Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I want to post about my trip to Rio for Carnival, and I will. I also want to wrap up my amazing trip with my girlfriends to Rio and Buenos Aires, and I will. But having just jumped back into blogging after a very busy hiatus I figured I would kick it off with flying furniture. Ill break it down.

Last week while I was traveling with my girlfriends I was also intermittently emailing Alex to check on things. We were supposed to finally have a few lights installed and some other little things and I was so excited. An empty apartment without lights was just starting to feel weird. So I was email nagging to see if the guy was coming to do the work and a little annoyed I wasn't getting any solid replies, usually just a quick word or two like "busy cant talk" or "stressed out!" However cryptic and strange the behavior, I was on vacation and I would deal with it later. 

Meanwhile back in Alex land. Thursday morning he gets a phone call, "Your furniture is going to be about 30 minutes late on the delivery this morning, is that going to be ok?" Ummmm WHAT???? As in our container is arriving TODAY????? Yea, a little miscommunication I suppose. We knew it was approved down at the port but it was indefinite as to when it would be delivered. So he drove as fast as possible to our apartment and of course there was a terrible accident on the marginal. He called back to say he would be late to meet the truck, and they said sorry we have other deliveries we have to move on. He was pleading to do all that he could to keep the truck at bay but to no avail, they were leaving. Finally and hour or so later he gets through and as he is driving up the steep hill to the house with a glimmer of hope they had waited... there in the distance is a truck with a giant container on top stuck under a tree. 

Not only that but there were about 5 cop cars swarming the situation as well as many other bystanders. He hadn't had a chance to explain to the building manager we were all of the sudden expecting a GINORMOUS delivery so that guy was just as pissed as the poor stuck truck driver over the situation. Finally they said no delivery, the truck is behind schedule and once removed from the tree claws it must move along. So he decided to wait and again beg as this situation clearly wasn't about to get unglued any time soon. An hour into this ordeal lawyers for the moving company showed up. Apparently the truck driver had illegally forged his license so he was in the process of being arrested. Yes, right there in the street next to his stuck truck. The lawyers realized it was silly not to start unloading while they figured out a way to trim the branches and several people showed up to begin the unload. Meanwhile I was writing an email to Alex that briefly mentioned I had forgotten to purchase my plane flight home from Buenos Aires (opps) and I needed his credit card number pronto. Timing is a beautiful thing. Thats a story for another day, and not nearly as exciting. 

So they unloaded into the evening and Alex was on the phone with the rental furniture people to have that picked up asap, and basically trying to find time to breath and realize after not having seen our things since August, we were finally going to have a proper apartment in time for April. At that point he decides not to tell me any of this and instead attempt to get the apartment in shape to surprise me whenever I was able to get home. 

The truck finally got unstuck, and the furniture people had to come back most of Friday to continue the process of unpacking and checking things off. The rental people came and picked up our small little life of a fridge, bed and table, the electricians came and Alex worked around the clock all hours of the night moving things, rearranging and settling in, mostly by himself. 

I cannot begin to describe my reaction when I walked in at 3am Sunday morning. In the elevator I was like why were you so busy? Busy with what? What in the world has been going on??? Why are you stressed? Is something going on I don't know about? Annoying I know. But the door opened and complete disbelief. I had gotten used to our bed with two twin mattresses poorly stuck together that allowed no normal sheets to fit, cooking without a stove, having no lights.... And all of the sudden we had pictures, and pots and pans, an iron, a real cozy bed... rugs, lamps and books! The sofa however was missing. It had been too big for the elevator and the stairs so it was being hoisted up the side of the building Monday morning at 830am. 

Alex had meetings so I stayed back from work to watch the spectacle. Apparently in Brazil this is extremely normal. 15 stories? Easy! My dad was like, "I bet they have a crane of some sort on top of the building for these things...." yeaaaaaa No! I was waiting for that part until they unloaded it out of their truck and brought it up to the apartment and set up it on the balcony and literally in 25 minutes the sofa was all the way up! Our balcony is off the bedroom and there is a narrow hallway to the living room. They tried every which way to get the couch through but it clearly wasn't going to happen. Most people would have probably given up, even hoisted it back down the building. Instead they preceded to take the couch apart and saw off the base. HOURS later and wood chips everywhere they pushed it through. Then they made new holes and screwed the base back together as best they could and there we go folks we had our apartment! Brazilians! Ahmazing. No way would they do all that in the US. I was acting like this was some crazy cool rarity but people tell me its quite normal, happens all the time. They take apart windows, balcony doors, saw, bend, cut, piece back together, whatever the issue they solve it and get it done. Regardless, unbelievable effort by those men and my man. I still can't believe it. The stove doesn't work yet, and the washing machine is 220v (opps) but our wonderful brazilian electrician says he's got it all figured out! And I'm sure he does in one way or another. 

Icamento: Google it. The portuguese word for hoistin' it up! (literal translation: Lifting)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Carnival Part 1: Tiradentes

Getting there was a rainy adventure. Old Gringo was in for the ride of his young life, we had never taken him this far so it was time to test the waters. The first few hours of our vacation boasted beautiful pastures and hills reminiscent of Ohio or Pennsylvania. Rodovia Fernao Dias is a highway of sorts with two double lanes and about 3 hours into the trip on the opposite side we passed an 18-wheeler that had flipped over completely perpendicular to the road blocking all traffic. Not only that, it was full of gravel… yes gravel had poured out along the road for at least a hundred feet.  It appeared as though it had just happened, but then as we started to pass the hundreds, then thousands  (I could be exaggerating just a bit) of stranded vehicles waiting in angst to start moving again we realized they were probably in for a minimum 10 hour wait AT LEAST! Also there was a nice ditch between them and us making it nearly impossible to cross over and turn around. Mind you, I think this was also the busiest traffic day/holiday of the year next to maybe New Years. However I think Carnival is even bigger as Brazilians get more days off. Never found out anything more about the truck mess but we were just glad to be on the right side of the world that day!

