Sunday, June 29, 2008


Although I was excited to watch tonight’s game between arch rivals Internacional and Grêmio (a long-awaited event for me), I confess I wasn’t expecting to leave celebrating. Not only did Grêmio have home-field advantage, but they also top the tables in the Campeonato Brasileirão while Inter (having recently lost their coach, team captain, and two other star players) is at the bottom. So when Inter scored at 15 minutes in the first half, which they bravely dominated with excellent passing, I cheered heartily along with a jam-packed neighborhood bar (of mixed fans).

The game grew intense as Grêmio failed to even the score and Inter had a few excellent shots that were hair-raisingly close. But it was the last 15 minutes that were the best. A now-desperate Grêmio was playing very aggressively, Inter ever more defensively, and all of the fans—on both sides—were increasingly zealous. Though I pleaded with the clock to tick faster, it wasn’t fast enough. At 33 minutes in the second half, Inter goalkeeper Renan jumped to intercept a shot (which he did) and, while in the air, extended his leg out front to lessen the impact from the player charging at him. Unfortunately his leg struck the Grêmio player in the stomach and the referee issued a red card to Renan, thereby expelling him from the game. Uffff! And then there was chaos—as people in the stadium (on and off the field) and in the bar alike went mental.

I felt both tense and gleeful. Grêmio made the subsequent (and arguably undeserved) penalty kick to even the score - plus Inter had to play the remaining time one-man short. Everyone in the anxiety-ridden crowd was roaring. Inter managed to prevent another goal by an adrenaline-fueled Grêmio during the next 15 minutes of play and, in the end, a tie was a great result for my team. The whole experience perfectly encapsulated one of the primary reasons I moved here: it was a passionate and thrilling exposition of camaraderie and rivalry in a single moment.

Ahhhh…I still haven’t quite calmed down! Nevertheless, on to other happenings and observations.

On Saturday my wandering took me to Redenção, that glorious park, where I spent some time reading the Zero Hora newspaper on a park bench. When I got up to head home, I spotted a familiar dog—Veia. Zuh? There, in front of me, were Bruno and Victoria, out for a walk. What an odd coincidence in a city of 1.5 million! Bruno was off to play futebol so Victoria and I spent an unplanned afternoon walking around the city. Eventually I ended up at Shopping Bourbon Country for a browse in the wonderful bookstore/café, Livraria Cultura, and a movie. I saw Antes que o Diabo Saiba que Você Está Morto (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead). I read about it a few weeks ago and was eager to see it, in part because of the cast which featured Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was not disappointed! I have seen lots of films in my three months here, and this was my favorite (with a close second being Persepolis).

I’m sure that in the US there are nuclear and extended families that are equally tight-knit as those I’m coming to understand here—but it wasn’t my personal experience. As an “outsider” I sort of covet the bond that I’ve witnessed here. Families stick close together: young adults typically live in parents’ homes until marriage, sometimes even afterwards; aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces and nephews visit frequently; and long meals are shared frequently. On the other hand, having my independence rather young gave me a certain freedom—autonomy—that I enjoy. Still, I feel a bit like a stray dog.

Luckily, I have been adopted by the United Nations. Not only has New Zealander Victoria taken me under her wing (as have Brazilians Bruno, Aninha, and Tôtô), but today I was invited to lunch with some new international friends: Christiane (German) and her husband Roberto (Uruguayan) prepared a spread for me and four other friends (plus children). Four languages were being spoken at a single table. I felt delighted and “at home.”

The process of creating a network is going very well. I’ve had lots of social time this week, which is a welcome departure from the first couple months here. This week’s Friday Happy Hour was at Boulevard de Vasco, where we discovered that a martini, as listed on the menu, was not the straight-up-vodka hit-me-where-I-need-it cocktail, but the aperitif Martini—a liquor with a sweet taste—served bem gelada (very cold) with a cherry and a slice of lime. Good to know.

Also good to know: aipim does not do well in the juicer. Aipim (pronounced A-ping) is some sort of root vegetable—course and dry—from which manioc flour is derived. I guess it was a bit foolish of me to assume that its placement in the produce aisle makes it a worthy additive to my standard carrot-apple-cucumber concoction. The result was vegetable paste. Gross. Lesson learned.

