Monday, May 31, 2010

Top 5

Of thousands of travel memories accumulated (mostly exciting, refreshing, and stimulating; some challenging; and a few, regretful, even), I was reflecting on those I would list in my Top 5 to present. Chronologically, they are:

  • The surreal New Years Eve after-party that I attended in a vintage, second story, unfurnished, lofty loft in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter--with cousins Leslie and Becky, haze, strangers, Morcheeba, giant neon nightclub signs, and a heavily embellished wrought iron fire escape.
  • Imagining myself in the 1940s as I sipped a dark and rich espresso and tried to delicately fork-fill my mouth with that heavenly Ruszwurm Kreme, also with cousin Leslie, on my first trip to Budapest.
  • Lounging for hours in chaises at The Louvre gardens with Trish, lazily noshing on warm baguettes with pâté and green apple slices, washed down with burgundy. We didn't give a toss about Mona Lisa--the sun and flower-scented breeze were all that mattered on Earth.
  • After being accosted/surprised by my Dad and Kris on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, having a perfect italian feast and a chilly stroll along Christmas-adorned cobblestone streets.
  • Starry night swimming in Punta del Diablo: crashing surf, new friends, a happy buzz, and a limitless sense of freedom.
While I'm traveling (again), let me raise a glass to List Expansion, tim tim!

Saturday, May 29, 2010


There was a lovely full moon setting at dawn when I boarded the plane in Porto Alegre.

I was pleasantly surprised by dramatic Recife skyline as we descended: the turquoise and marine Atlantic Ocean stretching out beyond created a postcard-quality snapshot. I took a later bus than expected to Maceió (mah-say-OH) due to... complications... but actually the delay turned into an advantage. Just as we departed Recife, headed south along the coast for the next four hours, the full moon was rising like a giant gold coin behind a cloudscape which perfectly played with its light, as did the silvery sea. What a treat! I couldn't help but stare at the moon the entire journey, happily accompanied by my iPod. And the little villages that peppered the route reminded me that I was (finally) in the Nordeste, but I found them more attractive and inviting than I had imagined.

Maceió has a population of about 800,000. There are a few highrise hotels and apartment buildings sprinkled along the seafront, but otherwise it feels like a suburb. What it lacks in cosmopolitanism, it makes up for in homeyness.

My first half hour in town was frustrating. I got in a taxi at the bus terminal and gave the driver the hostel address. He didn't (read: wouldn't) understand me. I gave him the paper. He didn't know the place. I told him the name of the bairro and general whereabouts. No dice. Como? The hostel is in a rather central location, among quite a cluster of hotels, two blocks from the beach, and in what is likely the second nicest neighborhood in town. But, umm, ok... "Well, how about with this map then, tchê?" and handed him a color-printed, X-marks-the-spot style aide. He took a quick look and shoved it back at me. He then held a conference outside the car with two other drivers, during which I tried repeatedly to offer the map and (informed) insight. None of them would look, none of them knew where it was, and all three old farts where really dismissive toward me. So when the driver drove me in circles for 20 minutes, refusing to call the hostel... arg!! When we eventually arrived (and the map was proven not only crystal clear, but completely accurate), I scolded him, shorted him a buck on the payment (which I have never done and, still, was generous of me), and stormed off.

Taxi drivers everywhere please note: I hold you responsible for knowing your territory well.
And in this particular case, in hardly-a-city, with a foreigner who can find it faster than a local, come on cara! [End rant.]

My subsequent experiences have been tranquilo e legal (relaxed and cool). There is a really sweet cleaner here at the hostel, Sylvana, who has been more informative than the desk staff. She gave me the lowdown on the jangadas this morning.

("Aqui tem Milagre!" risos)

A jangada (shan-GAH-dah, more or less) is a small, flat-ish, homemade sailboat. There are dozens of them on the beach and, for R$20 (US$12), they take you to the piscina natural about 2 kilometers offshore.

De lá...

Pra cá...

The water in the "natural pool" is very shallow. You can buy a beer, a popsicle, some peanuts, or some fish food from guys that wander the water with styrofoam coolers... a snorkel and float around the coral reef, watching the fish watch you...

...or just clownfish around!

