Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Haunted Turtle Tour!

Another fabulous day in Praia do Forte. Today, we woke up, went to the little bamboo hut-esque gym in the pousada for a mini workout, showered, ate a decadent breakfast, then slapped on the ol' bikinis and went outside for a HOT bikini photo shoot. Yup, Emily and I posed shamelessly among the plants, under the outdoor shower, in the pool, with the blow-up whale floaty toy, on the deck chairs -- all under the semi-stunned gaze of the cabana boy. I now have a much fuller appreciation for what Tyra was talking about all that time on America's Next Top Model -- it ain't easy to be fierce.

We sat outside for a while, drinking diet cokes and chatting, then went inside when it started to sprinkle rain. Emily watched Mystic River and I fell asleep on our hammock -- how often do I get to say THAT -- and then as dusk was setting in, we got up and went to the Projeto Tamar tortoise reserve at the edge of the vila. It said in my guidebook that the reserve closed at 7 pm, and when we rocked up around 6, it was dark and the place looked deserted. No one stopped us from going in, and when we entered, we found that besides a couple of workers who were cleaning up, we had the entire turtle park to ourselves. The tanks and pools were cast in sort of an eerie green light, and once in a while something would splash out of the water unexpectedly, so the whole thing had a very Abandoned Amusement/Water Park vibe. The scariest thing ever was when we were standing by a pool that appeared to be empty and a creepy manta ray appeared out of nowhere and started flapping itself against the side of the pool as it swam by. Other creepy/wonderful sights included giant tortoises floating at the bottom of pools, oooooh.

After a little wandering in the haunted turtle park, we left and did some shopping. Emily bought a few more Brazilian bikinis -- adorable -- and I broke down and got another one as well -- red with white polka dots -- and some white bermuda shorts. I figured, if I come back to the US from Brazil without at least 2 bikinis, I have truly failed.

Shopping led to a very weird dinner at an Italian place where the owner spoke limited Portuguese, limited English, but was fluent in the language of sweeping hand gestures. One of the many odd things about dinner was that we ordered 2 diet cokes, and the waitress told us they had run out and only had Guaraná left. Then, about 10 minutes later, we saw her sneakily carrying a tray with a diet coke on it over to another table. Liars!!!

Now we are settling in for a nice night of HBO 2. Tomorrow we check out and head back to Salvador, where we're planning on staying at the Hotel Cocoon, Brazil's first spaceship hotel! http://www.hotel-cocoon.com More tomorrow, I hope.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Machete and Princesa

What a wacky day! Em and I checked out of the GHB (no relation to the date rape drug!) and took a cab with a lovely little driver to Praia do Forte, 85 km from Salvador. It was raining in the morning so all the mud roads were full of brown puddles. We checked into our beautiful pousada, O Refugio da Vila (http://www.refugiodavila.com.br/). After some M&M eating and unpacking, we made a date for horseback riding on the beach.

Our horse guide showed up with two semi-beat looking horses, who eyed Emily and I suspiciously, like, "oh no you are NOT getting up on my back." Much to her chagrin, I ended up on Princesa, who tried several times to bite me (lovingly, I think), and Emily got Machete, who seemed to have a gaping wound on the back of his/her hoof. But they were good horses, all things considered. We took off at a brisk trot down some residential streets till we got to the beach, where the horses gave up all pretense of trotting and started trudging, slooooooowly, through the sand. The weather was beautiful at this point in the day, and we got lovely views of the pleasantly bombed-out beaches. They were strewn with coconuts and palm fronds and the occasional empty bottle of cachaça, which gave the whole scene a "Pirates Were Here" kind of look.

We turned around when we got to a big hotel in the middle of nowhere, and the horses suddenly took off running, probably trying to find the quickest possible way to get home and get us off of their backs. Emily and I tried to hold on as we bounced crazily along, and we both started laughing hysterically, like ab-workout type of laughing. Our guide, bless him, probably thought we were nuts, which, let's face it, we sort of are.

Once back at the beautiful Refugio, we got into our bikinis and hit the pool, which has hydromassage jets and kiddie toys to play with! We splashed around till it got cold, then went inside, took turns sitting in our hammock, then went to dinner in the villa. The villa, by the way, is adorable -- cutesy little outdoor bars and restaurants and lots of little boutiques selling purses, semi-precious stone jewelry, Brazil paraphenalia, and so on. The highlights of the evening were as follows:
  • Visiting the Tutti Frutti self-serve ice cream buffet with 60 flavors and almost as many toppings -- ummmm, WHY does this type of thing not exist in the US? We have enough obese people to make it a reality! Oh man, SO good....
  • Emily's purchasing a purse made out of coconut shells
  • Not getting bitten by the many dogs wandering the streets
  • Eating fried manioc with cheese melted on top at dinner
  • Watching little kids play with rocks -- literally, the game was throwing rocks at each other -- in the plaza while their dads played dominoes nearby
  • Coming back and sitting outside on wooden lounge chairs and watching the heat lightning

I love this place and don't want to leave! Tomorrow's agenda: going to visit the baby tortoises at the hatchery!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Movin' on up

After two nights in the first hotel room in Pituba -- and its awful toilet seat that touches your back when you sit on the toilet -- Emily and I decided to relocate this morning to a much nicer hotel in Barra, the same area where I stayed for Carnaval (*shudder*). Today when we walked by the hotel that I stayed in with D, I avoided eye contact with the employees who were standing in the doorway -- both of whom I recognized -- for fear that they would see me and label me a traitor. Sorry, but that place holds too many spooky memories for me to stay there again. Bluh!

