Sunday, January 13, 2013

Check out my new blog!

Hi all -

As some of you may know, I've migrated to a new blog -, where you can find links to my freelance writing, some information about the novel I'm working on, advice, book reviews, photos, and travel blogging.

Brasilian Wax will stay up as a record of my life between 2005 and 2012, so don't worry, it's not going anywhere. It just won't be updated frequently.

And, as always, for my Bachelor(ette) recaps, Tube Topix is still alive and well.

Love, Steph

Monday, October 01, 2012


It took us four months, but Al and I finally took our honeymoon, and it was fantastic. 

Our honeymoon in Indonesia was preceded by a week-long business trip for me in the Philippines and Singapore.  Highlights can be summarized thusly: 1) unlimited mango; 2) cheap pearls; 3) Laksa curry. The end.  So, with that out of the way, let's discuss Indonesia, shall we?

Nusa Dua, Bali

The first leg of our two-week Indonesian adventure was in Nusa Dua, Bali.  I got there a couple days before Al and so spent the first couple days of my honeymoon all alone in a gorgeous, romantic resort full of lovey-dovey, smug couples holding hands and shooting me pitying glances.  The first night, I defiantly ate by myself in the hotel restaurant, nursing a glass of grassy Sauvignon Banc and reading a book, but even I felt sorry for myself, so the next night I embraced the solitude and ate fried noodles in bed while watching reruns of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

That night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard my gchat ping, so I got up to see a message from my dad telling me that there had been a big earthquake in the Philippines and that there was a tsunami warning for Eastern Indonesia. Ruh roh.  Being me, I immediately panicked and put my passport, iPhone, and newly purchased string of freshwater pearls into a plastic bag and prepared to climb to higher ground, luggage and pants be damned, but my parents somehow talked me off the (almost literal!) ledge and, within an hour, the tsunami warning was cancelled.  I still stayed awake until 2 am, straining my ears for sounds of particularly menacing waves, but, thanks at least in part to my vigilance, I think, nothing happened.

Al showed up, finally, and we spent our first few days together swilling tropical fruit based cocktails, eating noodles, and sleeping by the pool.  We also went on a field trip to Ubud, an inland town that was the setting for Elizabeth Gilbert's self-indulgent Balinese lovefest and is the current home to many malevolent monkeys. 

(This monkey was on Lombok, but same idea).

After two days in Bali, we boarded a plane for Lombok.

Sengiggi, Lombok

Lombok is an island next to Bali that also has nice beaches and noodles but, unlike Bali, is predominantly Muslim (rather than Hindu) and has a less well-developed tourism infrastructure.  This was evident from the difference between our lovely, well-oiled resort in Nusa Dua (The Laguna) and our somewhat shabby Sheraton in Sengiggi, which, while nice enough, was rough around the edges (literally -- I got some splinters in that bizz).  The service there was pleasant but confused.  Simple requests (e.g., "Our doorknob fell off, can someone fix it so that we can get in and out of our door?") were met with puzzled smiles and vigorous nodding, but little action. Oh, well.  Al and I are pretty low-maintenance.  All we require is booze, food, and a shady place to nap, so we did just fine.

After a few lazy days in Sengiggi, we headed off for our next destination, the Rinjani crater.


Rinjani is an active volcano in the north of Lombok.  We were to understand that the trek up to its crater rim, which looks out over a stunning crater lake, was "challenging" but doable.  Actually, when we were planning the trip, I read the description of it and said to Al, "This sounds kinda hard," and he reassured me that, in fact, the crater hike was for "fat tourists" and we could do it with our eyes closed.  I trusted my husband.  And that was my first mistake. 

No, no, it wasn't that bad.

... But it was pretty bad. 

The thing is, to get to the crater rim, you have to ascend over 6,000 feet.  And we did the hike in seven hours, including rest (which took up about two hours).  So that means that we ascended 6,000+ feet in five hours.  For those of you who don't hike, let me put it this way: that shizz be steep.  And sandy.  And hot.  So you're basically climbing uphill in sand for five hours, which is not high on my list of Things I Want To Be Doing.  But we got there (Al and I and our guide were the first group to the top, huzzah!) and it was pretty. 

We took pictures, ate a hearty meal involving noodles, hardboiled eggs, and cookies, and then went to sleep in our tent.  It took me a while to fall asleep because I kept hearing things outside of our tent (turns out there are wild dogs who live up there, fun!) and also because I had to pee but the "toilet tent" was up a rocky hill and I had no flashlight.  This resulted in me just holding it until 5 am, when I was ready to be awake anyway, because turns out camping with no flashlight is really boring. 

The next day, we tromped down the mountain we had slogged up, and by the end of it, our legs were quivering, we were covered in dirt and grime, and I was fantasizing about hour-long showers.  We went directly from the mountain to a ferry, which took us to our next port of call, Gili Air.

Gili Air

Gili Air is a magical place.  I think that if Al and I had known how much we'd love it, we might have just booked our entire two-week trip there, because it's pretty much paradise.  It's this tiny, white sand island surrounded by crystal clear water striped green and blue.  The island is dotted by palm trees, beachside bars, and little open air huts called berugaks.  You can do lots of activities there -- diving, snorkeling, etc. -- or you can do nothing.  I tended more towards the latter option.

We stayed in a lovely little inn called Casa Mio, which consists of several stand-alone cottages with outdoor showers (with hot water) and air conditioning, plus a freshwater pool and a restaurant/bar facing the beach.  We ate breakfast every day sitting in a berugak looking out over the calm sea. 

Pretty frickin' idyllic. 

We spent four days there drinking Bintang beer, eating excellent food (including some incredible home-made pasta -- tagliatelli with mussels and clams, mmm), walking a lot, and doing yoga.  Well, I did yoga and Al dived.  It was perfect.  Now that I'm describing it, I guess it doesn't make for a great blog post, because nothing exciting or weird happened to us there (which is weird in itself). 

The only downside to the entire stay in Gili was that we were absolutely crippled from our Rinjani trek.  I think people assumed Al and I were a nice, mildly disabled couple on our honeymoon, as we hobbled and winced our way around the island.  Stepping down even the smallest of steps was murder on my quads and calves.  Al and I would "help" (slash torture) each other by doing
improvisational Shiatsu massage on each other's legs at inopportune times (while ordering dinner, for example), which was fun/awful.  On our last day on Gili, I scheduled us a foot massage, which I figured was a safe option for two gimps like us -- except "foot massage" apparently means "leg massage," and so I spent a half hour cringing and gritting my teeth as a husky Indonesian woman ground her fists into my tender muscles.  You know what, though?  The next day my legs felt 1000% better.

Seminyak, Bali

From Gili Air, we boarded a "fast boat" back to Bali.  Have you ever taken a fast boat? Here's a tip: don't.  When I first heard the term "fast boat," I pictured some sort of semi-luxury yacht that glides smoothly through waves and turbulence to deliver its passengers, well-rested and most definitely not-nauseated, to their destination.  I pictured myself spending the 90 minute ride reading, perhaps gazing out the window once in a while to see the ocean, perhaps sipping a daiquiri brought to me by a yacht attendant. 

This was dumb.  I realize that now.

Turns out, a fast boat is just a shitty boat with no ventilation that powers its way through rough seas with little regard for its passengers' comfort or nausea levels, resulting in a most unpleasant boating experience. 

Let's just say this: no reading happened on the fast boat. Barf bags were distributed (and used, by some passengers). Tears were shed. Not by me! No, I chose to stare stoicly out the window, listening to a podcast while inwardly reassuring myself that we probably wouldn't capsize. Probably. Al and I did not talk for the entire 90 minute ride, mostly because I was afraid to open my mouth lest I toss my proverbial cookies and also because I was annoyed at him for not telling me that fast boat = terror boat.

