First Day of School

August 29, 2010

So today is officially my last day of this long stretch of doing whatever I want every day. Tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day this week, and pretty much every day for the next two to three years, my schedule will be determined for me. Success  and productivity will be as clear cut as it was when I was twelve. I’m nervous, but I think it’ll be good.

I have to say that I ended this endless summer (seriously, I haven’t experienced sub-60 degree temperatures since roughly April, 2009) in the best fashion. We had an amazing weekend in Amagansett at my friend Michael’s house. We went to the beach, I tried out paddle boarding for the first time (it was so relaxing and beautiful–we got to explore inlets and channels and surf), there was running and burgers and white peach sangria, walks on the beach and outdoor showers. There was not a single cloud, either day in the blue expanse of sky.

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Last weekend we were in North Carolina, hanging out poolside with 50 of Scott’s relatives from all over the country. Some were from close by, quite a lot from Atlanta, some coming in from as far as LA and Idaho.  It was fun to see the cousins we don’t get to see enough, and their adorable kids, and to meet the ones I hadn’t yet had a chance to meet.

It would be fair to say that there was a lot of eating, and drinking. The bartender on Saturday night is fabulously nick-named ‘Tilt.’ Is there a better moniker for someone who pours for a living? It was really super fun, and Wrightsville Beach is just the perfect spot–beachy, relaxed, comfortable, with a great expanse of sand, the ocean is just the right amount of cool and the hospitality is unmatchable.

Happy Birthday, Seymour

April 28, 2010

We just returned from four days in Wilmington, North Carolina.  It was Scott’s grandfather’s 95th birthday and last night there was a cocktail party for him.  Every other time we’ve gone to Wilmington (this was my fourth) we’ve stayed at the beach, but since Bubbe and Grandpa hadn’t moved into the apartment yet, we stayed in town with them, in the house that they moved to fifty years ago.  The house is like a time warp, in the best way, with a sunny breakfast room and comfortable den, separated by a massive living room/sun room built for Scott’s parents’ wedding in the 1970s.  We slept in uncle Johnny’s room, the one at the top of the stairs, with three single beds lined up, meant for returning grandchildren.  I went running around the neighborhood a few times, taking in the summery breeze, the giant magnolia trees that formed a canopy over the street, laced with spanish moss.

The party was wonderful.  Scott’s grandparents are pros–having thrown dinners and cocktail soirees for visiting musicians (Yizhak Perlman among them).  Classy feels too generic for them–they’re wonderful, charming, caring people with extremely interesting friends.  While there were some awkward moments as there always are in schmoozing with the elderly–some of the stories were extraordinary.  I was just glad I could be there with Scott and his family.  Happy Birthday, Seymour!

Estamos na Praia

March 27, 2010

Lindsay and I had a nice, easy beach day.  After leaving Sao Paulo and the family and lugging all of my stuff for a year back to Rio, it was nice to relax, people watch, walk around, poke in and out of stores.  I’m loving experiencing this with Lindsay after being here with Scott and some of our other friends. It was breezy today here and not too hot.  Rio is nearly back to how I remember it when we lived here, before it became a steaming, crowded mess.  It’s lovely.  I just went for a run along Leblon and Ipanema to Arpoador, and it was just so nice to be back in the familiar cadence, with the sounds of people having fun, laughing.

I keep trying to anticipate what I will feel when I leave Brazil.  I think I’ve gotten more used to living here than I think–the pace of life, speaking another language most of the time, the food, the people.  Parts of it, I’ll be very sad to leave. The two things I’m looking forward to most are being close to the people that I love, and being in a bed that’s mine, in a space where I can unpack all my stuff and quit living out of suitcases.

I also wonder what I should do with this blog once I leave.  Any thoughts? Suggestions?  It’s partially for me–a  way to chronicle our experience, but mostly for you, and more for you now that the Brazil adventure is coming to a close, for the time being.

Juquehy with Lindsay!

March 24, 2010

My apologies for not writing for a few days, I haven’t been near my computer much.

