Monday, January 31, 2011

Done with Diapers

This weekend we went to the beach, Juquehy to be exact with some of Alex's schoolmates from Chicago that also moved down here and have introduced us to a great little group of expats. As I prepped for our 6am departure to beat all the traffic mongrels I was trying on bathing suits to figure out which one might be the smallest of them all so as to best fit in with the locals and my brazilianified buddies.  Finally I had my pick and I was prancing around stuffing the beach bag when Alex walked in and preceded to compare my bathing fabrics to that of a diaper. Lovely, thanks for the vote of confidence.

About 5 months ago we had a heated discussion with my mother in law and some friends over how quickly I would buy a brazilian swimsuit aka "post-it notes on strings." Since everyone figured me for a pushover I stood my ground and stubbornly declared NEVER. I love my bottom covered and secure and I own wayyyyy too many swimsuits already, I wasn't about get another one, especially any smaller. They made a bet with a wager we now cannot remember but it doesn't matter, I like winning and I'm stubborn so I never felt this would be an issue. Not only did my husband take my bikini for an overstuffed absorbant pad but my new American and UK comrades thought me silly for being so defiant.

Wheres my white flag. Im defeated, the brazilians have won and therefore challenged me to decrease the extra and in the way? material and dispose of the diaper. Whatever conservative modesty I clung to in my move from the north has washed away deep into the Sao Paulo sea. I am now on the lookout next time mall errands are on the agenda for the best 3 inches of water wicking thread suitable for my next foray on the beach. I've never seen my husband happier over such a vacuous victory. I now even feel silly for ever worrying about it in the first place. Who cares? There might be a little extra space for skin cancer but the liberating adoption of something so vernacular to the beach scene here makes up for it. At least with brazilian swimsuits you dont have to worry about fitting it all in, its more about stringing it all up.

Pic and "post it notes on strings" from Rachel's blog

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

honesty: brazilian style

This morning in portuguese class

Teacher: Good morning Jana, are you pregnant?
Me: Huh?
Teacher: Yes are you with child... ? Oh i guess maybe not now, a lot going on in your life eh?
Inner Dialogue: is she serious right now?
Teacher: Did you eat a lot this weekend? Like feijoada or lots of churrascaria?
Me: Ummm no, lots of salads actually? (seriously, I went to the market this weekend and ate the healthiest all month)
Teacher: Well my you sure look, shall I say in english Chubby?! (no smile on her face either)
Inner Dialogue: Blunt force trauma
Me: Here is my homework for lesson 4.

Gotta love brazilian honesty. Im off to the gym for the next 87 hours

Monday, January 24, 2011


Saturday we found THE greatest venue ever. Hello dear Vila Madalena farmer's market, I am your long lost local friend. Yes, I have marveled at the Mercado Municipal down town, paid the 5$ foreigner price for one mango and gawked at the wondrous displays of color and variety of harvest. But, I don't have the time or the patience to go over there every time I want inexpensive (minus the mango hangup) produce, spices, cheeses and meats. I think our new found gem beats the MM, its cheaper (they 'list' prices rather than negotiate) and you can sample anything you want without getting stalked by some rambunctious chap needing validation. You might have to put up with a good deal of screaming and yelling as one banana man stands off against his banana man neighbor in hopes one will be the winner of your dollar, but thats just par for the grocery green course.  All in all though, we were the winners. Spending a lonely R$20 bill ($12 USD) on:
1 big bag of cherries
10 bananas
2 heads of lettuce
6 eggs
1 bag of spinach
3 large red peppers (seriously 60 cents?)
3 mangos
2 cleaning rags
2 notebooks
1 heavy duty scissors
2 very happy happy Vila Madalena residents.

Oh and we had change. Take that coupon Suzy!  Who said this city was expensive?

