Sunday, August 30, 2009

"uh, Fernandão!"

Spring sprung early in Porto Alegre. Yay for sunny days in the 80s and my mildly sunburned face! (Yes, I have been using my protetor solar.) I have thoroughly enjoyed the switch—walking miles along the riverfront path and swimming at the club. At four in the afternoon last Thursday (amid a slew of sun-seekers that, like me, seemed to have prioritized properly), I saw a guy riding his bike no-hands. He stretched his arms out wide to either side as he cruised along, basking in the sun and speed. I thought, “Yeah, me too, man.”

While walking to the stadium today for Internacional x Goiás, I came across something I’d never seen before in the park. Watch!


Love it! Men will be boys. Half adventurous fun, half insanity—and entirely entertaining to watch—I stopped for a few moments to marvel at how I never discovered this miniature-motorcycle madness before. Really, they were the mini ones-take a better look:

These little bikes had a lawnmower-type starter pull. If you watch closely, you’ll see that one guy’s bike stalled inside the curve and he had to pull the cord again. For the rest of the chase he was at a half-lap disadvantage. Somehow, I doubt he cared. The manolescents looked like they were having a blast.

Arriving at the stadium I felt the familiar wave of game-day energy. I’ve only been to a couple games over the last four months due to any combination of cold, rain, and late hour of the kickoff. Tonight was the perfect evening to enjoy the madness again; even more so since the opponent was Goiás. First, they are ahead of us in the tabela, the classification of the Campeonato Brasileirão. Second, two stars, Iarley and Fernandão, that used to play for Inter are now playing for Goiás. Yes, that Fernandão. He was our team captain when we beat Barcelona (in the huge upset match) to capture the World Cup 2006. Plus he’s hot. (Well? He is!)

Inter has been maintaining a slot in the top four of the Brasileirão, which is good because those are the automatic qualifiers for next year’s Copa Libertadores. Still, I’ve been feeling lackluster about the season—a feeling which was exacerbated by the recent and disappointing loss of more stars to the European leagues. And when Fernandão returned to the Brazilian club circuit a few weeks ago after a year in Qatar, it looked like he would return to us at Beira-Rio. Clearly, something went amiss and he’s now playing for Goiás—a team which is stacking the deck right now, snatching up players all over the place and creating a startlingly challenging roster.

Fernandão on the far right, wearing the rival’s green and white. (insert sad face.)

So, I felt a bit pensive about the game—not my usual optimistic self. But my team put me (and the nearly full house) at ease with a goal just five minutes in. The entire stadium shouted in camaraderie and sympathy when Fernandão was unfairly expelled just 13 minutes into the first half—though, he was probably a little bit relieved to be out of the awkward position of playing against the team that rocketed his career and 40,000 spectators that admire him, but also consider him “one of us”.

We didn’t have long to contemplate the psychological aspects of the expulsion. The goal at 16 minutes made it 2x0 to Inter. Better still, I was really impressed by the team’s cohesiveness during the rest of the first half—so it was easy to be swept into the merry, cheering energy of the crowd.

Another goal for inter 6 minutes into the second half. And another, just for good measure, in the 35th minute. Internacional 4 x Goiás 0. No complaints. I left the stadium happy—for the win, the good play, the fun crowd, the lingering warm breeze, and the pleasure of a perfect Sunday.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Montevideo: Outtakes & Blooper Reel

I rode Porto Alegre's Metro for the first time, traveling from Centro to the airport. It was clean, efficient...

...but the wealth of signage directing riders to
Linha 1 was entertaining, since there's only one line (and I was at the start of it). Pretty hard to get lost.

They served me cyanide tablets with my first coffee in Montevideo. Looking back, I suppose it was my first insight on the local sense of humor.

Cath and I had a very odd experience while picking up a few staples at the supermarket. First, there was the unintentionally comedic troupe of cashiers. The first duo, LaurelAnn and HardyAnn, were stuck in a register debacle but didn't care to advise us that perhaps it would be better to go to another lane rather than wait through the dinner hour. The next cashier, Groucho, refused to let our radiating charm pierce his armor of all-loathing. Well, eventually, he managed a snicker as Cath and I searched her veritable currency exchange of a coin purse for the right combination of pesos to pay for our goods. Then there was the lurker with a lazy eye--a plain-clothed man eerily scanning from the front of the store--I thought he was just some oddball that had nothing better to do than stand in the local mini-mercado and look weird. Cath sussed out that he was the security guard. She was probably right, but, yipes.

In any case, I did admire the supermarket's variety of sugary cereals. I haven't seen a selection like this for a while.

This indoor arena is named
Maracana. I enjoy their optimism: "Dream Big," I say.

At first I thought this light-board was airing advertisements for the captive audience caught at the red light. As it turns out, it was a Public Service Announcement pleading with drivers not to drink (non-alcoholic)
mate and drive. I found this to be a hilarious juxtaposition against neighboring Brazil's massive anti-DUI campaign, thinking, "Wow! And the Uruguayans have a big tea-distraction problem?"