Anyway this place, the Hotel Grande da Barra, is great. It has that foreign hotel lobby smell, like leather suitcases and sunscreen. Em and I have an ocean view and cable TV and powerful air conditioning and a safe. The ocean view is the best, because we can stand on our little balcony and watch people play soccer -- in Speedos -- on the beach. That never gets velho.

Today, we woke up early, ate breakfast, checked out of the craphole hotel, relocated to Barra, then visited the workout room at our new hotel. We took turns running on the treadmill and pedaling slowly on the bike (it was like pedaling through lava), before the attendant lady said she was going to lunch and we had to leave. Okay, then.

After the failed workout, we strapped on our bikinis and went down to the pool, where I sweated like a maniac and Em remained -- wisely -- under the shade of an umbrella. We read trashy gossip magazines, commented on how creepy Nicole Richie's feet are, then got bored/hot and went inside. Later, we visited a mall and Emily bought a Brazilian bikini and CRAZY high Brazilian shoes with latticing, and I bought some sparkly Ipanema sandals and a new toothbrush. It was wonderful.

Now we are relaxing at our hotel before going out to dinner. Last night we went to Pelourinho, the old, "lively" section of town, for dinner, and got absolutely accosted by some men and a creepy little street urchin kid as we were getting out of our cab. This has never happened to me in Brazil before, I think because people don't automatically identify me as foreign, but my pale little cousin with blue eyes gets labeled immediately as a gringa and gets attacked. This kid last night reached in the open window of our cab, unlocked the door, opened it, and then grabbed Emily by the hand and tried to pull her out of the car.

The kid was totally in my cousin's face, grabbing her and talking non-stop, so I told him off in Portuguese, because come on, you don't grab people on the street, but he insisted on following us to the restaurant, pulling on Emily's shirt and trying to sell her stuff the whole way. Normally I feel sorry for poor kids who are begging or peddling things on the street, because I feel like their parents are somewhere in the wings manipulating the kids and using the money to buy drugs or something. Normally when I see little kids begging outside of my local grocery store in SP, I buy them food and give it to them directly (not to their parents). This kid last night, however, was just making me mad because he was so aggressive and grabby and I knew he was targeting my cousin just because she looked foreign. Strange how my experience of this country changes depending on who I am with...

Friday, March 24, 2006

More chuva

I woke up this morning super early intending to go running before it got hot, but then I looked out my window and saw that it was pouring rain, and went back to bed. When I did get up again at 7:45, it had stopped raining, sort of, and was cool enough that I could go run, so I went for a little trot and came back just as it started to rain again. When I got up to my room to shower and change, I looked at myself in the mirror and found that my face was caked with little dead black bugs. You know how I love bugs, especially when they are plastered on my lips and in my eyelashes, so that was a pleasant surprise.

I showered, scrubbed the bug corpses off of myself, and went down to breakfast to find I was the ONLY one there. I felt like I was at my own private resort! So, I sat there with my Brazilian Marie Claire and read about women who support financially insoluble men as I ate greasy eggs, hot dogs in tomato sauce, rolls, cheese, and coffee. Typically Brazilian.

Now, I plan on whiling away the time until my cousin shows up at around 3. Since it continues to pour outside, and my run this morning didn't turn up anything particularly fruitful to do in the immediate area, I think it's back to the room to watch Brazilian MTV and do crosswords.

One more thing. Last night I was lying in bed and had this weird, sudden homesickness for Top Life. How strange, since I only lived there 8 months, but I guess because it was my First Apartment and all that, it holds some sort of sentimental value for me. I guess I just miss the comfort of São Paulo, but the Northeast should be awesome, as long as it stops raining....

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rainy Salvador

Well, I did it. Somehow I managed to move all my crap out of my apartment, pack everything into two suitcases, pay all my bills (I think) and get on a plane to Salvador this morning. Boy, it was quite a morning. I couldn't sleep last night, I was so anxious and excited, and I woke up at 5:45 to use the crappy mini-gym in my apartment one last time, just for old times' sake. After showering and stuffing the remaining items to be packed into the crevices of my luggage, I was all ready to go. I was struggling to get out of the elevator with my medium suitcase, my little suitcase, my hugely overstuffed carry-on and my computer, sort of looking imploringly at the mean front-desk guy, when he asked me if I was leaving for good. I said yes, and instead of helping me with my unruly luggage, he gave me a dirty look and made some phone calls, only to tell me a few minutes later that I owed R$4.80 at the restaurant. So I had to rummage around in my carry-on for my wallet so I could pay my HUGE bill, and the guy STILL didn't help me get all my crap to the taxi! Of course, the day I am bidding Topee Lifee goodbye, the ONE mean desk guy has to be working. Oh well.

The flight to Salvador was smooth as peanut butter. I also got to help an old lady get out of her seatbelt when we landed, which was gratifying, because it made me feel useful and dexterous. Anyway, I had initially been planning on staying in this hostel in Pelourinho (city center of Salvador) till Emily got here tomorrow, but then I realized, shoot, I have a lot of luggage and my computer and it would sort of suck if it got stolen by some shady hostelgoer. So I switched gears and went to this hotel where I am now, which is in Pituba, supposedly the cheapest beach in Salvador. The hotel seems okay. Plaid bedspreads, a couple of channels on TV, AC (woohooooo) and locks on the doors. Basically all I need, ya know. Right now it is raining and I am not sure how safe the area is, so I think I am pretty much relegated to the hotel for the rest of the day. Booooring. Thank God my cousin will be here tomorrow. Tonight promises a lot of crossword puzzling and Brazilian novelas. Ugh. But at least my vacay has begun....