There’s more on new legislation, maple syrup, mini-pineapples, and telenovelas (evening soap operas)… later...


P.S. Inter's new coach is named Tite, but I hereby officially dub him "Grite" which is funnier if you know Portuguese.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bruno’s Edition

Years ago, I read an article that talked about "Equally Cool Couples." You know those dynamic duos you meet in which each partner is totally neat in their own right, and together they make an enviable pair? I am graced with three ECC’s in my budding social circle: the aforementioned Victoria and Bruno; their admirable family, Aninha and Tôtô; and newcomer Americans, Joanna and Joe. Each, individually, is ambitious, creative, well-educated and well-traveled, witty, and a treat to be around. In their respective pairings they embody the kind of relationship I hope to find myself fortunate enough to be in someday.

Last Friday I drank champagne with Victoria and Bruno (right) at Santíssimo, where I was introduced to Joe and Joanna (left). They first set foot in POA (their first time in Brasil, actually) just two weeks ago. He is doing research on the relationship between the importation of goods and the colonization of South America—a project that will allow them to travel the continent, spending several months in each of a handful of locales. Meanwhile, she is offering her experience in biology and non-profits (don’t ask me, I don’t really understand it yet) to contribute to universities as they travel. See what I mean? Cool. We had such a lovely time!

After my Saturday morning class, Aninha invited me to almoçar (have lunch—but more like dinner at midday) in their home. I broke the ice with Yolanda, the shy but charismatic 3-year-old with bright blue eyes who is growing up bi-lingual. Victoria came too, with her ECC dog, Veia, and Bruno joined us after we had polished off most of the good stuff—including the wine. I felt really honored to be their guest. From what I have read about Brazilian culture, invitations to dine or attend a party in the home of a friend are akin to be invited to the “inner circle.” Certainly, this was my first experience—and what fun! What began as a casual lunch turned into a five-hour conversation fest. I loved it.

On Sunday, Internacional lost, to my surprise and dismay—sentiments exacerbated by Grêmio’s victory the same day. In the 8th round of the Campeonato Brasileiro this week, it’s a Gre-Nal cross-town classic. Yikes! That’s a lot of pressure. I’d like to attend, but because the game is at Grêmio’s stadium there are a very limited number of seats for the red and white torcida (fans)—who will be escorted in and out by military police. If I don’t attend in person, you can be sure that I will be glued to the television at some pub, likely on Avenida Goethe, armed with a stiff caipirinha.

Speaking of Inter fans, a few weeks ago I met Edison, a host at Mercado Público’s cultural center who has a penchant for writing songs for the torcida in his spare time. Here’s a photo of him, with the lyrics of a great song he wrote for the teams’ 100th anniversary next year, and a CD of his greatest hits.

I stopped by to visit him again this week, and in keeping with the heartfelt Brazilian hospitality I am continually impressed by, he introduced me to his colleagues, Luis and Simone. We chatted a while, and a few moments later, Luis clandestinely presented me with an assortment of not-for-sale postcards featuring historical photographs of the market. Once again, I left feeling warmed by the graciousness of “strangers” here.

Today Victoria, Joanna and I had Ladies Lunch at our favorite buffet, Sabor do Brick, where the staff (center) was costumed in celebration of Festa Juninha (June Festival). I proclaim a different celebration as the motive du jour for gorging myself. Victoria was just accepted into a high-ranking Executive MBA program here. (She has a startlingly bright future, that one.) The three of us chose a spot for our next happy hour, which we have agreed to try to make a weekly calendar entry. In the interests of diversity and exploration, we are trying to select new bars in different neighborhoods each time. When I visited Ênio today, he highly recommended we try Boteco do Natalício, which also made Veja magazine’s Best of 2008 list, I think. But one of the places on the shortlist that I will insist on, eventually, is the “Pit Stop Happy Hour Dancetaria”… come on! The fun is built into the name!

Oh, the darling Al Capone says hello to everyone. I promise to include his picture soon.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Good news

For those of you that haven’t heard, I have been invited to be a regular contributor to a fantastic new website geared toward women travelers. The site, Galavanting, will officially launch on July 15th and I am thrilled to be a part of it. My first piece, Taking Leaps, was published today, and I am giddy about it.

