Thursday, December 30, 2010

Playing for Change

I have posted these videos before and always love them. This one featuring Brazil, Argentina, India and more give me 'change the world' goose bumps... enjoy

Imagine from PlayingForChangeFoundation on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Writer and the Painter

Last night as I was flipping through channels I caught a one hour show in Portuguese on Roberto Burle Marx.  It was fascinating and while I could understand about 5% of it, visually it was magnificent, even without an HD TV or a flat screen!

I first met Mr. Marx standing in the middle of Parque Ibirapuera upon my first visit to Brazil a few years ago. I stood by the lake and looked out and wondered who had been responsible for creating such a brilliant expanse of space so fluently contiguous to Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture. Truly, Mr. Marx and I met in theory on a park map as I searched for design information since he has been dead since 1994. I was embarrassed to discover I didn’t know anything about the most well known landscape architect in South America. His name rang a bell but the bell didn’t seem to connect back to landscape history class and even farther when a colleague in that class gave a 30 minute presentation on his work.  As I began to ask my landscape-minded friends they reminded me not only of that presentation but that I should be embarrassed, I studied Landscape Architecture for 3 years! He basically defined landscape architecture in Brazil and is sometimes mentioned right alongside his famous counterpart, Frederick Law Olmsted. They didn’t come from the same generation, in fact two entirely different centuries; Marx began only 6 years after Olmsted departed; but they shared a passion and a career path that had yet to be truly classified as a discipline when they commenced. It was art infused with science based on the foundation of stewardship that even throughout months of theory class in this century we still couldn’t solidly define.

Up north Olmstead practiced with a tactical hand influenced by European and Asian gardens thanks to an early career in journalism that afforded him travel and time to process all the many unique stimulations. Down south Marx also received his first dose of landscape in Europe as an artist, studying painting in Germany. When I look at both men and their subsequent and infamous landscapes having both started with European influences its hard not to notice that Olmstead designed like a writer and Marx like a painter. Penmanship is precise and deliberate; thoughts are well documented and later refined, augmented and re-perfected. Painting is more organic, gliding and flowing sometimes irrepressibly from the original intent and perfected or imperfected along the way. In the end both create works of diverse layers of meaning and beauty. Both artists have molded and shaped places that millions of people love and usually have no idea how they could even begin to express why.

I know Olmsted's work well, he was brilliant and he sure set the bar high. He was a renaissance man imagining swampland into Central park, preserving National parks and democratizing space for everyone to enjoy. We spent many a class on his legacy but never in contrast to anyone else’s.

As I begin to explore more of Marx’s work here in Brazil, I am impressed by how one painter (with many brushes) has achieved such authentic timelessness. He's composed and established a visual identity for Brazil, a Van Gogh upon the land. Resiliently translating what is most beautiful and sensual about his culture, his people and his potpourri of terrain into a manuscript of mosaics, curvy colored pathways and an incredible array of memorable planting designs.  Even if the scalloped walkway along Copacabana beach were to be replaced with concrete I have this certainty that his inheritance is safe within the people of Brazil.

Parque Ibirapuera

Central Park

Copacabana Beach

Bethesda Terrace in Central Park

Monday, December 27, 2010

Itching to go back...

The peacefulness of Ilhabela is hard to explain. You couldn’t hear a pin drop but it was certainly island science at its best. The perfect mixture of a boat motor far far in the distance, the birds dancing in synchronized chirp, scant human voices, maybe an occasional dog barking in awe of the sunset.  Coming in on the ferry this island greets you with rustic charm reminiscent of one of my favorite Mexican towns, Saulita. You find the typical bustle of a lone village smashed up against mountainous topography and pure brazilian authenticity. Most pousadas nestle themselves amongst the towering banana trees and cascading palms within the immediate elevational changes. There are several places to stay along the main road but even fewer right on the beaches leaving them public for everyone to enjoy. A traditional village square centered around a beautiful blue and white church has plenty of places to buy ice cream, havianas, a new swimsuit, straw hats and local trinkets. The only thing between you and perfection stands tiny and strong against its adversaries. Biting nats make you bleed on impact and stake their territory around the ankles, legs and back leaving large red welts. You can spot a seasoned Ilhabelian by the large amount of bites tattooed on every inch of leg. Equally required for this adventure,‘Off’ is sold right next to sunscreen at the pharmacy and antihistamine is recommended. Thankfully on Christmas day the pharmacy was open since I had come unprepared. If this little bug issue didn’t come packaged with such a view you might find it more bothersome. A refreshing agua de coco or minty pineapple caipirinha will also disguise the twinge to allow for your continued tranquility. We discovered plenty of beaches, large and small and each with its own blend of bars, personality and music flavor. Small bits of Christmas was found in village square decor, a manger near the church full of chickens and a blue?? (blow up) santa was spotted trying to climb the water tower with his toys. We enjoyed an incredible Christmas meal at Marakuthai overlooking a very serene bay of boats and calm sandy waters. While I still longed for the snow that pounded the east coast on Christmas morning and opening presents with my family this was the best way to spend a brazilian Christmas holiday. It was less about the presents this year for we already had plenty to be thankful for. 