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Leaving São Paulo

My cousin Amanda just left for the airport, so now it is time to summarize the last week of craziness in SP and Ilhabela. Before I do that, I must say, this week away from work, in which I have been able to utterly and completely relax in the city, go out to dinner, have drinks, and stay up till 5 am to watch Medical Detectives on a school night if I feel like it has really made me realize the following:

a) work sucks the fun entirely out of life
b) I have not seen enough of this city and am going to miss it terribly

But anyway, let us get to the juicy details of the past week.

Wednesday

My last day of work. Joyous. Amanda got in that night and we went and got a late Italian dinner at a place near my house called Osteria.

Thursday

Spent the day canvassing Shopping Ibirapuera, then went out to dinner with Mariana at a place in Jardins called Insalata. Deliciousssssss! We had lovely fresh bruschetta and salads and a nice bottle of Chilean cabernet, mmmm. We chatted about girly stuff, which is always refreshing.

Friday

Went shopping on Oscar Freire, and went to one of the city~s best coffee houses, Santo Grão. They offered an espresso desgustação, or tasting, of 4 Brazilian coffees. Yep, 4 shots of espresso, in fairly rapid succession, for each taster. Of course, we jumped on it. It was a really interesting experience because normally, when I drink espresso, it just tastes like, ya know, espresso. It all sort of tastes the same until you actually get to try one kind after another and notice the big differences in acidity, body, aftertaste, and sweetness in each. It was so cool. Needless to say, after 4 shots each of some strong-ass Brazilian coffee plus a plate of Nutella-filled crepes, Amanda and I were in a state of giddy delight. We did some more caffeine/Nutella fueled shopping, then went home to recover from the harsh coffee downer.

That night we went to Na Mata Café, a club which I had heard a lot about but of course had never visited, with M and her boyfriend. It was the first positive house music experience I have ever had! Not that I am some sort of ear-bleeding techno convert now, but this was quite pleasant. We danced till about 2 then got in line to leave, and ended up not being able to pay for over an hour. Longest line EVER, and people kept cutting. Being total Anglos, Amanda and I were internally flipping out with righteous indignation, but luckily we met some cool Brazilian guys behind us and chatted to them, which helped pass the time a little. We got home at around 4 and then got sucked into an intriguing episode of Medical Detectives, so it ended up being a late night.

Saturday

Is it bad that I dont remember what we did during the day? Chances are, it involved shopping of some sort. I did a lot of "eye shopping" rather than actually purchasing anything, since I sort of, you know, don´t have a job anymore. That tends to put a cramp in my consumption. Anyhoo, that night we went to Skye Bar -- where else -- at the fabulous Unique to meet up with Nicola and Gabriel for drinks. After some chit chat and caipirinhas -- and those fabulous, fabulous peanuts -- we headed to a spectacular Japanese restaurant in Jardins called Nakasa. We ordered 100 pieces of sushi and 2 bottles of Chandon brut and went to town. A little bit of heaven, as Amanda says. Yum! So nice to go out to dinner in SP after all this time of being cooped up at work.

Sunday to Tuesday

We went to Ilhabela, the fancy schmancy resort island for São Paulo´s richies, for a few days. We took a bus to the town of São Sebastião, which is the closest place to Ilhabela. It was a relatively comfortable 3.5 hour journey, but then we had to struggle about a half mile from the bus station to the ferry in the blazing sun with our bags. This would have been okay if I had not been wearing dark jeans, it had not been a thousand million degrees, and my freaking roll-y suitcase actually freaking rolled. It did not ROLL! I had to drag it along like an ornery child the entire way, with me cursing and sweating. It was a looooong walk, let´s just put it that way.

We took a nice little ferry over to Ilhabela, then checked into our gorgeous inn, the Pousada dos Hibiscos. Overall, the pousada was fantastic, except for one glaring exception. Outside, by the cutesy lil pool, which had a charming arbor draped with hibiscus (hence the name), there were the most evil-looking bugs I have ever seen in my life. I´m talking nightmare-inducing. And this is coming from a girl who had cockroaches in her shower in Cuba. These bugs were something else -- you know the movie Naked Lunch? It was like that awful talking bug with the typewriter wings, except worse. These things had hairy legs and they were fat and bumped into stuff and I was SURE one of them was going to fly up my nostrils, but then I realized, those bugs were TOO BIG to fit up my nostrils, which was NO comfort whatsoever.

Anyway, we pretty much spent all day Monday sweating profusely by the pool -- me keeping a watchful eye on the insects -- then taking a walk around the vila. The town was adorável. Cute boutiques with hand-painted signs and little seafood restaurants and a nice park right on the water. Very cute. Again, the blistering heat prevented us from spending too much time meandering, so we went back to the hotel, rested, then went out and ate boatloads of delicious shrimp. Mmmm, shrimp.

After eating a fabulous, nutella-ful breakfast on Tuesday, we bid the strange little check-in man goodbye and got in a cab to go to the ferry to go to the bus station. Things were dandy until we got on our bus, the interior of which was roughly the temperature of a confectioner´s oven, and were told that the bus had no air conditioning. Yuuuup. Even the Brazilians were sweating and fanning themselves, and my poor little San Francisco-bred cousin was ready to pass out. She was a good sport though. Three and a half LONG, grimy hours later, we arrived in SP, lar doce lar, and went shopping. Duh!

I broke down and bought some leather shoes -- SUPER cute -- and a new suitcase, since the other one proved itself to be spastic and unreliable in Ilhabela. We then set off for a meat extravaganza at Fogo do Chão, one of the most famous rodizios in Brazil. You know you´re living the good life when guys in gaucho pants and crazy strappy boots are swirling around you offering you bottom sirloin, chicken hearts (gag) and even HUMP meat. We ate ourselves silly, split a bottle of Santa Julia malbec, then tried to avoid the rapid onset of meat coma. To reinvigorate ourselves, we went back to Skye Bar where Jaime came and met us for a drink or three. Yeah, what a night.