Anyway, after the longest, choppiest boat ride of my life (never again, seriously), we made it to Bali and bundled into a van with a sullen French couple for a three-hour ride to our hotel, the W in Seminyak. 

Our fabulous hotel made up for all of the crappiness of the day of travel. Here's a picture of the view from our balcony:

Not. Too. Shabby.

We spent the last couple days of the honeymoon eating, reading, shopping, and sleeping, and it was glorious.

I will definitely miss Indonesia and all of its many delights, but I'm happy to be back in the U.S. for my last few weeks before we pack up and leave for South Africa. Stay tuned...

Friday, September 21, 2012


It's been, what, seven months since I posted anything here? Ugh. I'm the worst. To make it up to you, I'm going to write a lil' catchup post! Incidentally, I, like all good Americans, always assumed the word "catsup" was a Canadian bastardization of the word "ketchup." I mean, it makes sense. These people say "A to Zed" and spell color with a 'u' and don't even get me started on how they pronounce "pasta." Who knows what they're capable of, am I right? But my Canadian husband informs me that all Canadians assume that "catsup" is what dumb Americans call "ketchup." Which is an outrage. Except I just googled it and turns out "catsup" is used in the Southern United States. Dammit.

Anyway. I'm getting off track here. Let me bring you all up to speed on what's happening in these here parts:

1. Al and I got married in May. NBD. For those who are interested, see:

2. I handed in my notice at work - my last day is October 17.

  3. We're moving to Johannesburg for 9 months, followed by London for 9 months, for Al's job.

4. I am going to leave lawyering to try to write professionally.

5. I finally finished all five books in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

So. That's the deal. Expect to see this space being updated much more regularly post-October 17 as we embark on our international adventure.  In the meantime, I'll be posting about our honeymoon in Indonesia and perhaps a few assorted other goodies.

Missed you guys.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I don't like surfing and that's okay.

Hello dear readers -- I have just returned from a brief but lovely trip to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua and am a bit sunburnt, a lot exhausted, and quite content. Our five-day Nicaraguan vacation consisted of the following elements, in no particular order: surfing, eating whole fried fish, swatting away mosquitos, being woken at odd hours by howler monkeys, boogie boarding, getting sunburnt, swatting away moths, being startled by praying mantises while eating, swatting away wasps, and swilling rum.

All in all, it was a good trip and it helped me come to terms with something about myself that I've been denying for a long time: I don't just dislike bugs, I HATE bugs. Before this trip, if one had asked me if I were an insectophobe, I probably would have said something to the effect of, "oh, bugs are all God's creatures and they serve a purpose and really I just don't like fluttery things but the rest are okay." This would be a lie. I mean, yes, bugs are God's creatures, but they are by far God's creepiest creatures, and it seems to me that many of them only serve the purpose of being gross. And now I can admit that I don't just dislike fluttery things like moths and butterflies - I also dislike crawly things and hoppy things and all things that wear their skeletons on the outside of their bodies.

I came to this important realization because our first three nights in Nicaragua were spent at an eco lodge called Buena Vista Surf Club, which consists of a series of treehouse-like bungalows set in the middle of a forest overlooking a pristine beach. Lovely and romantic during daylight. Horrible at night. As soon as the lights went out, our bungalow transformed, for me, anyway, into a dark, noisy, buggy hell. I would shoot upright in the middle of the night, convinced that a tarantula had laid eggs in my hair or that a praying mantis had taken up residence in my ear. I was almost right some of the time - all manner of bugs found ways of creeping past our mosquito nets and bedding down with us, with alarming results. The creep factor was compounded by the fact that our neighbors were a particularly vocal family of howler monkeys who, by the way, don't so much howl as groan and grunt, creating a noise somewhere between an angry warthog and a freight train. It's pretty unsettling.

But, despite the bugs and the lack of hot water and air conditioning, I'd still recommend the BVSC - it was a really neat place. Check out their site: It's run by a cool Dutch couple who serve breakfast and dinner to the guests every day, family-style, which means you get to meet a lot of interesting people and eat home-cooked food. Despite the occasional uninvited dinner guest (I'm looking at you, horrible huge dragonfly), it's a really great experience.

Now, regarding surfing: I don't love it. Al and I originally took this vacation because we both wanted to try surfing, but as soon as I dragged my board down to the beach and practiced "popping up" onto it on the sand, I knew that surfing would not be for me. This suspicion was confirmed after about 20 minutes of flailing in the water and reconfirmed when, after said flailing, I accidentally stepped on a sting-ray's tail. As visions of Steve Irwin flashed through my head, I got the hell out of the water and, after collecting myself, figured I'd return to my old love, boogie-boarding. Let's face it, it's pretty hard not to love boogie-boarding. It requires no balance, no upper body strength, and no skills other than being able to lie on one's stomach, which I excel at. So I stuck with boogie-boarding and Al stuck with surfing and it all worked out well for everyone.

And now I'm back to reality, ready to restart my life as a non-surfing, bug-hating, self-actualized person. Thank you, Nicaragua - you've taught me so much.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Cleaning house

This weekend, Al and I embarked on a huge decluttering project. I had read part of a book on hoarding and was immediately scared straight. The little piles of unopened mail and the clothes scattered all over my bedroom were, to me, the early signs of an impending hoardpocalpyse that would end with Al and I sleeping on a bed littered with stained pizza boxes, cat feces, and antique dolls. Even though we don't eat pizza. Or have cats. Or collect dolls.

Anyway, they say that a clean home leads to a clean mind. Decluttering is supposed to reduce stress and boost happiness. So we did it.

We spent all day Saturday slogging through our closets and ended up throwing out six large trash bags full of crap, and collecting six huge moving boxes full of clothes to donate to charity. We had NO idea that we had so much stuff lying around. We were amazed to find that after the purge, our drawers actually shut and we could see the floors of our closets. Imagine! It felt great.

As we celebrated with leftovers and beer, I ruminated on the whole cleaning idea and started thinking that the same principles that apply to decluttering one's living space could apply to decluttering one's physical being. I don't mean to get all Zen on you guys, but I really feel that my body could use some major decluttering. After an indulgent couple of months full of friends, family, food and booze, I'm feeling fuzzy and soft and slow. Too much goes in to my body and sits around, like the many pairs of tattered old shoes that I found lying in the back of my closet. Those shoes weren't being used - they were just taking up space, creating an eyesore, and preventing me from finding stuff I actually need.

So, in the spirit of decluttering, I'm embarking on a cleaner living program starting now. The first step will be drinking less alcohol, because God knows I don't need that clutter in my liver (or my fat cells, for that matter) and eating fewer processed foods, if I can. Part of the motivation behind this is the fact that I am getting married in four months and want to look my best in an extremely form-fitting Vera Wang. Another part of it is that I'm tired of sleeping poorly and feeling stressed out from overeating, and want 2012 to be a fresh start, with clean closets, a clean mind and a clean body.

So here we go! Decluttering starts now.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Back in the saddle again...

...Out where a friend is a friend.

Okay, enough singing, Gene Autry! It's time for me to offer my MOST ABJECT APOLOGIES for not writing in literally a year. So wrong! So unforgivable! So lazy! Although I must point out that when you signed on to read this blog, you knew I was gonna be lazy. I was really open with you guys about that (see, e.g.,

I still feel bad, though. So let me try to make up for it by giving you a list of things that have happened over the past year, just to get the ball rolling, since this is feeling kinda awkward.

1. I moved back to America from Brazil. My wallet rejoiced. My mango bone (the imaginary bone in my body that requires daily doses of mango) mourned.