From the pousada watching the sun drip slowing away, a little Jack Johnson came on from the room next door and I sat back in smile. Like kings proudly looking down upon their spoils I, akin to the bird who chose the tallest tree branch for his post have enjoyed this time of brazilian impression.

*You can find our wonderful pousada here we loved it!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

All a girl needs...

So today I decided to splurge and venture out to the fancy grocery store for a few items to cure the homesickness. Emporio Santa Maria is valet parking only, has a nice restaurant and cafe and features wonderful items like american magazines and lots of imported foods. I enjoyed reading the labels of $1000 caviar, $3500 whiskey and shopping mostly with uniformed maid staff on their daily errands. This is the place to find fancy french jams, organic cookies, pepper plants, beautiful orchids and wonderful meats but it really just reminded me of Whole Foods. Then I started to miss Whole Foods; its convenience to my old Chicago apartment, the prices, diversity of items and they always had my favorite cheese, 'Delice de Bourgogne.' I had a slim sliver of hope Santa Maria might come through for me, but alas no DB cheese to be found. What they did have however was really all this girl needs to survive in the new world. Vanity Fair, Toblerone (should have just bought a moster sized one in duty-free), Skippy Peanut Butter and Champagne. Happy as a clam I exchanged a lot of cash for a few favorite things. I am already picturing myself curled up in a chair on Christmas day drinking Champagne with my feet wet in the sand reading Johnny Depp's new exclusive interview.

Homesickness cured even if its only temporary.

* Promocao reads on sale for $14.00 normally $17.00, I got a DEAL!!!
PB was $10.15
Toblerone was $3.00 (same in US)
Chandon was $28.50

Sunday, December 19, 2010

1 month : 31 days : 730.4 hours

If you'd asked me a few years back if I ever thought I would be spending Christmas 2010 listening to bossanova on a beach in brazil surrounded only by my husband I doubt I could have foreseen it. First, I never miss a major holiday to be home by a fire in the snow with hot chocolate and a big furry animal at my feet. Second, I hadn't met Alex so my life was Denver, the mountains, my best friends and my new apartment just for me. I was too busy planning a ski house to even consider switching gears south. But life doesn't always play out how you plan it and I wouldn't change a thing. Well maybe I am a little homesick and do wish I could be living out the first scenario at home by the fire but instead its a rainy gray day in Sao Paulo and I am at the mall, drinking a cafezihno in a comfy leather chair and listening to live guitar at the food court. Yes, beautiful live guitar at the food court. I want to bottle up this private little moment of solitude to save as a memory to reflect upon for the me in another few years.

So one month in, here's where I stand:

1.The first thing that comes to mind as I look down at my stomach is food. We've done a lot of food. I feel like I've swallowed a balloon that I can't pop. Inside somewhere are a few too many pizzas, cows and draft beer but I sure had a smile during every indulgence. I've been living like its a vacation, churrascaria for lunch and dinner AGAIN? Sure, "I'm in Brazil!" Yep, well if I am Brazilian then I have to get a handle on it. From the looks of my first beach experience the women here are NOT eating from the same places I'm calling home. They appear to be doing yoga three times a day, working specifically on their backside for 4 hours in the gym and consuming only fresh juice and salads. Apparently I didn't get the memo.

2. If I want to fit in, I am going to have to get a little more girly. No more nasty uncolored dry skin toe nail falling off feet. EVERY female; maid, waitress, stay at home mom, working woman with no time on her hands person with boobs has perfect feet. And hands. Its not hard to maintain yourself, places are everywhere and its very cheap so I now have no excuse. Also, no more forgot to wash my hair again run to the grocery store in flip flops and a smelly t-shirt no one will notice... It is now who cares wear your high heels and put on some make up and even a nice dress if its clean people WILL notice. Blah, and how do they ALWAYS smell so good?

3. We bought a car and I will learn to love it. (Im such a baby but no power steering is tough!!)

4. Chocolate Panetone. AHHmazing. Thank you again to the Italians for mixing yourselves into Brazilian culture.

5. Maracuja (passion fruit). Double AHHmazing. I eat it plain every morning, on my frozen yogurt in the afternoon, in pudding for desert and in my caipirinhas at night. It was the second word I learned, right after thank you!

6. For some reason our hotel decided to conveniently re-do the pool during Summer and well I'd rather watch grass grow. I've tried melting on the patio next to the waterless pool but its quite miserable. I would however love a job with these workmen's hours, mosey on in around 10, 2 hour lunch and leave at 4. Ahhh, nevermind I'd rather just have a pool!

7. I've had a tremendous time seeing lots of new neighborhoods and most especially where we will call home once we finally move in at the end of the month. I consider finding our apartment quite an accomplishment considering everything I heard about lack of closets, teeny tiny bedrooms and cramped kitchens. Screw new, old ugly on the outside buildings are the way to go! Very very excited!

