Monday, December 1, 2008

interesting places and interesting people

Hi friends! After two weeks of mini-adventures, I'm back. I'll start where I left off, fulfilling a promise:

There are lots of interesting things to see on Centro's Main Street, Rua dos Andradas. Just the other day I found the strangest coffee shop on Earth. There's no way I can relate its' atmosphere without the aid of pictures. I felt too intimidated to ask last time, but I'll go back. I can't help myself. Anything less would be irresponsible journalism.
I did go back, the very next day, to Café do Bingo.

The morning I stumbled upon this treasure, I was making my way home at an hour I haven't seen since the days when I had a proper job. I was desperate for a caffeine fix just so I could make the remaining 15 minute walk to my bed bearable. Hark! A coffee shop! I veer right and order a double. The wave of realization that I was in some sort of time warp came slowly. The
café is small, maybe 5 tables--well, in the lobby.

I asked if I might use the facilities and, after some sideways glances among the staff, a nod was given. I was escorted past the Men In Black and through a long banquet hall.

Well, well, what have we here?

The center aisle was chock full of these table with built-in ashtrays, while the edges of the room were lined with consoles of Apple IIe knock-offs and giant scoreboards.

What is this place?
More importantly, when is this place?

Ok, this isn't any kind of Bingo I've ever played. And the place is a ghost town. Well, except for staff buzzing about, disproportionate in number to the 5-table lobby
café. Hmmm. I immediately sense something deliciously suspicious, like I used to when I visited Cappucino's in Berwyn and police officers would eat cannoli at 3am while My-Cousin-Vinny-types would say a secret password at the kitchen door. You can understand why I didn't immediately whip out the camera.

On this, my second, visit, I asked permission to take photos. After another round of unsure glances among the staff, I was directed to the "manager". Mr. A, a 31-year-old in jeans and a t-shirt, asked a few questions in perfect English before giving me the go ahead. I snapped a few shots as quickly as possible, but carefully, to avoid capturing the handful of male patrons that were looking at me with a raised brow.

Seated back in the lobby with a coffee, Mr. A felt mutually intrigued about my stay in Porto Alegre and a Q&A duel ensued. I learned that the Bingo used to operate as some sort of gaming facility until it, like every other of its kind here, lost its license. Contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal per se--it's just that the business of favors is no more exempt from inflation than the cost of bread. Mr. A informed me that they continue to operate the
café while they wait out the negotiations, which I think he said are in year two...and counting.

Mr. A was as fascinating as the
café. Nothing if not ambitious, he is a very accomplished young man. He earned his pilots' license when he was 15 and was teaching flight school in Miami at 19. He has a degree in material engineering from UFRGS (a top-notch university here) and is satiating his curiosity by pursuing a masters in economics at the moment. He has been to 36 of the 50 states and spent a good deal of time in China while working for an import/export outfit in Sao Paulo. He co-owns a cessna with a friend and is entering the busy season of his side project--flying advertisements along Brazil's southern coastline.

After half an hour of conversation I had to run to make a class, but I assured him I would be back to visit, gladly. I haven't kept my promise yet, but have the best of intentions. My calendar has been full of other goodies. I couldn't miss the recent
Cordel do Fogo Encantado gig because I enjoyed their live performance so much when I was here in 2006 (sempre um show super bacana, rocking the house with three exceptional percussionists). I attended a rather un-Brazilian wedding--more on that later--and spent a few hot afternoons sunbathing at the pool. And conveniently, an old portuguese-classmate from Chicago was passing through just in time for a Thanksgiving churrasco feast at Na Brasa.

I have been watching loads of futebol too. Things are looking good for my team to take the Copa Sul Americana this Wednesday night*, but I'm already saddened by the three month hiatus from my addiction that will quickly follow.

Lastly, I have some outtakes, if you will, from my trip to Gramado. As you can see, Gramado is a charming mountain town...

...where I went last week to prepare a holiday-themed piece for Galavanting (forthcoming). I subjected myself to some chocolate sampling and a three-course fondue frenzy in the name of dutiful reporting.

While there, I gleefully discovered trees straight from Dr. Seuss...

...enjoyed the placement of the lawn ornaments (notice the evil witch on the right, classic!)...

(click to enlarge)

...and found a restaurant that claims their wok food is totally gourmet.

The Bavaria Sport Hotel was charming enough, but I think they stole their phones from Café do Bingo.

Because the weather didn't cooperate on the second day when I planned to check out Mini Mundo I'll have to go back soon. Perhaps when Stacee comes to visit for the New Year, after we get back from our visit to tropical paradise, Florianopolis, which is currently severly flooded. Uh-oh.

Well, as you can see, it's been a diverse and entertaining couple of weeks. The next few weeks will be a bit more chillaxed, so I'll try to be less epic and more frequent.


*Good vibrations are always appreciated. Being an international championship, you might catch the South American Cup Final on cable stateside. If you are of the cheering persuasion, please make sure that you root for my darlings, Internacional. As a bonus, you might get a glimpse of what it's like in the thick of things at Estadio Beira-Rio, my home turf.