2. I got engaged to Al!! Yeeeaaaayyyy! We are getting married in May. YeeeaaaayyyY!

3. I wrote in other blogs - but don't worry, I'm not gonna do that thing where I go, "Find me on tumblr now!" because come on. Tumblr's not a real blog. But, just in case you want some more Eteffi in your life, check out and

4. I decided to grow out my bangs.


K, so there you go: four things happened since last year. I don't really feel that bad about not blogging that year anymore.

Anyway, I am back now and promise I won't leave for a year again! Unless I get really lazy! Which might happen!

Bye for now.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wrapping up Brazil

Here is my final (for now) Teffs-in-Brasil email. Enjoy!

Oi oi -

It's hard to believe that it's been SIX whole months since I arrived in Brazil, but I guess time flies when you're working long hours at a tedious, mind-numbing job. That's the saying, right?

I really can't wrap my mind around the fact that I've been here for half a year. So much has happened here in this gigantic, crazy country! Dilma got elected (sigh), as did a (possibly) illiterate clown (double sigh), Rio became a war zone, Brazil got its ass handed to it in the World Cup, someone spelled my name "Stethanie." So much stuff! And I guess stuff happened in the US, too. Or whatever.

Six months. Whoa. When I arrived here it was June and now it's December -- the warm heart of Brazilian summer and the frozen, miserable heart of American winter. I'm already scared about getting off the plane in DC on Saturday night with no winter jacket, no boots, and no gloves, with my already pitifully fragile circulatory system softened into utter uselessness by six months of lazy, South American heat. Pray for me.

So, I guess since this is my last Teffs-in-Brasil email for a while, I should probably wax rhapsodical about my time here and tell some witty anecdotes about cheese or whatever I usually write about. But to be honest, I am SUPER tired, because I've been going out this week *a lot* (trying to squeeze every last drop (of alcohol, mostly) out of Brazil before I leave) and during my free time away from partying, I've also been working, so my brain feels like mush, and whatever quadrant of gray matter that's in charge of wittiness is not lighting up today. I can't even get a metaphor right. Gray matter lighting up? C'mon, Steph.

But, I will say that although the last six months have had, shall we say, ups and downs, overall, I am SOOOOOO glad I came. Seriously. I know some of you have listened to me bitch hard-core about some aspects of my life here: my job, being lonely, not being able to find a decent piece of gum in this town, the weird smells, the fact that the toilet lid in my apartment touches your back when you sit down (*shudder*), the outrageous prices, etc. But you know what? All of the inconvenience, loneliness, and resentment was worth it. Over the last six months, I've made new friends, improved my Portuguese *vastly*, learned a lot professionally, and, yes, grown as a person. I know, gross.

This past weekend was particularly wonderful. It was filled with karaoke, towers of beer, barbequed meat, caipirinhas, Brazilian music, fresh fruit, dancing, buckets of rain, and intense sun. Sometimes all at once. The whole weekend left me with a warm, benevolent feeling about Brazil in general, and put a lot of the bad stuff in perspective. Of course, every day can't be a karaoke-barbeque-beerfest, but it's a nice goal to shoot for in life.

Anyway, it's nice to end my time here on a good note, and coming up I have so much to look forward to. I'm spending Christmas and New Years with Al and we're seeing all three of our familial units, in three different locations. International Christmas travel adventures will abound! In January I restart work back in DC -- never thought I'd say this but I can't wait to get back into arbitration. All in all, I have a good feeling about 2011. I mean, it better be good since the world's ending in 2012 and all.

Hope to hear from all of you when you have time. I'll see you guys on the flip side!


Monday, December 13, 2010

Baby Names, 2010

Top 10 baby names, 2010


1. Mason
2. Grayson
3. Brayson
4. Chayson
5. Flayson
6. Branter
7. Rudolph
8. Tandem
9. Spigot
10. Spayson


1. Senna
2. Tehran
3. Tuesday
4. Brilla
5. Klüe
6. Kørtneÿ
7. Tambourine
8. Sarsparilla
9. Lunesta
10. Calliope

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Six-month wrap-up - BRASIW

I can't believe I have been here in Sao Paulo for almost six months - in a lot of ways, it feels like I just got here like, a week ago. Then again, some days it feels like I have been here for an eternity. The last six months have been, overall, a fantastic experience. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to come back to my beloved Brazil to work, make new friends, improve my Portuguese, and, most importantly, eat an ungodly quantity of mangoes. But there were definitely hard moments along the way, mostly having to with my extremely demanding work schedule (which, incidentally, is also to blame for the severe lack of bloggage - that and my incurable laziness), and also having to do with the extreme distance I felt between myself and loved ones. There were definitely days where Brazil felt like Siberia.

But now, I have less than a week to go here, and I am trying to process what it means that I have spent the last half-year in Sao Paulo. It's weird. But good. And, since I have failed to diligently journal my escapades in this space (or in any other space apart from my brain, which is not super helpful to anyone, including me), I am going to attempt to do an abridged list of Things I Did in Brazil, version 2010:

1. Got into soccer, albeit temporarily, as a total fair-weather fan. Lost all interest once Brazil and the U.S. were eliminated. Subsequently developed a healthy loathing of the vuvuzela.

2. Laughed out loud, against my will, at an episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine. You can only see that show so many times per day before it starts to wear you down. I blame Stockholm Syndrome.

3. Discovered jabuticaba.

4. More importantly, discovered caipirinhas de jabuticaba.

5. Learned WAY more Portuguese swear words than I ever used to know before.

6. Sampled a Brazilian red wine that tasted like sour grape juice, which was proudly presented to me as "the best" in the entire store. Oy. Stick to what you know, Brazil.

7. Tried something called "egg sponge bread," which tasted neither like egg nor sponge. It did taste kind of like cake, though. Probably for the best.

8. Cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner.

9. Helped throw a Christmas party for kids from a favela in Sao Paulo. We provided the trampolines, ball pits, mini basketball hoop, crayons and food. They provided the laughter, crazed energy, and, in one case, vomit. But overall, it was SUPER fun and rewarding. There's also something wonderfully surreal about seeing your boss dressed as Santa in 90 degree weather, handing out baby dolls and trucks to barefoot kids in tee-shirts and shorts.

10. Went clubbing on many occasions, and managed to escape being, pardon the phrase, face raped by the many overly enthusiastic, drunk Brazilian dudes in tight rugby shirts and designer jeans that appear to populate every balada in this city. Score for me!

11. Accidentally went to a lesbian party and met some really nice girls there. They were SO friendly! Less so once they realized we weren't gay. Still, fun party!

12. Discovered "chopp escuro," the dark version of regular chopp. It is so good - it's creamy but light and refreshing, and isn't bitter like Guiness, even though it looks like it would be. It reminds me of frothy chocolate milk. Alcoholic, frothy, chocolate milk.

13. Dressed up as a cat for Halloween (read: black fuzzy ears and bowtie, plus eyeliner whiskers and nose) and went to a party that was a mix of Americans and Brazilians. All of the Brazilians were wearing super literal Halloween costumes. I saw ugly witches, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, mummies, etc. I guess slutty Halloween hasn't fully hit the Southern hemisphere yet. It was refreshing to see women my age rocking big fake witch noses and unflattering black gowns. There was nary a sexy bumblebee in sight!

14. Attended a truly lavish Brazilian wedding. One of my coworkers got married and was generous enough to invite the entire office (plus about 350 other people) to his nuptials, which were held at this fabulous event space in the city. There was a full orchestra and choir playing during the ceremony (and a DJ for the reception), a scrumptious dinner and dessert buffet (make your own sundaes, yo!), champagne, a caipirinha bar, and beautiful flowers and lights everywhere. Pretty rad. I love me a good casamento!

15. Attended a number of fancy, schmoozy work events that involved expensive, and, in some cases, bordering on ludicrous, menu items (such as an egg cooked for three days) and large quantities of nice alcohol. I kinda see why people like being corporate lawyers sometimes.