8. Also very very excited that every day at 3pm Oprah comes on GNT. Wanna talk "Favorite things?" I know alllllll about it! A little piece of home that I have sadly arranged every weekday engagement around.

9. Brazilians are hands down the nicest most welcoming group of people I have ever encountered. People complain they are always late, take days to do something that might take an american an hour but I've stopped trying to compare them so much to back home. Whats the point? When in Brazil, do as....

10. Thanks to blogging I feel like I have a whole host of internet buddies to swap stories with. While it might seem creepy to lean on people you've only met through the "bio" section of their websites it makes the country and experience feel a lot cozier knowing lots of other people have gone or are going through the same crazy adventures. They add other perspectives, great advice, local knowledge and A LOT of humour to my life! Its also fun to read about Brazilians experiencing the US like Gil and Ray!

11. One more. Holy moly things are expensive. An expat friend of our that has lived here for 3 years confessed the only tangible thing he has purchased in Brazil is a basketball. Doubt we will be able to pull that off, I plan to buy many many shoes here over the next few years (wohoo) but we will certainly bring lots of empty suitcases with us to fill when we travel back home!


*This post was inspired by Linds another fellow blogger, who just celebrated her first "Braziliversary," I cannot wait to see where we'll be in a year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Frugal Traveler :: Sao Paulo

Straight from the NY TIMES...

Seth Kugel, the new Frugal Traveler, seeks first-class living at steerage prices. This summer, he is taking the long and frugal way home — from São Paulo back to New York City — on less than $500 a week. Follow his journey every Wednesday as he wines, dines, slogs and blogs his way through Latin America, uncovering the high life at peso-pinching prices.

A miracle in Sao Paulo

Then check out this one...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Meet Gringo

When we landed we were given a rental car for 1 month and its hard to believe this friday we will be heading back to Localiza to return the little bugger. Over the last few weeks it's taught my husband how to drive a manual, driven a few friends and I safely to the beach for the first time and helped us discover our amazing new neighborhood and city.  Feeling the pressure to figure out how we would replace the wheels, I reached out to several gringo websites and friends. 

On many levels buying a car in this country is difficult. The first being the price. Unless you are a diplomat, it is financially ludicrous to import a car. By the time it makes it through customs, and that is a big, "if," you have paid off so many people and taxes to wrangle the legal system you've doubled the cost of the car and it could take years! If you buy a new car, it costs double what that same car would be in the US!! So I figured I would ask everyone we knew here if they were selling a car since buying a new car didn't make sense to us. Alex does not have a lot of job security with a one year contract so cheap, functional and used became our priorities. I would have loved to use the word "safety" in that sentence but air bags are not mandatory in Brazil till 2014. Power steering is a luxury amenity as is air conditioning surprisingly. 

Its clear word of mouth is an incredibly useful tool here. Within a week of asking around, I was given the name "Marcus" attached to an email address and told that he is 'the expat car man.' So I inquired and immediately had an appointment to be picked up at our hotel. Marcus owns a used dealership outside the city and really makes his business on transfers from major companies around the world. He has a variety of cars from BMW's priced around $100,000 to basic cars with wheels and doors. We needed wheels and doors. 

Since cars are so expensive they are obviously stolen all the time. You are warned if you try and buy a car from a regular guy because you have no guarantee if the engine inside the car is even the engine that originally came with the it. The car could have been entirely stolen, have stolen parts or have been marked as a drug vehicle and someone is trying to dump it fast. Not only did Marcus offer us an 8month warranty on our chosen 2005 VW Gol but he said he would happily buy it back from us if things change in a year! Even in an 05' there was no power steering but we got air conditioning!!!  His wife is also the insurance dealer so in one swoop you get the whole package! It was almost too good to be true but he certainly seems to maintain his reputation.

I have named our new car "gringo" in honor of its hue, personality and all those helpful in our purchase! I look forward to the many memories we will make over the next year and hopefully with good luck all the years to come...Merry Christmas to us! 


Future Gringo with my creative brother's touch... (thats alex and i as kids)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

In search of Christmas

Yesterday I got together with a woman from Chicago that I had met at an InterNations gathering a few weeks ago. InterNations is one of the many great ways to meet other expats and they host monthly events that attract hundreds of people.

Our mission? To find us some "Christmas!" Not that its hard to find around here, almost every condo building has a tree, and a lot of them have strung strands of lights from the entrance door to the top penthouses diagonally to create the effect of one large tree of lights. We however, were homesick for that Michigan Avenue in December feeling so we headed to the core. Avenida Paulista is a very important roadway channel in Sao Paulo, featuring lots of financial buildings, shopping and street-side cafes. It even has it's very own wikipedia site (what doesn't these days)?! We took one turn from the MASP (Sao Paulo Museum of Art) and hit Christmas overload. It was like 'Glee' meets Brazil's Got Talent. Variations on common tunes with a little solo jam here and there. Crowds come for their 12:30 and 7pm shows every night for the whole month.

