meant to make us safer, but it doesn’t make me feel safer. On the other hand, we have felt pretty comfortable walking around at night even though the seedier element is visibly apparent. Last night our ‘movie’ out the window of our apartment was watching several prostitutes attempting to get picked up by men driving cars.

Today was round one of the dressage – Tom Dvorak was the only Canuck, with the other two going tomorrow. Tom’s horse was pretty hot and the canter work got a bit edgy looking, but the judges liked it well enough. Sagacious, the first of the American horses, was spectacular. His rider Lauren Sammis was inspiring too. They fully deserved to finish the day in front of the pack. From the sublime to the ridiculous – there were some pretty dismal performances, particularly by men in uniforms.

There were more staff and volunteers at the equestrian venue today than there were spectators, but the few Brazilians managed to make a hell of a ruckus when the first Brazilian rider came in. Also the only black rider in the Games, he showed off some pretty spiffy one handed two tempis for the crowd (if you can call a gathering of less than 100 a crowd) before his test, which was actually quite good. Tomorrow team medals will be handed out. I predict a close-ish race between US and Canada for gold and silver, and a perhaps even closer race for bronze between Mexico and Brazil.

I had a lovely chat with Karen Pavicic, who has been able to ride Lance in the warm up and competition arenas over the past few days. It’s more than a bit cooler here than it was in Florida when they were in quarantine and all the horses perked up when they arrived in Rio last week. Tom said after his test that it was hotter today than it’s been, but that it was a ‘good hot’. His second placing with 69% and change would confirm that the weather was good for Beaumarchais.

One of the first things Jan and I noticed when we arrived in Brazil was that the favourite hand signal here is the thumbs up sign. And I do mean favourite. It’s used for everything from “ok, we’ll let you take that DSL cable from the press room” to “what a good test our Brazilian rider did.” In fact a volunteer just gave me the thumbs up when I confirmed that I do indeed want to go to the place this bus is going in a minute. Jan and I are quickly absorbing the gesture of course, though the language still sounds to me like Spanish being spoken from the bottom of a swimming pool. And monoglots beware. People in Brazil don’t speak English. Very few of the volunteers, very few locals in fact, speak English.

Until tomorrow everyone.