A brief, iPhone-sized update. Monday Elen hosted a wonderful birthday lunch for herself and had the whole family over. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at Karen’s and yesterday morning we went to go see the new Andy Worhol exhibit at Pinacoteca. It was interesting to see all of those iconic images–the soup cans, the Marilyns, the videos of Edie Sedwick–in person. There was also a guide giving tours to all of the maintenance staff and cleaners, which struck both of us as so sweet. All of these people are surrounded by all of this art everyday, and it’s a world away from what they know.

After stopping to pick up the rental car, Lindsay arrived (!) from Chile. We had a lovely lunch with Paulo and Edite and then hit the road for Juquehy. The drive was easy, and we’re back at the same hotel we stayed at with Claire and Lucy. It’s blissful here. The weather is perfect, the hotel and beach are both empty. It’s amazing to catch up with and spend time with such a close friend.

Tomorrow we drive back to Sao Paulo to spend a night in the city and then it’s on to Rio on Friday. Monday the Brazilian adventure is over (for now!) and I head back to New York…

It’s interesting, being where we are right now.  We’re far, from everything, and it feels far, given that we’ve been far for a long time.  We’re staying in a little bungalow, complete with its own mosquito net, and sulfur smell when we turn on the shower.  It’s clean though, and lots of things about it are really nice.  The ocean stretches blueish green and knee high for hundreds of yards.  The water is clear, the palm trees are tall.

When we booked the hotel, we thought we were close to the town of Morro de Sao Paulo.  Not so.  It’s about a half an hour away.  But it’s not just like you get in your car and drive twenty miles.  It’s really only about fifteen kilometers, but the road is made of sand and pitted, and close to the hotel it’s little more than a two lane track.  One of our buggies from the Jericoacoara would handle it gracefully.  The shuttle, run four or five times a day by the hotel makes it more comical.  It’s an old VW wagon, painted olive green with the hotel’s logo on the side (which involves a monkey).  The doors barely close and the windows rattle.  It seems like with every jerking move forward it could just break apart, like a little kid’s toy car thrown against a wall.  So rickety.  I thought the bumping along felt especially bad on our way in on Monday, as we had just sat on a boat for two hours, but it proved worse when we went into town for dinner last night.  The way there was fine–gazing up at the stars, enjoying the smell of wet tropical foliage, big broad leaves respiring in the darkness, a bit of cool relief after the hot, sunny day.  The way back was long and bumpy and jarring.

I think I would have more patience for, and in fact relish, these little quirks and the solitude if this wasn’t the last stop on our trip. With our feet in the sand of another beach last night, having a drink and talking about the next thing, as I wait to hear from graduate schools, I’m ready for that next thing.  I had my wonderful, gorgeous and illuminating fill of exploring remote Brazilian beach towns.  They’re beautiful and I will enjoy every one until I go, but I’m ready to know where graduate school will be, what’s in store for me and Scott.

Hotel Anima

February 23, 2010

We’ve found ourselves in another remote place.  After staying in one of the coolest hotels I have ever stayed at in Sao Paulo, Villa Bahia, we took a two hour boat ride to Morro de Sao Paulo.  If Pipa was characterized by cliffs and Jericoacoara was sand dunes, Morro de Sao Paulo is jungle.  We walked through another cool town where the streets are made of sand and cars aren’t allowed, and took a half an hour car ride in a struggling Volkswagen minibus to the Anima Hotel.  This one has another perfect beach, and mosquito nets on the bed.  It’s beautiful, but at this point, feels extra isolated.

Jericoacoara

February 18, 2010

We’re in Jericoacoara.  It’s one of the most remote places I have been, and I have been endlessly amazed by how far we are from anything, coupled with the beachy perfection of this little town.

We woke up yesterday in Fortaleza (as you all know, now, not my favorite place) and got in a minivan that drove west from the city for five hours.  Along the highway (one lane in each direction) we passed through Cumbuco and went by the usual Brazilian things–small restaurants with plastic tables, gas stations, stands selling fruits, houses made out of the ubiquitous brick, or plastered and painted bright colors.  There was a lot of sand and scrubby plants, and very tall palm trees.  They seem to grow especially tall here in Ceara.  After a full five hours, maybe a bit more, we arrived in Jijoca de Jericoacoara.  We pulled into a gas station off the main road, and got out of the van (there were maybe ten of us, five pairs, all going to the same hotel).  At the gas station there were people hanging out in the sun, eating popsicles, waiting for our minivan to take them back to Fortaleza.  There was another vehicle with rows of wooden seats and big tires.  It felt like the bonde in Rio, painted bright green, with its open sides.