Holidays lights were everywhere and as night descended upon us so did the people. Cafes spilling over with cheery souls, families out for strolls, teenagers making out per usual... everyone was merry! We saw Santa farming, Elves watering sunflowers and Mrs. Claus tending to her flower garden. The large Christmas trees still had lots of fake snow and one of the popular lighting choices are strands hanging in the trees made to look like icicles or snow falling. One scene had the Claus' on the porch with a very happy Bernese Mt. dog by their side. Santa must be a little confused. Anyone that farms next to sunflowers in the snow while icicles fall off the trees with their Bernese Mt dog full of fur would be!  Shame they don't show him with a bikini clad Mrs. Claus on one knee, the first three buttons undone off his nice white shirt and his red velvet jacket slung over his shoulder, black haviana's instead of boots prepping for some time in the southern hemisphere. Regardless Santa was happy, and so were we when we found a nice spot for a bottle of white wine to cool off from our Christmas adventure.

Christmas was found indeed.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Forever Young

This weekend we were supposed to go the beach. Instead Alex and I were invited to his boss' house with about 15 other people from the office so beach plans got canceled. The dinner was scheduled at 8pm and being american we showed up right at 8 so as not to be rude. We of course were the first ones there by at least 15 minutes. I am quickly learning that if something is arranged for 8pm that isn't when you show up its when you leave your house! By the time everyone had arrived it was almost 9pm. Then drinks and appetizers were served and social hour began. As everyone filed in and greeted each other I was so busy practicing how to say "nice to meet you," throwing out my hand and then remembering quickly to kiss instead, watching and listening to Alex go first ...that I introduced myself as Alex. Alex made sure to point that out to everyone and thus it became the joke of the evening. Its sometimes fun to be the butt of a joke, but when you can't understand what is being said, its even more fun!

By 10, the cook was out on the porch finishing up his beautiful Paella. It was the most amazing Paella I have ever smelled and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him carefully add each ingredient every few minutes till dinner was served around 1015. Then second helpings, and then more drinks. Now we were the only Americans, a few of the Brazilians spoke good english but they all chose to converse in Portuguese and I wouldn't have had it any other way. However, listening to a room full of people speaking a language you don't quite understand is literally like watching people speak classical music. It doesn't even sound like words, its just a blur of tunes and pitches. Jokes were made and I was the only one serious, people asked me questions and I didn't even notice, it was a bit stressful. By 1130 dessert was on the table. First came ice cream and fruit and 20 minutes later came creme brulee. Plates were cleared for more drinks and at midnight coffee was served. That was the que for one couple who brought their 14 month old. Usually in the US if you don't get a babysitter a young child will fall asleep in another room. Here, she danced into the night, babbling with all the guests and had finally made her announcement she was ready for bed. I had no idea what time it was but figured that meant the rest of us would start to head out as well. 

Nope, Coca Cola and Guarana soda was served and the boss got out his guitar. His wife brought over several books of brazilian songs and 20 minutes later 12 of us were in a state of kumbyya. The ice was finally broken when the hostess broke out lyrics in english, "we all get crazy, kiss in the mouth and screw on the floor," and everyone was chanting and clapping along. Over a deep guitar solo, I had one of those moments trying to imagine an american hosting a dinner for his associates and everyone sitting around a big table at 12:30am singing a song about screwing on the floor. By 1am we had calmed down into a nice "forever young" ballad and decided to finally call it a night. 

"Do you really want to live forever.... ?" Yes, yes here in Brasil I do!

Monday, November 29, 2010


This past week embodied a lot of emotional highs and low's.  We found the so called 'perfect' apartment, much larger than I had prepared myself for with multiple bedrooms for visitors to stay. We put in an offer for a 30 month lease (very normal lease length) and waited. After not hearing anything for 4 days our relocation expert said it didn't look good. Thanksgiving morning just after I had spent the week designing every bit of space in my head the owner decided to rent to a family member instead. We looked at 9 places and didn't have a back up.  I felt a little lost that day, hanging out in the hotel room skyping home to friends before their feasts and then with my family for two hours while they cooked and watched football together. Virtually connected but physically hiding behind my computer alone. When Alex got home from work we decided to do dinner at Fogo de Chao. Even though it started here in Brazil, it is a very popular chain in the US and we used to go in Chicago so for some reason it felt like we were able to blend our new home with our old.

Friday I pulled my head out of the gray clouds and got excited for the weekend. We had been invited to a Thanksgiving at a new friend's place with lots of other Americans. We got an email with more apartments to look at and it just so happened another place opened up in the same building as before 3 floors higher! Those blessings, they do disguise themselves sometimes. My mood completely turned around and I reminded myself that Brazil is a beautiful adventure. Friday night was spent at an Australian bar with live music, more new friends, some from Alex's school that also just moved here and of course lots of caipirinhas. The Saturday Thanksgiving feast was beyond welcoming, the host thought of everything from candied yams to replace sweet potatoes, incredible turkey and delicious pumpkin pie. People everywhere from New York to Alabama, Argentina to the Brazilian countryside had moved here for some of the same reasons we had, adventure and exciting opportunities. At the end of the day stuffed with everything comforting we plopped on the couch together and smiled. Every person we meet is wonderful, smiling, happy and ready to help.