Fortunately, I already had plans to drink champagne with Victoria and some new friends this evening. Now I have an extra reason to celebrate.


Have iPod. Will travel.

During the many months of preparation for this move, it hardly seemed real to me. I remember the specific moment when it became real, both to me and to anyone who knows me well: it was the day I sold my 600+ cherished CDs to Reckless Records.

I am one of those people that rely on music to help me emote, to relate, to cope, and to shine. I remember once describing an experience in Spain—feeling lonely and languageless—how I was comforted by Sarah Brightman. That was in the mini-disc phase of my life. I’ve grown, in mind and technology, since then. What a little miracle this is, my iPod. I have nearly 6,000 songs at my fingertips, which, in the first few months of iPod ownership, gave me a serious attention deficit condition. Today I have chilled, grooved, composed, and strutted to Flickerstick, Face to Face, Morcheeba, Arcade Fire and other favorites. I have some amphetamine-driven dance tunes on there too, which I listened to while pounding out a few kilometers on the treadmill. And some “guilty pleasure” stuff that I won’t even admit to in public.

So Beyoncé (oops) and I did a little running today. Again. Finally. Running is a double-edged sword: sometimes I loathe the effort, but the endorphin-high afterward is a great pay-off. In lieu of pilates, I joined a gym for a few months. Most of the equipment is standard, except the butt machine. (I don’t know its proper name, and frankly, I prefer this one anyway.) Essentially it’s a reverse leg lift, with weights. OW! It figures that, in the land of the thong-obsessed, they’d create this wicked yet effective torture, err, fitness device. Readers, please be warned now… even after 10 years of rear-perfecting on this thing, you will never catch me in a thong. Case closed.

Actually, though it was Reason 76 on my list, no-thong-wearing did enter into my decision regarding desirable cities here in Brazil. I love to stare at the ocean, love to take a dip in salty water once in a while, and love to feel the warm sun on my skin. But I’ve never been a beach bunny. For me, cities like Rio and Florianópolis—while beautiful—are better for long weekend visits.

I love the modesty of Porto Alegre. I love that Rio Grande do Sul has four seasons, and a rather European feel. Take Café A Brasileira coffee house...

...where I frequently sip an espresso duplo at the counter, Italian-style. I love that tonight I bought a replacement remote for my TV from some guys with a blanket on Alberto Bins (the street for technology-type vendors, apparently). Then I bought fresh-baked pão de queijo (a cheesy bread ball) for fifty centavos on Andradas. I adore the chaos of Centro and the entrepreneurial feel of certain shops and restaurants. I like the decorated sidewalks, which are repaired by hand, just like many of the old colonial buildings are refurbished.

(Granted, my construction industry heritage makes me feel a little dodgy about the scaffolding—but that’s another conversation.) There are so many things to adore in this city where I am an estrangeira, including that itself.

It’s way past my bedtime, as I have a morning lesson. One quick teaser before I go...
For those of you that haven’t yet heard, I received some news last week. Good things are happening. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Food, mostly

I did go for that fondue dinner I mentioned and it was divine! The restaurant, Pub Olaria, was a great retreat on a late autumn day, with high ceilings, dark wood trim and exposed brick walls. I ordered the standard seqüência: the cheese course, the meat course, then the chocolate course. In general it was similar to the stateside arrangement, with a few exceptions that I really enjoyed.
First, along with the anticipated bread, the cheese fondue was served with boiled new potatoes. I’ve never seen such a thing, but what a delightful idea! Also, Alexandre set a small antipasti plate beside me with this garlic sauce that deserves mention. I had just observed how season and spice are frequently missing in these parts, so this almost-tzatziki concoction initiated a welcome evening of halitosis. Second, I opted for the healthier method to cook the meat course (of chicken and beef—I sent the lamb away knowing I was too full already) na pedra, or, on the stone. I chose this in order to go nuts with the chocolate fondue, but that might go without saying. I came to the educated conclusion that of the seven dip-able items, the banana and apple were my favorite.

