Friday, August 26, 2005

Typically Brazilian

So, a quick update on this week...

I spent Tues - Thurs working at the São Paulo offices of Petrobras, in a room that was so cold I lost circulation in my hands and feet, and could almost see my breath in front of me. On the upside, I got free cake from a lady's birthday on Wednesday, and a chocolate from another birthday on Thursday, so I guess a little frostbite is worth it. Despite the tundra-like conditions, the Petrobras offices are nice because a) they have free cappuccino/hot chocolate/espresso machines and b) everyone leaves at 5:30 because the building locks down at 6:30. If our office locked down at 6:30, everyone would just have to spend the night, because no one ever leaves that early at Clifford Chance. The idea!

Last night I went to the symphony, which was in a gorgeous, gorgeous room in a building that used to be the train station. It's in sort of a bad neighborhood -- and by sort of, I mean REALLY, but the place is really swanky. The symphony hall is decorated in blond wood, with black walls and white pillars, and has a ceiling made up of pale wooden squares that move to optimize the acoustic environment. Amazing.

The music was lovely, although I started to drift off after the intermission since I am not used to being awake past 10 pm on weeknights. Ah, the working world takes quite a toll on me.

In other news, this is my work friends' last week in SP before they go traveling and then head back to London, so we have been trying to make the most of it. On Monday night we went out to dinner at the shocking hour of 10:30 pm and had to wait for a table. South America kills me. The restaurant, Spot, was really good -- yummy, light food and good wine. I definitely recommend it. This weekend I think we will try to do some sort of celebratory blow-out for M and V, it should be fun.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Life is still good here in SP. Since it's been over a week since I last updated, I can't really remember all the stuff I did. Rest assured it was all typically Brazilian. Ummm, what I do remember is that Wednesday and Thursday I went to Rio again, and it was lovely, despite the fact that I was caged up in Petrobras again for the whole two days. This time I noticed that not only are female Petrobras receptionists forced to wear blue and green polyester suits that look like they were lovingly preserved in a time capsule since 1974, they are mandated to wear either blue or green eyeshadow (LIBERALLY APPLIED). Wish I was kidding, buuuuut I'm not. Keep in mind that this is the country in which a popular airline (TAM) came up with the idea a few months ago that all its employees should wear flowing red capes. It goes along with the whole "flying" theme, I guess.

So, yes, Rio was super nice, as always. We stayed in the Pestana again and got our lovely free caiprinhas on the rooftop bar, and we also went to this amazing Lebanese restaurant called Amir in Copacabana. OH, and on a completely random note, and I had this revelation when I went for a walk on the beach Thursday morning. I saw this guy attempting to do some fancy footwork on the beach, kind of running sideways and crossing one foot behind the other, just like what my cross-country team used to do for warmup. Back in Ernest W. Seaholm High, we called that move "karioka," which I always assumed was a Michigan-ized bastardization of the word "karaoke," although why we would name a running exercise after a campy (and addictive!) form of entertainment imported from Japan is anyone's guess. BUT ANYWAY, I saw this guy doing karioka, and I was like, wait a minute, KARIOKA = CARIOCA, which is what people from Rio are called!!!!! It was like my whole life suddenly made sense.

Acouple other things I have done in the past week in a half that bear mentioning: I went to the Mercado Municipal, where they sell every kind of food imaginable (and whole pigs strung up by their noses), took several thrilling bus rides (like a rollercoaster ride without the hassle of safety restraints), toured another mall of São Paulo (Shopping Ibirapuera), went to an Argentine steakhouse (omg, amazing), went to a terrible, terrible club called Soul Sister, twice, even though it was awful both times, met up with another Stanny kid who is down here, went to Parque Ibirapuera like a million times, finally got over my fear and met with a personal trainer at Reebok to start lifting weights like a pro, and received my first gas bill!!! Oh yeah and in Rio I saw a sandcastle in the shape of a bunch of women bending over, with real thongs built into the sand. You have to admire the workmanship, if nothing else.