Sunday we went to the Bienal de Sao Paulo, a large modern art exhibit in Ibirapuera park and found ourselves at home eating leftovers from the day before flipping through the channels. I stepped away to clear dishes and Alex started screaming. Yes there it was, on cable tv... good ole American football. Life was now complete.

A old neighbor posted on facebook, "The real thanksgiving, is thanksliving." I put all this pressure on one day, when really its about so much more. When I look back on the last 4 days all I can think is how lucky we are... to be here, have each other and to have found such a welcoming new home.  We are so thankful!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A satisfactory way to have a coronary

Today I thank the Italians for settling into Brazil some good time ago. The Mortadella Cheese Sandwich… don’t worry about it. It’s greasy, guilty and shameless. It is what the Chicago hot dog is to Wrigley Field, you just don’t go there without getting one, its a disservice to your fanhood.  Anthony Bourdain sort of put it on the map for Americans that have yet to encounter this delicacy a la Sao Paulo. A friend and I decided to travel straight to the source for the best, the market of markets, Mercado Municipal. There you will find several places to indulge your fancy. Instead of playing obvious tourist and eating where Bourdain had his first, we asked one of the locals. It was a little more off the beaten path I should say, but it was also where the soccer played on repeat, the chopp (local draft beer) poured like wine and the sandwich of sandwiches held its court. You couldn’t look a vegetarian in the eye for a week there is so much meat on those buns. It’s the pride of the market and yet it’s so simple: bread, ridiculously yummy cheese and mortadella, lots and lots of mortadella. Melanie and I split one, it’s probably against the rules but we couldn’t possibly move had we each finished our own. Plus we had to make room for dessert, you can’t just go there for the cake, you have to eat it too! Chocolate covered strawberries and a side of flan later we circumvented the Mercado waddling and merry. It is probably one of the first places I will take friends and family when they come to visit. It’s cheap, authentic and so very incredible! Happy thanksgiving to me!!  

When 18 million people need to move around

Don’t ever have a medical emergency in Sao Paulo between 7-10am – 4-8pm. Traffic here feels like LA threw up on Atlanta. The only difference is that Sao Paulo’s traffic is much more urban in nature… making it way more fun to pace yourself. All the beautiful people passing you at the stoplight and 10 min later you’ve moved 10 feet and you still see them strolling along up ahead like a Sunday in the park, smiling eating ice cream, holding balloons…while you sigh in caged misery. Oh yes and you are paying for the pain. The agonizing, hitched my cab to a snail pain of impatience and unimportance. Today I justified spending $30 dollars to ride barely a mile and it took just under 2 hours. Why? Well it was pouring outside and I was an idiot to wait until 6pm to head home, launching myself smack into the middle of (rush?) hour. Not sure what’s so rushed about it with the exception of my temperament.

How do people do it? Literally the worst traffic I have EVER seen, heard or read about.  The city’s current solution besides expanding metro train service (which I fully support regardless of what it costs) is to mitigate through fines. Once a week according to the last number on your license plate you cannot drive during peak hours. Tomorrow is Alex’s ‘off’ day so he has to leave around 6am to make it to work before the cops swarm the highways and ticket all those breaking the rules (same goes for the evening between 5-8)! It’s certainly an interesting idea to try and curb a piece of the problem but Paulistas (people from Sao Paulo) with a little money instead buy two cars with different license plate numbers to avoid the inconvenience! According to CNN, the city is adding cars at a rate of 1000/day! Or better yet, if you have even more money you just buy a helicopter. This is the ‘City of Helicopters’ and around rush hour you hear lots of them buzzing over the financial district like flies on poop. The Washington Post says, “Helicopter companies estimate that liftoffs average 100 per hour. The city boasts 240 helipads, compared with 10 in New York City, allowing the rich to whisk to and from their well-guarded homes to work, business meetings, afternoons of shopping, even church.”  For the rest of us ants down here we have to fight it or avoid it.  Today I hope I learned my lesson and may I be lucky enough to avoid it as much as possible but it’s a reality and coarse welcome from a buzzing metropolis.

*Picture courtesy of Getty Images

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stop, Drop and Make Out

It was like something out of a funny movie. Im sitting in Ibirapuera Mall on a bench waiting for Alex to figure out cell phone plans at Vivo having an absolute blast people watching. Then I see a young man of about 20 meet up with a young woman about the same age. They run to each other, embrace, start passionately sucking each other's faces off, clothes a miss, shirts practically coming off, hands everywhere and they did this for literally 10 minutes. I didn't know if I should leave, I felt like I was invading their privacy but instead of course I watched in hilarious amazement. Most Brazilians would laugh at me for making such a big deal about this and I realized why later. Its everywhere, people make out at stop lights, walking down the street, over a nice lunch and when I mean make out I mean the way I described it above... like they've been away at war for years and finally get to embrace. There is no reason to waste time pecking each other, just go for the gold. Its intense and according to a friend I met for dinner last night, it happens before you even exchange names at the night club. I guess you have to test drive the goods before you waste your time with conversation. I love it. That and other fun things I saw at the mall. Like half the bookstore is used to play xbox 360 dance central. Its 2pm in the afternoon on a week day and there is a huge crowd watching girl after girl do the 'Soilja boy' dance on repeat. Thats also when I realized what a great sense of pride the Brazilians have for their backside. From brand new moms carrying 2 month olds to grandmas... you gotta flaunt it. 4inch heels and tight jeans at 80? Whatever! A face may succumb to gravity with age but somehow brazilian butts never do. These women would have made soilja boy blush!