Sitting on a bench we made a couple of turns through the town–cobbled streets, surf shops and pharmacies baking in the blazing northeastern sun.  The driver of the sort of open air 4X4 truck got out and went into one of the pharmacies.  It was pretty funny that he was running an errand with so many passengers waiting, and we were wondering why he was stopping.  He pulled two packages of diapers off a shelf and we all had a good laugh about how wives are the same everywhere.  After picking up a few more passengers we passed over the last stretch of cobbled street and started down a sandy dirt road.  We passed some houses, some fenced in properties.  At one house we slowed and a little naked girl, probably about three our four ran out of the house, across the cement porch.  She had mess, dark, hair and had the biggest smile on her face.  She squealed as the driver handed her the plastic bag with the diapers, and giggled and turned and ran them back to her mother, standing the shadow of the doorway.

At another house we picked up a gigantic plastic burlap sack of mangoes and the driver chatted with the man of the house for a couple of minutes, as his teenaged daughters peered out from inside the house as well–darkish cement rooms with hammocks strung across.

We drove for another fifteen or twenty minutes until the road really was just sand (it’s worth noting that our original plan had been to drive to Jericoacoara ourselves, until we did a little more research and learned that the roads between Jeri and Fortaleza were badly marked, and that the last 30km are not passable without four wheel drive).  The sand road snaked through waist-high brush for a while until we got to the entrance of the national park and dunes.  They looked like giant snow drifts (which made us think of everyone up north).  The road seemed to disappear and it looked like a moonscape–just sand with some aqua pools of rainwater.  There were a few donkeys grazing on the sparse grass that was scattered across the sand.  At this point we were in awe, and also sort of nervous.  Where were we going?  What was going to be at the end of this six hour journey?  What kind of town could be all the way out here?

After another twenty minutes of driving between dunes, we reached Jericoacoara.  I’ve never seen anyplace like it.  It’s literally an oasis in the middle of a desert.  It’s a perfect tourist town, with just the right number of restaurants and pousadas to be comfortable, but it’s quiet, sunny, and extremely beach-based.  The roads are just sand, nothing is paved, putting on flip flops feels like an imposition.  Most people get around by dune buggy, or some by bicycle.

The whole town climbs up to a giant sand dune next to the main beach to watch the sunset.  There’s camaraderie and people sit and stand and laugh and jump in the dunes.  There were a few kids who brought up sandboards (like snowboards, but for sand) and were coasting down the side of the dune.  There was a guy who had wheeled up his ice cream cart and was selling popsicles, and another who had a full bar set up to make caiparinhas.  On the way down, there was enough foot traffic at the base of the dune for beautiful girls to hand out flyers for things that were going on that night.

It’s hard to stress the complete dumbfoundedness at the transition between Fortaleza, our epic drive to get here, and the beauty that is here.  I went for a run this morning along the water, one of the best in my life, as the sand was flat and hard, not pitched at all, and surrounded by more sand and gently lapping ocean.  Last night we dinner at candle lit tables in the sand–fresh fish and wine.  It was perfect.

More pictures to come, hopefully at better resolution. The internet’s too slow here right now.

Here are some pictures of Fortaleza…A real looker, huh?

I don’t think this next picture really captures how weird this place was.

We walked to the end of the beachfront where we’re staying and I had read that the really nice beach with barracas was Praia Futuro, on the other side of the point.  When we realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to walk there (so far we haven’t been able to walk anywhere aside from a couple of miles in each direction along the water by our hotel) we jumped in a cab and asked him to take us there.  We drove through actual squalor.  There was a favela to the right and then just empty, worn down cement buildings, dust, garbage.  A little farther we passed the Petrobras plant on one side of the bumpy street and then the Shell plant on the other side.  We kept going, and it remained just as bad–cheap, dirty motels, a few plastic table bars.  The cab driver eventually made a left and dropped us off at the Praia Futuro.  It was this whole collection of barracas–open air tables with umbrellas.  There were so many people–each table was full, I think claimed for the day, and people were getting settled, drinking beers from small cups poured from big bottles, kids in bathing suits.  Through the mess of people there was sand and dirty ocean.  The whole thing was just astounding.  It was like a hive of cheap florescent bathing suits and clamoring noise in the hot, greasy sun.