Later I learned that the problem is the number of drivers seriously injured or killed because the metal straw, or
bomba as it's called here, makes its way through the roof of the mouth pretty easily in even a minor traffic accident. Opa!

Sing it with me now!

Leandro and Charlie were trying to teach Cath and I to say "perro" correctly. They said that when little kids have trouble learning to roll the
r properly, the teacher puts a pencil in their mouth. Leandro was proud of my progress, but more practice is required.


And from today's "Not Safe For Work" files:
You might recall the photo of the lingerie store, "
Fake" (which still gives me a good laugh when I see it). Found in Montevideo, the sister store, "Yes Yes."

And this...

...which was, despite the advertising, a clothing store.

Good times. -LG

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Montevideo III: Che Lagarto

The Che Lagarto hostel is very well-located on Plaza Independencia in the heard of Ciudad Vieja, with a creperie on one side and a great coffeehouse on the other. Likely because of its location and indoor bar with pool table, it was livelier than the Red Hostel had been.

After a quick jaunt to Colonia, Cath returned to Montevideo and caught up with me at the hostel. More hyjinxs ensued.

First, Cath and I went to the Museo de la Casa de Gobierno. I had read that among the showcase of artifacts of Uruguay’s most prominent politicians was the “embalmed” dog of President Venancio Flores. I didn’t learn much about Flores, though I gathered, correctly, from the painting above the dog that the President had been assassinated.

“No pictures, please,” three separate docents had requested when we entered the museum. I fretted about that because the documentation of this peculiar pet display was the sole reason I went to the museum. When we found it, I swiftly and discretely snapped two shots quite literally from the hip. I was pleased to see after we left that, albeit fuzzily, I captured Cath, the creepy dog and part of the painting in my hasty attempt.

Afterwards, we decided to go to Itendencia Municipal, also indicated in my guidebook for its’ top floor lookout with panoramic views of the city. The book said it was in Plaza de Cagancha, just a short walk from Plaza Independencia, where we were. The directions weren’t very specific but, no matter, we figured. Just go to that park and look for the tallest building, right? No.

We wandered awhile, casing the buildings in the vicinity for contenders.

I told Cath to look sneaky for this shot, to illustrate all our sketchy-looking meandering in the area. Now that I see the photo full size, though, it looks more like she’s trying to steal the motorcycle than gain unauthorized entry to scope out the building behind her.

That wasn’t the right place anyway. Since the book had proven erroneous a couple times at this point, we headed back to Plaza Independencia, following the logic that maybe they had also misprinted the name of the building. Nada.

We gave up on the (legal) photo-op eventually and went for dinner.

We had our first meal at Los Leños that night. It was leisurely and decadent, and the service was far superior to our second meal there. Yep, we returned a couple days later craving a repeat, although drawing from my experience I should have known better. (“You can’t go home again,” as they say.) The second visit, the waiter we had painstakingly won over previously was finishing his shift so we were transferred to another. He was an odd, emotionless fellow: when I made a ridiculous face to get him to lighten up a bit he, without making eye contact, plainly exclaimed, “No!”—and walked away. Ha ha ha! Alright then.

Then it happened…the gratuitous “boob swipe.” When he delivered our entrees, he maneuvered in such a way that—despite having ample space to set the plate down like a normal person, and me edging still further away from the table all the while—he brushed my tender chest with his hand. I quickly shot a look at Cath that revealed my simultaneous appall and amusement. He tried to land her dish too, as it were. Seconds later, the two of us were crying with laughter.

The weirdness of that experience pretty much encapsulates the majority of our interactions with the locals. But Cath and I laughed our way through all of them.

We had helpers too, in the form of Leandro and Carlos (who, somehow, was dubbed “Charlie”). They were our roommates at Che Lagarto—young and spirited, clever and sarcastic—who were just great fun to be around. We drank together. We talked Traveler’s Shop; covering politics, history, philosophy, relationships, music, language, places we’ve been and places we’ll go, and dreams.

"Charlie" and Leandro

The morning that Leandro, Charlie, and I were leaving, I woke Leandro up for breakfast. As the groggy wore off, he rubbed his eyes and said, “I don’t want to go.”

I know, Leandro. I know.

That is why I hostel.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Montevideo II: Afternoon MAPI

The tile museum was closed and my chuck-wearing feet were blistered, so I caught the bus back to Ciudad Vieja. Over breakfast that morning, I had made arrangements to meet Eduardo at a teahouse in Plaza Matriz at 4pm. I arrived at the square an hour ahead of schedule, but I had to find a bank and the teahouse; plus it was, as I said, a lovely day. No worries.

Except I couldn’t find the teahouse. Strike 2. For nearly 45 minutes I scoured, with aching feet, the square and every possible side street to no avail. I thought I had remembered seeing an orange sign days earlier…I asked a few people that worked in the neighborhood…some vaguely recalled maybe seeing a tea house too, but where? No one knew. I was getting tired and frustrated. I had no way to contact Edu. I was thirsty. I wanted to sit. So I went to the sidewalk café, by some other name, in the middle of the square, and sat in an obvious place.