Later in the evening around 11pm we headed out to watch the Bears play the Miami Dolphins at the expat bar. We met some new friends and I got a little lost in translation. I had this great beer the day before everyone said was the good local stuff, Chopp so I tried to order it again. Instead of that being a specific kind of beer I guess that really just means 'draft'. So when the waitress brought my beer, I was eagerly awaiting a refreshing cold ale. Instead it was hot pink. Apparently I ordered a specific draft of grenadine beer. Not only was it disgustingly sweet but all the waitresses were laughing at me because I guess that is what the young girls order that haven't really learned to drink yet. Silly American. So, instead I just enjoyed watching more couples passionately sucking face since the football game wasn't nearly as entertaining.

I love Brazil.
Oh yea and I took a few pictures...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The beginnings....

We finally left in the same fashion as characterized by the last few months. Backward steps mixed with spurts of great fortune. All day was spent weighing and perfectly packing our 4 large bags so as not to be fined heavily for a single pound we didn’t actually need. When we checked in that never even crossed the Canadian Air representative’s mind. Ugh, all the shoes and shampoo I could have probably found room for! She didn’t so much as glance once at the scale!! But she did seem to pay attention to other details, like the order of my husbands name. Its simple, Richard A Pearl. He was booked in the system by his company’s travel agency as Alexander Pearl Richard. That is a big problem when the rules are rarely bent at the security check point. She basically said, well its up to their discretion as to whether or not they will let you through and if they don’t well you will have to get in touch with the travel agency tomorrow and get this fixed. Hahaha, if only you knew the ease in which THAT would happen. Well stroke of luck, they didn’t seem to care either.  If it were really necessary I would now get into finer detail about the last month of hellacious issues we’ve had just trying to book the tickets so you could truly appreciate the relief of walking through security… but it doesn’t matter at this point, what matters is that I, Jana Pearl with my husband Alexander Pearl Richard made it through successfully!  =)

So we only had 60 minutes in Toronto to catch our flight to Sao Paulo and the O’Hare flight was delayed 30 minutes. Of course it was. When we landed we made buddies with the flight attendant who cleared the aisle at landing so we could be the first off the plane. We ran an olympic sprint to passport control at 955 with our flight scheduled to depart at 1015. We were then met by a Canadian Air official who politely said to follow her as they were holding the plane for us...Well how generous, we felt so important! Still running we made it and were surprised to see such a crowd?! Well they had in fact delayed the plane, for other reasons and so really they held the plane for everyone.  The official just smiled, just another silly moment to make us appreciate how lucky we were to be sitting on that plane!!!

11 hours, lots of ridiculous turbulence and 6 episodes of Mad Men later, breakfast was served and we landed. Standing under the carport at the rental car agency Alex tried to convince me that after only an hour of practicing a stick shift in Chicago he was ready drive us into the city. We stalled three times trying to leave. Rarely am I proven right but this one was obvious and hilarious. I was really scared though, I’ve read too many expat blogs about driving in Brazil and I had hoped to ease into it. Sweaty and nervous I battled with the motor bikes, ignorance of rules and horrendous traffic. We rented a GPS which we couldn’t have survived without however even with it, the lady would demand a left and we were presented with three variations on a left so it took about two hours to drive 18 km! I learned how to put the car in reverse in front of 10 car salesman, while they watched and laughed at us as I tried to turn around. (trust me it was tricky). Then I got it, pulled out and went the wrong way and had to turn around again on a steep sloped road and was literally so close to hitting a parked car Alex had to get out and push me… ohh I wish I was exaggerating!  I may have won the road battle today, but my scars and a few stressful tears cast glim victories ahead.

So with that we arrived, settled and celebrated at a Churrascaria, an authentic version of an American Brazilian steakhouse. Caipirinhas made fresh in front of you and lots of yummy newly found comfort food.…

Pictures attached are views from our hotel and the pool which Alex bragged to his mom he would be lounging at all week. Hahaha… 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Alex, Jana meet Brazil

Finally. We've been waiting for a date, a simple date of when we would depart for the last 4 months. From visa issues to passport trauma and ticket confusion, we have seats on a plane for November 15. Alex begins work the next week so we have 4 days to find an apartment and the weekend to settle in. Lots of things to do this week but mainly celebrate and finally say goodbye to the many people we have already said goodbye to several times in the hope we would have left weeks ago. What an emotional journey and we haven't even gotten there yet. Stay tuned... Hello Brazil!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Isnt life just funny like that...