Cumbuco

February 13, 2010

So while Cumbuco (the town 30m outside Fortaleza) isn’t so terrible, our hotel creeped us out last night.  We were the only ones in the restaurant and there was no one else around AT ALL aside from the few staff people.  It’s a big hotel, and sort of austere, all the lighting was florescent.  We decided to leave this place behind today and go stay in Fortaleza.  It’s slightly better here in the light of day, there are a few families eating breakfast, but we had to move tables a few times at dinner last night to find ones without unidentifiable gross things on the chairs and I slept in a full long sleeve shirt and pants last night so as not to touch the bed.  Time to go be part of Carnival before heading to Jericoacoara and then maybe to Bahia for the last leg of our trip before we go to Belo Horizonte and then back to Sao Paulo.

Bem-Vindo a Ceara

February 12, 2010

We just landed in Fortaleza and arrived at our hotel.  So far, driving from the airport there seem to be a lot of typical Brazilian elements going on in this town very far north.  We hit some traffic, and found the same lanchenettes and car mechanic shops.  While I fully admit that the areas around airports are not usually the best the city has to offer, Ceara looks like a serious downgrade from Pipa.  Our hotel resembles a Holiday Inn on the beach, but at least it’s on the beach right?  We’re staying 30km outside Fortaleza itself, which may prove to be a mistake, we’ll see.  We’re a little bit stuck by carnival package cancellation fees and the fact that every hotel has been booked for weeks.  Seems like we’ll be making lemonade out of only slightly sour lemons.

Menina na Pipa

February 9, 2010

Sao Paulo was pretty when we left…

But now we’re here…

You can walk for so long without seeing other people on the beach.  This particular beach is called Praia do Amor. You can see the faint indent that makes it look like a heart.  All of Pipa has these gorgeous red cliffs, with the beaches down below.  Things like this happen here…

The chairs and umbrellas below are about $5 for the whole day.  You just give your name and you can order drinks and snacks.  There’s just the right number of people and the right amount of service to be comfortable.  The water was warm and refreshing.  I’m not sure what this sport is, I haven’t done it yet–It’s not parasailing or paragliding, but it looks fun.  You stay up there for forever and it seems like the guide has a lot of control over where you go.

I did take a surf lesson today.

I was nervous.  I had wanted to learn to surf the whole time that we were in Rio, but it was too public there.  The main surf schools (a few dark, skinny guys with board shorts, a sign and a few boards) were down by Posto 7, right near Arpoador, where there are tons of people all the time.  One day when I was running down there I saw this very pasty white girl learning how to surf from one of these skinny guys, surrounded by people who surf every day before work, and she looked like a beached whale.  I vowed never to be that person, at least not with everyone watching.

Today was different though.  I noticed the sign while we were hanging out and reading and asked the guy who was in charge of the chairs what the story was with the aulas de surf.  He called over the instructor–a guy about my age who was from Natal–who nonchalantly explained that the class was divided into parts.  First we stretch (which we did, it felt great and my yoga classes in Portuguese definitely helped), then we would go over the philosophy of surfing (which as he said it reminded me of Paul Rudd’s character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, “Pop up… no, no do less.  Pop up… No less.  Do more.”  It wasn’t like that in practice).  Then he showed me, on a board on the sand, where to position myself on the board, how to paddle, what to do when you go over a small wave, and then the three motions of standing, or actually surfing.  It seemed simple while securely on the sand.  I totally got it, he made me feel like a natural.

