Cidade do Aço – city of steel. Another name for Volta Redonda (translated wiki link), the Brazilian city where we live (occasionally). The city is anchored by the largest steel plant in Latin America, Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (CSN).
CSN is the economic engine of the city. The jobs that it provides and the other money that it pumps into the local economy make Volta Redonda a prosperous town. The plant was built during WWII by the US as a steel resource for the war effort (near rich ore sources) and in exchange for a few air bases in the north east of Brasil (details of the agreement). That war is long over but the steel plant is still here. In 1993, the bloated and inefficient nationalized steel company was privatized, leading to what is now a public-owned and efficiently run modern steel complex.
People often ask me what Brasil is like. Unfortunately, all I can describe is what I know from Volta Redonda. It’s a nice town with a few urban shopping/office areas that look like they’re from the sixties. There are lots of cars here – many people own their own homes (and many of them are under renovation in our area). There’s lots of public transportation around and there are little businesses everywhere. Need parts for your kitchen stove? We’ve got stores for that. Need a TV fixed? Yup, we’ve got that covered as well. Want to stop for a cool one while mama’s shopping? You can find a handy bar almost anywhere. In short, it’s a rather nice place that big box stores and Walmart haven’t discovered yet. As in any prosperous city, there are too many cars at 5 pm, but that’s a good thing if you think about it. If you’re looking for poverty, I suppose that you can find it, but it’s not visible in daily life.
Volta Redonda (rough Portugese translation – round return) gets its name from a rather severe bend in the river Paraiba do Sul. The river runs through the town (twice, if you think about it) but is largely ignored by the folks that live here. I don’t know anything about Volta Redonda water treatment plants, and it’s likely that over the years that the steel plant has puked some nasties into the water, too. So it’s probably just as well. It’s a pretty river, though. One of my first thoughts when I saw it was “Why aren’t people using the river for recreation?” The city built a nice 4km long walk along the river recently. I walked along there today – the shade from the trees and water gave me a nice break from the tropical sun. The water itself, however, is ignored. Perhaps in the future….
This afternoon, I walked into Retiro to pick up some dog food for Billy. I seldom miss an opportunity to take a walk when I’m here. It’s just down the hill a bit to the pet store, where they sell dry dog food by the kilo – much less expensive than buying it in the supermarket. (almost everything is more expensive in the supermarket, no matter what country you’re in) On the way back, I saw a car blow right into an intersection and take out a motorcycle. The auto driver didn’t even stop at the intersection – just rolled up, pulled out and turned right. The cycle ran into his right corner and went down – the rider was OK (full-face helmets are mandatory here), but pretty upset. His moto (costs about 3X what they do in the states) was down and damaged. The driver of the car didn’t even stop. Just goes to show that there are jerkfaces everywhere, I guess…. Remember Greg’s first rule of motorcycle riding – ride as if everyone else was out to kill you.
We’re in the tropics. Much like South Florida, summer means that it’s afternoon thunderstorm time. We just had a really good one – I took that photo out the bedroom window just before it started. You can see (can’t you?) that the streetlights down the hill have come on due to the darkness caused by the rain clouds.
Although I’m 5000 miles from home, I’m following today’s Massachusetts Senate election. Go Scott Brown!!
Update: Looks like he won. Michelle’s blog does this sort of thing so well.
Looks like there’s some hope for our country yet….