Thursday, April 17, 2008

A simple life

Despite popular conception, the thrill of life here (or anywhere one decides to challenge one’s conceptual boundaries) is in the tiniest details. It’s noticing hundreds of small differences in your day. For example, one of my favorite activities is grocery shopping. I love abacate (avocado), only here it is served in fruity ways—like smoothies, I hear. But I did stumble upon this “authentic” guacamole mix… just like in Mexico, it says… but this mix is from New York City! New York City?? Wait, that’s Pace Picante… still…

I also derive pleasure each time I apply skin toner with one of these cotton balls. They are not poofs of cotton like at home, but rather a strip of cotton which can be unrolled, thusly.

This week I also discovered…

That’s pastéis, not to be confused, as Word spellchecker is insisting, with pasties—which would beckon an entirely different conversation, no? Cenoura is a carrot. A pastél (pastéis is plural) is a like a square pocket of won-ton dough stuffed with, traditionally, ground beef with bits of hard-boiled egg, green olives, and a green leafy thing akin to parsley, then deep fried. Man I love those things. Although, my hype of said culinary goodness backfired on me when Thiera’s first and last experience with pastéis happened to be at a pseudo-dodgy lancheria in Rio that might have been serving us the remains of an ill family pet. Even I lost my taste for them for a while. Anyway, I read about Cenoura in Veja’s “Best of” 2008 list, and when I happened upon it while out walking (I love how that happens to me all the time, those little “coincidences”), I was pleased to experiment. Cenoura is special not just because of the quality, but the variety. They serve pastéis and panquecas (which I learned are like crepes but a little thicker…spongier) with a wide range of fillings, from the traditional carne to yummy vegetarian options. For the record, anything that contains spinach is alright by me.
I also visited an art-meets-technology exhibit and the architecturally stunning Santander Cultural center. The free show, File POA 08, featured giant video projection installations and interactive games by programmer-artists from the all over the world. Those Japanese… they are always doing something cool, aren’t they? Equally interesting, perhaps even more so in terms of promise, was the center itself. It was positively beautiful. The stained glass ceilings of the great hall must have cleared 60 feet, easy. There was wall ornamentation galore and the intricately tiled floor one would expect in such a place. But the coolest part was the subsolo (the basement level). I hadn’t previously made the connection that Santander is one of the larger financial institutions here, so I hadn’t expected something so unique when I rounded the corner toward the restroom. Woah! There, ajar, in front of me was a massive, old-school, walk-in safe door. There were others as well, some original, some just on display. There was a little exhibit on the historical progression of the currency as well, but by far the coolest discovery was the little coffee shop and adjacent restaurant built into the remnants of the deposit rooms. I picked up the flyers for the upcoming art and music exhibits and look forward to having a mid-afternoon espresso duplo next time I’m strolling nearby.

Another long walk on Wednesday took me to Shopping Total (a mall) I had never been to before in search of pants. Tangent! Just typing that sentence brings memories of the hilarious Bernard Kelly repeating, “I gotta go put my pants on!” and rolling with laughter as he worked to perfect his Jenny-speak. You see, back in the good ole days at University College Galway, we used to nurse our hangovers with loads of coffee and toast and music, communally, in our pajamas, in apartment 169. Eventually, feeling alive once again, someone would suggest we head into town for some lunch or a pint, and I would proclaim the need to return home to change into proper clothing. “Ok! I gotta go put my pants on!” (End tribute to my friends from 169.) So back in present time, I went looking for some pants because the weather has (kinda) turned here. I decided I needed just one more pair of non-dressy, fall-ish pants to carry me until I reunite with my boxes of personal items (read: clothes). I didn’t much care for Shopping Total (except that I found another Cenoura Pasteis in the food court) so I walked to a different part of the city, to the far more humble Shopping João Pessoa. Success. I bought a cheap pair of grey slacks that will give me enough variety to address any weather situation that should arise at the beach this weekend.

Yay! It’s Torres time! Tomorrow I’ll take a bus to the seaside town at the northern border of my state, Rio Grande do Sul, for the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. It will be a bittersweet journey, as I had all kinds of romantic notions about this weekend as I daydreamed about it for the last few years, but in the end I’m going alone. Should I start feeling sad on the 198km bus ride, I’ll have a balcony of my own at the Guarita Park Hotel ( to sooth my soul when I arrive. That should help.

Before I go, I have a picture of me and Ênio, that wonderful man, to appease all you “please post more pictures of you” sayers. Granted, I look like I already went to happy hour, but in fact, no.

And one for me—because I love the arvores (trees) here.

There used to be a street named for the trees… but (for all you true-crime addicts out there) I have an icky story for you. While there are several variations of the story, the hard facts are that in 1864 on Rua dos Arvoredos, theater-aficionado José Ramos and his lovely Hungarian bride Catarina Palse ran a well-known butcher shop in the ground floor of their home. Apparently Catarina would use her looks to lure people (men, presumably) back to the home where they were then killed and turned into sausages. There is some debate about what role each party played in the actual process, the number of victims, and whether or not the victims actually ended up as shop stock. Regardless, Porto-alegrenses still talk about the horror, and the street, now called Rua Fernando Machado, runs parallel to mine just one block south.

On a lighter note, a musical/mood-cognisant observation. I love Glen Hansard. His is the commanding and expressive voice that leads Irish band The Frames. He’s also the leading lad in Once, which I saw for the second time this past (otherwise downer of a) weekend. There’s a line in the Oscar-winning single “Falling Slowly” that I hummed over and over as I walked, conservatively, 12 miles around the city on Monday. “Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice, you make it now.” 

Indeed. Thanks, Glen.