Then we went into the water (they gave me the black shirt I was wearing, since clearly my little Brazilian bikini wasn’t going to make it through this adventure).  With the board tethered to my foot, he glided it out.  The waves were pretty rough, and I think I sort of suck at general being-in-the-ocean management.  I never know when to jump over a wave, or dive into it, and I got tumbled around and clobbered trying to get past the break.  Finally I did.  My teacher told me to get up onto the board.  I did.  He said start paddling.  I did.  He turned me around and said (in Portuguese, the whole thing was in Portuguese), “paddle paddle paddle! Stand up!”  I sort of did, but mostly didn’t. I tried to push my body up without getting my legs ready.  After about forty-five minutes of paddling out, turning around, semi-standing up and then finally standing up, I felt a lot more comfortable.  I don’t think I looked all that pretty or graceful (yet?), but I had a blast.  I told him I’d try again tomorrow.

The thing about today, was that I got to spend all day outside, for the first time in a long time.  Scott and I have been talking a lot about our time in Brazil, reflecting on it, wondering how much we succeeded, our regrets, how much we left on the table.  I think he said it best–It could have been more, but it could have been less.  Today made me feel scrubbed clean.  After surfing and playing in the ocean I went for a long walk on the beach, climbing over rocks into the next cove, and then came back and Scott and I went for a run along the cliffs, one beach after another, endless turquoise ocean.  It was the way we drove last year, when we thought there was a road that connected Pipa with Tibau do Sul that turned out to be too rough and tumble for our little Fiat.  It’s just the most breathtaking run I have ever, ever seen.  We’ll have to bring a camera out there next time.

It’s nice to be a little bit out of our heads, and the scenery definitely helps.  For good measure, our pousada, a collection of little bungalows, looks like this.

Dos Girassois

February 8, 2010

Driving into Pipa, we both had pretty strong visceral reactions.  It was exciting to be tracing back through the sugar cane fields of the northeast, and I think a little surreal to make that turn at Goianinha to head to Pipa.  It seemed almost impossible, pulling into town, that this place that’s been so special, so magical in our memories still exists.  It’s more crowded now, than it was in August a year and a half ago.  The streets are more full, there are more people, more cars trying to squeeze past one another on the cobbled road, but the beach, and Dos Girassois, is just as spectacular (and the best pousada deal around).

We had a quick lunch in town and then walked on the beach past all of the plastic table restaurants, to a group of dark tanned me playing soccer in the surf, and along the water to the end of Praia do Amor.  It’s really insanely perfect.  Hopefully I’ll have pictures to post tomorrow.

Perfection

November 29, 2009

We’re in a perfect place right now.  In Santa Catarina, an hour north of Florianopolis (touted as the perfect state capital in its own right) we’ve been staying in a bungalow on a peninsula overlooking green ocean and oyster farms (which, of course, make me think of Claire.)  The foliage around our bungalow is dense and green, with huge-leafed plants, demure purple flowers, saucy pink and red hibiscus, and my favorite, the pink and white, yellow and red coated tropical snap dragons.  Down a steep hill is a slice of beach with white-cushioned chaise lounges (they bring you ice water with mint and lime here).  If you stand there, you can see a few different fishing villages, brightly colored houses and fishing boats.

It’s rained a little, but it’s a soft gentle rain that’s cooling in the humidity.  We have a hammock on our balcony, with still more views of the fishing villages.  Next to a tennis court there’s a garden, where they grow all of the lettuces that grace the salad plates, and herbs, nasturtium flowers.  There are young fig trees, too.  The day before yesterday, my mom and I walked through the closest fishing village (maybe fifty houses, a few churches, one grocery), across the central beach and to a path that led through the forest, up over a mountain to a huge swath of beach that was totally, utterly empty save for three surfers.  I wonder how many places like this still exist, with nothing, and how many secluded, special, secret coves there are along the coast of Brazil.

We’ve had lazy days with lounging and reading, eating seafood and fresh fruits, playing Scrabble, exploring.  I’m going to be sad to leave this perfect, turquoise (and the most exquisite gray before a storm) place.