16. Went to a fundraiser at the Canadian Embassy (yay!) and tipsily made the acquaintance of the Canadian ambassador. He seemed underwhelmed.

17. Witnessed the tail-end of a Brazilian presidential campaign, and the two rounds of elections. Watched in bemusement as an illiterate clown was elected to Congress.

I did more than 17 things in the last six months, obviously, but I am going to stop there, so as not to bore all of you to tears as I catalog every coxinha de frango that I ate, every pineapple caipirinha that I swilled (and you all know I would do this). I'll try to blog again before departing for the wintry steppes of Canada, Maine, and D.C. (where I'll be visiting with Al's family and my family). Ate mais!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Feliz dia de ação de graças!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I haven't updated in a while because, you know, work. But I had to take some time out today, a gorgeous summer day in Brazil, to remark on the things I am thankful for this year, even though this Thanksgiving will pass, unremarked upon, at my office. Sigh. Here goes, in no particular order - Eteffi's (slightly Brazilianized) Thanksgiving list, 2010:

- My friends, new and old
- The fam
- Pão de queijo (and most other cheese products)
- Portuguese nasal vowels
- The music of Lady Gaga - how would I exercise without her?
- This American Life podcasts
- Recycling - a small (yet satisfying) way to lessen the overwhelming guilt of living in a developed country day-to-day
- Caipirinhas de fruta
- The Internet (thanks, Al Gore!)
- Guaraná Zero (all of the heart palpitations, none of the guilt)
- Puppies
- Bug spray
- The concept of 'brunch' and its manifestation in my own life
- Church incense
- My Slanket
- Al
- The Inbetweeners, Little Britain, and British humor in general
- Health (mine and others')
- Re-broadcasts of Oprah on Brazilian TV
- Climate-controlled environments
- Employment, even if I do have to work this entire weekend, grumble grumble
- Mandioca frita
- Karaoke

Obviously, I am leaving a lot off the list, as always. But these are some of the highlights of things I am thankful for this year. And, as mentioned above, I am going to be working this entire weekend, but my plan is still to celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday night with a bunch of people who, despite not being American, love Thanksgiving. Of course, this being Brazil, we'll have to compromise a little bit on the menu: no pumpkin pie, no cranberries, probably no stuffing. A Brazilian friend suggested we cook a "Chester," which is, I swear I am not making this up, a "genetically enhanced" chicken. I plan on putting my foot down on this, obviously. I can compromise on a lot of things -- you wanna cook mashed sweet potatoes this year instead of regular mashed potatoes? be my guest -- but I cannot compromise on turkey.

Hope you're all having a wonderful turkey day.

Monday, October 04, 2010

A (not particularly funny) comedy of errors

On the scale of "challenging," so-called "developing world" cities to live in, living in Sao Paulo does not compare to living somewhere truly heinous, like Port Harcourt, Baghdad, or Detroit. Generally, life runs pretty smoothly here, considering that it's a ginormous, crowded South American city. Infrastructure tends to be good (not great - let's not go crazy here), I think mainly because there are enough rich people with money to ensure that there aren't giant, car-swallowing pot-holes or outbreaks of crazy tropical diseases. Sao Paulo has Starbucks, tanning salons, and tart yogurt - all the trappings of a rich, prosperous and well-ordered city.

If you know anything about Sao Paulo, of course, you know that there is a gaping maw of inequality between the rich (those well-heeled Paulistanos who drive armored BMWs and wear Gucci sunglasses) and the poor (the masses of people who are forced to live in favelas, or who eke out an existence collecting trash and other debris to re-sell, for instance). There are Paulistanos who fall in between these two extremes, of course, but by and large, the middle class is not nearly as well-developed as in the United States, and income equality is probably one of the defining characteristics of Sao Paulo's demography. I live in a nice neighborhood full of well-off people who own tiny, sweatered dogs and who can afford to buy imported i-Pods, so it's sometimes easy for me to forget that in this city of 20 million people, there are many who live in poverty and whose day to day life is a real struggle.

The reason I'm telling you this is because I just wanted to preface the series of events I'm about to relay by letting you know that I do have some perspective on my situation and its relative cushiness, compared with how many, many people in Sao Paulo (and the rest of Brazil) live.

K. So while my life here is easier than a lot of people have it, it's also riddled with utterly Brazilian mishaps, which, cumulatively, are so irritating that my life FEELS much harder than it probably actually is. To illustrate, I'm going to list for you a series of things that actually happened to me, in chronological order, over the course of 24 hours last week, just so you'll have an idea of why living in Sao Paulo can, on occasion, bring me to near-homicidal levels of frustration and rage. Here goes:

7 pm: At work. I have my secretary call a taxi to come pick me up at 8 pm, since it is pouring rain outside.

8 pm: I walk outside to get my taxi. It is still pouring rain.

8:10 pm: no taxi. I call and am informed by a surly operator that the cab company "was not able to send a taxi for me." I am extremely upset by this news. They seem unconcerned.

8:15 pm: I find a taxi on the street, which barely delivers me to my apartment in one piece, after nearly careening into several other motorists. Apparently rain makes people here even more reckless drivers, a thing I never thought possible until I experienced it for myself.

8:17: I walk into my apartment and ask for my key, which I leave at the front desk every morning, since it has both the name of the building AND my apartment number on it (safe!). I am informed that the key is "missing." Fantastic. Desk guy suggests that maybe I forgot to leave the key at the desk that morning.

8:19: I take the elevator up 17 floors to my apartment, where the cleaning lady lets me in. I confirm that my key is not, in fact, there.

8:21: I take the elevator down 17 floors and inform the desk guy that my key is not in my apartment. He says it must have been "misplaced" and that he will, when he has a chance, look through the security footage to see what might have happened to it.

8:22: Taking advantage of the fact that I can't get into my apartment without inconveniencing the cleaning lady again, I walk a few doors down to Lojas Americanas, a combined variety store and Blockbuster video (read: clusterf*** of piles of underwear, towels, magazines and DVDs) to return some DVDs I had bought in error.

8:23: I get in line.

8:29: I get to the front of the line. I explain that I would like to return the DVDs. Girl who works at store says okay and disappears.

What feels like 10 pm but is actually 8:35: Girl reappears and tells me that they can't give me cash back for my DVDs and I have to take store credit. But it's not store credit that I can use at any time. I have to use it NOW!!!!

8:36: I begin to dash frantically around the store, trying desperately to use up the R$50 worth of store credit in what can only be described as a veritable post-apocalyptic, consumer wasteland of useless crap. It's like Supermarket Sweep, except I have to use my own money, and I have to buy stuff that I didn't want. I randomly throw things into my shopping basket: tampons, coat hangers, a brush. I linger for a minute in front of a shelf filled with bacon-flavored snacks but decide against it.

8:40: I rejoin the line.

8:43: I get to the front of the line and present my purchases. Girl rings them up and informs me I am R$5 short. Shoulda gotten those bacon snacks. "Why don't you get some chocolate?" the shop girl suggests, most unhelpfully. I reach behind me and grab a magazine that is devoted to covering the upcoming local elections, about which I care not an iota, and throw it into my basket. She rings me up again - I am R$2 OVER my initial budget. There are no words, except, of course: "f***." Seriously? Not only am I forced to buy a bunch of crap I didn't want, don't want, and will never want, but I have to pay EXTRA for it? COME ON, Brazil.

8:45: I return to my apartment building. Take the elevator up 17 floors.

8:47: The cleaning lady lets me in again. I tell her I am concerned about my key being missing. She agrees that it is a "disagreeable" situation.

8:55: Eat dinner.

9:30: Get into bed.

6:30 am: Wake up.

7:15 - 8:15 am: Work out at gym.

