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!