You can find this lovely event Saturdays on the corner of Mourato and Aspecuelta....
Happy Pickin's

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stormy storms

We live a few levels from the top of our building which is already on a very steep hill (hence the incredible view). So when we get a storm, it means business. I feel like the strength of the wind goes up exponentially at every floor. The windows shake wildly, the porch doors wobble uncontrollably and I usually have to shut the outer shell of protection on the porch which I've now discovered the reasoning behind.  Things begin flying off buildings, lightening strikes and the whole apartment howls. Literally I saw rain standing still. There was so much wind going so many directions the rain just stopped for a second as it tried to remember to continue falling down, or sideways or back up again. Our balcony becomes a bathtub, water creeps into every crevice it can find and we have to mop beneath the windows in the living room because they do not have outer shells of armor.  And this hurricane occurs almost daily now. When it subsides everyone comes back out of their shelter and the beat goes on. We are very lucky though, as there are many that aren't high up on stable ground... and they are in the news. Summer in Brazil... if only we could find where the rainbows are hiding. 

the "shell"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

oven-less snacks

I am counting down the days until I have an stove/oven, blender, food processor, mixer... but in the meantime I am concocting several wonderfully simple afternoon snacks where all you need is a fridge!

This I will call the "Rustic Fig"

- One large slice of Pao Rustico (raisins, cinnamon, nuts)
- One fresh purple fig
- Brie cheese (triple creme and the smellier the better, more flavor)
- A few dollops of Acai jelly 
- Pinch of Sea salt (for a slight punch)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fondue with a View...

So it started with a blogpost. And it ended in the celebration of a sort of forgotten anniversary. Its hard to make weekend plans these days with so much spontaneity and rain in the air. All I had to read was 'fondue,' and I was sold. Funny I never thought to inquire on the likes of tripadvisor or google for this most favorite food item and where it might be found in Sao Paulo... maybe because its hot, humid and rainy rather than cold, dry and snowy, the latter being normal circumstances for fondue cravings. Irregardless a reservation was made promptly and without much regard to the whereabouts of this intriguing "Green Garden" restaurant we headed for the hills sans GPS because we had better, man directions. Man directions are those that are half written cursive squiggle lines, sometimes with a hopeful "R" or "L" to designate an important turn and sometimes spelled correctly.

It just so happened it was the perfect evening, no rain a few clouds and an apparent stunning sunset around the corner. Off we went fresh smelling and a tad early to catch the view. An hour and a few wrong turns into flavelas later we arrived sweaty and late. You see, when you dont know where exactly you are going and you dont have a map (we are smart like that) AND you have man directions you should expect to come across a few delays. We didn't and we missed the sunset. But that was ok because once we found the right road, got out of the dead end scary place all intact and made it to the top of a very steep road where a GIGANTIC hollywood proportioned green sign welcomes and reminds that you've found GREEN GARDEN, all was right with the world.

Hello Fondue. But first Hello View! 

The parking lot manager seemed a bit bored since there were only a few cars to manage at our american reservation time (830 is wayyy early for a sat night dinner) so he gave us the full lecture on the view. Which neighborhoods were where, our proximity to Guarulhos Int. Airport and the fact that on a clear(er) day you can see the water in the distance. Our elevation was about 3,200 ft roughly 700 ft higher than Sao Paulo.  

The interior, much like the sign is bright and memorable. Blue christmas lights strung about with a colored dj both and disco ball... something about it said late 80's prom. Maybe that's because, "Fooled around and fell in love," was playing followed up by some classic Kenny G and Duran Duran. 

Within that lull of saxaphone, over candlelight tasting some very yummy lamb cooking in the pot to our side, we realized we passed our 6month married life marker. Not that I felt our half year anniversary needed pomp and circumstance but it was nice that we happened upon that little fact over a random collection of cheese, bread, raw meat, boiling pots, vegetables, strange dipping sauces, Chianti and a tremendous view overlooking our new home. It was a great way to last minute celebrate with the greatest man behind man directions I know! 

Thanks for the recommendation Gil and Ray. We'll be back for lobster season!

(unfortunately I just had my small point and shoot which doesn't do this view justice...)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Casa Braz

Ever wondered where you might go if you wanted to spend say 40$ on a pizza? We learned the stupid way. One night we were looking up reviews on pizza and decided to place an order where the stars ranked highest on tripadvisor, our go-to "yelp" replacement. Portuguese is a tough language to learn but its even harder over the phone. So when my husband called I think he was so nervous about getting the order, address and conversation right that he forgot to ask the price. One hour later the 'moto boy' (delivery guy) showed up at the door with a pizza and a R60$ receipt. We honestly thought we were getting three pizzas and somehow the order got screwed up. Nope just one single pizza all by its lonesome, no cokes, no napkins and certainly no hot red pepper and parmesan packets. After a good laugh the pizza was so good it became a silly memory. We vowed never to spend that much on pizza that was driven 20 minutes from its location in the pouring down rain by a guy on a motorcycle going 90mph and literally risking his life in traffic to finally get us our now slightly chilled pie. But we would be happy to go there and enjoy it with a nice cold Bohemia Chopp!