8:15: Walk into women's locker room, which is not air conditioned, and is approximately 468 degrees Fahrenheit. After showering, I spend the next thirty minutes feverishly sweating as I try to blow-dry my hair and put on makeup, which insists on sliding off my face and onto my clothes.

9:00: Leave gym in a sweaty, flustered mess.

9:10: Get on the bus, which is approximately 345 degrees Fahrenheit. After paying, squeeze my way through minuscule turnstile while carrying my gym bag and huge work bag. Lurch forward ungracefully as bus lurches forward, nearly colliding with a pole. Finally sit down. Even more flustered now.

9:30: Arrive at work. Repeat.

So. That's a typical day and a half in my life. Sad, isn't it? At least I can laugh (mirthlessly) at it now. Anyway. Better prepare myself mentally: I have to go to the grocery store tonight. Can't wait...

PS. They found my key. Silver lining!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Hey peeps. Long time no blog, right? Sorry about that. I was working and stuff.* But I'm back to fill you in on what I've been up to over the past few weeks, starting with my first non-Sao Paulo weekend since coming to Brazil! Here goes!

So, this past weekend, my friend Yohanca and I decided to hit the road and go to Ubatuba, which is a beach town about midway between Rio and SP. We took a four-hour bus ride, which started off delightfully, with us merrily stuffing our faces with pizza crackers (yes, these exist!) and beer, and ended with us both reeling with nausea from the combination of twisty-turny bus ride and godawful air freshener that someone insisted on spraying around the bus approximately every six minutes. I promise you that this air freshener was far more unpleasant than any conceivable stench it was intended to cover up. This is the kind of toxic, Brazilian air freshener that coats the back of your throat, burns the inside of your nostrils, and makes you cough and sneeze simultaneously. I also think it causes mild brain damage: to wit, I decided that Y and I needed to get off the bus at a stop a good 50 kilometers from where we were actually going. Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-air freshener.

One $75 dollar cab ride later, we arrived at our hotel, which was a non-descript yellow building on a quiet dirt road. Since it's winter here, Y and I were the only guests at the hotel, except for the huge, horrifying moth that was chilling on the ground outside our room. I guess this moth was taking a much-needed vacation from terrorizing Japanese cities and decided to stay at the Alentejano Hotel to get some "me time." Besides Mothra, the only other souls in the hotel were the staff. Oh yeah, and there was a really annoying bird that sounded like a mini air gun, which apparently lived right outside our room. Isn't nature grand?

Anyway, after that first night marked by moths and nausea, things improved greatly for us in Ubatuba. We spent the whole next day lying on the beach, drinking beer and eating an assortment of bizarre snack foods (including bacon-flavored chips with the texture of styrofoam with a picture of a demented squirrel on the bag) and beach cheese. Ah, beach cheese. I feel like I should capitalize it to show some respect: Beach Cheese. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, Beach Cheese is perhaps the best cheese-related thing in Brazil, rivaled only by cheese bread and cheese ice cream. And I guess air cheese (proper name: queijo Minas - but it tastes like delicious air) . . . okay, so Brazil has a lot of good cheese going for it. But Beach Cheese, in my humble opinion, takes the (cheese)cake. It's a rubbery, white cheese, similar in flavor and texture to Haloumi, which comes in a block/stick, and is lovingly fried/grilled for you right there on the beach by your local Beach Cheese Guy (see below), who walks up and down the beach carrying a portable oven/grill. I am not making this up. Brazil is so awesome.

Other than the Beach Cheese, not a lot happened at the beach. We read a lot, chatted, ate weird snacks (aside from the aforementioned squirrel bacon snacks, we also found some so-called "egg sponge" bread that tasted, oddly, like cake), saw assorted carcasses lying on the road (two frogs!) and laid around. It was delightful. We also ventured into the main town for dinner on Saturday, which was an odd, rather anticlimactic experience. The main drag in the town was filled with an uncomfortable mix of families with small children, vagrants, and gangs of way-too-sexually-mature-looking 14 year-olds. There seemed to be no one there between the ages of 15 to 35 - was there some sort of city ordinance that we missed? Were all the twenty-somethings on another street? It was baffling. Since the options were a bit sparse for entertainment, we went to a homey, wood-paneled pizza place for food and then waddled over to the serve-yourself ice cream parlor to put the cherry on top of our weekend sundae of gluttony. This was instead of venturing into the one bar on the strip that seemed to be popular, because I was too intimidated by those sexy 14 year-olds.

So, that was my weekend at the beach. It was lovely to get out of the city, but I knew I missed SP when my cab back from the city bus station crawled past a gang of transvestite prostitutes in butt-less skirts (these exist, too) shaking it for the traffic. Welcome back.

*'Stuff' being mainly watching reruns of Oprah and eating cheese.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Situação

Being back in Sao Paulo almost five years after my first stay here, I'm starting to come to the realization that there is a big difference between 23-year-old, single Steph, and almost-28-year-old, non-single Steph. Not to be too reductionist about this, but the difference is basically that now I am old and boring, and before I was young and fun. This sad fact becomes glaringly clear when I go clubbing here, which is every weekend. Incidentally, in the U.S., I don't go clubbing very often -- I just don't get the appeal of paying a bunch of money to hang out with d-bags in shiny shirts and listen to really loud music, unless you're in Miami, of course. But here in Sao Paulo, clubbing is the only option if one wants to dance. The concept of a low-key bar with both bar stools and dancing (something that's common in the U.S.) apparently does not exist here, except in the context of samba bars, which are not really my cup of cachaça.

So, every weekend I embark on an epic quest to try to find fun music (read: not techno or any variant thereof) while not paying an arm and a leg AND not getting sexually assaulted in the process. This is the Brazilian equivalent of Frodo attempting to carry the ring to Mordor without getting eaten by Smeagol or falling into a pit of fire. I am Frodo in this analogy, by the way.

So far, my noble quest to find pop music in Sao Paulo has been arduous, and has resulted in some semi-bizarre clubbing experiences. Last weekend, for example, a couple girl friends and I went to a club that played odd, "alternative" house music (i.e., both boring and non-melodic) until a band came on at -- wait for it -- 3 am. Yes, the band STARTED playing at 3 am. I'm sorry, I'm just too old for this crap. Although I guess I can't really blame my lameness on my age, since the band members' parents and GRANDPARENTS were in attendance for their show. It's always humbling to realize that 80-year-old Brazilian grandparents have more clubbing stamina than you do.

This weekend was slightly more promising in terms of finding American music, but much more dismal in terms of avoiding being grabbed and otherwise harassed by strange men. On Friday, a friend and I went to a club called Happy News that I remembered going to when I was here before. I had vague memories of glowsticks and balloons and Beyonce, all of which seemed promising, so we went, hoping for the best. It turned out to be a mixed bag. The music was alright - they played that one Black Eyed Peas song a couple of times, which was my mediocre oasis in a desert of techno and Brazilian rock, but the clientele at this place was so distracting I couldn't even concentrate on the music. The only way I can describe the vibe at Happy News is to say that it was the Jersey Shore of Brazil.* I even saw a guy with Pauly D hair. Unfortunately, it combined all of the bad aspects of Jersey Shore (spiked hair, gold chains, aggressiveness) without all of the benefits (fist pumping, Ron Ron Juice). I got tired quickly, since I spent 80% of the night trying to dodge guys in too-tight rugby shirts who were attempting to grab my face and kiss me (barf). Yep, I threw a lot of elbows that night.