I didn’t take any pictures of my dining experience, but the reporters did. That’s right, some local television news crew walked in mid-meal and started filming patrons, presumably for a “Great Spots for Lovers” piece for the rapidly approaching Dia dos Namorados (Brazil’s answer to Valentine’s Day). They filmed the poor couple that appeared to be on a stage-one date and definitely seemed a bit awkward. Then they filmed the gaggle of ladies out celebrating—before, reluctantly, approaching the last occupied table. I don’t think I fit well into their expose, so they avoided eye contact while I made funny faces at the camera to ensure that I’d later have to be edited out. Overall it was a delicious meal with wonderful ambiance. I think I’ll take myself back there for my birthday next month! I’m so good to me.

I did go out with the camera this week though. I took a few photos of the palace down the street—oh, I think I forgot to mention the palace. I get carried away with the Cathedral because it has a dome, I guess. Well, adjacent to the Catedral Metropolitana is Palácio Piratini, the seat of the state’s executive branch and site for banquets and balls for dignitaries and such. It’s a lovely building, and glimpses I’ve stolen at night into the well-lit halls make me want to go on a tour.

Frequently, the street in front of the palace is the stage for political protests and this past week was no different, since the governor’s cabinet is embroiled in another corruption scandal. But yesterday I stumbled on a movie crew, rather than representatives of the Worker’s Party. Neat.

"Winter" in the park...

…look! It’s green!
I went walking in the park with Victoria and her awesome dog, Veia, this week. I say that to lay the groundwork for my statement that I love dogs. I do. In fact I wish I was reliable enough to have my own. Good, glad you believe me. So I will be forgiven for wishing death upon the sindica’s hideous poodle with its ear-splitting bark and no redemptive personality traits that I can see.

Droga! Look what I found yesterday near my apartment.

I love that I’m still finding stuff, but this kind of stuff is sometimes better left unfound. And to make matters of self-restraint even worse, I spotted another Cenoura Pasteís inconveniently located in Centro today.

I have some futebol woes. Internacional has had an upsetting early June with the surprise departure of the coach and three star players (so far), Sidnei, Iarley, and my darling Fernandão. I’ll write more about this later because the situation brings to light an interesting cultural difference about uncertainty. But for now I have to get to my local lancheria, Alto Astral, for the Brasil x Paraguay game.


(Can anybody tell me why I have a dickens of a time with fonts and spacing in Blogger? ruff. [See? Love dogs. Even imitate them.])

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

O vento lá fora

“The wind outside” is more than just a lyric from a Legião Urbana song that’s stuck in my head. There really is wind outside. In fact there is lots of it and it appears to be angry. Last night I heard glass shattering all around the neighborhood as the wind wreaked havoc on open windows, including the one in the hallway outside my front door.

So we’ve covered that the rain and wind are different than I am accustomed to. Allow me point out something strange about the clouds. There have been times when I have seen two strata of clouds creeping across the sky at different speeds, but never in different directions. The other day I noticed four distinct layers (let’s call them A, B, C, and D), moving at speeds which ranged from “float” to “I’m late for a meeting,” but in opposite directions. That is, A and C were heading south and B and D were going north. Clearly I missed something in junior high Earth Science, because I was under the impression that when such things happen I’d be too concerned with my roof blowing away to enjoy the view. Apparently it’s just the arrival of autumn, as the weekend was sunny and rainy at the same time, and the next few days will be brisk (cough) with a low around 50.

I’ve struggled lately with the notion that, being in a new place, I had to run around and soak it in all the time. To do so, however, would be to miss out on the equally foreign lifestyle that is chillaxing. I’ve been a bit of a hermit lately—venturing out mostly just to teach or watch Internacional play on Sundays in a crowded neighborhood lancheria. I am cognizant and appreciative of my newfound leisure. I rarely set an alarm, and I never feel rushed to arrive or to meet a deadline. I received a stash of books, in both English and Portuguese, when Fernandão and Girassol arrived. During these cooler months I look forward to many hours of goose-down-and-tea style comfort, indulging my imagination in their pages.

