Monday, December 2, 2013

Open Party! I'm Tired For Sleeping.

The Portuguese seem to be afflicted with the same English language obsession that the Brazilians are. Though I had the sense that they, on the whole, more commonly spoke English than the Brazilians. Why, then, did I see all these nonsensical t-shirts?

No pictures, 'cuz that would have been rude. But imagine it: a white T with centered, big block lettering: 
You know I love fun signs.

"Open Party
Free Pass May & June
I'm tired for sleeping"



"Angel loves beauty"
This one had a roll of Warhol-esque sunglasses underneath.... you know, the kind that are black in front and neon colors on the sides, like the ones that they sell at gas stations? These, from the 80s. Peculiar. 


This this one, for example: a little tiny azulejo on the side of a courthouse for "suspended sentences." How delightfully discreet.

I'm curious about you too! People coming and going, everywhere, for myriad motives. 

(Welcome mat courtesy of a boutique hotel in central Lisbon.)

If you insist, who am I to refuse?

No coffee served, to my dismay. But the store is convenient... I'll give it that.

"Baby Up & Down with me?" Ermm, sounds scandalous. But, this sounds like a proposition Ivan wouldn't pass up. Why Not

[Many people adhere to the adage "What would Jesus do?"  To those, I mean no disrespect, but I'd rather live by the adage, "What would Ivan do?"]

Where to even begin? 

Consider hiring a proofreader before printing the wares.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fado: the naked darkness of a nation

The Portuguese have a tendency to be melancholic. It seems to be an inherited (and ages-old) condition, and the country does indeed have a long and complicated history. 
Winning and losing. 
And isn't it always the losses that stay with us?

Listen to this. Really. Do it. It's beautiful. Raw. Emotional. Powerful. At minute 3 it really grabs you. (If not, check your pulse.) 

This is Fado. It is suffering and longing and heartbreak, and the Portuguese have it in spades. Enough to have dominion of a musical genre by its name. The singer is Carminho, a modern day Portuguese heroine (in both senses). The song is "Escrevi teu nome no vento," or "I wrote your name in the wind."

Interestingly, Fado in Irish Gaelic means something along the lines of "Once upon a time..."

There is indeed a sensation of a Lost Fairy Tale, I felt, in charming Lisboa and the surrounding region. 

One evening, while dining, I watched some parliamentary proceedings on the television. The gist of it: "We got screwed. What should we have done? What can we do now?"

A succinct (though biased) explanation of a complex economic problem is that the Portuguese were told not to compete with Italy and Spain for exportation of olive oil, oranges, other agricultural goods. Whatever the root, Portugal has been reduced, it seems, to a tourism-based economy. What a juxtaposition for a nation that once held such global dominance... a nation of heros that "discovered" many of the nations we call ours today. 

But enough of the tears already. After 10 min out on a Friday night I wanted nothing less than to hear Fado.

And there was plenty of funny to be had.... (next post)


Saturday, November 30, 2013

The sea, outside

It was truly delightful to go to the sea today-- a sunny, mid-50s November 30th.

The round trip train to Cascais cost something like $6 round trip and took about 30 minutes each way. That's quite a fair price for a little diversion that offers some stunning coastal views along the way, not to mention a bit of fairy tale architecture.

Cascais and neighboring Estoril are very touristy. Even still I recommend a visit. I went for the ride, some fresh seafood, and a stroll along the sea in the sun. (Ask and you shall receive.) And I'd do it again.

I found a nice crafts market to browse, and supported local artists by picking up a few gifts.

Also found: the smallest church I've ever seen.

At O Poeta, I ordered the polvo (octopus). I ordered it in Foz up north, too. There, it had been served boiled, then chilled, sliced, and floating in a dish of olive oil and garlic, with pickled veggies for garnish. That was goooood. Today, however, I was a little taken aback when a whole octopus arrived, warm, atop a bed of boiled potatoes and spinach.

Hmmm. It wasn't bad. It was just, perhaps, a little to close to the "before," and I prefer my food to stay closer to "after." At least in terms of disfiguring, though not necessarily in regard to heating. (As I said, my relationship with seafood is complicated.) I ate half of it anyway, but that was plenty. I mean.... a whole octopus!

But as the light faded a bit it was time to head back and get ready for my morning flight.
Tomorrow, December 1, Chicago, 32 F--maybe!

Who cares? I am in love.

I strongly suspect I'll be back in Lisbon... maybe it's my next "Leap!"


The sea inside steals the show

Sleeping until lunch and then heading to a mini wine tasting at ViniPortugal: this is not a bad way to start the day.