On Saturday night, some girl friends and I decided to go to a place with guaranteed pop music, a gay club called Gloria. Thank God for gay clubs. Where else can you go in Sao Paulo to hear vintage Spice Girls and even - not making this up - a little bit of NSYNC? The variety of music actually wasn't that impressive (and they didn't play Beyonce - what kind of gays are running this joint?) but I was appeased by the Gaga and the Britney. To be honest, I had a blast at Gloria and would gladly go back every weekend, but the single ladies in my group were left a bit cold by the lack of attention they got from the men there. To me, this is a huge advantage of going to a club full of gay men -- you get left alone (usually) -- but I get why single girls would get bored.

So the quest continues. I am hoping that one night I am going to stumble upon the Holy Grail of Brazilian clubs - a place that plays pop music and is full of respectful (yet straight) men and costs less than $100 to get in. I realize this might not exist. But I'm not gonna let that stop me.

*The episode where Snooki gets punched in the face.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

An email update from yours truly

When I first started Brasilian Wax, I used to just copy and paste emails that I wrote home and called it blogging. I think I've evolved since then, but you'll have to forgive me if I backslide every now and then. Now is one of those times: I am going to paste an email I wrote home to friends and family so that those of you never agreed to be inundated by teffsinbrasil emails can share in the fun. Enjoy.

from eteffi
date Sun, Jun 27, 2010 at 8:12 PM
subject Brasiw

Hello my faithful friends,

Thanks for agreeing to be bombarded by self-indulgent, Brazil-focused emails for the next four (or so) months. Here is the first one! I am going to try to make my emails different from my blog posts so as to avoid repeating myself and boring everyone more than is necessary. So, in the tried and true tradition of Steph-in-Brazil emails, I will list the (semi-interesting) things that have happened since I've been here:

1. I developed an interest in soccer. I KNOW. I never thought it would happen either. My long-held attitude towards soccer has been one of scoffing disregard, and I never intended to budge from that stance as long as I held an American passport, but it's basically impossible to be in Sao Paulo in the middle of World Cup season and not get a little bit sucked in to the futebol mania. I just had to abandon my anti-soccer attitude and embrace the World Cup - and you know what? It's been super fun. On days when Brazil plays, the entire city buzzes (and not just from those godawful vuvuzelas) -- you can actually feel the excited energy in the air. Everyone wears yellow or green and no one comes to work -- Brazilians have their priorities straight, after all (i.e., futebol > trabalho). One friend told me that on game days, you could go out to Avenida Paulista, one of the busiest thoroughfares in this city of 20 million + people, and lie down in the middle of it and take a nap, since everyone is glued to their TV screens when Brazil plays. Since Brazilians are so into their team, I took a page out of their book and decided to watch the USA-Ghana game with a bunch of Americans (and U.S. supporters) at a bar yesterday. We were the lone table of Americans in a sea of Brazilians, almost all of whom were rooting for Ghana (I made sure to glare at them in righteous indignation, although it's sort of hard to play the underdog card as an American), and I found myself YELLING at the TV screen as the U.S. slowly and painfully lost to Ghana. I never knew I cared about this crap. But I do. Who knew? Today I watched the Argentina-Mexico game (go Mexico!) and found myself yelling at the TV screen when I was ALONE in my apartment. Look who's a superfan all of a sudden.

2. I went clubbin'. I thought my clubbin' days were over, since the last time I lived here I was almost 5 years younger and had a significantly higher tolerance for ear-bleedingly loud clubs and house music in general. But on Saturday night, I found myself out until 3 am at one of my old haunts, Dolores, one of the only hip hop clubs in Sao Paulo. Side note about that: Brazilians don't think they are racist, and they definitely don't have the same issues with race that we do in the United States, but at least we don't call hip hop "black music." Yep. Brazilians call hip hop and R&B "black music," which they pronounce "blacky musicky," which makes it even more ridiculous. The club we went to last night advertises its "Sexta Black" (Black Friday), where they play exclusively blacky musicky, which I guess means no Eminem on Fridays? The best part of last night was seeing Brazilians wearing blinged-out baseball caps and wifebeaters C-walking (although it looked kinda like samba set to Snoop Dogg). Anyway, it was fun going out. Unlike last time I lived here, I didn't stay out until 8 am and then come home with my ears ringing and my hair reeking of smoke. Instead, I called it a night at the mature and reasonable hour of 3 am and went home and talked to my boyfriend and watched Shallow Hal. So much more grown up, right?

3. I went back to Parque Ibirapuera. I LOVE Parque Ibirapuera. It's this giant park in the middle of the city and to me, it is one of the most fascinating and fun places to go for quality people-watching. It feels like the entire city comes out to the park on weekends - it's crowded and loud and a bit chaotic. Today, as always, it was a colorful mess of rollerbladers, skateboarders, bikers, tandem bikers, walkers, runners, boaters, basketball players, volleyball players, coconut sippers, corn eaters, dog walkers, music listeners, and, of course maker-outers. I even saw two girls making out today. Way to evolve, Parque Ibirapuera.

4. I saw a military police helicopter hover above my friend's apartment building for a good hour. Helicopters aren't that unusual in SP, because rich people often use them to get to and from work (no joke) but military police helicopters flying at close range and circling a small block for an hour? That's weird. I was at my friend Mariana's apartment and we had just finished watching the Brazil-Ivory Coast game when we heard the helicopter outside. We went out and looked and realized that there were military police cars parked up and down the block, and cops in bullet-proof vests prowling the streets outside Mariana's building, obviously looking for someone. All of the people in the building came out and stood on their balconies, blowing vuvuzelas and throwing green and yellow confetti down on the police. Ah, Brazil. Eventually, the helicopter left, I guess because it got dark and they couldn't find whatever super dangerous criminal they were looking for. Awesome use of taxpayer resources, eh?

Anyway. I guess I'll leave it at that for today. I've done more stuff here over the past week, but no one wants to hear about how many mangoes I've eaten (four) or which bad American TV shows I've seen ad nauseum (Smallville, Two and a Half Men). So, yeah, I won't even mention it.

Hope you are all well! Ate mais.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pumpin' Iron, Brazilian Style, Part II

And now for the second installment in my chronicle of Brazilian gyms! I went from working out on an ancient, wheel-controlled treadmill to joining one of the schamciest gyms in the city within 24 hours. What a whirlwind. There were several steps in this process. To start with, I decided against re-joining my old gym, Reebok ("Hee-bocky," as the Brazilians say) because it's too far from my apartment and my office and I'd end up sitting in traffic for 20 minutes each way to get there. And since a 20 minute cab ride here costs about as much as a black market kidney in the US, I decided I needed to find a closer gym.

First, I tried Academia Fitness World. Its name led me to believe that it would be some sort of, like... world... filled with, I don't know... fitness. Or something. When I walked up to the building, I was shocked not to see anything representing a world of fitness. Instead, I saw a squat, orange building with a menacing looking metal gate. I had to be buzzed in, and the woman who let me in seemed confused by my presence. She gave me a look like, "Why are you in exercise clothes? What does this look like, a world of fitness?"

I was quickly introduced to a trainer (sigh), who, I was disappointed to note, did not have a mullet, but who did creepily hover next to my treadmill as I ran three miles or so. Then, the same trainer, Roberto, "trained" me on the gym's rickety old machines, explaining that the reason that I have shin and hip problems is because I "run too hard" and need to "run softer." EXACTLY, Roberto - this is why I invested in that company that builds anti-gravity shoes! They just need a few billion more dollars in R&D and they'll have this whole shin-splint thing solved.

Anyway, Fitness World was okay. A bit dingy, a bit small, a bit creepy, but it would do in a pinch. Then, someone told me to check out the Pele Club, which is, unsurprisingly, owned by the soccer icon Pele. The Pele Club turned out to be mind-blowingly expensive -- more than twice as much per month as my SUPER fancy gym back in D.C. -- but it has individual TVs on the treadmills, and I'm sort of a sucker for that. I mean, come on, how can I say no to watching all my favorite American shows on the "Warner Channel"* while I exercise? The Warner Channel plays such popular series as Two And a Half Men, According to Jim, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Supernatural, and Smallville**. You know, all this year's runaway successes of American television!