Today

We woke up at 11 or so, lazed around, went and got sushi in my neighborhood, then I started the arduous task of packing my entire apartment into a couple of suitcases. Ugh! I ended up leaving a LOT of stuff in the house, including a crapload of clothes, my busted work shoes, my George Foreman, assorted comestibles, 3 empty suitcases, a full bottle of Sagatiba cachaça, my hairdryer, lots of magazines, etc., etc., etc. I feel like the ladies who clean my apartment can maybe get more use out of all of it than I can, so I will just leave it for them. My cousin left at 6:30 to fly back to San Francisco, and now I am all alone, gearing up for my flight tomorrow to Salvador, where I´ll meet up with cousin Emily for a week long adventure in the Northeast. Whee!

So, all in all, the last week has been great. It stil doesn´t feel real that I am leaving São Paulo, that this is my last night in Topee Lifee, that I may never again work out with the beautiful people at Reebok or almost get hit by a bike delivery boy on my way to work. Aaah, I´ll miss it. Since I only have 5 minutes left on this internet card, I don´t have time to get all reflective about the city, but I´ll get there eventually. For now, I will sign off, and pick up again in the Northeast! Onwards, baby.




Wednesday, March 15, 2006

LAST DAY OF TRABALHO

Yes, it's my last day of work, and I need to celebrate it by posting something here before 10 am. I can't believe I got here before 10 am, to be honest. I planned on waking up late ("late" meaning 7:30 am) and rolling up to work at around 9:50, maybe 10, all defiantly. But actually I woke up at 7:12 like a kid on Christmas morning and decided that since I was awake anyway, I might as well catch the last 18 minutes of the Wonder Years. Alicia Silverstone made a brief cameo (WAY before she was famous) so that was exciting. Anyway, I went to the gym, did my workout thing, tried to take a long time getting ready, failed, and got to work at 9:25. Dang.

So here I am. I wrote a goodbye email note to everyone in the office and invited them all to come visit me in Boston so we can "eat clam chowder or something." Re-reading the note after I hit 'send,' I am truly astounded by my own eloquence. So far, one person has returned the email, the library lady. She wished me the best of luck in law school and yadda yadda. That was nice. I still think everyone else is blissfully unaware of my impending departure. They'll see!

Since it's my last day after almost 8 months of grueling work at this firm, I decided to reflect on alllll of the memories. If I had the capacity to make a video montage, now would be the time, but I don't, so you'll have to use your imagination as I take you on a tour of some of the highs and lows of my working experience, in bullet format (I love me the bullet format):

The Highs:

  • eating my mango every morning at 10:30
  • drinking my coffee every morning the instant I walked in the door, sometimes even before I had changed my shoes to proper work footwear, sometimes even barefoot
  • monthly birthday roundups with cake and salgadinhos... mmmmmmm
  • other food-related memories, too numerous to list
  • the day I woke up at 5 am to get to a closing by 7 am, only to have it delayed to 10 am once I got there, BUT, once it was over, I got to go home at 2 pm -- bonus!
  • reading MSN gossip for hours at a time on "slow days"
  • discovering perezhilton.com
  • being allowed to listen to my ipod when I worked at Petrobras in SP
  • going to Rio (TWICE) to work at Petrobras, staying in swanky hotel on Avenida Atlantica in Copacabana

The Lows:

  • working at Petrobras
  • having to stay at the office till the birds were chirping on several occasions
  • getting so frustrated one night that I slammed a ballpoint pen against my desk until it cracked, then threw it across the room
  • sending a confidential document to the "other side" by accident
  • having to run a closing by myself, in Portuguese, that lasted the entire day
  • working at Petrobras
  • working on Saturdays
  • getting called back to the office at night after I had left
  • 6 + hour conference calls in Portuguese
  • 6 + hour conference calls in English
  • working at Petrobras

So, as you can see, the highs involved food/celebrity gossip, and the lows involved work/tears.

By the way, since I started this post, people in the office have organized a lunch outing for my last day! I am touched. We're going to Lugar 166, which is on the same street as our office. It's a nice, semi-outdoor buffet with artsy light fixtures, always full of businessmen. Yummy food, too. Awww, I guess people do realize that I am leaving after all.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

on the tip of my lingua

Tomorrow is my last day of work. I can't express the joy I feel even in typing that sentence. I don't think the old office is going to do anything to mark my leaving, since no one seems aware that I am, in fact, leaving. Even my supervisor, who I have told possibly 1 billion times that my last day is March 15, seems to be hazy on the fact that I will no longer be working here after tomorrow. I guess they'll figure it out when I vacate my cubicle and the office collapses into disarray in my absence.

Today, after my (final) Portuguese lesson, my professora and I went to lunch at an Italian place near here called Andiamo. It was cute, with little stone fountains springing out of the walls and bottles of (crappy Brazilian) wine on all of the tables. We chatted (em português, claro) about the difficulties of learning languages as an adult and some of the problems that people of various nationalities have learning Portuguese and English.

My personal theory on English -- since you asked -- is that it is one of the simplest languages for Romance language speakers to learn because the grammar is SO much simpler, but the pronunciation is just ridiculous, for anyone. I mean, it doesn't make sense -- if you try to teach yourself English phonetically out of a book, it won't work, because the spellings don't match up with the sounds in most cases. However, once you memorize all the weird words and irregular pronunciations, you're golden.

