Friday, March 28, 2008

The first days, with visual aids...

Greetings from Porto Alegre where the near-90 degree days gave way, conveniently late last night, to some fantastic thunderstorms and now a breezy, sun-drenched, upper-70s afternoon.
I am indoors for a little siesta before going on another exploratory walk. Ah! Sadly my pedometer is in the boxes I shipped, wherever those are, but I suppose I walked close to 10 miles yesterday, and another 4 this morning.

Did you ever see the film L’auberge Español? It begins with a monologue about how strange the street- and place-names of Barcelona were to the Parisian lead upon his arrival, and how those same words became known to him, each carrying its own memories etched from his experiences. That’s one, of many, exciting emotions I am experiencing at the moment. I felt that kid-in-candystore kinda thrill as I roamed yesterday through many neighborhoods; Centro, Independência, Bom Fim, Santana, and Cidade Baixa. The street where I am currently staying is Rua Demétrio Ribeiro, and it’s wonderfully positioned near Avenida Borges de Medeiros, Rua Duque de Caxias, and Rua dos Andradas. Near, too, to the Zaffari supermarket, the enormous and lovely Catedral Metropolitana, the shopping center Praia de Belas, and the traditional European-style Mercado Publico (err, a giant colonial building that houses dozens of stalls where butchers and bakers and candlestick makers hawk their wares). The words keep echoing through my head and dripping from my tongue. Months from now I will know these streets and places like the back of my hand, which I find an equally exciting emotion.

Hang on. I think I’ll prepare a cafezinho.

The most beautiful breeze is coming through the windows.

I don’t know how to use this stove. I have to call Jefferson for instructions. One moment, please.
Where was I? Yes, it’s the little things like learning the names that feel so… endearing… to me right now. And the TV in my living room… also endearing. I have included a photo. The one in the bedroom is more in line with modern expectation, complete with cable—variety is important when you are trying to learn a language! For example, I caught a few minutes of MTV on Wednesday night as I settled into bed. I feel compelled to share with you my glee when I read the rather erroneous subtitles accompanying the video for that song that goes, “Next thing you know, She hit the floor, Shorty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low!” Granted, it’s not really my musical style, but I laughed to myself yesterday when I caught myself singing it as I traversed a busy pedestrian shopping street. I digress.

Also included is a photo of my kitchenette. While the microwave, table and strange plastic tom-tom shaped seats are not pictured, the refrigerator is—can you spot it? Also illustrated is my new method of coffee preparation, unknown to me until my stay in Florianopolis last year, yet appreciated now for its utter simplicity and tasty results.

I’ve decided to skip my nap because I feel like writing more now. You might have to read this in pieces. Sorry.

So where is this retro wonderland I’m sleeping at? Hotel Lar is in Centro, the historical city center. It’s a privately-owned, seven-story, apartment building which is more budget conscious for long-term visitors than a typical hotel. Still, I am treated to a 24-hour reception desk, a delicious breakfast, and maid service. I had reservations about staying in Centro as it’s notoriously dodgy, particularly at night, but decided to try it because in addition to being the best value for the money, it’s also the only accommodation that includes a key necessity for me—in-room internet access. I have been pleasantly surprised by the neighborhood’s charm and convenience. So surprised in fact, that I have already found two apartments that I am quite interested in seeing, both within a block of here.

The hotel staff are delightful. Dione appears to be a combination of bellman and handyman. Carmem (pronounced like Carmen, almost) is the manager. Jefferson and Ricardo pull double-duty as reception/security. Every time I venture out I converse with at least one of these people. They teach me new words like ferragem (hardware store), give me tips and directions, and when I return they welcome me back, ask me what I was up to, and chuckle at my pink face (a function of the heat, the steep hills, and the strong sun). Gosto muito desse lugar. I really like this place.

Today I toured the nearby YMCA (well… actually the YACM—I guess that song just doesn’t work here!) hoping for a reasonably priced option for swimming. The facility was great, but I can’t join right now for logistical (read: banking) reasons, but maybe I can sort out a way in the future. Instead, I met Carlos at the Corpo e Saúde (Body and Health) pilates studio just around the corner from my place. He offers private, machine-based, twice-weekly sessions at a monthly rate comparable to that of a single session in Chicago. So, while I have the free time I think I’ll kick start that whole Body By Brazil mission. My first class, Monday, is free. Nice. Lycra spandex horrors commence!

One last story to relay before I crack the vinho tinto and start celebrating my new reality. Back to the “beginning” – the journey here Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning. Let me tell you, the experience felt as though my nerves were being stroked by an invisible hand (little joke for you, Lexecon). Flight one left Chicago on time and half empty. The vacant seat next to me and my carefully balanced diet of wine and Somenex provided more rest than I usually expect on the 11-hour journey to São Paulo. I arrived at 9:50am, reasonably fresh and about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Then the real soothing began. Historically I have spent between 3 and 12 hours killing time in various lines at Guarulhos airport, but this time I skated through immigration and customs. What’s more, tempering my optimism, I inquired at Gol’s check-in counter to see if there was space on the 10:40 to Porto Alegre, instead of waiting until the 12:50pm. My Gol-greeters instructed me to bypass the ridiculous line and report to the Connections desk downstairs, where I was given the last remaining seat. I breezed through security and walked on to a plane that was nearly done boarding. We took off just a few minutes late, at 11:11, and I was in a taxi to my hotel around 12:30. Tudo bem, tudo beleza. 

Everything was cake.
Happy girl.
Loquinha Gauchinha