Anyway, when it came down to it, I was sold on the treadmill-TVs and the fact that after paying several hundred dollars to become a member of the Pele Club, I'd receive a tiny soccer ball. Seriously. That was their membership promotion: a tiny soccer ball. Whatever. I joined. Don't judge me. The way I justify it to myself is the following: 1) I pay more per month at my gym in DC since I have been seeing an outrageously expensive (but very good) personal trainer once a week anyway, and 2) this way I get "trained" every single day by Brazilians, who know all about fitness, and can probably teach me Brazilian stuff, like caipoeira and soft running.

Exercise is just different in Brazil. For one thing, I feel like a total bad-ass when I work out here, because the trainers always seem amazed at the fact that I can run for more than four minutes on a treadmill without having to take a cigarette break. Also, the exercises themselves are just... different. This morning, for example, I stopped by the Pele Club and was treated to something called "treinamento funcional" ("functional training"). This consisted of intervals of a series of seemingly random movements, interspersed with 2-minute sessions on a slow-moving stair-stepper. It was weird. It lasted thirty minutes, and when I was done, I felt more confused than anything else. I don't know, guess I am just used to having my a** handed to me on a plate by a personal trainer. I want to feel SORE and shaky and on the verge of muscle implosion (is that a thing?) after working out. Here, the gyms subscribe to a softer, gentler form of exercise (hence, soft running).

Stay posted - there will be another update coming about the dreaded, mandatory fitness evaluation that the gym is forcing me to do.

*Obviously this channel does not exist in the United States.
**Really, guys? Smallville? UGH.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pumpin' Iron, Brazilian Style, Part 1

I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur of gyms -- crappy gyms, fancy gyms, old people gyms, young people gyms -- and I have been to many gyms in many countries -- Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Scotland, Thailand, etc. -- and frankly, I've seen a lot of weirdness. For example, at a gym I visited in Krems an der Donau, Austria, they had signs designating different areas of the gym: arms, legs, cardio, ladies. The "ladies" section consisted of one of those ab rocker things and a couple of mats. I guess that makes sense. Or, what about the time I joined a gym in Chile where they insisted on measuring my body-fat with calipers before I joined and then told me I was "gorda" (just a shade under "obesa") and thus REALLY needed the gym membership? That was flattering.

Even though they have called me fat, I have a special fondness for South American gyms. These gyms tend to have a few key, endearing characteristics in common: an abundance of Velcro leg weights, a legion of overly-attentive trainers with mullets, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and, if you're lucky, techno. You guys already know what I'm talking about -- I've written at some length about my experience at the Academia Reebok, the fanciest gym in Sao Paulo, which I am actually considering re-joining for my four months here. But I've never really written about the other type of South American gym - the horrendously crappy apartment gym. This is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Today, after a series of events which conspired to prevent me from joining a real gym here, I decided, in a moment of desperation, to use my new apartment building's in-house fitness center (or, "o feetchy-ness," as the Brazilians pronounce it). Now, I have seen a lot of terrible apartment gyms in my day, so it's a rare treat when I see something so bad it surprises me. That's why I was both horrified and delighted today when I entered the feetchyness, which consists of two treadmills, a bike, and a few free weights, and saw the treadmill, in all of its glory.

The treadmill seemed normal at first glance, except for the fact that I had to stick a plastic key in the front of it to make it turn on. No big deal - I've seen weirder. After inserting the key, though, I couldn't figure out how to make the belt move. There were no buttons. No keys. And then I noticed the wheel. Yes, that's right, this treadmill's speed was controlled by a weird, plastic wheel -- you turn clockwise for faster and counter-clockwise for slower.

The problem with this system, as you might imagine, is that a wheel is an extremely imprecise way of determining the speed of a moving belt, especially when it is being controlled by someone running on said belt. Treadmill runners don't have the steadiest hand, which is something this wheel seemed to demand. I would touch it a hair to the right and the belt would jerk wildly forward, and suddenly I was sprinting. I'd turn it back and the belt would grind to a slow crawl, pitching me forward. Who invented this? Oh, that's right, a Brazilian engineer in 1973.

Ah, Brazilian gyms! Stay tuned - I am planning a pilgrimage back to the Academia Reebok this week, so expect an update. All I hope is that they haven't installed any wheel-treadmills since I was last there and that there are still plenty of Velcro leg weights to go around.

Friday, June 18, 2010


It's my second day in Sao Paulo, and I have to admit I haven't seen much since I've been here. Basically, I've seen: the office, the buildings on the way to the office, the lunch place near the office, and my hotel, which happens to be right by the office. So I don't have a good sense of whether much has changed since I lived here almost five years ago. However, I did notice something pretty telling as I was walking back from dinner (which was, by the way, a ginormous chicken "beirute" sandwich with a fried egg, bacon AND mayo on it - holy Lord). I saw a sign advertising the opening of . . . a froyo place.

Yes, the froyo craze is finally penetrating Brazil. I am of two minds on this: on the one hand, I'm happy, because, as we all know, I love froyo so much I would marry it if it were legal in any state (I blame the Republicans). On the other hand, there's something sad about Brazil, land of pao de queijo and cheese-flavored ice cream, caving to the New York/Hollywood trend of negative-calorie, fake foods. I guess I should have seen it coming - women here already discovered those bug-eye sunglasses and anorexia, so it was only a matter of time before they picked up on froyo, I suppose.

I wonder what else has changed here since I left. I almost got hit by a motoboy while crossing the street, so at least that hasn't changed. And the air still smells tantalizingly of fried food, bus fumes, and cologne. Maybe not so much has changed after all.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brazzzzzzillllll (again!)

As some of you may know, I started this blog in the summer of 2005, right after I had graduated college and was preparing to move to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to start my first real, grown-up job as a paralegal. That was almost five years ago (whoa!) and the blog has slowly evolved from goofy observations about daily life in Brazil to even goofier observations about daily life in other places.

Well, I have some news for you all - I'm back in Sao Paulo for at least 4 months, working as a real lawyer this time, and I am going to start chronicling my Brazilian adventures in this space again. Things might be slightly different this time - I think my life will probably involve more working and less clubbing until partial deafness sets in. Hopefully, though, I'll still be able to regale you all with tales of Brazilian life when I have time away from work.

Right now I'm sitting in my new office (which will actually change soon, since my firm is moving offices on Monday), looking out the window at the tall buildings and scattered palm trees of the business district of Sao Paulo. I can also hear a dog barking somewhere -- ah, Brazil.

I am in too much of a fog from my long plane ride, which started yesterday at 2 pm and ended today at 7 am, to be funny or witty or even to double check my blog entry for coherence, so this will have to do. More to come soon!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Slovenia: piercings, babies and burek

Hello! It's time for the final installment of my Austria-Slovenia vacation recap: Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Al and I were both really excited about going to Ljubljana, mostly because we'd heard great things about it, and partly because neither of us had ever been to a city with so many superfluous j's in its name before. Ljubljana is the tiny, precious capital of Slovenia, which is a tiny, precious country. Ljubs is miniscule: only 250,000 people in the whole capital! It's also gorgeous, set along a river (the aptly named Ljubljanica) with weeping willows hanging down along the banks. Al said the city reminded him a bit of Amsterdam, because of the narrow houses with balconies lining the waterway. But Ljubljana takes the cuteness a step further, with such adorable flourishes as this "triple bridge" in the old town:

Ljubs isn't just cute, though - it's also way too cool. There's artsy graffiti everywhere (probably mandated by the EU), everyone wears skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors, and the facial-piercings per capita rate is sky high. Even the hostel we stayed at was edgy - it was a converted prison called Celica. Each of the rooms is a "cell" (complete with bars on the door) designed by a different artist. The hostel is also located in Metelkova, an "autonomous social center" in the middle of the city. I think this means that people within the seven-building range of Metelkova are allowed to do way more drugs than everyone else in Ljubs, but I'm not sure.