I saw Edu arriving a bit later. As he joined the table, I explained that I couldn’t find The Illusive Teahouse. He said, “This is it!” At least, the other day when he passed it, he thought it was a teahouse. Now it seemed to be a café/cervezaria. We laughed at our hazy observations and ordered some caffeine.

Then we set off, spontaneously, for MAPI (Museo de Arte Precolombino y Indigena).

The artifacts were largely uninteresting to me, both for my apparent lack of sophistication and the fact that there wasn’t much information provided about them—and none of it in English or Portuguese. I was happy to see the assortment of rompecabezas (pictured, center), which my guide book tells me was a rather early weapon of the indigenous peoples.

“I’ll romp your cabeza.”

At one point I asked Edu to identify some round clay artifacts by translating the information. “What are these?” I prompted. “Cookies,” he replied, without looking, without hesitation, and as dryly as can be. I laughed my head off.

Eduardo, showing off his new piercings (teeth, click to imbiggen)

Quickly, though, both me and my equally goofy companion tired of the clay and stone bits…

…and went exploring…

Actually, we were both vastly more interested in the building itself. Originally intended as a medical center with an indoor pool (something of a mineral spa, I think), whoever the money and/or inspiration was behind the building, he died before it opened. The building was abandoned and fell derelict. The restoration has been slow but the results, nearly complete now, are phenomenal. On the top floor we found some information on the process and some before-and-after photos, which we discussed longer than normal people would discuss marble support structures.

Exhausted from the day, I was forced to decline the invite to join Edu and the other Sul Americanos in their party ways. I returned to the Che Lagarto hostel—where I had checked in that morning—drank a spot of wine and went to sleep.

It’s unlike me, but this retelling is all out of order. Well, chronological order, that is. I’m working topically, for a change.

But I’m MAPI now. Off to bed.


Montevideo I: The Red Hostel

I was surprised that it was somewhere around 90F when I landed in Montevideo. Given that it had been a chilly few weeks in Porto Alegre and I was heading south, I only packed turtlenecks and woolly things. This meant that I was rather warm for the next four days while the “Little Summer” lingered in the southern, Southern Hemisphere.

I checked into the Red Hostel on Wednesday. It was red.
The building was really nice.

There was a fireplace in the lounge and a gorgeous rooftop terrace that I would have enjoyed if the temperature didn’t drop so drastically at night….and if there had been more than six other guests. It was pretty quiet there.

The hostel staff was of the we’ll-speak-when-we’re-spoken-too variety, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get any good leads on the best neighborhood dinner joint or other good insider information on how to enjoy my stay. In terms or mutual irritation, there was a handyman who neglected to tie a string or post a note warning that he had just painstakingly refinished the wooden staircase leading to the rooftop. On my fifth sticky step, as I realized that the adhesion probably wasn’t the trace of toppled cocktails, I’m not sure who was more irked. On the other hand, there was Nicholas
a shade more amiable than the rest of the staff—who invited us all to come see his band play on Saturday night (which Cath and I did, from what I recall).

The Red Hostel will, however, be memorable to me because of Cath and Edu. Cath is in her early 30s, a London primary school teacher with a wicked travel list already behind her. We hit it off immediately and spent a good part of the next few days breathless with laughter. Eduardo is a Porteño who was in town just a few days ironing out some family business. He and I share an appreciation of futebol (he’s River Plate, not Boca Juniors—so he’s automatically decent in my mind) and the art of old-fashioned construction and engineering.

More on each of them in the next post.

Like the Red Hostel building itself, I found much of Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja charming. Unsurprisingly, it reminded me of Madrid. I found many pleasant plazas, sprinkled with fountains and monuments of old heroes; gorgeous craftsmanship in the hundreds of tall, thick, ornately carved (and heavy) wooden doorways; and uniqueness in addition to beauty in the intricate detailing on the facades, the wrought-iron balconies, the turrets.

On Friday, I planned to check out the Museo del Azulejo. It’s a museum exclusively of tiles, which sounded sufficiently quirky to pique my interest. It is situated in Pocitos, an upscale neighborhood about five or six miles from the Old Town by way of the Rambla, the windy path that follows the curves of the Rio de la Plata. I like to walk. I set out mid-morning, enjoying the unseasonable warmth, despite being overdressed for it.

I stopped along the way to watch a little tugboat pushing a much larger and wounded vessel into the repair dock. I watched them for a while as I got caught up in wonder about the lives of those seamen.

I was obligated to ask these fisherman if I might capture the image of their morning’s catch for you. They graciously agreed and even told me a little about it—in Spanish, so it was a bit touch’n’go—but I did get that the thing weighs 70 kilos, or, over 150 pounds.

I think I got some color to soften my winter pale, but the wind off the water kept me from having a meltdown.

When I arrived at the Museo del Azulejo, this is all I got.

Don’t let the open door fool you. It was closed for remodeling. Strike 1*.

I changed hostels after two nights, hoping for a little more “scene.” I found it.
Look who else I found…


*Learn about Strike 2 and Strike 3 in the next posts!