Now its our every once in a while midweek date night or friday evening meet up with friends spot because the atmosphere is perfect and for Sao Paulo so is the pizza. Its all relative right? I refuse to compare this to my all time favorite pizza at Mici's in Denver or even the old brick oven and deep dish stomping grounds back in Chicago but this our place in Sao Paulo! While we don't go there as much as we would if it were 18$ pizza, we love it and if you come to this city and crave some mozzarella and fresh tomatoes on dough this is your casa!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Heavy hearts

A few fellow bloggers have been mentioning some very unfortunate facts about the current flood situation here in the state of Rio de Janeiro.  My heart breaks looking through the pictures, reminiscent of Katrina and Haiti where all I can do is watch in agony and try to donate money. Jim offered a link with a variety of ways to donate in Portuguese and someone created a facebook page with a paypal link however I am not sure who the money goes to so I would try and check that out first before sending a payment. 

"Veja magazine say this is the worse natural disaster in number of deaths in Brazil’s history. O Globo  reports the death toll now past 510." 

Click here to view more pictures....

Weather report today? tomorrow? next week? more rain. and when i say rain i mean heavy heavy look out your window and cant see across the street rain. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pigskin comas

Brilliantly, someone decided to invent a device called the "slingbox," that literally connects to any dvr or satellite box in the US and relays the signal and remote to anywhere in the world. Even more brilliantly my husband found out about this before we moved here and he bought one and hooked it up to a box at his dads house. That day he was like a kid opening his first train set watching over and over how he could change the channel with the computer remote. Now, you have to have fast internet speed to be able to log in and connect to the direct tv box and we did not have this in our hotel. I didn't realize that was the last of our frolicking around the new city together. When we got to move into our apartment he cared less that we were without sheets and towels or even a bed, but internet was imperative. He even smiled and winked an extra gringo wink at the NET lady to have it set up the day morning we moved in walked in the door. Our first "moment" in the new place together was with the NET guy figuring out how long it would take to get things up and running, it was very romantic.

If he were just a football and hockey fan, or just a baseball and basketball fan, or even just a Chicago sports fan there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. But he is an... all of the above fan. We have two computers and one rented TV until our stuff arrives. He bought cords for both our mac and pc to hook up the computers to the tv for full viewing capacity. Brilliantly, the cords do not work with his older PC and work effortlessly on my mac. Every evening I get sad droopy puppy eyes in the hopes that I release my computer and husband to the sports devil. From that point on he's lost in the moment, what is it with guys and sports? He is a smart man, we have smart conversations and then all of the sudden sports come on and he can't even manage to complete a sentence?! He uses the hand during important plays to which I've learned is short for, "I think you are talking, perhaps asking me an important question but as you can see I am quite engaged, so do you mind holding for a commercial break?"

The silver lining? I get to watch 'the today show' every once in a while and catch a little chicago news and weather to further remind me why I live in and love a warm climate.  Brilliant!

Yes, that is him checking spring training baseball stats on his computer while watching Drew Brees battle the Seahawks on my computer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Truly Unique

In the unisex washroom at La Mar restaurant in Itaim there is a scrolling cityscape decorating the edge of the mirror. At first glance I was frustrated that I didn't recognize the city but then realized the buildings weren't printed true to scale and upon further glance I identified Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) and the Aon Building to know it was most definitely Chicago.

Major cities around the world play host to a collection of timeless statements recognizable and distinctive, be it in their topography like Rio, massive monuments like St. Louis and Paris or in brick and mortar like Sydney and New York. Generally, Sao Paulo is a mass of homogenous concrete with specs of colored glass here and there and little varied architectural distinction in the skyline other than maybe the radio towers on Paulista Avenue that look like mini Eiffel towers.

