Sunday, November 29, 2009

Oh, the irony...

In Porto Alegre, what's bigger than a Gre-Nal?

How about Internacional being a contender to win the 2009 Brazilian Championship in their last game, next Sunday, thereby commemorating their 100th anniversary in high style?

Sounds like one hell of a party to me!

Our arch rival, Grêmio, will play Flamengo next weekend.
Flamengo is in 1st place, Inter is in 2nd.
Grêmio is in 7th--and have nothing to lose by losing their game.

Oh well, at least we won't see them in the Libertadores 2010.

Bienal nos Cais do Porto

A while back, I mentioned the massive art exhibition, the Bienal, which is now coming to a close.

Of the venues that took part in the Bienal, the first I visited, MARGS, didn't allow pictures. Que pena! The art there was really provocative.

I could snap some photos at the Cais do Porto, however. The cais are the warehouses along the riverfront in Centro that edge the shipping port. Though they don't look like much from the outside, they are pretty neat. Loads of cultural events, concerts, arts and craft fairs, and other happenings take place there. I even heard it was the setting for a rather decadent wedding reception recently, which isn't surprising because the vantage point it offers sunset spectators is fantastic.

A tree suspended from the ceiling with various headphones attached, each one playing different audio (music, newscasts in foreign languages, interviews). I decided that I like interactive art.

I also like larger-than-life Lite-Brites.

The 55th annual Feira do Livro also ended recently. I am proud to report that during the 2+ weeks of the event, I managed to stifle my book-buying compulsion and only made a single 2010 planner with daily Portuguese Grammar tips. How responsible of me!

Here's the stall for the Ministério da Educação. Zoom in on the picture and you'll see that the red Machado de Assis book is labeled "Venda Proibida"! Ha! Not for sale?!

Yes, apparently these books are on loan from Itú.

This concludes the November Art and Culture report from sunny Porto Alegre. I have a smidge over one week to try and get some color before I shock myself into alternate reality with a blast of Chicago air, so I have some work to do, poolside.

Loquinha Branquinha

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkey One!

Shelley is a very talented cook. In an eleventh hour decision, she decided to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving feast. If you have ever tried to satiate a comfort food craving in a foreign country, you will appreciate that (in)availability of certain basic ingredients poses a rather large obstacle. Making sauce bases and combining the right seasoning takes a creative edge. As if that weren't obstacle enough, she prepared a complete spread (from shopping to serving) after work on Thursday afternoon. (Yeah, I run with superheros now.)

Shelley dressed Turkey One* with a sausage and green pepper stuffing...

Assistants Allison and Kristin providing backup to Chef Shelley

...while the guests nibbled on the standard crudité and ranch dip. (Try making ranch in South America, I dare ya.)

We dined on green bean casserole with a cream-of-mushroom-soup base and those crunchy breaded onions on top; roasted garlic mashed potatoes; and handmade blackberry relish (the avant garde cranberry substitute)--with everything made from scratch.

It was amazing.

And of course the company was great too!

Thanks a million, Shelley and Rafael, for hosting us for a memorable Thanksgiving Day!


*This was a little inside joke that I'll do my best to relay concisely, but humorously. A few weeks ago, Lisa, Ivan and I were having dinner at a churrascaria, drinking caipirinhas of course. Somehow the conversation lead to me, agitatedly, recounting my audacity at Sarah Palin's was-that-your-friend-there-in-the-woodchipper turkey trauma from last year. I had to brief my Catalan and Aussie friends on the concept behind the customary Turkey Pardon. I explained that typically the President offers the gift of life to the presidential which point my friends erupted in laughter.
Lisa and Ivan, in contemptuous unison: "Presidential Turkey?"
Ivan: "What do they call it? 'Turkey One?'"
And we all rolled about the table with tears streaming down our faces.

Anyway, Shelley made a Turkey Two too. Both of them were perfect.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sampa III: in conclusion

Despite my current leaning that Sampa, for all its efforts, didn't win my residential heart, there are loads of things to love there. Among them:

The cool vibe in places like Estação de Luz, Praça de Luz, Praça Republica,
and Trianon; the magnetism of neighborhoods like Pinheiros and Bela Vista ("Bixiga"); the beauty of the historic Centro; the inimitable nightlife; the unparalleled variety of restaurants; the ginormous parks; the dozens of museums; the street fairs in Liberdade (Asian-town), art fairs like Benedito Calixo, and food markets like the Saturday happening in Vila Madalena; and every day offerings of Mercado Municipal. The list of treasures goes on and on. Far from my first impression, São Paulo is a city I adore now.