While I didn’t have any Aventuras na Cozinha this week (the extent of in-home food preparation was steaming broccoli and spooning on a little requeijão), I do have some food observations. Cashews are not a luxury item here, and although not necessarily healthy in the quantities I like, I figure my habit is offset by the desserts I’m not eating. Buffets are standard fixtures in restaurants (from chic churrasquerias to shopping mall food courts), and they offer a nice array of entrees and sides for a very reasonable price. My strategy is to enjoy a buffet lunch once per week because:
1) it’s nice to have the sensation of eating a balanced meal,
2) it’s easier and cheaper than cooking for one,
3) having lunch rather than dinner allows my belly to recover from the inevitable over-indulgence, and
4) keeping it to once a week allows my metabolism to recover from the inevitable over-indulgence.
My sole complaint about southern Brazilian cuisine is that the only seasoning utilized to its potential (and then some) is salt. I do sometimes find myself craving foods with a stronger flavor. Honestly, I dreamt about Potbelly’s Italian sub last night—with extra gardineira. Oohhhh.

On a related note, last week I stumbled upon a great little wine shop around the corner. It’s tiny and completely charming. Being a few steps down from street-level, it has a cellar-like feel. I met the wife-half of the couple that runs it and she was happy to show me around, highlighting some local beers and their selection of gourmet foods. They stock some delicious looking frozen pastas, like squash tortellini, and jarred sauces. Obviously I’ll be making purchases there in the near future and will include a write-up.

Tonight, though, I’m eating out. After my evening class, I’m going to see a movie—Um Beijo Roubado—which, trust me, sounds much sexier than the English title, My Blueberry Nights. I have about an hour between class and the film, and there are lots of restaurants in the theatre complex, including a fondue place. Hmmm, sounds good.

Tomorrow morning I have an early class and then my day is free (smile). Perhaps I’ll use some of the time to return to a shop I discovered earlier this week, Linna—an armory of paper and glue gun goodness. My craftiness is on par with my cooking, but I want to see if I can find stuff to make my own little zen garden. It’s silly, but I always wanted one.

The other red item on the calendar tomorrow is the final match in the Copa do Brasil at 9:30pm. Last week I was cheering for Corinthians and was pleased that they defeated Sport 3x1. However, I changed my allegiance after learning unsavory information about Corinthians and how they robbed my team of the title in 2005. Hmph. Vai Sport!

Lastly, I have resolved to start carrying my camera with me more often.

Be well, everyone.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Crossing wires

The last week was tough! I was sick, ornery, lonely, and bored. Thankfully, futebol can kick your troubles away. It’s a national placebo here, and I’m a sucker. There were two big games on last night: Corinthians versus Sport for the Copa do Brasil (game one of two), and Fluminense versus Boca Juniors for the Copa Libertadores (final) which I chose to watch. Boca scored first, but “Flu” evened it up with a delicious penalty shot. 1x1. I nervously chomped my fingernails, hoping the decision wouldn’t come down to penalty kicks – I hate those. They create too much stress for the spectator, let alone the poor goalkeeper. Wheeeee! GOOOOOOOOOOLLLL do Fluminense! 2x1 at 26 minutes, 2nd half! GOOOOOOOOOOLLLL do Fluminense! 3x1 at 49 minutes, 2nd half. Flu wins! Hoorah! However, I won’t be getting a manicure any time soon.

Today was sunny and in the 70’s (not bad for “winter”), and I felt sunny inside too—a pleasant change. I went to pilates, cleaned my apartment, did laundry, made fresh juice, taught a class, and strolled around Centro casually doing errands.

I received a pleasant email from Pierre, the Frenchman I met in Rio, who was leaving today for New York City. He sent his impressions of Salvador (on Brazil’s north coast), as I requested, and included a link to a 15-second video clip he shot in central Rio on one of our walks.

Backtracking for a second… the night before said walk, I mentioned I was a cheerleader (a fact I am neither proud nor ashamed of) while we were watching Eliseu and Dudu play futebol in the park. Lívia, the hostel’s resident bartender, found this rather entertaining and there was a bit of teasing. Cheerleading is an entirely American thing and I’ve yet to meet a foreigner who, if the topic arises, doesn’t react with an air of mockery. So it was a rather entertaining coincidence when, out walking the very next day, we came across an exhibition by the University of Southern California marching band and cheerleading squad. I haven’t a clue why they were performing there in front of Câmara Municipal (a government building), but they were. (I just googled the incident and learned that they also performed at Maracanã before the Flamengo x Inter game, which I attended. I must have arrived too close to kick-off because I didn’t see them.)