Its hard to miss the visual nature of Brazil's protectionist mentality, from the designers to the products. Keep it local; its the defining phrase of pride and in some respects its rather refreshing. You may not always get the best your buck can buy but in a way its all relative isn't it? Regarding architecture, you get a good dose of the vernacular talent from the obvious Oscar Niemeyer to Ruy Ohtake to the under-recognized Lina Bo Bardi (MASP). Their masterpieces fall a little short of the loftiness required to make an individual statement along the horizon but each have created memorable pieces. Once you see them, they are unforgettable and unique to Sao Paulo. I have a running list of places to explore and photograph from the Centro Cultural CCSP to the more notable SESC Pompéia but for now we'll stick to the unique.

In an effort to create "daring" architecture in Sao Paulo, Ruy Ohtake's, "Hotel Unique," rises to the occasion. Ohtake was basically given artist's license not only to create an icon but to elevate the standard of boutique hotels. Boasting only 95 rooms this concrete filled smile is best viewed from the top. To be honest I've eaten at the restaurant and I don't think the food is worth the hefty price tag but its certainly worth a drink or five on a breezy clear evening at the sky bar. If you can get a table on the pool deck bordered in glass for optimal city reflection its a Sao Paulo panorama at its best. Planes flying in and taking off above challenging the soft lounge music and conversations of business travelers and local hipsters. Its the perfect place to blow some $R, sit back, relax and take in the monochromatic view.

Some friends were discussing this most unfortunate lack of symbolic skyline here and while there are many historical and political reasons for the overused faceless concrete designs it might mean you just need to sneak below the canopy to find the true gems. In the end, a view is a view right?

I was there recently on a perfect cloud spangled sky.....

(photo: Architour)

(photo: skyscrapercity)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

where modernism meets aliens

Vila Madalena has been keeping me up at night with an amazing array of restaurants and night life. In such an eclectic neighborhood of artisans and fashion, the food is no different.  From organic cafes to middle eastern treats and good old traditional brazilian dishes its hard to find something mainstream, much less reason to stay in and cook.  Since I don't really have the gear to cook at the moment anyways, its a great excuse for trying out all the new local digs.

During the day I've been exploring Cemetery Araca which opened its doors for tombs in 1887!  It may seem morbid to spend so much time with the departed but this place has as incredible amount of character and is nothing like the hill of plastic flowers I grew up around and more like something you might find in New Orleans. The dead tell their stories through elaborate, rarely modest stone work where fresh flowers lay and a few bums take cover. Meanwhile outside along the walls and streets near by, colorful alleys of graffiti tell stories of the living. Galleries of public art wind their way down steep dominion and creep their way into my imagination. Everything is a part of the drawing, the windows, trashcans and even the trees. This is no home for vandalism but instead the visions of locals cast like dreams on a storyboard.

The architecture is a fusion of contemporary monotones and concrete designs sometimes called 'brutalism' with a touch of traditional and gothic style worship dwellings wiggled in between. Writers, painters, musicians and designers coalesce among the uniqueness that surprises and captivates on every corner of this bohemian village. This place, all on a bed of san francisco-like topography served appropriately with bakeries a plenty to make up for your walking work out is full of contrast and resolve. We couldn't have picked a better new home.

I am struck with love.

Monday, January 03, 2011

It takes a forest... of patience

Getting proper quantities of documentation to do ANYTHING in this country is like wading through concrete. I seriously don't think the word "efficient" is listed anywhere in our brazilian portuguese translation book. If it were, it would read:
Efficient: please see Incompetent.

Ok a little mean but I need to air out some frustrations.

We have an air freight box coming from the US that was packed back in early December complete with sheets, towels, pillows, dishes, silverware....etc. Things we well kinda need. The box was supposed to arrive Dec. 23 and instead landed Dec. 27th. Fine. We could wait a few days without those necessary things since we were still living in a hotel. However once we moved into our apartment we have a floor, a mattress, paper towels... none of which help with any of the desired things we enjoy doing like shower and sleep. We didn't want to buy stuff because we thought the box was here and would be delivered any day!  All documentation was said to have been done, notarized and approved. Dec. 29th we received an email when we inquired about receiving such box, requesting more documents. No, they needed "three" copies of our airline ticket each notarized, not one notarized and then copied two times like we were told. They also needed "two" copies of some "DOU Gazette" which I am not sure what that is but something must have gotten lost in translation. Once we get this all figured out, printed and notarized it will take a day to send to the correct people that will then take a day to approve it and then another day to send us our box. Or they will realize we need to cut down another tree and have that notarized as well, just in case.