The sun casts rainbows on the pillars inside Catedral de Sé.

I ate the most delicious Lebanese food in Cerqueira César. As a bonus, I received this imported box of Chiclets.

I think there must be 10,000 cool neighborhood joints and hip clubs that I would like to explore in Sampa.

People that like to hoof it around unknown cities and take the time to see the details will appreciate Sampa for its (non-marketing) signage--like this one which politely asks graffiti artists to move along.

Wherever my next home is, I'm certain that São Paulo will be more accessible to it, and that I will enjoy many more weekends happily losing myself in the maze.


(Thank you Leo, Felipe, Sávio, Rachel, and everyone else at
Casa Club for just being that cool.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sampa III: playing with giants

From Insituto Butantã, I jumped on a bus that looked like it was heading in the direction of the hostel--figuring I'd hatch some sort of plan en route. After a few minutes on the bus, I asked the woman next to me if she knew where I could catch a bus to Itú.

As luck would have it, she said that the bus ended at Barra Funda, a massive intercity bus, metro, and local bus terminal. "Talvez," (my seatmate and new BFF) Rosangelina offered, seja um ônibus lá...

She was so helpful, so wonderful, sweet, and charitable... so best-of-"Brazilian." Roseangelina not only engaged me plenty of chatter to pass the commuting time, but also escorted me from our departure area to the intercity bus terminal, then on to an assortment of ticket counters of various bus operators, enquiring--with as much enthusiasm as if it were her own adventure--how and when I could get to my destination.

Com sorte, de novo (luckily, again), I found a trip and a ticket with just enough time to spare for a coffee. And just as buckets of rain began falling from the sky, I sat in dry comfort as the bus to
Itú pulled out. Why Itú, you ask?

Because I have a quirky affection for little things made big.

The rule of my affection is this: "it" (the regular object made big) has to be realistic. Allow me to provide some examples. This photo of some big fruits and veg (snapped at an art fair on Avenida Paulista, Sampa), are okay. 50% delightful. The realistic giant toothbrush outside your dentist's office--cool. 80%. The giant grill attached to the Weber Grill restaurant in Chicago--100 % delightful. The cartoonish butterflies and mushrooms on the façade of Rainforest Café, however--hate 'em.

Tangent: Here in Porto Alegre, I have several "locals"--which unlike their British counterparts (that is, pubs), are the coffee shops I frequent. A man at one of these locals told me about this little town that has some "giant" replications of everyday things. He said there was a giant orelhão. (You might recall the term.)

That was enough reason for me.

Two hours later I arrived in
Itú. I asked a taxi driver for directions to said scenic treat and hustled off, knowing I only had an hour and a half to find, delight, photograph, and get back to the bus station for my return trip at 7pm.

I came upon the main square of this charming colonial town easily enough. According to this sign, there were only 99 days to go until the 400th anniversary of
Itú. I have considered going back solely to learn how this quirky little town throws a party.

I found the giant traffic lights.

The cathedral reminded me of the one in Back to the Future...
except that the clock worked.

And the pièce de résistance, the great orelhão.

Just to provide perspective, here's the giant phone booth (left) and normal-sized cathedral (right, duh).

Incidentally, there was a pharmacy in Itú that had this logo of a boy getting a shot in the tush. The design was replicated in the sidewalk, over and over, along the entire block of the flagship store. Ha!

Feeling extremely satisfied, I returned to the bus terminal for my return to the megalopolis.

Unfortunately, this time, the 100km (62 mile) journey took 2.5 hours. We got stuck in an obscure traffic jam on the marginal (ring road) for an hour--at 10pm on a Monday--apparently that's normal. After arriving at Barra Funda I caught the wrong bus to the hostel, quickly realized the mistake, de-boarded in a shady area, and caught another bus in the right direction.

All I wanted, as I walked in the rain back toward Casa Club, was a stiff drink and a cheeseburger (they make the best I've had in my time here in South America, and I'd been saving the treat for my last night). Infelizmente, the kitchen was closed.
Fine. Give me a strong caipirinha then.