I read somewhere that children who grow up in countries that speak Spanish become literate much faster than children in English speaking countries, because they have a standardized pronunciation-spelling system and don't have to worry about "sounding out words" the way English speaking children do. If you're learning to read Spanish, you can sound out ANY word, because all of the letters correspond to regular pronunciations. Whereas in English, if you see the word "bought" for the first time, it's a crapshoot as to how to pronounce it. Then again, maybe English speaking kids are just dumb. Present company excluded, I'm sure.

In other news, today would be my dog Towser's 16th birthday (that's like... 97 in dog years) if she hadn't passed on two years ago. I picture her in dog heaven, peeing on the carpet in delight and eating loads of forbidden chocolate. Once she ate an entire chocolate Santa at Christmas. This dog weighed 8 pounds and the santa was about 1/2 that size -- she was a dog after my own heart.

Tomorrow my cousin Amanda gets here, I am very excited. We are going to spend a week in São Paulo doing all the stuff I have been unable to do for the last 8 months of being cooped up in the office -- shopping, spas, restaurants, beach, etc. More news to come.

Monday, March 13, 2006

OOoh baBy bAby!

Couple of things. First, there was a fantastic article about São Paulo F***ing city today in the New York Times, talking about how hip and fashionable it is. Yeah!!

http://travel2.nytimes.com/2006/03/12/travel/12sao.html?ex=1142917200&en=5e887017cfbea6a4&ei=5070&emc=eta1

It's great because most articles about SP that you read in foreign newspapers/magazines are like, "it's ugly and there's smog and everyone drives around wearing dark suits in bulletproof cars, smoking." Which I guess is partly true, but there are also frou-frou hotels (like the Unique, my fave), fancy schmancy shopping and mouth-watering, incredible food. So there.

Other stuff. Today is my cousin Catie Rose Beck's 23rd birthday. She was born this day in 1983 in San Francisco, California, to proud parents Dan and JoAnn ("River-o") Beck Parabens para ela! Love ya, cuz.

What else. Oh yeah, only 3 days of work left, counting today, which is terribly exciting. I spent the weekend packing and realized that I actually don't have as much stuff as I thought I did, which is both refreshing and a bit sad. I am going to have to leave some things behind, though, like my George Foreman grill, the only gift I have ever received from my work. George holds a lot of significance for me, but he's not gonna make it back to the US -- weird Brazilian plugs and not worth the hassle, I'm afraid.

I am also leaving behind various kitchen implements and lots of scraps of paper with addresses written on them and assorted toiletries, including zillions of free samples of awful, gunky shampoo that I dutifully took every day from my gym. I figured, I'm paying R$300 a month to the Reebok establishment, I am gonna take as much free shampoo as they can hand out. Anyway, whomever lives in Top Life next is going to be one lucky person, what with all the grilling and the shampooing that they'll be able to do.

Nothing else. I almost went to the movies on Sunday ("Capote" was supposed to be playing at 1 pm) but when I got there, the theater hadn't opened yet and the next showing was 3 hours later, so I gave up, went home and watched American Idol, AGAIN. It never gets velho.

Friday, March 10, 2006

TGIsexta-feira.. also, discussion of bird flu

Friday, Friday.

4 more days of work. 3 and some, actually, since it's nearly 4 pm. Ahhhh.

I was just wondering, how come no one ever posts comments on my blog? That makes me feel unloved. I know that some people are reading it -- don't ask how, I have my methods -- but yet only like 3 people have ever commented. What's that about?

In other news, I had sushi for lunch today and it was goooood. I ordered in because there was torrential rainfall for most of the day here. Every Friday, without fail, it rains. That's weird, right? Why couldn't it rain every Tuesday, since no one likes Tuesday anyway? Rainy Friday nights are the worst if you are trying to go out on the town, especially in São Paulo, because the city gets somehow dirtier with the rain. At least, everything floats to the surface.

I'm afraid I don't have any insightful comments or fun stories today. No bee stings or other animal bites to report. I've spent a large chunk of today thinking about the bird flu and wondering if this is a people-stabbing-each-other-in-Walmart-over-duct-tape-and-gallon-jugs-of-water type situation, or something I should actually be freaking out about. Let's be honest, I'm going to freak out anyway, thanks to articles like this:
http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060309/NEWS07/603090573/1009

Detroit what.

I also blame Oprah for some of this. I mean, not for bird flu itself necessarily (but who knows really), but for my freaking out over it. She had this frightening show where a serious-looking epidemiologist or scariologist or whatever he was told us that we're all going to die and it's going to be like a horror movie and Oprah, you better reserve your vaccination now. And Oprah acted all scared. Like anyone's going to let Oprah die from bird flu. If anyone is going to be able to secure a personal supply of TamiFlu, it's going to be Oprah, I have a feeling. She and Gayle and Stedman are going to be a-okay.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

i hate bees

I just got stung by a bee and it hurts like WHOA. The thing is, I haven't been stung by a bee in years. In fact, the last time I remember being stung was when I was six, running through the sprinkler, and I stepped on a bee, so that was my own damn fault. But this, this was just hostile.

I was walking back from lunch at the Qualy with our managing partner, whom I had run into on the street, and he stopped to chat with some Brazilian businessmen he knew. I was standing there, smiling politely, when I saw this big bee circling around. Of course, I ignored it, because I have no reason to be afraid of bees, and when you freak out, they freak out, and that's when the stinging starts. So I sort of waved at it when it landed on me, and it flew away, but then it came back, landed on my right arm and STUNG me, right in the tender, exposed skin of my poor, poor little arm.