My jangada-mates were a Paulista couple, Fernanda and Junior. We got along famously: more on them in the next post.

The sun has totally worn me out. I'm tucking in early with a book!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Please enjoy the music while your party is reached.

We're sorry. Your call cannot be completed at this time.
Your party (-of-one, -in-a-can) is on her way to the ridiculously-tropical Northeast, which has for too long eluded her.

Specifically, to Maceió and Recife. Wheeee!

While I'm flying, please enjoy these other pictures I've been waiting to include...

My corn dog love is equaled by this billboard. After spotting it (camera-less) in Chicago last January, I specifically took a taxi out of my way just to photograph it. The driver either thought I was crazy or adorable - accurate in either assumption, I feel.

A political leaflet I received in the mail slot for... Jesus? Or Willie Nelson? You be the judge.

Stop! Or, not. As a sidebar, Porto Alegrense drivers are some of the most, ermm, ambitious I've ever seen. That's my comment--on a polite-feeling day.

In several countries, I've seen avisos on the back of cigarette packs, harshly warning of the potential for adverse effects of consumption. This one, though, is the best.

This picture was taken from a parking spot in an underground garage. As you can see there is a wall to the left. Huh?

Now, lest you have forgotten, I'm out of the service area.

Batida, anyone?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Three fun guys!

Every Tuesday I meet with these jokers; Marcelo, Tatiano (with the devils' own laugh), and Juliano. Twice a week, these clients teach me more than I likely teach them--about futebol, food, and fresh perspectives on the world. They are but three of dozens of clients that I am fortunate to work with.

There is no natural segue to the next inclusion.

Daily, my mailbox is filled with flyers: pizza joints, handymen, dentists, yoga teachers, movers--all part of the regular fair. This one just tickled me, even though I have no need for such formal private investigative services at the moment. (Stolen pets? Counter espionage? Really?!)

That's it for Tuesday.

"Winter" is rolling in, so I'm rolling out for a bit. Summer: 2 work days and 4 flight hours away.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Zero for Conduct

"Zero de Conduta" is a relaxed nightspot we recently discovered with a great name. It's also the setting for Act One of last nights' hijinks. I met up with Rudy & Roxanne, Kristin & Thiago, and Ivan around seven for dinner and drinks on the charming garden patio.

It was a really nice evening. We enjoyed ourselves, as per usual. Around midnight or one, Ivan and I opted to hang around for "one more." Act Two. The crowd was thinning and we were involved in some conversation that waxed between relationship theories and Steven Seagal, as per usual.

Then we were joined by Danilo and Fernando, two friends with a penchant for cooking that recently opened the nightspot... and the night started to get incomum.


Act Three, Act Four - but don't act your age. Next thing I knew, the sun was rising and we decided on omelets at Alfredo. At roughly 7:30, we were zipping around side streets near the airport, en route to restaurant supplier, Kasa de Kejos (The Cheese House), for a wheel of parmesan and a lot of butter. The kind staff, who surely realized this was a night that had bled into morning, indulged my documentation of it and even gave me a little tour of the cheese cooler and some samples! This was a delightful first, for eight o'clock on a Saturday morning.

Fernando, O Homem do Kejo, and Danilo

When this conversation took place, something about directions for futebol, I thought "futebol" was code for some other restaurant-related errand we were on.


But, no. They actually meant "futebol."

As in, "let's go watch some indoor games and have a few more beers!"
The guys delivered me safely home at eleven. Ha.

Thank you Danilo and Fernando for that delightfully strange...morning!

Cada vez mais,

Thursday, May 20, 2010

File Under:

Concepts that just don't work in Brazil.

One per customer, please.

Drive-thru banking.

Supermarket self-checkout.

On the other hand, these sights would, justly, never be found in Brazil.

Death by ice javelin.
(Um, also, "Caution: Huge Sign in Middle of Icy Sidewalk")

Coconuts for lazy people, apparently.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

No hoax

I swear I didn't doctor this orange.

It had a birthmark, if you will, in the shape of Brazil.
I know, the people at the cafe were impressed by my keen eye too.

I have some other oddities I've been collecting.