The 5-hour bus debacle foreshadowed the conclusion of my Sampa research: it's a wonderful city to visit, but I think the daily realities of living there would be unbearable for me. I felt very disappointed by this realization, while being thankful to have it on a reconnaissance mission as opposed to after an all-out move.

After a few days of disillusionment, I found a #2 city to visit on my next mission. More info on "City X" and my progress regarding Phase II of My Life In Havaianas in the coming months.


P.S. I found this little
orelhão (maybe orelhazinha?) near a metro station in Sampa, which gave me as much pleasure as the giant one. Pure happiness!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sampa III: things that go hiss in the night last full day to explore Sampa was a Monday. I headed to Universidade Federal de São Paulo and Instituto Butantã in the morning. I wanted to peruse the campus of the former because, as I have been considering a move to Sampa, I would enroll in Portuguese classes there if...

I wanted to visit the adjacent Butantan Institute sheerly to satiate my curiosity--it is "internationally renowned for its research on venomous animals."

I had a bit of a nightmare, though, getting from point A to point B...and to points C, D, and E, in the course of that day. (Normally, that is no trouble for me--even in cities I've never set foot--because I have a weird, natural, GPS-like mind and I tend to find my way around unfamiliar areas with ridiculous and envious ease.) I arrived at the university campus without hassle, sorted out what I needed to sort, and happily re-directed myself toward the poisonous things.

Because the sites are adjacent, I walked through the enormous USP campus expecting to land near the institute. I didn't factor in unscalable fencing. I didn't factor in footwear. I was wearing my Havaianas (flip flops, duh). They are oh-so-comfortable, but I don't choose them on power-walking missions.

I walked and walked along the fence that separated me from my lethal friends, foot soreness be damned.

Eventually I arrived at a guarded gate. A curious security guard advised me to take the campus shuttle back to the main entrance of USP, walk a few blocks here, then a few there, and I would find the entrance to Butantan. Awww man! Ok.

Eventually, I got there. It seemed really empty as I climbed the hill through the lush forest that surrounded the place. No matter, I figured. It's just (a little past) lunch time. Maybe everyone's still eating.

The first building I found in the larger-than-expected facility was very neat.

It fit with the stories I have heard of anti-venom breakthroughs in the early 20th century. In front of this building, there was an open-air exhibit of some of the research subjects--like rattlesnakes (cascavel, in Portuguese).

I learned from this sign that the word for "poisonous" is peçonhenta. Good to know.

I saw the creature, or the tail, at least. That's worth something.
I saw other deadly creatures. Neat.
Then I headed to the building to find the doors locked.
Perhaps there's another entrance?
Or, perhaps...

...they are CLOSED on Mondays.
PQP! (That's bad language.)

I enjoyed a little stroll though the gardens, where at least I felt like I was in a jungle.

So, it's after 2pm, and I didn't want to waste my last day. The only thing I had really hoped to see, and hadn't managed yet, was the orelhão in Itú--a town 100km outside Sampa. I hadn't brought the essentials (map, requisite bus station, iPod, etc.) with me, since I expected to save it for my next visit. At the same time (punny), it was too late to go back to the hostel to gather them. Actually, it was kinda too late to even consider a trip to another town, but
to my ears that just sounded like the makings of a perfect adventure story. "Ah, what the hell?" Right?

Next up: playing with giants...


Friday, November 13, 2009

Sampa III: Ibirapuera!

Finally! Marcelo, my Paulista-native Portuguese teacher in Chicago, told me to visit this mega-park on my first visit. Oops.

The park area is nearly two square kilometers (large!) and still isn't the city's largest. I'd consider it the most central, though, and it really is fantastic. There are several museums, restaurants, concert stages, a skating area, bike rental, food vendors galore, etc. etc. etc.

Wait a minute. What's that off in the distance? Is it a giant "climbing wall"?

In fact, I suspect it was workers building the scaffolding to, in turn, build a rather large Christmas tree. Surely, it looked like a massive liability to my USAmerican eyes!

The feet, or boots, of this Brazilian Air Force Memorial seemed abnormally large. I laughed. I took a picture.

As I approached the Museu de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Museum), I thought this arachnid was painted on the wall...

...but upon closer inspection...


Parque Ipirabuera is
truly a lovely retreat from the "concrete jungle" that is São Paulo. I spent the better part of a day there and still didn't cover every thing. If you visit the city, don't miss it!