So we have been waiting and waiting for months and months for our visa's to go through. Finally everything is approved, the millions of forms are finished, the hefty payments are complete and all we need are the plane tickets and one minor detail, my passport. When I was packing to leave home and head to Denver I had a lot of things that overstuffed my suitcase taking me out of carryon size. So I packed a box of clothes to mail to myself in Chicago and at the last minute I clearly remember throwing in a bag I just didn't feel I had room for. Well in that bag was my passport. My mom mailed the box as I suggested, "you dont need to rush it mom, its just clothes so keep it cheap." Yes well that means no tracking number and a lot of time. Its been a week and no box passport. I can't fill out my forms and submit them to the consulate until I have my passport. So Alex's company in Brazil is ready to buy our tickets, the consulate has our visas and every day I pace for the mail truck. I can't believe after all these months its come down to a box, floating out there in postal odyssey. Hopefully we will be on a plane early next week so we can finally begin our overdue Brazilian life. I just hope whenever I finally get that box that my passport is in deed in that bag because if it isn't well that will be another story that I hope I dont have to tell.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How Fake Money Saved Brazil

I had no idea????!!!!

Copied from NPR Planet Money

This is a story about how an economist and his buddies tricked the people of Brazil into saving the country from rampant inflation. They had a crazy, unlikely plan, and it worked.
Twenty years ago, Brazil's inflation rate hit 80 percent per month. At that rate,  if eggs cost $1 one day, they'll cost $2 a month later. If it keeps up for a year, they'll cost $1,000.
In practice, this meant stores had to change their prices every day. The guy in the grocery store would walk the aisles putting new price stickers on the food. Shoppers would run ahead of him, so they could buy their food at the previous day’s price.

The problem went back to the 1950s, when the government printed money to build a new capital in Brasilia.  By the 1980s, the inflation pattern was in place.
It went something like this:
1. New President comes in with a new plan.
2. President freezes prices and/or bank accounts.
3. President fails.
4. President gets voted out or impeached.
5. Repeat.
The plans succeeded at only one thing: Convincing every Brazilian the government was helpless to control inflation.
There was one more option that no one knew about.  It was dreamed up by four guys at the Catholic University in Rio. The only reason they enter the picture now  —  or ever — is because in 1992,  there happened to be a new finance minister who knew nothing about economics.  So the minister called Edmar Bacha, the economist who is the hero of our story.
"He said, 'Well, I've just been named the finance minister. You know I don’t know economics, so please come to meet me in Brasilia tomorrow,' " Bacha recalls. "I was terrified."
Bacha had been waiting for decades for this call.
He and three friends had been studying Brazilian inflation since they were graduate students — four guys at the campus bar complaining to each other about how no one else knew how to fix this.  And now they were being told "Fine, do it your way."
Bacha was invited to meet the president.
"I asked for an autograph for my kids," Bacha says. So the president wrote Bacha's kids a note that said, "Please tell your father to work fast for the benefit of the country."
The four friends set about explaining their idea.  You have to slow down the creation of money, they explained. But, just as important, you have to stabilize people's faith in money itself.  People have to be tricked into thinking money will hold its value.
The four economists wanted to create a new currency that was stable, dependable and trustworthy.  The only catch: This currency would not be real.  No coins, no bills.  It was fake.
"We called it a Unit of Real Value — URV," Bacha says. "It was virtual; it didn't exist in fact."
People would still have and use the existing currency, the cruzeiro.  But everything would be listed in URVs, the fake currency.   Their wages would be listed in URVs.  Taxes were in URVs.  All prices were listed in URVs.  And URVs were kept stable — what changed was how many cruzeiros each URV was worth.
Say, for example, that milk costs 1 URV. On a given day, 1 URV might be worth 10 cruzeiros. A month later, milk would still cost 1 URV. But that 1 URV might be worth 20 cruzeiros.
The idea was that people would start thinking in URVs — and stop expecting prices to always go up.
"We didn't understand what it was," says Maria Leopoldina Bierrenbach, a housewife from Sao Paulo. "I used to say it was a fantasy, because it was not real."
Still, people used URVs. And after a few months, they began to see that prices in URVs were stable. Once that happened, Bacha and his buddies could declare that the virtual currency would become the country’s actual currency. It would be called the real.
"Everyone is going to receive from now on their wages, and pay for all the prices, in the new currency, which is the real," Bacha says. "That is the trick."
The day they launched the real, Bacha says, a journalist friend asked him, "Professor, do you swear that inflation will end tomorrow?"
"Yes, I swear." Bacha said.
And, basically, inflation did end, and the country's economy turned around. In the years that followed, Brazil became a major exporter, and 20 million people rose out of poverty.
"We were in awe," Bierrenbach says. "Everybody was very happy."
For more: Listen to the Planet Money podcast, "How Four Drinking Buddies Saved Brazil."
Correction:  An earlier version of this story misspelled cruzeiro in two instances.  Thanks to the commenter who pointed out the error.