So that's that. In other news, my friends Matthew and Vicky are in their second-to-last week of work here before leaving to go back to CC in London and I am bummed. But two new trainees are coming in and they are rumored to be really fun, so all is well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Stephanie Goes to Work

.... me going to work is like Ernest going to camp -- hilarious pickles abound! Except it was more hilarious when Ernest went to camp, and more crippingly tedious when I went to work. But, you know, still similar.

I went to Rio for Thursday and Friday, which was actually nice b/c the Clifford Chance office there looks out on a tiny sliver of beautiful blue ocean. However I spent most of my day in the offices of Petrobras, the state-owned oil and natural gas monopoly, whose offices are perhaps the Most Depressing Offices Ever, underscored by the fact that they are just footsteps from the fabulous beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Yeah, Petrobras had it all -- employees in hideous green and blue polyester uniforms and/or grossly inappropriate streetclothes with exposed midriffs/buttcracks, buzzing neon lights, fake plants, cubicles as far as the eye can see, and a sad little man who wheels around a cart of espresso every 4 minutes. The coffee man was perhaps the saddest. Anyway, after V. and I spent all day Thursday laboring away, we got to retire to our Fabulous (capital F) hotel, the Pestana Rio Atlantica in Copacabana.

Ummmm let it be known that I have never stayed in such a posh hotel, EVER. It was magical. However, I still hold a special place in my heart for the Che Lagarto, dahling, the sweaty-ass (wonderful!) hostel we stayed in last time I was in Rio. I remember it fondly.

After Rio, I came back to SP for the weekend. Friday it was this kid from work's bday, so we went to a bar that also serves meat, which really is all you can ask for in life. Copious amounts of chopp (pronounced "shope-ee" for those of you boning up on your Portuguese alcohol vocabulary words) were consumed, and by 1 am I was so tired I decided to "sack it in" as the Brits say and go home. I later got a call at 2 am or so from a Stanford kid who is down here, noting that I obviously hadn't yet adjusted to the São Paulo lifestyle of "partying till you drop dead." All in good time.

Saturday, I went to the Afro-Brazilian culture museum in Iberapuera Park, which was an odd mix of art by Afro-Brazilians and historical displays about important Afro-Brazilians. There were also some decidedly phallic sculptures (what museum would be complete without them) and a section of religious art in which everyone pictured was white. Go figure. It was a nice museum though and I enjoyed seeing the photography on display.

That night, V. and I went out to dinner. We wanted to go to this Thai restaurant called Sutra, which my Fodor\'s guide promised had a real coconut tree growing in the middle of the restaurant, but when we got there, the restaurant had apparently burned down in a tragic curry powder accident, because it wasn't where freakin' Fodor's promised it would be. So, we decided to go to a backup Thai restaurant, from another guidebook, which, alas, was also non-existent. I will never trust Fodor's again, and I am considering writing a strongly-worded letter to their editor, that assface. So that sucked. But it was okay, because we ended up at this Italian cantina which turned out to be good -- and they gave us free garlic bread! We ate a crapload of lasagna and then met up with Mariana, John's friend who I am shamelessly usurping. She is from SP and really knows what's up in the city. V, M, and I went to a bar and listened to a stupendous band that actually did GREAT covers of songs. They were like the other cover band's non-sucky twins. Eventually Mariana's boyfriend and two of his friends showed up (before the friends came, she said, "only one of them speaks English, and only one of them is cute"), but by that time the gringas were tuckering out, so we went home unfashionably early. I hope this doesn't become a trend...

Sunday I went to Iberapuera park to run with V., then we caught a bus to Liberdade, the China/Japantown section of town. São Paulo has tons of Japanese people but apparantly they don't have their own section, because Liberdade was sort of an amalgamation of Chinese and Japanese kitsch in every direction. Every Sunday they have a little market with lots of tacky stuff -- doilies with Chinese characters and neon sand paintings and such -- but it's horrendously tacky in a fun way. They also have this outdoor food section that specializes in fried dumplings, fried meat, fried noodles, fried veggies, fried shrimp, etc. I looked at the milieu -- people standing up and shoveling food into their mouths with chopsticks and sneezing on the spits of meat, etc. -- and decided that if I was going to get food poisoning in Brazil, I was probably going to get it at that market, so I opted out and we ate at a Japanese place instead. It was one of those Japanese places where you have to sit on the ground on little pillows, which at first seems cute, but once your legs have gone numb, seems torturous and cruel. After that ordeal, we walked around the market a bit more then caught the sketchy bus home to Moema. Use your imagination.