Next up: things that go hiss in the night...


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sampa III: the Metrô

Sampa's Metrô is just cool.

It's clean, fast, efficient, and economical. Though Paris offers a strong contender, Sampa edges them out--I reckon--for top prize simply for its modernity.

And politeness...

"Going to wait for the next train? Then give way to those that wish to board."

There is minimal advertising in the stations, as the entire city went almost ad-free by law a couple years back. Instead the city opted for art and poetry...

Check this out! Vending machines for paperbacks--clever!

A bit meaty-concretey, but sleek and refreshing just the same.

(Rachel and I did the tourist-thing, posing for snapshots in this station in which three different lines intersect.)

(I think these guys in were taking photos for a CD cover or something. Whatever they were up to, it made for an entertaining ride.)

Despite the fantastic system, ever-growing Sampa is facing a massive public transit crisis nevertheless. There are 28 new Metrô stations under construction. That will help. The buses, well... the street traffic, in general, is another matter...stay tuned.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sampa III: back to Bom Retiro

(Red alert! I'm backtracking in order to cover last month's Sampa visit, and I am going to blitz you over the next few days.)

I have always loved take-off. I was doubly excited as I left Porto Alegre on a rainy day because rainy-day flying feels better. Once the plane gets above the clouds, I feel like I'm in some sort of heaven. It helps me to remember that happy blue skies still exist even when all I see is dreary gray.

While waiting for my tiny luggage at Garulhos airport, I was approached by a woman in her 60's who asked me if the baggage had appeared yet. As we were among the first people to deboard, I paused in confusion. I darted my eyes toward the empty carousel, the growing crowd of passengers, and back at the woman. "Umm, não, ainda não chegam." Tipped off by the plastic Gol cup and the emergency procedures card from the seatback pocket sticking out of her purse, I sussed out that she had probably never flown before. I entertained myself during the short wait by imagining what she was thinking about her experience at 35,000 feet. I hoped she had enjoyed the adjusted perspective on our sky as much as I had.

When I went to São Paulo in April, there were many places I had in mind to explore. However, because the evenings at Casa Club were so fun, I didn't get around to several of my To-Do list items by day. This time I was determined to balance the, um, socializing with my other errands and reconnaissance tasks. (Yes, I am in the process of looking for a suitable home for the next chapter in my Brazilian adventure.)

Even though shopping isn't one of my favored pastimes, I headed back to Rua José Paulino in the Bom Retiro neighborhood to look for some practical summer sandals and tops. There were slimmer pickings this time around, but I managed to score a few fashionable items at decent prices.

Better than the shopping, a few storefronts caught my attention.
"As Patricinhas de Bom Rills"?
(I imagine that "Bom Rills" is some sort of pun on Bom Retiro-meets-Beverly Hills.)

How shall I explain patricinhas to you? Chicagoans might understand a rough translation (minus the critical cultural nuance that hints at wealth, in a country that has a notoriously vast canyon between its haves and have-nots) via the pseudo-parallel slang, "Trixie". Looking closer at the mannequins' "thoughts," we have: "pouutz" (the equivalent, in this case, of a dimwitted whine); a question mark; a shoe; and a man's face. The Queen Heather, as it were, commands her entourage: "Girls, maintain the pose!"

Though I understand I'm probably unintentionally feeding into some sexism here, I have seen so many of these, ahem, characters in Porto Alegre that the storefront warranted my exasperated chortle.

This shop, a fitness store, was simply entertaining for its Lost-In-Translation-ness.

After shopping, I took a closer look at the area surrounding Estação da Luz...

...which includes the lovely art museum, Pinacoteca...

...and Praça da Luz. It was raining the previous time I went there, which meant the park was mostly vacant and appeared fairly dodgy even at midday. On this sunny Friday, though, it was an entirely different place. People were everywhere doing park-like things. I saw several military police taking the horses for a walk, and some Streets & Sanitation laborers trying to outperform one another with homemade free-weights.

On my way back to Casa Club I was treated to a lovely sunset from the hills of Vila Madalena.

Back at my comfortable hostel, I chatted with one of the owners, Sávio, as I settled into a nice caipirinha. Dabbling in sugary-lime goodness, I braced myself for the inevitable Friday Night Hijinks.

Next stop, the Metrô.