So meanwhile, only one of the five men standing there noticed anything amiss, I guess because I was so stoic in the face of pain. As the partner and I were walking back into the building, I told him that the bee had stung me and he said, "Really?" He hadn't noticed me swatting at it and hopping around trying to get the stinger out apparently.

Anyway it hurts and I am pissed off! Stupid bee. It gives me some satisfaction to know that now it's dead because it left its stinger in me. Or is that not true? Aren't bees supposed to die once they lose their stingers? I choose to believe that it's true. I hope that bee is turning slowly somewhere in Bee Hell, along with those ones that killed Maccauley Culkin in "My Girl."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Feliz Dia Internacional de Mulher

Happy International Women's Day, everyone! Ladies around the world, enjoy it, because tomorrow, it's back to business.

This morning as I was leaving my gym, I was regaled with a single, yellowy-pink rose, just for being a girl. Awww...

Another weird thing that happened this morning: I was walking from Reebok to my office, rose in hand, thinking that this was possibly the worst walk to work I've ever had, despite the rose -- you see, after I work out, I can't cool off, and it's like a bazillion degrees (Celcius) outside, and I was sweating profusely, feeling sorry for myself -- when I saw this guy sitting on the sidewalk. He was skinny and shirtless, and had blood running all over his chest. It looked fake, like horror-movie blood -- too red and splashy -- but it was real. There was another man helping him, calmly asking the porteiro at the nearest building to call for help, so I didn't stop, but as I walked by, I saw that the guy had blood running all down his chin and neck, too. He looked stunned. I think he probably had gotten a bunch of teeth knocked out, which explains the bloody chin and chest. Seeing him put my "worst walk to work ever" into pretty clear perspective.

Now THAT guy had a bad morning. At least I have all my teeth intact, AND I have a beautiful rose on my computer.

What's weird is that the man I saw today was the second bloodied person I have seen on my office's street since I have worked here. One day I was walking to lunch and I saw some lady lying in the middle of the road, with people all around her. I guess she got hit by a car -- or a motoboy, or a bike, or one of those weird bike-cart things that people use to haul around assorted trash and spare parts. All of this brings me back to the following point -- traffic in São Paulo is insane. You take your life in your hands every time you step off the curb. Actually, you don't even have to step off the curb, as people are allowed to drive motorcycles on the sidewalk here (http://teffsinbrasil.blogspot.com/2006/02/motoboy-mishaps.html).

Life is nuts. At least it's Women's Day!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Reflections...

So I went back to my initial predictions about what would happen to me in Brazil and gave them a once-over (http://teffsinbrasil.blogspot.com/2005/07/t-minus-2-days_15.html). My conclusion? Man, do I know myself. Here's how my predictions actually stacked up to my experience here over the last 7+ months....

1. Initial shyness about speaking Portuguese, followed (HOPEFULLY) by competency and finally, fluency, if such a thing exists.

Well, I did okay with this one. I am a heck of a lot better at Portuguese now than I was when I arrived, though perhaps less confident about speaking it with strangers. Part of it could be that my Portuguese professora (whom I love, don't get me wrong) is a bit of a perfectionist, like me, so sometimes I get hesitant to speak lest I make a mistake. But I was like that before I started lessons with her, so, that's b.s., really. But yeah, Portuguese is good. Portugulish is even melhor. I feel bom about it.

2. Hot guys. (Please God don't let Brazilian men be as into mullets/rat-tails/hair gel as Chileans/Argentines are. Please.)

I have yet to see a full-blown Chile mullet (or "chullet" as we in the business call it) here in Brazil, thank goodness. Brazil is also mercifully lacking in rat-tails. I have seen some weird hair, but most of the time it is sort of borderline mullet, like the guy just got a bad hair cut and didn't notice for 2 months, not full-blown, Santiago F***ing City type chullets. Whew!

3. Mangoes

Oh yes. I eat a Haden mango at 10:30 every day, and it is always better than I ever imagined it could be.

4. Hot guys.

Check.

5. Hot shoes and handbags which I will NOT allow myself to buy because I have a budget of like negative $800 a month.

Check. I have been SO good about this. In over seven months, I have bought 4 pairs of shoes -- one for work, one for New Years (actually, my ma bought those so I'm not sure they even count), a pair of pumas, and a pair of sandals (bronze, strappy, adorable) that were 40% off. Given my normal rate of shoe-buying, this is incredible. Also, I have not purchased ONE handbag. Go me.

6. Smog and uncleanliness.

Yeah but you get used to it. I sort of crave the smog now.

7. Smoke.

Yes, ugh, gross. Not as bad as it could be, I suppose. I mean, we're not in China, people don't smoke in elevators or anything, but everyone freaking smokes! I saw a dude in my gym who had literally just finished a workout, waiting at the elevator with a pack of smokes sticking out of his gym shorts pockets. Whaaaat?!

8. Traffic and horrendous drivers.

Worse than you can imagine. I'd rather not discuss.

9. Hot guys.

Check check.

10. Good Lebanese food and sushi.

Goodness, gracious, yes! I haven't eaten as much Lebanese as I anticipated but everything I've had has been excellent. They are really into kibi though, sometimes raw, which creeps me out a little. The sushi here is incredible, and so cheap. Plus the California rolls here have mango in them, and you know how I love me some mango.

11. Intimidating webs of public transportation that I will undoubtedly get lost on and end up crying in the bus depot in the middle of a favela.

Shockingly, no. The metro system here is too small and limited to get lost on, plus it's like 50 miles from my house so I have to take a bus just to get to the metro. And everytime I have taken buses (even by myself, when I didn't know where my stop was), I have been fine. Lucky? Maybe. I prefer to think of myself as savvy. Okay, yeah, lucky. Let us not forget the time in Chile that I ended up like 40 miles outside of Santiago with chickens pecking in the grass because I was too shy to ask where my stop for the shopping mall was. Oof.