So, as we were checking in to Celica, we were told that for the first night, we'd have to share a room with some other people, since all the private cells were booked. Fine, I thought, no big deal. We'd probably just end up sharing with another couple, some European version of us who would probably end up becoming our best friends and whom we'd vacation with for the rest of our lives. It just seemed like the most realistic scenario. To my plainly undisguised horror, however, when we got to our room, we realized we were sharing with two Swiss women and a baby. That's right -- we had to share a room with what is most likely the only infant in the autonomous social district of Metelkova. I was not pleased.

Al initially was a much better sport about our baby roommate than I was, saying that he seemed "well-behaved" (he was Swiss, after all) and it would only be for one night. Just one night, how bad could it be? Bad, as it turns out. Apparently even polite Swiss babies cry inconsolably during the wee hours of the morning, which we found out the hard way. Not to be dramatic or anything, but that night was a six-hour long audible parade of horrors. There was, of course, the wailing baby. Then there was the drunken howling of inebriated Englishmen immediately outside our door, who ran up and down the hallway making weird hooting noises and pounding on the walls from approximately 4 am to 5 am. Then -- and this was the absolute worst -- one of the Swiss women started breast-feeding the baby (who was at least 18 months old, come ON) approximately 1.5 feet from my head, as I cowered into the pillow, squeezed my eyes shut and prayed for it all to be over soon.

The next morning, I realized that I am a person who is capable of shooting dirty looks at an 18-month old. "Stupid baby," I muttered under my breath, seeing him happily playing with his Swiss wooden toys on our dormitory floor the next day. But the real target of my anger was his mother(s), who seemed happily oblivious to the fact that it's wildly inappropriate to bring a baby to a shared dorm room unless you are escaping a war zone (and I don't think Lucerne counts).

Our visit improved significantly once we got our own room at the Celica. We spent the rest of our time in Ljubs walking around the old city, visiting the castle on a hill, drinking cheap Slovenian wine, and eating absurd quantities of burek, which is some sort of Balkan meat pie that is so fatty and delicious, I shudder to think what would happen if food courts in the U.S. ever discovered it.

Overall, it was a lovely time and we were sad to leave Ljubs, but we had an enjoyable (and Burek-filled) train ride back through the Semmering Pass and into Austria, where we spent our last night in Vienna. A good end to a good trip. Tschuss!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Adorable Austria

Time for Part 2 of my Austria-Slovenia vacay recap: the Wachau Valley, Austria. The Wachau Valley is a beautiful valley (as the name would suggest) formed by the Danube River in Lower Austria. It's known for two things: good wine and excessive cuteness.

We got there by taking a (cute) train from Vienna, arriving after a few hours in the (adorable) town of Krems an der Donau. The sheer unadulterated charm of this place was overwhelming: cobblestone streets, narrow alleys lined with pastel houses, an ornate church with with ivy crawling up its sides -- even the barbed-wire covered prison on the outskirts of town was adorable.

We stayed in a semi-weird but cool budget hotel about 10 minutes outside of town called, oddly, Orange Wings. We liked it because they had a vending machine in the lobby with mini bottles of champagne AND free wireless in our room! There was a (really cute) bus that ran from the hotel to the main part of town, which we took every day, along with ten or so spry Austrian grandmas and a few hipsters who were far too wholesome and non-dejected-looking to be convincing.

The main reason we came to the Wachau was not actually for the cuteness -- we came for the wine. Al and I are big wine people, meaning that Al is extremely knowledgeable about wine and I heartily enjoy drinking it (while remaining astonishingly ignorant about it). We also like mixing our boozing with light to moderate exercise, so on our second day in Krems, we decided to rent bikes early in the morning and ride them from adorable wine town to adorable wine town, following the Danube River. As we biked along the river, through the towns of Stein, Durnstein, Weissenkirchen, and Joching, among others that are too precious to even mention, we marveled at how each place we passed through was more charming than the previous one. It seems impossible, but the towns just kept getting CUTER. My favorite town was Joching, home to The Most Adorable Kindergarten in the Universe. I had to stop and take a picture, it was THAT cute. Everything was wooden -- the toys, the building, the floors, the broom that the pretty blonde teacher was using to sweep the floors -- and European and delightful. Definitely going to send my kids there. They can commute, right?

Our end goal for our bike-venture was the town of Spitz, where we were hoping to taste some wine and relax a bit. Unfortunately, no one clued us in to the fact that Austrians are actually Latinos, and take absurdly long afternoon siestas that start at 10 am and last until 3 pm. All these people do is sleep and make schnitzel, apparently. So, when we arrived in Spitz, expecting all of the wineries to greet us with open, boozy arms, we were disappointed to see that nothing at all was open. We went forlornly from winery to winery, hoping that someone would be willing to let us in and give us some wine, but most of the people who answered their doors seemed utterly perplexed by our presence ("Wine? Here? At a winery? Oh, goodness, no, no, we don't have anything like that here."). One man, though, seemed both confused AND angry that we had the nerve to ask if his winery, whose door was open and said "WINERY" on it, served wine. He said/roared something at us in what we think was a dialect of Austrian Ogre -- but might have been Western Austrian Troll, his accent was a bit muddled -- and we thanked him and backed slowly away, hopping on our bikes and pedalling furiously to safety.

After being turned away from a garden shop which in our desperation we mistook for a winery, we finally were forced to accept that nothing was going to open until 3 pm. Defeated, we sat down on a bench outside of a (closed) winery for our packed picnic lunch of cheese and bread and waited for the Austrians to wake up from their uber-siestas. At that point, though, the weather had started to turn nasty, and we soon found ourselves biking through cold, gusty rain showers back to Durnstein. Even though it was chilly and wet, it was sort of exhilarating to bike through lush green fields in the rain. It's amazing what an abundance of cuteness and charm can do for one's tolerance of crappy weather! In Durnstein, which was mobbed with slow-moving and bewildered (read: elderly) tourists in rain parkas, we finally had a few nice glasses of wine and, to top off the day, nearly died choking on a chocolate covered apricot seed (okay, that was just me).

After the unfortunate apricot seed incident, we decided to call it a day and head back to Krems, where we ate a meal that was 10% solid food and 90% cream. Al's dish, which was billed as pasta, was a bowl of cream with a few pieces of linguine floating in it. My meal, which I understood to be chicken when ordering it, was cream, a few pieces of asparagus, and what I believe may have been a poultry product of some sort, but it was hard to tell for all the cream. We also had cream of asparagus soup. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. Actually, speaking of asparagus, we noticed that in both Austria and Slovenia, asparagus (spargel -- one of approximately three German words I learned on my 10-day trip) was, shall we say, abundant. They LOVE them some spargel in Austria. I like when restaurants use seasonal ingredients and all, but I was a little spargel-ed out by the end of our time there. But I do like saying spargel. Spargel.

The next day, we ditched the bikes and took the train to Spitz, where we went on a little hike in the hills and woods surrounding the town and killed time until 3 pm before attempting any wineries. We had much better luck than the day before and it turned into a glorious, wine-filled day. We had some fantastic Riesling, Zweigelt and Gruner Ventliner, plus a delicious, fresh lunch that consisted of heaps of cold cuts and cheese and homemade, hot bread. Nom nom nom nom nom.

So, that pretty much sums up our time in the Wachau -- Al and I both agreed that it was the highlight of our trip. You just can't beat that cuteness.

Coming up, Slovenia!