So a few hours into the ride there was that.... and then the fact that it was pouring down rain like some Brazilian God had really been betrayed. In addition we came upon a fun little detour. It was mud on top broken concrete with potholes that make Chicago roads look blissfill on a post winters day.  It was a minefield and another mess. By the time we pulled into Tiradentes mid afternoon (we left at 5am) it felt like we'd conquered a country and it was time for a local brew! When isn’t it time?

While there it continued to rain. All day. This was my first carnival and I only knew what I had seen on TV or heard briefly through friends and somehow I always pictured it bright and sunny. Was it possible that it could rain during ALL of Carnival?  As we huddled under the umbrella wearing sweaters and jeans we saw the stage set in the middle of town, streamers and masks on every light post and an abundance of party goers draped in ponchos and glitter, beer in hand in postponed cheer. This picture did not change until Tuesday. I have never seen a happier group of people in pouring down rain dancing like it was college spring break. We were voyeurs to the magic that is Brazil and its people. Ray told me to mind the cobblestones in the town center as it was designed 300 years ago to keep slaves from fleeing. He wasn’t kidding and so we can prepared, sporting our bright white tennis shoes like disney world pros! The brazilian women however STILL wore their 6 inch heels despite the rain and seemed to manage those cobblestones as if they were dancing on a Rio float. 

Our hotel was more than perfect. We made our decision based on a few recommendations from Alex’s friends at work and it was good we spent the extra money. You never need a good hotel until you need a good hotel. And unfortunately, we ended up spending more time in it than of out. So instead of being poolside, or out horseback riding in the hills like we imagined, we split our time between the bar around the corner smack in the middle of town so we could make fun of drunk people in the rain or we were hunkered down on a big old couch next to a fireplace watching Carnival in Salvador on TV where it was hot and sunny! 

Tiradentes has incredible arts and crafts and its fun wandering the streets full of furniture stores and linen shops. It is also known for its Dolce de Leite to which my father in law decided he needed to bring back enough to feed the city of Chicago. He also decided he would buy himself a matching american tourist style hat and t-shirt that read “TIRADENTES, MINAS GERAIS.” Minas Gerais is the state in which Tiradentes resides.

Maybe the funniest part of the weekend was when he walked out of the store to show me his new treasures and said, “well I had to buy memorabilia to wear at the gym when I get home and this was perfect, it has the name of the town AND Mardi Gras all written together so everyone will know I was there!" He was so happy, I hated to rain on his parade but he interpreted Minas Gerias to be Mardi Gras?!!! No more do Brazilians call Carnival Mardi Gras than they watch baseball instead of soccer. WRONG country, WRONG language, WRONG party... Poor guy BUT hilarious.

It finally cleared up on Tuesday and even though a storm was looming our cabin fever put us on the old steam engine train through the countryside to Sao Joao del Rey. As they say in Portuguese, ‘Valeu a Pena' = worth the pain. That day made all the others, spent waiting to get out, well worth while. Alex and I even took an afternoon run along the river on a muddy dirt road checking out all the farms where our lovely “Slow food” style dinners came from (check out Tragaluz if you find yourself in need of a wonderful meal!) 

Carnival, there! Each night a different bloco planned its parade through town, usually in a downpour but sometimes in a light sprinkle. Either way, we were there. To watch men dressed up regardless of sexual preference as women, women scantily clothed as beer maids and cops, disney characters and nurses or whatever their bloco theme designated. Those themes I observed, can range widely from roman gods to diapers. It’s a themed party and anyone’s invited to witness a bloco's practiced dance that vaguely looks synchronized after multiple pre parties. They surround a band, usually made up of teenagers and grandpas with drums and horns controlling the beat through the town singing songs and chants. That my friends is a small town bloco and we got to see about 5 of them. The blocos in Sao Paulo, Salvador and Rio however practice all year, invest sometimes millions in décor and strategy and are flawless and magnificent, charging hundreds of dollars to see. Our little Tiradentes Carnival was free and a perfect way to be introduced to such a wonderful Brazilian tradition.

It was fun to...

Watch drunk men hit on what they thought were women, “Hey snow white how youuuu doin…? Woah hey, sausage surprise!" (we heard a lot of that in so many words)

Drink a lot of caipirinhas at Conto de Reis. The owner of the bar looks like Santa Claus and has his picture painted on the wall inside. Outside lots of of boys were following groups of sixteen year old girls in teddys and other lingerie with blinking lights and bunny ears much like American Halloween. Except in the US I rarely see dads dressed as keg-orators with taps on their heads and their kids dressed as beer bottles!

Dance in the street with roman emperors in my ann taylor cardigan and sperrys... the most conservative obvious American in town! If you didn’t know it by my appearance you knew it by my dance, a la Tom Brady style (if you don’t know what I mean click here) something I clearly need to work on if I plan to attend more of these in the future. Yes the outfit AND the dance.  Less clothes more action in the hips. When in Rome… still an American.

Leaving there of course it was sunny and beautiful. Alex may have backed up into a stone curb causing a crunch and a bang so when we made it to the highway the bottom of our car rattled the entire way home. But even with a little jingle and shake, it was the perfect backdrop to reflect on our wonderful time there. Despite the rain and samba tunes that lasted well into the morning preventing our beauty sleep, Tiradentes is a must see if you have a weekend to spare. Great food, incredible history, top notch pousadas, wonderful and inexpensive furniture, a quiet peacefulness you cannot find in the city. An experience well worth your while!

Next up part 2: Rio @ Sambadrome