Sunday, March 30, 2008

A walk in the park

You’re not going to believe this. Well, maybe because it’s ME, you will. This morning I (accidentally) awoke early and set out to buy a Zero Hora (major local paper) because on Sundays the classified ads are posted for rentals. My plan was to scan it during breakfast, checking prices, locations, details, etc. I circled a few ads, though one in particular caught my eye.

“JK finamente mobliado na Duque, andar alto. Txs incluidas R$700 Direto.” 

Hmm, I thought, I like this. From that text I knew:

It’s small, because a JK is usually the equivalent of “studio,” but it’s furnished. The latter is key because the standard here is, naturally, unfurnished – meaning no fridge, no stove, no cabinets. A typical kitchen is equipped with a sink and a countertop. Full stop.
As I mentioned earlier, Rua Duque de Caxias is quite near my hotel and I really like the area. In fact, it’s the same street as Catedral Metropolitana (photos), about 4 blocks down.
This place is for rent by owner, rather than the vastly more common and tedious method of going through a real estate agent.
It’s on a high floor, preferable for safety and light.
Taxes are included. Rent works differently here. In general, a tenant must pay rent, IPTU (a government tax on your rent), and condomínio (similar to association fees that condo owner’s must pay in the States). So, “taxes included” is good – heck it’s one less thing to pay – and it’s usually about R$40 ($25) per month.

So I called. Ênio, who’s not the owner, but apparently is her right-hand-man, answers. Talking in a foreign language on the phone can be tricky, but I muddled through my inquiry. He offered to show me the place at 10:30, so I went, thinking I would just start getting ideas about how this all works. As it turns out, though, I have an apartment. Ha!

The place is quite small, which is exacerbated by the fact that it has walls! The bedroom and bathroom are reasonably sized, but the living area fits not much more than the Wickes-type loveseat that occupies it. But it’s the kitchen that’s hilarious. I think it’s about 4 feet wide, which would be better if it wasn’t a galley-style setup! It’s a very funky little place indeed, but I liked it! And it was completely perfect for me because the advertised rent includes everything: IPTU, condomínio, gas, heat, water, garbage removal, furniture, even dishtowels! I pay electricity and internet. It’s on a nice corner, on the 5th floor (of 7), and across the hall from the sindica (umm, I’m not even sure what that means, but she’s somehow involved in the running of the property). What’s more, it’s temporary. Ênio understood my situation and agreed to a 3-month lease to start. Plus he manages other buildings in the area that have larger furnished apartments which, as they become available, he will show me.
The only nasty part is that my hotel is paid until April 25th because a monthly rent here was significantly cheaper than a weekly one, and surely I didn’t think I’d find something in the first 5 days! Tomorrow I will try to negotiate a partial refund with them, but I might have to chalk that one up to experience. Ouch.

Today was a walk in the park. Figuratively and literally. I spent the afternoon in Parque Farroupilha. I went to visit “my” monkeys… remember those guys from my first trip? Farroupilha, also called Redenção, is huge. Aside from the zoo there are concert stages, restaurants, paddleboats, a mini-amusement park with children’s rides, and even a florist! But on Sundays the place is mental – absolutely alive! Most businesses are closed in Porto Alegre on Sundays. It’s definitely “family day” here. And when the sky is blue and the sun is shining, the people come out in droves: street performers, churro vendors, capoeira troops, artesian stalls, romantic couples, young families, supporters of various political initiatives, kite-flyers, soccer players, skateboarders… on and on. I bought cotton candy. What can I say? It seemed like the right thing to do. I am pretty sure you will find me there nearly every Sunday that isn’t raining.

After a lazy stroll around the entire place, I had to step up the pace a little. Back to my hotel for a little dinheiro ($) and off to a local lancheria (something in between a café, a restaurant, and a bar, for which I have no Stateside equivalent), because at 4:00 my team was playing. “Vamo vamo Inter!” They won 4x1.

So the photos of the cathedral are, first, from the back – the vantage point around the corner from my hotel – then from the front, at street level on Rua Duque de Caxias, where in the next few days, I suppose, I will be settling in. Again. Ha.

Cheers everybody, LG

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Live the life you want to live.

Yep, I'm moving to Brazil.