Travel has changed so much since my first backpacking experience. Now we have global gadgets that remind us where to go, tell us how to get there, and tell us all the backstory we could hope to have--anywhere, instantly. Except, I don't have a global wi-fi package on my gadget and I forgot to sync my calendar before leaving the apartment. Therefore I don't have that sketch of the day and basics about the most efficient route to take between sights.

I shall have to rely on my wits--like the good ol' days.

This is nice. Really, it's good to go gadget-free sometimes.

The first non-alcohol-related stop was the Oceanário de Lisboa. The aquarium was on my "if I get to it" list. I'm glad I got to it! I paid the extra few Euros to see the temporary exhibit floor (featuring sea turtles), as well as the permanent (2) floors. What an impressive building and arrangement!

The view from the connecting corridor between exhibits when I arrived.

The view from the connecting corridor between exhibits when I left.

In the turtle exhibit, the highlight was the seating nook built into the tank... Imagine you are in a sleek sports car. Now imagine the path that the air follows, as you speed along: up over the hood, over the roof, down the back windshield, and off the trunk. So, this nook was the sports car and the aquarium bent around it like the air flow. There was a playful stingray just over my head for a long time, fish screamed by at top speed, and a giant sea turtle napped at my feet.

This would have been enough, for me, to justify the price of admission (approximately $20). But the turtles were just the beginning. (I almost wrote "just the appetizer" but that would be politically incorrect and in violation of my affinity for them.) Then you enter the permanent exhibit space from the third floor and you are standing in front of the main tank. It is very, very large. It holds your general assortment of sharks, stingrays, chimaeras, and bony fish. My favorite: the Ocean Sunfish.

Standing in front of this huge wall (of acrylic? tempered glass?), you have an opportunity to stand very close, which brings everything into proportion. The main aquarium provides two-story viewing from all four sides of the tank, in addition to peek-a-boo cutouts throughout the visitors' "journey." Adding to this spectacle are the four corners of the oceanarium, which feature tanks specific to various climates like tropical and Antarctic.

Just go there. Tri-legal. Super-bacana. Awesome.

And, at the end of the route, they present a "behind the scenes" video. First the audience is captivated by explanations of what, how, and how often the various species are fed. Then they discuss medical care--even showing a clip of a fish surgery: who knew?! Then they show the mega-operations behind running the facilities. (They import a crazy amount of sea salt from Israel and blend it with fresh water to manufacture ideal sea water!) Lastly, they discuss their research, education, and conservation initiatives.

Now that I work at a museum, I can appreciate the challenges museums are facing in staying relevant with advancing technology. The key is to engage the visitor, to bring them into the experience. At the Oceanário, man, they nailed it! But they also told me about the important things that I didn't get to see, and why I should care.

Oh, and the Oceanário is in the Parque das Nações complex. There is a great deal more to see. I also enjoyed the sculpture gardens and creative fountains on the grounds. A bonus for me: The Chimarrão Churrascaria just outside the oceanarium. And they served coração!

I head back across town to Bairro Alto for evening wine tasting at Solar dos Vinhos, but felt I was underdressed as I approached. Rather, I meandered the winding streets as they filled up for Friday night revelry. What I had read proved true: this neighborhood really does host all types at night. Older, younger, well-heeled or grungy, and everything in between. There are a handful of narrow pedestrian streets with little bars and restaurants of all sorts dotted along them. Occupancy caps out around 50 (like sardines), or 30 (for the less feverish places). Music pours out from open doors. It's like window shopping for the perfect vibe. If you like the vibe, you go in, sit if you can find a spot, order a drink, and relax. Maybe you order another, maybe you move on and repeat.

My vibe was A Tasca do Chico. Turns out it was Anthony Bourdain's vibe too--his picture is on the wall of fame, in good company--but I didn't know it when I walked in.

There was also an Internacional centenário scarf on the ceiling.

Who needs a global gadget to find a good vibe?

Almost lost that good vibe when I returned "home" to find the souvenirs shop--my front door--all shuttered up. I stood on the street in a moment of panic, near tears, until I remembered that the apartment owner has some loose affiliation with a hostel around the corner. It turns out that a guy there used to rent this apartment, so he told me the trick to getting in. Phew.

Then there was just the sea outside... Cascais...

Friday, November 29, 2013

Sem preservativos!

Now that I have your attention, Portuguese speakers... Fun with false cognates!

Actually, I wanted to mention how delightful wine is sem conservantes, without preservatives. English speakers: preservativos does not translate to preservatives, as we might guess. Rather, it means condoms. The title of this post, therefore, is "No condoms!"

I am sorry to disappoint you but that is as sexy as this post gets.