12. Shocking disparities between the rich and the poor. What else is new in Latin America.

Wish I could say this wasn't true, but it's even worse in person. When you see glossy BMWs stopped at traffic lights with their tinted windows rolled up to keep out the sad looking little street kids half-heartedly juggling for tips, it really reminds you that you're in a country with a wealth disparity problem. Plus the favelas here in SP are awful, depressing, plagued with violence and drug problems, and most of them are spitting distance from lovely, walled communities with tasteful landscaping and armed security towers. Hard to comprehend.

13. Disappointing gum options. Not that I have the money to spend on gum.

Yeah, no shocker there. Gum everywhere except the US sucks, I am convinced. Although Trident light blue here is pretty good. I buy it every day after lunch ("tri-dentchee azul claro") and it is quite satisfying.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Aftermath... and solo movie-going

Yeah, so... Carnaval was sort of a fiasco, but the good news is that I am back safe and sound in São Paulo, lar doce lar. Once I got back from Salvador, I had a lovely two days to myself to sit around in my apartment doing crosswords, watch Scrubs, go to the gym, even take myself to the movies. I saw Match Point (Ponto Final!), which was disturbing but entertaining. I think Scarlett Johanssen is a good actor, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers has his moments, but a lot of times I felt like you could see him reading the script in his head. It was almost as if the script stood out in plain view when he said his lines, which is not a mark of a good actor. You know how when you watch a play you really never forget that you're in a theater, watching a play? But normally, when I'm in a movie, unless the movie sucks, I get absorbed in it and am not constantly picturing Woody Allen or whoever sitting down at a typewriter and tapping out a script.

Anyway, I have come to enjoy going to the movies by myself occasionally, I find it quite cathartic. Once you start doing it, it becomes sort of addictive, or at least an option that you always consider. Like, oh, it's Saturday afternoon... I could sit here in my pajamas/underwear and watch reruns of According to Jim, or I could gussy myself up and go to the movies! So liberating. Other movies I have taken myself to since coming to Brazil: the Constant Gardener, The Family Stone, and Harry Potter, but actually, that was only because the friend who I was supposed to meet couldn't make it.

I didn't go to the movies this weekend. Instead, I finally reunited with my Brazilian friend M who has been working out of town for the last two months in a cushy resort town called Guarujá. I hadn't seen her since Christmas night, so it was wonderful to catch up with her and compare Carnaval horror stories. Actually her Carnaval was more fun than mine, except that she had to work every night till midnight or 1 am, and then drove an hour to get another beach town where her boyfriend was staying so she could party with him. Then she had to get up and drive back to Guarujá to work the next day. Ay yay.

M and I went to this kind of swanky, overpriced bar called Figa on Saturday night. All of the drinks were at least $18 reais (about $9 US), which doesn't sound like a lot compared to New York prices or whatever, but for São Paulo that is pretty pricey. But thank God for lecherous Italian men, one of whom sidled up to us at the bar and communicated, in a weird blend of Italian, Portuguese and English, that he would like to pay for all of our drinks. Saúde, I say. This guy was totally creepy and married, as he proudly told us, but we gladly accepted his offer and he ended up buying us 2 glasses of wine, a cosmopolitan, and a vodka and diet coke. All for naught on his part, I'm afraid.

Friday, March 03, 2006

a vida é carnaval...?

Carnaval, Carnaval, Carnaval. What to say about Carnaval... well, it was definitely a spectacle, definitely crazy, and definitely a bit too much for me.

Let me try to set the scene a little bit. For those of you who don't live in Brazil, when you picture Brazilian Carnaval, you might think of the pictures on TV of Rio's Sambodromo, in which pretty ladies with lots of sparkles and feathers samba along in high heels, lines of drummers following behind, and everything is bright and shiny and clean. Yeah, Carnaval in Salvador is not like that. Salvador, being a much poorer area with a more populist, street-fair-esque vibe to its Carnaval, does not involve many ornate costumes, samba queens, or organized troupes of drummers. There are some, true, but they are not the focus of the party. Instead, it is a chaotic street festival whose only organization is divisions of blocos, which are essentially huge groups of people who pay to wear matching tee-shirts and follow behind a particular band or singer on a big truck. You can sort of get an idea of what the trucks (called trio elétricos) look like from the picture above.

So, if you want to participate in Carnaval in Salavador, you can either buy a tee-shirt (abadá) for a particular bloco, which entitles you to walk behind that truck with its band -- and be protected from the hoi polloi who didn't pay for a tee-shirt -- or you can be part of that hoi polloi (called pipoca, or "popcorn" since these people bounce freely around outside of the blocos) and just follow along the sides of the trucks (you are stopped from entering by ropes protected by guards). Another option, if you don't want to be out on the street, is to buy a ticket for a camarote, which is a private, partially indoor party on the side of the street that allows its members to watch the goings-on but keeps them at a safe distance from the madness.

This whole scenario may not make a whole lot of sense, I guess it's one of those things you have to see to understand. Anyway, each bloco has several thousands of people, and there are lots of blocos, and three separate parade routes, so Carnaval in Salvador is a massive affair with hundreds of thousands of people. Yikes.