Monday, October 11, 2010

reflections on growing up

I think everyone has those moments. You are in the midst of doing something and it hits you. Your back hurts more while doing something you've always done painlessly. You run into someone you knew years ago. You hear a song or smell a fragrance that takes you back in time. You think, wow was that really ten years ago? I feel so old!

My room at my parents house was frozen in high school. Memorabilia from field trips, ticket stubs from concerts, pictures from dances and dried flowers from old boyfriends were scattered around my very blue and very dated room. There was comfort in knowing nothing tangible there ever changed while I was busy... changing. My mom recalled the year I decided blue was my favorite color. I loved the smurfs, owned a blue winter jacket, wanted blue curtains and walls while wearing blue socks and shoes. It was the mid nineties and I was declaring proudly my newly establishing preferences for dress and decor. I am lucky that my room got to stay mine. It wasn't converted to a study or a sowing room, it just collected dust on those defining elements of school days.

I came home last week with the furniture I had bought years ago when I moved out to Denver as there was just no space for it in Brazil. To make room, we sold my first bedroom set given to me by my grandmother when I was about 8. I think my mom shed a few quiet tears. Then I went about redecorating and painting over the memories. Goodbye Blue. I spent three days priming and painting one 'bright white' and three 'gravity gray' walls. Down went the giant poster of a Cala lilly, the 9th grade twin day pictures, the beads from sorority events and the collection of shot glasses I once thought showing off would be so cool. I was in love with stars and galaxies so my dad pasted a glow in the dark system all over the ceiling above my bed which took forever to peel off. I went through the love notes of middle school, a complex world where my friends and I wrote pages and pages to each other during class about all the boys we 'loved'. The 'Best Friends Forever' necklaces I seemed to have shared with different friends each month and the math papers filled with dream house floorplan drawings instead of formulas. The biggest room was always noted strictly for my dogs. Over the past week I relived a decade. The items were aged yet the conversations in the letters and the people behind the pictures felt so fresh. Where did all the time go? And what do you save? Will I really sit down with my own children and show them the 200 pictures I took on a field trip to the Arlington Cemetery when I was 12?

My new room was to be grown up, organized with visually diminished amounts of stuff. But here I am having gone through containers and drawers feeling like I recyled enough to start my own center and I am still swimming in pictures and journals. I didn't realize I've been documenting every feeling and every place I've been since I was 5. Somehow before I leave in the next few days I have to finish deciphering treasures from trash.

So my grown up moment was fragrant, rich with the smell of high school football games and the music of band class even new paint can't disguise. I guess the takeaway for me is that somewhere in the significant era of a color I made some fantastic friends, traveled many places, slept beneath stars, graduated a few times and found my real best friend forever. Its amazing what a little paint can do. Goodbye Blue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Goodnight West Loop

Move part one has arrived. Tomorrow the overseas moving company that will ship our little life to Sao Paulo is packing everything up and moving it to Alex's mothers garage. Luckily we are moving in with her for the next... what we hope is a month as we wait on the work visa. Our stuff will wait too and once we finally hop on a plane to move, visas in hand, we must find an apartment and then give the ok for them to go back to the garage and pack all our stuff up into a crate that will then ever so slowly, sail down to find us.  So today we organized what we will actually take, assuming our place will be small. It was emotional to take down pictures and disassemble our chicago life. We ordered pizza from our favorite place, cracked open the balcony door for a great fall breeze and watched NFL all day. That was not my choice, but I've never see a happier man than one that got to watch 4 back to back games so how could I interrupt that? The thrill of the day however came when we managed to fill 14 bags worth of goodwill material! I drove over there THREE TIMES! Each more delightful than the last. Clothes, duplicate pans, books, vases, old random glasses, college koozies, spices, dishes and only one wedding gift (shhhh). Originally we wanted to have a garage sale to make a little cash but I am so glad we canned that idea and just gave it away. I was picturing the people that always sit around the table at our local goodwill and read (yes I seem to walking by often), enjoying my dusty Pillars of the Earth. I used to love showcasing every book I've ever read but both of us have our masters and unlike college you actually want to keep all your books (for obvious reasons but mainly because you finally understand the dollar signs representing each...I know I should have realized this in undergrad but I didn't sorry). 

This slow transition south is proving to be quite rewarding.  I doubt our new brazilian friends will spend much time browsing our bookshelves anyways; theres more important things to do like drink caipirinha's and eat hundreds of Pao de queijo (incredible cheese rolls). I know I'll miss football and homemade pizza company pizza among other things, but Ill be damned if we haven't picked another good place for football and cheesy bread!

Its the last night here at home, the chapter comes to a close. The empty walls are lonely, there are only a few lights left on in the buildings around, the annoying yapper dog is still yapping and my old belongings are awaiting new homes down on Washington street.  Goodnight West Loop, goodnight Larry the security guard who loves nights when we have leftovers, goodnight Jo at the cleaners and all the doggies at the new park, for you will always have a special place in my memory, homes always do.