Here's a couple pictures of the praying mantis that freaked me out a few months ago. Yes, it is like 3 1/2 inches long! I'd never seen, let alone shared an apartment with, one before. I didn't kill it, I merely evicted it.

A police report and an Easter Egg.

Photographed together not because I have a penchant for the non sequitur, but because they are two "firsts" that came in the same week. (Pictured with the pedometer that the ladrões had no interest in.) I went back to visit Gomez at Polícia Civil and his underlings completed this detail-rich, dot-matrix-printed sleuthing masterpiece. Gomez was slick as ever, though, and happy to receive my visit.

String Cheese! (Almost.) Clearly you wouldn't know that I have a fondness for string cheese. I've missed it. I recently found this slightly soft, but passable, facsimile.

Yeah. Slow news day.

Speaking of news, I was quoted in the reputable daily, Zero Hora, recently. It's a short quote, in Portuguese, and buried in the video graphic section; still, much better than my debut in the city's tabloid, Diário Gaúcho!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coming and Going

Recently, I said boa viagem to some special friends.

Jessica and Rafael left for their new adventure: creating a life in Australia. Moreover, Ivan and I are adapting to life without the our oft-featured cohorts, Shelley and Rafael.

They have taken up in Rio for the time being, until their respective graduate studies move their adventure forward once again in the fall. I've communicated to them that I (but not my liver) will miss them dearly. Ivan chased them out of town by creating a special celebratory concoction of vodka, zucchini, salt, and pepper: a ZucchiniTini!

As Ivan says, "If you're going to cross the line, you've got to cross it properly."
I think, as a foursome, we've managed that. Repeatedly.

The Pink Ladies: Laura, Patricia, Fifi, Shelley, and I, make a pink champagne toast to wish Shelley & Rafa the best.

Porto Alegre is burgeoning with newcomers, though. Our once-little Facebook group now has over 500 members, and the number of foreigners I encounter on the street has seemingly increased ten-fold. Some recent additions to the circle are Roxanne and Rudy.

Ivan, Kristin, Thiago, Rudy, and Roxanne

Roxanne found me much like Tanya had. She emailed me some questions about Porto Alegre last year, as her husband was contemplating an assignment here. We all met in person back in February and they've been a fun addition to the mix ever since. We have gone out for pub nights, patio parties, and a boat ride; last week they treated me to a phenomenal sushi feast! Roxanne (who has come and gone and come, again, to visit Rudy) has also welcome me into their apartment hotel to enjoy some homemade lunches. In the summertime it was a (much-missed) d-e-l-u-x-e salad! Now that the weather has turned decidedly fallish--yum chilli, yum chicken noodle soup for my soul! I've decided to change my new friends' name to Rocksanne.

Other newcomers to my social circle are Gina & Craig, Dennis, Maureen, Pau, Rodrigo, Chris & Patricia, James, and Mauro. Surely there will be stories featuring hijinks with each in the coming weeks and months.

And just because it's been a while, here's a nice March photo of the sun...going.


Sunday, May 2, 2010


I really really like to find unusual treasures when I travel. Some of my favorites were the Marzipan Museum in Szentendre, Hungary, and the now-defunct Microworld gallery in London's Covent Garden. I'm still itching to get to Mini Mundo in nearby Gramado.

So when I discovered Museu Giramundo in my Beagá guidebook, well, there was a wave of giddy.

Giramundo is an organization that has, for 37 years, been creating spectacular puppet theatre around the world, for adults and children alike. The museum is a part of their production facility and houses the retired marionettes. For R$3 (US$1.50) I was given a personal tour... and it was spectacular!

The star of Giramundo's first production of A Bela Adormecida (Sleeping Beauty), from 1971.

There were numerous aging stars in the museum, each one more interesting than the previous. I wish I'd had the chance to see the adult-themed As Relações Naturais:

"With original text of the controversial gaúcho writer Qorpo Santo (1829-1883), the show presents a fierce critique of the family, turning a home into a brothel, where evil and incestuous relationships reign. Giramundo's cast creates a parallel between the surreal and moral imperfection and physical deformation of the characters."

Below is President Lula and company from Giragerais, a play which commented on the weighty themes of food supply, STDs, the environment, accidents in the workplace, citizenship, and the valuation of cultural identity. Pesado, mano!