So Pierre sent a link to the video of the USC group which he posted on his travel blog*. We never discussed it, so I didn’t know he’s doing the exact same thing—documenting his journey with insights and photos for family and friends on the web. Funny, he even has a similar departure post, precisely one month before mine.

Crossing wires. I once wrote about sitting in a station waiting for my train from Budapest to Vienna, watching all the people hustling about. Commuters, travelers, visitors—people walking every which way—each with their own matter to attend to, their own family and friends, their own joys and sorrows, their own intricate stories. I thought about the crowds in airports, and rush-hour in Chicago, Moscow, Barcelona, Hong Kong. I thought about all the people, about 6-degrees-of-separation, and about possibility.

Thanks, Pierre, for that rather timely reminder.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Under the weather

Occasionally I have a stretch during which I am completely unmotivated to write. Right now, during one of those times, I am not a happy girl. I have a cold which I can’t seem to shake no matter what combination of tea, soup, sleep, and assortment of over-the-counter remedies I try. I feel cranky and lonely, I’m bored, and no one is here to make me laugh.

Well, there is the news, and the story about frost. Apparently the 38-degree low recorded Friday night was the coldest temp on record in 15 years. Ha, that’s worth a little laugh. In fairness to the brasileiros, not only are their bodies unaccustomed to the chill, but their homes are typically unequipped for it. I am among the lucky few to have the equivalent of a space-heater built into my bedroom wall.

Further damaging my self-esteem and overall demeanor is the approaching Dia dos Namorados (Valentine’s Day), so that this year (in addition to having shorter winter days for roughly 10 month straight), I can be painfully reminded *twice* that something is missing. And then there’s my guilty conscience for not posting.

Other than my present stretch of dark-cloud grumpiness, the week began quite nicely. When I returned to the Tupiniquim Hostel in Rio de Janeiro last Friday, I was greeted by Eliseu, Dudu, and Lucas (familiar from my visit six months ago). I spent the first evening at the popular hostel bar sharing animated stories with new acquaintances Lívia, Mario, and Luciana. Delightfully, that is how I spent my entire four days, more or less. I conversed with really interesting travelers on topics ranging from life in Cuba to the importation of the massive mirrors in Confeitaria Colombo’s Bar Jardim (Google it, it’s cool). I made some Brazilian guys laugh really hard with a well-timed curse word in portuguese during a midnight soccer game in the park. I met a guy, Adriano from Minas Gerais, who was in the final round of try-outs for Ídolos, the Brazilian equivalent of American Idol. I met Vitor (left), a smart-as-a-whip 11-year-old from Bahia, who gave me his insights on the fragility of Brazilian politics and the potentially explosive economy. And I spent many enlightening hours with Pierre (right), who just left his corporate life outside Paris and embarked on a round-the-world adventure while he brainstorms what he wants for his future. Pierre was the embodiment of that “kindred spirit” you meet along the road – they are rare, but they exist.

I wandered in Cinelândia, Centro, Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo, and Flamengo. I observed the people and the scenes, because I’ve done most of the tourist stuff before. This time, I marveled in the architecture of the side streets, browsed in bookstores, and went to some art cinema. I ingratiated myself with a Brazilian couple from Goias on a city bus and followed them to Maracanã on Saturday night to see the game (which sadly Inter lost to Rio’s Flamengo).

On Monday I led Pierre and Hermes to Escadaria Selarón, because they hadn’t seen it before. Selarón’s famous staircase is 215 hand-tiled steps, probably 15 feet wide, which create a lovely explosion of color on the hill between Lapa and Santa Tereza. We met Selarón. I think he fancies himself a Chilean Salvador Dali, but he does have an interesting story. He’s met thousands of famous people from all over the globe during the 18 years he’s been creating and recreating the steps. His work has been featured in a variety of media from National Geographic to Playboy to a Snoop Dogg video. He encourages tile donations, and the staircase currently contains pieces from over 60 countries, from the wall of a Paris Metro station to a hand-painted skyline by a 7-year-old New Yorker. I didn’t bring my camera along so I’ve swiped a picture from the last visit (thanks, Thiera).

This sign made me smile.

I actually have to set my alarm clock tomorrow. I don’t like that one bit.
Hopefully I’ll feel healthier and more positive in a few days.