It's lovely to enjoy a nice glass of vinho tinto (or three--you know me by now) and not have any trace of the decision the following morning.

Yesterday I went to the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. I expected this to be a highlight of my visit to Lisbon, both for the wealth of positive reviews and because, in my mind, I had likened it to the Instituto Ricardo Brennand in Recife. (That link really loses something without the visual aids. Arg, I'll fix those broken photo links.)

Frankly, I was disappointed. Calouste Gulbenkian's life story interested me more than his collection.  His collection is impressive and it was very generous of him to bequeath so many objets d'art to the nation of Portugal. But sheerly in terms of awe--for vastness, diversity, display--Ricardo Brennand wins, no contest.

Given that my museum visit was shorter than expected, I popped in the the 8-story El Corte Inglés nearby. I'm not one who derives pleasure from shopping. This is a bit silly, but I once went to this department chain in Spain because I desperately needed new sandals during a trip. I was looking for the cheapest tide-me-over I could find. Sure enough, on the lower level I discovered a clearance section with a cute pair of black sandals in my size. As I recall, they may have cost $10. They ended up being the best pair of shoes I ever had. I was so disappointed to retire them.

So with positive memories of a shopping experience twelve years ago, in a different country... I figured I owed a visit to this store again.

I probably won't feel that way next time. I was looking at a little bag with a sweet quote in Portuguese and a little illustration when a saleswoman pounced. Uggg. She grabbed the bag from my hands, working feverishly to explain all of its benefits: "Look! It has four edges and one of them opens! There are handles! Here is a pocket--that's nice!" She really wanted me to converse with her about the bag. I just wanted her to leave me in peace to browse the alternatives. Eventually I did say, pseudo-curtly, "can I hold it?" I fought off the urge to rip it from her hands, roll my eyes, and storm off. I did buy the bag--but my fond memory of the store has been replaced with that of a haranguing nag.

By the way, this anecdote happened on Thanksgiving.
I am a non-contributing zero.
(Seriously, if you haven't seen comedian Louis CK's bit "Everything is amazing and nobody's happy,"  please Google it at once.)

Back to reality. Meandering back to Baixa, I passed the lovely Rossio Station. Nearby, Anthony Bourdain tells me, is A Ginjinha. Obviously I had to go there. As I watch the video linked herein, I realize that 5th-generation owner, José Paiva, served me my ginjinha, with 3 cherries.

I am totally going back there tomorrow.

My wander was quickly sobering though. I read that the very square that I was merrymaking in (in front of Igreja São Domingos) was home to the Lisbon Massacre (of 1,500+ Jews) in 1506, among other tragedies during the Inquisition some thirty years later. I read, too, that you can see where the interior columns split (eerily verified)--when the heavy stone roof and tops of the walls crashed in on the full church during All Saints Day mass in 1755. It was the same scenario all over the city, and there are a lot of churches. What wasn't destroyed by the quake was likely consumed by the fires that followed. I mentioned earlier that Lisbon lost 1/3 of its population in those events. Stunning.

And that leaves me with today... which I'll get to tomorrow!

Boa noite!

[Sept 2014 Addendum: I loved ginjinha so much that I ended up making a batch at Christmas. It was delicious and made a nice gift. I fell so in love with Lisbon that I decided to adopt the pen name Jenjinha.]

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Because Bourdain

In addition to the quirky entrance of my apartment, during breakfast I noticed a lovely old wooden picture frame on the wall near the corner of the living room. It's empty. Hmm-k.

I headed to the Belém neighborhood this morning with two objectives:

Mission 1) Visit Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (a monastery from the mid-1400s)

Not only was I impressed by the architecture of the monastery's church, but also by the fact that it is older than my country. While I've stood in older places, something about the magnitude of Portuguese innovation and achievement gripped me. In this same place, now-famous explorers paused to pray before boarding caravels to hopefully see shores of yet-unknown lands. Phenomenal, when you think about it.

Mission 2) Eat a pastel de nata at Pastéis de Belém. Both of these are worthwhile pursuits.

Speaking of phenomenal, I didn't expect to be blown away by the pastel... I'm just not that into custard. Mas bah Tchê! Incredible! Right up there with the Ruszwurm Kreme in Budapest. Neither should be missed if you find yourself within a continent or two.

For the next culinary delight, I followed Anthony Bourdain's lead and found my way to Cervejaria Ramiro.

You know I'm quite particular when it comes to seafood. I eat sushi and things that come in certain shells. No shrimp, and nothing with scales that has been cooked. But when the catch is this fresh and this hyped, one must allow for a little adventure. I started with baby clams in garlic and olive oil broth. (Olive oil, here, is otherworldly.) Then, a lagostina (crayfish), boiled and plain--it didn't need the mayonnaise they served alongside.