If those aren't your puppet theatre style, you could check out Pinocchio, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or The Magic Flute, perhaps. Personally, I wanted to see them all.

You know what else makes me happy?


Um grande sorriso,

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Beaga: The exit and the outtakes

On Tuesday evening, having decided to abort the Beagá mission, I decided to test my luck in the coastal city of Vitória. Soon after boarding the overnight bus, my hopes of a smooth transition to Plan B melted into a sleepless and white-knuckle journey. At 1:30 am, stopped at a rest area, I was already demanding a refund for the scheduled Saturday night return. No way was I tempting fate twice. (Refund status of bus ticket still pending, sigh.)

Arriving at said destination at 5:30 am on a holiday meant, as anticipated, the city was shuttered and would, in large part, remain so for the day. Contrary to anticipation, though, I was exhausted and irritable from the ride. I jumped in a taxi and tried to get to a reasonably priced hotel, in accordance with my reasoning that I would scrap this day: rest up, relax, and walk around--scouring the city for treasures the following (non holi)day.

The first hotel wanted to charge me a full extra day for an early check in (instead of the more customary half-day, or savvier marketing strategy of simply the normal day rate), which I refused on principal. The second hotel quoted the taxi driver, whose meter was whizzing ever-skyward, a price he figured we could easily beat.

On our way to the third hotel he mentioned, by way of giving me my bearings, that the airport was 2km that way. Tired, frustrated, and longing for my simple Porto Alegre studio, I blurted out, pleadingly, "Pode me levar ao aeroporto, por favor?"

When he responded "não" followed by a long explanation of Vitória's taxi bylaws, I just about lost it. At the third hotel, the edge was closer still. I looked at the desk clerk of this crappy, remote, overpriced hotel, then at the driver, and firmly said: "Olha. Favor, liga outra taxi pra mim. Quero ir ao aeroporto!" Then, as if there had been some confusion in his previous story, the driver interjected that he could take me to the airport. Utterly exasperated by the last 48 hours, ten minutes later I was pricing out one-way, last-minute, national-holiday airfares to POA.

To the people in this photo: Shame on you!

(Long story, but suffice it to say, not one of them had honorable conscience when it came to the "first come, first serve" part.)

Costly success. A mere eight hours later I boarded the first (of two) planes home. The nearly indistinguishable separation of sky and ocean counted for something.

On a lighter note...

Given my unique journey, I decided that this should be my commemorative bottle of real, Minas Gerais cachaça.

On the topic of spirits...

Warning: This avenue has a strong bias.

My feet aren't feeling so authentic these days. Yours?

I don't have a lot of faith in whatever agency is handling these repairs.

It was difficult to capture the expression of this boy-aquin, but I think he's trying to say, "What, me worry?"

Right on, Alfred!

Ouro Preto

Most of Brazil's cultural attractions are closed on Mondays--fair enough, since they stay open on weekends--so I wasn't sure how to spend the Monday in Beagá. (I had already spent Sunday afternoon at the mall watching a movie--an outing which illustrates my lack of connection with the city.) Someone at the hostel told me, though, that it would be a good day to explore Ouro Preto because there are a good many churches to peruse, and God's always open, right?

So English lad, George, and I ventured out early. The two-hour bus ride through the mountains was agreeable. It was just the right amount of time to steep yourself in thought while watching the lovely scenery blur by.

We asked for a map at the bus station when we arrived. A kind man provided them, along with the tidbit that all but three of the town's dozens of attractions were closed...

...including the churches. D'oh!

George and I made the best of it. We stopped for some typical mineiro cuisine at a restaurant with a lovely view.

We visited Museu Casa dos Contos, a neat museum showing the progression of currency from the 18th century to present. We walked circles, at 45º angles, around the village--which was pleasant enough on a sunny day.

The famous and impressive Museu da Inconfidência was, unfortunately, not only closed but also being adorned in staging and scaffolding for the upcoming Tiradentes holiday commemoration.

Better luck next time, huh?

The reverse bus ride was stunning at sunset. All in all, the excursion was more entertaining than what Tuesday evening had in store. To be continued...