Sunday night I got a real treat -- I got to go to a two-year-old's birthday party, which was bigger and more elaborate than any party I have ever had. In Brazil, they really go all out for kids' birthdays, and this was no exception. There was a huge cake, a full bar, tons of people, and a bounce-house for the kids -- sooo tempting, by the way. I am really glad I went because I got to talk to a lot of people in the family, and this family is really wonderful. They are Jaime's adopted Brazilian family, and they seemed to suggest that they had no problem adopting me, too. I think it's important to have a surrogate family in every country one travels to, which may seem unrealistic, but I am going to try. These people were super nice and complimented me on my Portuguese, which really helped my self-esteem. Good times all around.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Living the Top Life

Hi everyone --

So the big news for the past week is that I finally got my own place. It's a small flat in a building called Moema Top Life (pronounced Top-ee Life-ee in Portuguese), and it looks like a little hotel room. I have a tiny fridge, tiny tv (with tiny cable), tiny balcony, tiny stove with tiny burners -- the tininess is fine for what I need though. The building is nice -- it has a pool, a mini gym, a sauna (sketchy?), a bball court, a restaurant, and a lounge. Plus it includes maid service, which is kind of a weird thing to adjust to. I come home and the plate that I left in the sink is washed and put away. Spooky.

Work has changed somewhat for me, as I now actually have things to do. My first week was largely spent reading celebrity gossip on and making minute changes to my facebook profile, but now I am really busy. In fact, on Friday I was at work from 9 to 8:30, which sucked, and I was busy the whole time. My job involves a lot of shuffling and editing of documents, so it can get sort of tedious. On the upside, I'm learning tons about law, finance, business, etc., and I think it's going to help me a lot when I get to law school. On another upside, I get to go to Rio on Thursday (or so I am told) to make copies of documents. I mean, some people go for the beaches, I go for the xeroxing. It's AMAZING. I only get to go for the day, but it's cool to get to travel to Rio on business. On business! Hehe. I love saying that.

This weekend was pretty fun, as well. Matthew was out of town for a beach vacation with some friends from home, so I hung out with Vicky and her friends from the UK, who were also visiting SP for the weekend. We went out to dinner with them Friday and Saturday (Italian and sushi) which was nice, and then on Sunday I finally got to visit one of São Paulo's many malls. This one is called Shopping Morumbi, and it is a three-story monstrosity with lots of tacky clothes. I guess some of the other malls have more upmarket faire, but Morumbi, not so much. They had a bargain-basement version of my favorite store outside of the U.S., Zara, which was one small room of discounted, ugly piles of lycra shirts and candy-striped skirts. Anyway it was nice finally getting a taste of the SP consumer culture, aaaah how I missed shopping. After the mall, I came home and watched cable TV, which really is wonderful. I esp. like watching Extreme Makeover with Portuguese narration. Wonderful.

Other than work and home, I continue to spend time at my gym, the fabulous Academia Reebok. I tried Spinning (or the wacky Brazilian version thereof) last week, and it was, as expected, nutsy. First of all, when I walked into the studio, I immediately got whacked in the head with the large screen that was descending from the ceiling, so THAT was embarrassing. Secondly, the class consisted mostly of crazy disco lights, weird DVDs of Ian Van Dahl concerts, and a muscle-y Brazilian teacher who gave no instructions but would occasionally bark stuff like, "Mais," (more) and "Isso" (that's it). Really helpful. He paled in comparison to my Chilean spinning instructor, the fabulous Fernanda, who really cared about the sport -- and, dare I say, art -- of Spinning. Another thing about the class was that i was the only one NOT wearing black. I showed up in my bright pink shirt (and black shorts) and stuck out like an American sore thumb. Apparently I missed the memo on wearing all black that day -- it was like a freaking Spinning funeral. So I have found yet another way to stand out as a foreigner at the gym, but I continue to stand firm in my refusal to wear Spandex and boob-popping bras to the gym. Sorry.