Then--and here's where I started to just go with it--I ate some percebes, or goose barnacles.

Once sucked from the shell, these chewy cylinders taste like the sea itself. And finally, since this was all going so swimmingly [snare! cymbal crash!], I ordered just a few of the white prawns on the advice of the waiter. Self-imposed rules be damned. I was extremely novice at extracting the flesh, but I ate them, brains and all.  I finished my wine with "dessert": prego (a small steak pounded thin with fresh garlic, smooshed inside a soft roll, and squirted with the cheap mustard). Really. Go there.

I walked it all off roaming the zig-zag streets of Alfama.

Why isn't everyone coming to Lisbon?


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oh, Lisboa!

Three hours after being whisked from Porto, my train arrived in Santa Apolónia station. A short taxi ride later and I found my temporary apartment in Baixa. Well, after a few puzzling moments on the pedestrian Rua de São Nicolau, looking for number 42.

Exit through the gift shop.
And enter.

Literally. Walk into the tiny souvenir shop. Hidden beneath the various futebol jerseys is a narrow doorway that leads to a dimly lit staircase.

The proprietor of said souvenir shop, who speaks little English and even less Portuguese, directs me up two flights, where "she" is waiting.

Perhaps it's residual skepticism from my time in Brazil but this feels super-dodgy.

Ever curious, I climb... breathing a hesitant "uh, hello?" every few steps, until I hear Felipa respond, "Yes! I am here waiting for you!"

From the foyer chandelier, the apartment exceeds every expectation. Huge rooms (and more of them than i thought--it has two additional twin sleeping quarters aside from the master bedroom), twelve foot ceilings, seven gigantic windows that offer amazing light and views, lovely 5-inch plank flooring, decorative molding and ceiling detail throughout, but completely modernized in appliances and furnishings.

I want it.

As I gushed about how neat the apartment--indeed the whole neighborhood--was, Felipa explained the different look and feel to Baixa, compared to the other neighborhoods in Lisbon. "Baixa" means "low" and the area sits flat and low, adjacent to the river, with pedestrian streets laid out in a grid system. The surrounding hills contrast with winding, narrow streets and tiny staircases curling almost randomly throughout. Baixa was completely leveled by the 1755 earthquake (which reportedly also claimed the lives of one-third of the city's inhabitants). Reconstructed, cleverly, by the first Marquês de Pombal, the "new" architecture is known as Pombaline.

Baixa is almost exclusively tourists by night. It's expensive for Lisboetas to live here, and many prefer the modern conveniences afforded by newer construction on the outskirts of Lisbon to a costly retrofit of an (albeit charming) 18th century building. Despite being the heart of the tourist district, I'm glad I'm staying here--as much for the apartment itself as for the absolute convenience of transit and location, making everything easily accessible. Plus, unlike tourist areas in some cities around the world, it's quite safe, even at night. The biggest threat seems to be pickpockets, and they'd only get my map and some Carmex.

After depositing my luggage I was off for a quick loop around the neighborhood. At Praça do Comércio I almost lost it. Lisboa is beautiful.

It was after 4pm, so taking advantage of the little remaining daylight I boarded the famed elétrico 28.

Normally, I would happily while away all of my days in a new place with aimless wandering... seeing what there is to see. But suddenly I knew this was serious. I needed a plan to maximize the coming days.

I de-stressed with a hot soak in a big tub.

I bought red wine, port, brie, salami, bread and chocolates and installed myself at the dining room table with an unread guidebook, my iPad, a map and a pen. Anthony Bourdain helped.

What more could a girl want?

Monday, November 25, 2013

3 days in Porto

Boa noite, from the Gallery Hostel, Porto! Kudos to this place--it's among the absolute best.

High ceilings with those lovely, tall French doors and curlycue transom windows. Rich, wide-plank wood flooring, thick granite walls, iron railings and azulejos leading to the winter garden, a bar, library, and a media room: charm and social space combine to make hanging out as enticing as going out. The entire place is impeccably clean--I didn't even wear my shower-havaianas! The staff is fantastic and so is their cooking.

[Two interjections: a) the men can seriously cook, which I adore. b) I ate Bacalhau Generoso (codfish casserole) and liked it. Impressive, since I don't really like any cooked fish!]

They take turns preparing meals for whoever is game to join in: 10 euro covers the meal and wine, the fun conversation is free. It is well-located in the art district, within walking distance to everything in the old city center. In fact, Gallery's Paula gave Roberto, Marianna and I our bearings with a 90 minute walking tour on Saturday morning.