This comes on top of the fact we have no local bank cards either. Itau bank screwed up Alex's information and its taken over three weeks for him to be able to pick up a temporary card. He was told last week they would have this "rushed" for him to pick up Monday. Well today is Monday and they said, sorry we are rushing it for Wednesday. We have been using our american cards for the past six weeks that work 50% of the time. Usually we go through 3 visa's and an AmEx to find out this just isn't going to work. Our back up plan is cash or realizing we have run out of cash like the other day when I poured out all the change I had on the counter and had to put back the groceries that I couldn't cover while a line of confused people waited. It will get fun if that happens at a restaurant. "I thought you said you got cash? No, I thought you HAD cash? Sir could we wash dishes?"

We also have a container coming that left Chicago in early December. That is supposed to take 1 month to get here by boat and then another 2 months in customs. IF our mini rainforest of documentation is correct.

Brazil I love you but this is a bit ridiculous.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Feliz Ano Novo

Staying in on New Years Eve in is incredibly rare in Brazil. Not only is every holiday or non-holiday reason to party but New Years is the celebration of celebrations next to carnival. At 7pm we went out in search of pizza and there wasn’t a soul to be found, much less any pizza with a soul. Storefronts chained and bare, we could have laid down in the middle of the street for we were lucky to locate another human nearby. I might have spotted tumbleweed rolling in the distance like some John Wayne movie. It was eerie and beyond extraordinary in a city of such size. The ONLY noise to signal this holiday was a concert of neighboring households practicing their firework shows and a cacophony of dogs responding in distress.

We moved into our apartment yesterday, a mighty feat worthy of pizza and champagne. The plan was always to stay in, hang out on our new balcony and watch the sunset, the most inactive NYE to date. Alex was sick with what appeared to be a nasty flu so we quietly listened to the choir from the church across the street, eating cereal, (several attempts for pizza delivery including dominos were unanswered) I with the champagne all to myself. I caught the occasional white ghost streaming by on the avenue late to a party, as it is customary for all Brazilians to wear white on Reveillon (New Years Eve). Out of the 18 million people here I felt like 17 million of them were at the beach jumping waves. Not only do you wear white, but also you are to jump 7 waves at midnight, light candles in the sand and offer flowers to the sea to bring good luck for the subsequent year.  I am sure it is a beautiful sight and right when I was wondering if we shouldn't have made coastal plans... it all began. 

The firework show(s) started around 11pm and the city became apparent through a lens of color and light and all those people I thought had fled for the ocean clearly had only been hiding. The rooftops were packed and the music from parties around the city turned up their volume and multiple melodies drifted in the air. I have seen fireworks on islands, the grandest of shows in NY, Boston and D.C but I have never seen a sight like this before. We had the perfect vantage point, an almost 270 degree panorama of virtually every neighborhood in the city. From as far as the eye could witness, organized shows blasted on the horizon simultaneously with smaller household shows from as close as across the street. I tried counting at one point but there must have been over 200 different shows, probably more. It was strangely like what Baghdad must have been like post 9-11 or as if lightening was striking a million locations at once. The light pollution and haze from a cloudy day made it difficult for my camera to focus so I quit trying to capture it tangibly and let my mind take it all in as one of the best memories I will ever have in this city, this I know. From the penthouses to the flavelas it was a democratic spectacle for all to enjoy.

2010 was the year of “transitions;” Alex graduated business school, I left my job, we got married, said goodbye 5 times to family and friends as we waited and finally finally became expats. The word for 2011 will be “acclimation,” as we are finally settled, bringing in the New Year with an address in a city full of wonder and uncertainty.

progression of the evening....

plane in the sky getting ready to land at congonhas

panorama of our breathtaking view

Youtube videos I took of the firework explosion....