My friend D and I had tickets for all 5 nights of Carnaval (Friday through Sunday) for a bloco called Skol D+ ("Skol Demais" or Too Much Skol (beer), if interpreted literally), which featured a group called Zorra on the first two nights (sort of typical Carnaval rock music with lots of songs about Brazilian pride and stuff), Falcão (lead singer from a Brazilian rock-reggae group called O Rappa) for the second two nights, and Fat Boy Slim for the last night. I knew I wasn't going to make it for all 5 nights, but I figured I could pick and choose which nights I wanted to participate in based on how I was feeling. So, Friday was my first foray into Carnaval -- the festivities went from 4 pm to 4 am, and involved, in brief, a lot of pushing and shoving, a lot of dancing, a lot of drinking, and a lot of the same, "eu sou brasileiro" lyrics over and over and over and over. All the Brazilians seemed to know coreographed hand movements to these songs, too, so I felt a bit left out. I sung along with the "sou brasileiro" one anyway -- once I heard the song for the 16th time I figured out the lyrics.

After our bloco ended its 4 km route, we spent a couple hours pushing our way backwards through other people's blocos, which was a scary affair, since the crowds were wild, we were going against the current, and there were lines of military police with guns and clubs pushing their way through the crowds as well. At one point, trying to keep up with D, I felt like my arm was going to break, or that I would be pushed down into the crowd. It was nuts. Then, due to D's insistence that we go off the main path so he could eat some highly-suspect looking hot dog smothered in ground beef/unidentified meat product, we ended up in a sketchy area of town about 6 km from where we were staying, where it was impossible to catch a cab, and there were no bathrooms for me to pee in. I had to take matters into my own hands and ended up using the bathroom in a brothel, and then thanks to some nice Brazilian guys I met, we got a cab 2 hours later. Combine all of this with the fact that I had to deal with uberbizarre behavior from my travel companion the entire night, and you have a very not fun way to end the evening.

Saturday I spent on the beach, and went to bed early. Sunday I decided to give the bloco another shot, despite my less-than-stellar experience on Friday. On Sunday, our bloco was supposed to start on its parade route at 10 pm, but didn't get going till almost 1 am. While waiting for it to get going, we met some really cool surfer people who own a pousada (which is featured in my Rough Guide to Brazil, www.papaterra.com.br), and as we were chatting to them, we ran out of drinks, so we decided to go back to the hotel (just a few blocks away) to refill. D took off skipping manically through the crowds, so fast that I had to sprint to catch up with him, and as I was running behind him, yelling after him to slow down and wait for me, I tripped on something and went down on the asphalt. I skinned both knees and my right hand, and as I was lying there momentarily on the ground, shocked and pissed off, I thought -- what am I doing here? I got up and we went to the 24-hour medical post, where they dumped iodine on my wounds and bandaged me up. Some chick on the table next to me was hyperventilating or something, rolling her eyes around and looking scared. And all of this is before the blocos had even started to move! Ay yay.

So, I didn't think it was possible for Sunday night to be any more chaotic than Friday, and although there was not nearly as much pushing and shoving (hallelujiah), it was perhaps an even more unpleasant experience, as my companion acted completely bizarrely and pulled us out of the bloco before it ended and screamed, "What the f*** have we been doing for the last two hours?" This is after he had tried to jump under the barrier ropes in front of the truck, had lost me several times in the crowd, had called some inoffensive Brazilian dude we met a "non-entity," and had danced so "entusiastically" that he had apparently put out his back. Consequently, as we began the 4 km trek home as the sun came up and the street cleaners emerged to hose down the vomit, trash and pee from the streets, D was limping behind me, barely standing up straight, stopping occasionally to peer over the seawall or sit on the ground. Long story short, we got home, and I decided I was done with Carnaval.

On Monday I was still sort of debating whether to participate in Tuesday's festivies, but as the day wore on and my knees and hands began to scab over, I realized that I was pretty much Carnaval-ed out. I called the airline to see if it was possible to change my flight from Thursday night to something on Wednesday, but all that was available was a flight on Tuesday night. I took it. It was relaxing to be at the airport, away from streets that reeked of porta-potty, vomit, and sweat. I even splurged on a People magazine, and sat at the gate reading it, feeling completely relieved to be getting away from Carnaval.

Don't get me wrong, I am completely glad I went and experienced Carnaval. I think it had the potential to be really fun, but circumstances sort of collided so that it was not that fun for me. A couple of observations:

  • being Brazilian definitely helps with the enjoyment of Carnaval -- they seem to love the songs that are played ad nauseum that foreigners (like me) just don't seem to get. For example, the most popular Carnaval band is called Chiclete com Banana (Gum and Banana) and their main song goes like this: "chiiiii-cleeee-teeee, rouba, rouba, chiiiii-cleeeee-teeee, rouba rouba...." for like 20 minutes. And then it gets played 334289734 times throughout the course of Carnaval, and Brazilians NEVER get tired of it. It never gets velho for them.
  • you gotta go to Carnaval with people who share your partying M.O.
  • I am really glad I am going back to Salvador, because it was a beautiful place and I can't wait to see it sans vomit, pee, people sleeping in the street, sunburnt gringoes everywhere, etc.
  • they say that Carnaval in Salvador has "stubbornly resisted commercialization," but I'm sorry, that is just not true. Well, maybe they resisted, but by 2006, they have totally sold out. Our bloco, for example, was sponsored by Claro (phone company), Skol (beer company) and Sony Ericsson, and all of the other blocos had large corporate sponsors as well -- Pepsi, Cristal beer, Kibon ice cream, Coke, etc., etc... Maybe it is not as polished and well-organized as the Carnaval in Rio, but that doesn't mean it is any less corporate.

Anyway, that was my experience. Thanks for listening. I am going to try to figure out a way to put some pictures up so you can get an idea of the madness, but for now, go to http://www.carnaval.salvador.ba.gov.br/fotos.asp, select Domingo (Sunday), and scroll down to see some pics of the crowd.