Because the older I get, the more resolutely I believe in owning my choices.

A more literal translation would be "joyous port," but I prefer to call it "Port Happy". (Check the place out using the links on the left.)

What will I do there?
First things first: Nothing.

Then, I will attend to some personal goals which can be summarized thusly; well-being, fluency, creative development, travel, and experience. I have already found some pools where I might swim and some yoga studios I might try, in the event that I feel energized by all the fresh fruit and vegetable juice.
I will study Portuguese and counteract the brain-strain with writing my travel stories and submitting them to publishers. (Hey, why not?)
I will find (in no particular order) someone to help me refine my "Gaúches" (local dialect), someone to help me learn the culture via its nightlife, someone that knows the top three coffee spots in the city, and someone that likes to talk about life in metaphysical terms.

In what I will try to make the last exhibition of my all-too-American tendency to hyper-plan, I already booked accommodation during the international hot air balloon festival in Torres at the end of April. (In my defense, it's a big event and a holiday weekend, so I figured erring on the side of caution one last time was forgivable.)
I'd like to work in a few budget-conscious day/weekend trips around the gaúcho countryside, and, in a few months, I'd love to meet up with friends Lucas, Platini, Carol, Michele and Eliseu in Rio.
Hopefully in about six months I'll manage to cook up some sort of employment, even better if it's something I enjoy.
In a year... who knows, really.

A few (of many) things I know I won't miss are carpal tunnel, my alarm clock, and harsh winters.

A few (of many) things I know I will miss are wine-chats with my friends, my grandmother, and The Dunes.

There will be things I will love, for a while at least, like walking for miles with no destination and no deadline; greens, citrus, "a la minuta," and agua de coco; and watching futebol (soccer) all the time.

There, too, will be things that I'll find more difficult to adapt to, like a higher crime rate, bureaucracy, and adjusting to a more macho culture.

I have a place to stay while I try to obtain an apartment and a bank account, neither of which will be as easy and clear-cut as I am accustomed to. And although I initially plan to spend a little time alone, finding my new self, I have preemptively opened some channels that should make communication easier (and cheaper) down the road. One is this site, which will not only serve to increase my readership potential, but will also allow you to visit at will or create email alerts when new material is posted (instructions will follow at a later date). Another is a SkypeIn number for the United States. That means you can dial 867-5309 (see footnote***) from your landline or cell phone and reach me on my laptop or on my mobile (eventually) for the same tolls you would normally pay to dial a 312 area code. My Skype account also provides free voice or video chat with one or more people via the internet. To set yourself up for this service, visit the link below and create a free account, then add "LoquinhaGauchinha" as a contact. Incidentally, my 773 number has been disconnected effective today. My trusty hotmail remains, faithfully checked, while messages sent to my newer gmail account will find me too (I created the latter because of its capability to manage my "subscriber list" ).

Ok. Deep breath. I've got a plane to catch.

In closing (or shall I say opening), I will leave you with this. While searching for accomodation in Torres, I caught an ad for a pousada (inn) that invites the reader to "Venha fazer NADA!!!" It means, "come do nothing!" Ahhhh, sounds perfect.

wishing good dreams for all,

* Although there were some entertaining suggestions in naming the next edition of my newsletter (including "Project Brazil Nut" [Deb] and "Yank Gone Wild: Brasil 2008" [Beth]), ultimately I had to invent my own. To receive an email alert when new content is posted about My Life In Havaianas, go to Click on "Register", enter preferred email address and create a password. Click on "Subscribe" and enter the url (in this case, Done.

** It would be a pity if I didn't give thanks to my Uncle Greg in this introductory post. Greg has been so supportive of me in this particular journey, as he has been toward many of my ambitions (or diversions) the last handful of years. He has taken me out for many dinners--generously lending his advice and patience, his humor and experience--and I am very grateful. And I repay him by bailing on his birthday. What a schmoe I am! Hey Greggo: "Parabéns pra você, Parabéns pra você, Nessa data querido, Muitos felicidades, Muitos anos de vida." Thank you!

*** 3/31/08: I have replaced my real phone number with the false one above so as to maintain my privacy. (Thank you, Tommy Tutone.) If you need it, drop me a line and I'll send it on.