Yes, that Marianna and Roberto. I last saw them in Dublin in January 2012. They live in London now and are always off on envy-inducing adventures. (Just two weeks ago they each completed their first marathon--in Athens, 'cuz that's how they roll.) So when I said I was heading to Portugal, they bought tickets to come meet me for the weekend. So cool.

I adore hanging out with them. We strolled around, sharing occasional awe and frequent chuckles. Honestly there are few people I would travel with--but the three of us had great synergy (as ever). We ambled over to the teleférico in Gaia (Porto's rival across the river [which makes me laugh]), swooped down to the riverfront and found Paula's recommended lunch spot, São Gonçalo, for a francesinha. Obrigada pela indicação, Paula!

We headed to Ferreira Cellars for a tour and crash course in Port, followed by a tasting.

Livraria Lello & Irmão (the inspiration for Hogwart's staircase) was interesting...ish. Well, it is quite a nice staircase. As a bookstore, it's got nothin' on Livraria Cultura.

And for once, and only once, Roberto and Mari could witness me cheering for Blue, while we watched FC Porto take on Nacional in Estádio do Dragão. (You may recall from that one Pancake Birthday that our friendship is in spite of our opposing passions: I'm Inter red, they're Grêmio blue.) It was chilly and the play was kinda uninspired--but we were sharing a game together again nevertheless.

Afterward we had our second francesinhas of the day--not, actually, advisable since they are quite rich! Back at the hostel we stayed up until almost-sunrise, catching up.

The floors in the rooms are really creaky, so I was that girl (the last to come home who wakes everyone up), despite my best attempts to sssshhhh.

On Sunday we just wandered. I ate a rat. (Relax. It was chocolate.)

Soon we agreed that the best course of action was to drink beer in the warm sunshine at a riverside café next to Ponte Dom Luís, until they caught the metro to the airport. We have this travel-life down to a science.

And then there was one. And Australian Clair, and French-Canadian Etienne, and a gaggle of Dutch guys and our new Portuguese friends.

Other Porto highlights:

What Livraria Lello was not,  A Vida Portuguesa was. Great art nouveau building. Gorgeous inside and out. Well worth a peek.

Interestingly, so was the McDonald's on Avenida dos Aliados.

The São Bento train station was reportedly ranks loveliest by Travel & Leisure magazine. It's certainly worth the visit.

Today was sunny and warm. I went to the seaside neighborhood Foz, to get some ocean air and grilled octopus. Both delightful.

[Sept 2014 Addendum: Exactly 6 weeks after these photos were snapped, this made international news. Nutty!]

Tomorrow: Lisboa (Lisbon).

Até mais,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yoo-hoo... Psiu!

It's time to dust off the blog y'all.

Let's back up a bit. August 2011 to August 2012: ouch. Rough year.

There were a few positive highlights though:

One. My apartment, which I moved into in January 2012 (many thanks to my friend and landlord, Rick), is spectacular. It's in a hip location in the South Loop, on a high floor, with enough sunlight that plants actually grow--in spite of me. I have coveted Lake Michigan views to the East and some nice cityscape views to the South.

Two. I had enough foresight to realize that a good project to distract me with something positive would go along way in providing a touchstone of sanity while I dealt with re-entry shock. I started a masters program as soon as I returned to the states. Excellent move. I will finish my tailor-made program with a final project to take place in Brazil in March 2014.

Three. I ran into Yemi at Macy's. When she called out to me, I didn't know who she was. It turns out, she had worked at the shop across the street from my old apartment – prior to my move to Brazil. She remembered when I told her that I was preparing to "leap" - expecting the net. She said that I inspired her. She told me that she shared my story with many people in the five years between our meetings. I was stunned and grateful.

Of course, I cannot neglect to mention the friends and family who helped me get through it. You know who you are.

August 2012 to August 2013

There's an old line: "What is for you won't pass you by." There were plenty of times that line made me feel sad. These days it feels spot on. In August 2012 the tides turned in my favor once again. I landed a job I really wanted. Every day I feel grateful to work at one of Chicago's most iconic museums. I do feel that, for the foreseeable future at least, I have arrived at exactly where I am meant to be.

So two years have passed since my last post from Brazil. Tonight, I'm at the airport in Newark, New Jersey, sipping a lovely wine while I await my flight. I'll wake up in Lisbon, make a dash for Porto, and do what I love. Explore. Meet. Adapt. Mark. Transform.

(Don't ask me about the blog photos. I had a Picasa-debacle and I'm still sore about it. I suppose I'll fix it, someday.)

See you across the Atlantic.
Jenny, always in Havaianas