Until Friday, I had been getting by in Brazil with a total of three Portuguese phrases, which I have found to be absolutely essential to know in the local language when traveling abroad:
1. Cerveja (“Beer.”)
2. Outra cerveja (“Another beer.”)
3. Onde é o banheiro? (“Where is the bathroom?”)
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But on Friday I learned some new words, when the bellman in my hotel, who does not speak English, informed me that we had a fogo in our cozinha. This sounds vaguely like a good thing, right? Like it could be a slogan for an energy drink: “Feeling run down? Put a fogo in your cozinha!”
But it turns out that it meant there was a fire in the kitchen. So all the hotel guests were herded out onto the sidewalk to wait for the bombeiros to arrive. Bombeiros sounds like the name of a terrorist organization, but it actually means firefighters. This language is crazy (louco).
When the bombeiros arrived they put on oxygen masks and carried hoses into the hotel, while we guests, responding as people do these days to traumatic situations, took fogo selfies. If, some day, a massive asteroid strikes the Earth and exterminates all of humanity, millions of people will spend their final seconds of life with their backs to the sky, staring intently at their phones, making sure they have the asteroid and their faces in the frame.
Anyway, it apparently wasn’t much of a fire, because after about an hour the bombeiros packed up and left. But the lobby still reeked with a burnt-rubber-ish stench, so I was surprised when the hotel people told us we could go back to our rooms. I’m pretty sure that in a U.S. hotel, because of lawsuit concerns, we would have had to stay out on the sidewalk until, at the earliest, Thanksgiving. That’s the thing about Brazilians: They can be quite casual about a fogo, but at the same time they can be very strict about the procedure for, say, purchasing a sandwich, which down here can involve more paperwork than financing a car.
Speaking of stenches: You have probably heard about the Olympic diving pool that mysteriously turned green. Nobody seems to know why. Perhaps the problem is that the divers don’t know how to say Onde é o banheiro? Whatever the reason, it’s causing a lot of bad publicity: Australian journalist Tom Steinfort quoted a German diver as saying “the whole building smells like a fart.”
Brazilian authorities insist that there is no health danger to the athletes, but there have been some disturbing occurrences. Sometimes two synchronized divers will plunge into the pool, but only one will surface. Or sometimes two will surface, but suddenly one of them is a lemur, or Nicolas Cage.
My house in Miami has a swimming pool, and sometimes it, too, turns green. When that happens we call our pool guy, an 86-year-old Cuban man named Joe Sarmiento, who comes around and puts chemicals in the pool, and soon it is blue again. If any Olympic officials are reading this: Try using chemicals! TENTE USAR PRODUTOS QUÍMICOS! Or, call Joe Sarmiento. He is very reasonable and has his own truck.
Speaking of the Olympics: My daughter, Sophie, and I went to see the track and field competition, which is being held in a large modern stadium in Rio about a six-day drive from our hotel. But it was worth the journey, because we got to see one of the most exciting sights in all of sports: ourselves, on the Jumbotron.
Also we got to see many running races, which were fun for me but not always fun for Sophie, because she feels sorry for whoever is losing. There would be a terrific race, with a pack of world-class runners grouped tightly together in front, battling down the home stretch, and Sophie would be watching a runner from a vowel-impoverished nation such as Zjdkjzrnstan who was wearing sandals and was so far behind the pack that rays of light being emitted by the other runners would not reach him for 14 minutes, and while the rest of the crowd was cheering wildly as the winner crossed the finish line, Sophie would be holding my arm and going “That’s so SAD!”
But aside from that, we had a fine time. It’s hard to beat the experience of watching high-stakes Olympic competition amid a festive international crowd, with lots of atmosphere. By which I mean cerveja.