The Addition of Friends

September 12, 2009

On Thursday night we went on a friend date with our upstairs neighbors.  We couldn’t be more excited about having friends in the building (let alone the city) and after drinks at Jobi we now have great new people in our lives.  In addition, the lovely Julia Gates jetted over after doing some business in Sao Paulo. We tore up the town last night, with some other new friends, a couple about our age visiting Rio from San Francisco for a couple of weeks.  We had a pretty standard night of sunset drinks at a beach kiosk with our new neighbors, dinner at the Cobal de Humaita, and then samba dancing in Lapa.  There was an amazing old man dancing by himself at Carioca da Gema, bald and spectacled and blue-suited.  As Gates said, he looked just like Sam from that kids game Guess Who.  He shuffled and twirled and spun us all.

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This morning Julia and I went to the Corcovado (third time’s a charm!) and then we just went for a long walk all along the beach into Copa  We also stopped at the Laura Alvin Casa de Cultura in Ipanema, a hybrid movie theatre, performance space, art gallery, museum and book store.  There was a very weird exhibit that featured hands reaching out of holes in the wall.  In one room they just held a photograph, in another just an illuminated lightbulb, and in another the pair of hands rolled cigarettes.  It was totally weird.

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We also have a new Portuguese tutor, so all in all our lives here just got a little bit richer.

I just had this piece “Twelve Ways to Experience Rio de Janeiro Like a Carioca” published on Matador.

Check it out…

The Kadima Challenge

September 1, 2009

Scott and I have recently acquired a kadima set–you know, the beach game with two wooden paddles and a rubber ball.  Andrew and Amy actually spotted us the cash when the vendor blazed over last week.  Today we headed down to the beach to play, and we were terrible.  It took us forever to get to twenty consecutive hits.  Leaves plenty of room for improvement while we’re here.  It’s all about small goals and big goals, right?

Contemporary Rio

August 23, 2009

Andrew and Amy arrived yesterday morning, and we’ve been navigating the best parts of Rio in a group of six.  It’s been amazingly fun to show off our city, despite a lack of cooperation with the weather yesterday afternoon.  It presented its worst, most cloudy, drizzly side.    We took the ferry across the bay to visit the Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Niteroi (Niteroi is Rio’s Hoboken), which was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer.  The collection was small and sort of awkwardly spaced in the building–which is clearly the main attraction in itself–but I very much liked the work by Alfonso Tostes.  It was organic and beautiful, fusing wood (drift, rafters, and others) with polish, and human looking joints notched in.

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From Niteroi we went to Copa to check out one of the street fairs, and spent the night at Diagonal, our favorite neighborhood Brazilian restaurant and Lapa.

Lapa, while always fun, was especially great with so many friends around.  It made for much more lively discussion drinking in the center island between the Arcos, and more fun spinning and foot shuffling at Carioca da Gema.

On our way home, our cab driver got pulled over by the police.  Everything was fine, but it was totally unclear what had happened.  He may have run a red light (something that happens all the time, every night here), and he claimed that the cops had confused him with someone else, which was sort of amusing.

Today was filled with açaí, Koni, surprisingly sunny weather, a very exciting Botafogo v. Corinthians game (3-3 tie, street fair day in Cincinnati! seriously), and lots of basking in having everyone here.

Oh, and we also discovered that there’s an American couple living on the 8th floor of our building, about our age, teaching at the American School.  Potential friends?

Closing Time

August 15, 2009

We don’t usually sit on the beach at the end of the day, but today we were there for closing time.  After basking in the sun earlier on Ipanema and then getting lunch and walking to Copa, we were on our way back and sat to watch the sunset.  The detritus of a particularly packed day on the sand seemed poignant against the clear sky and sinking sun.  Drinking straws poked up everywhere, discarded coconuts dotted the beach, empty cans and Globo wrappers lay like miniature sunbathers and towels. It’s amazing that it all gets cleaned up every night and is pristine each morning for the new wash of sunbathers.

We also saw an ice cream vendor and a drink vendor balancing a checkers board on their carts, playing with blue and clear caps from different brands of bottled water.  It was a good image.  I only wish I had my camera with me to take a picture.

Guests!

August 15, 2009

Our first visitors arrived today.  Welcome Chris and Jaime!  We have a fun filled day of beach, juice bars, futebol and samba in front of us. Vamos para praia!