Manicures and Mercados

March 19, 2010

This morning, after a brisk walk in the park near her house, Karen took me with her to get her nails done.  We drove up to a small shop in Santa Cecelia and went up a few stairs to the salon.  It’s where Karen, Elen and Edite go every week to get their hair blown out and manicures and pedicures, and it looked like a scene out of a movie.  Everyone was chatting and there were women who had clearly been coming to this same place for the last forty years, or however long they had been in business.  The front room was bright and airy, with gossip magazines and a big mirror.  We hung out and had coffee while we waited for the manicurist to become free.  A woman was getting her curly hair blown at straight (another reason Brazilian women look so good all the time–it’s easy to get a blow out).  There was a back room with a few more chairs, and the Asian woman who owned the salon was styling another woman’s hair in curlers.  I got a manicure and pedicure, and the whole thing was 27 reais, or about $14.  Not a bad deal.

Afterwards I went to the Centro to meet a guy for lunch who graduated last year from Columbia’s architecture school (the one I think I may go to for urban planning.)  He’s working on a book that the city is putting together on various projects.  He’s interested in working with Cidades sem Fome as well, and designed an amazing elevated garden for a Paraisopolis, a favela here in Sao Paulo.  We’ll see if we can get everything going to actually get it built sometime.  I perused the Mercado Central one more time before I leave the city, and was just as smitten with all of the fruits (there were more I had never seen) and the Italian stalls.  The walk there from the Sao Bento stop has so many wholesale shops, too, jewelry and ribbons and feathers, shoes, things for Carnaval.  The energy of it is pretty amazing.


Um Bom Dia

January 27, 2010

Today wound up being a surprisingly great day.  I had coffee with Carina this morning, my Argentinean friend who lives close by.  She’s an amazing wealth of knowledge and has tips about Sao Paulo and traveling, cooking, nearly everything.  I was especially jealous that she just got back from Rio and Buzios and ate at Venga!, our favorite tapas restaurant on Rua Dias Ferreira.  She’s a brave soul for trying to recreate the octopus dish at home.  I wish I had the balls to tackle cooking octopus.

From there Scott and I headed to the Centro.  It felt like it had been a while since we went up there, and I had forgotten how cool the area is around the Bovespa and Sao Bento.

I met with Hans, the head of Cidades Sem Fome, now that he’s back from his vacation in the South of Brazil with his family, and we talked about the next steps of my involvement, which feels like something I have been waiting for for months now.  I’m excited about going forward, and super excited for him, as he let me know that the mayor of Recife wants him to begin building gardens in the Northeast. He has plans for the south of the country, and he also got approached by the Mozambique government, who are interested in adopting the project in Africa.  I really think his organization is incredible and I’m proud to be a part of it.

From there, Scott and I sat in a restaurant while it rained that had the coolest chair rail tiles.

You can’t see the tiles that well in the picture, but they were all different patterns in shades of black, white and grey.  From there we wandered around a bit and found ourselves at the Praca de Republica and the Edificio Italiano.  It’s one of the taller buildings in Sao Paulo and is known for its killer views of the city.  By lucky coincidence, we happened to be there while the top floor was open to the public from 3 to 4pm.

The view was staggering.  I know that I had written along with a post that featured a picture of the view from our apartment that the Sao Paulo skyline gave me anxiety.  I still get sort of anxious–there are just so many buildings, but having gotten to know this city a little better, I’m more just in awe of it.

The wavy building in the bottom picture is the Edificio Copan and was built from 1957 to 1966, designed by Oscar Niemeyer and Carlos Alberto Cerqueira Lemos. It has 1,160 apartments, over 5,000 residents and has the largest floor area of any residential building in the world.

In a spur of the moment decision we decided to jump in a cab and head to the Museu do Futebol in the Estadio Pacaembu.  I don’t know why I expected a small museum–maybe because we’ve passed Pacaembu so many times on our way to Karen’s and Elen’s and Edite’s, or just because I knew it was tucked into the stadium, but it was incredible.  Brand new and super high tech, it had amazing interactive exhibits, took you through the great players, the different World Cups, the history of the game in Brazil. You could listen to announcers talk through the most memorable games and goals of all time. There was an area with a number of fooz ball tables set up in the different common soccer formations.  I was impressed.

After running and dinner, we’re just waiting for Obama’s speech.  I’m nervous for him, and hope that it goes well. Oh, also the other thing that happened today was I found out that my blog was nominated to be one of the top 100 Ex-Pat websites for 2010.  Starting February 1, I’m going to be pulling out every stop to get the most people voting for Menina na Rio as possible.  Seriously. Get ready.


December 20, 2009

Scott’s sister Emily arrived on Friday and we’ve been taking to the town, which hasn’t lent itself to blog writing.  In a quick recap, we had a wonderful Shabbat dinner at Paulo and Edite’s on Friday night.  We went out, first to Consolação, to Bar Leblon for caiparinhas, and then to Astronette.  Astronette was a small hipster bar, that feels like a bar on 11th Street that we used to go, or any hipster bar in Williamsburg. It was a kind of oldies night, and the red-lit back room was packed people rocking out to the Beach Boys. There was a tattooed girl with a strapless leopard dress and jellies swinging with her Converse-wearing boyfriend, and groups of friends doing the twist.  It was extremely entertaining.  From there we went to Sub Astor, on the edge of Vila Madalena.

We spent yesterday at Karen and Andre’s house in Atibaia, an hour north of Sao Paulo, breathing in fresh air, lounging by the pool, eating a delicious lunch.  It was really spectacular.

Today was a roam around the Centro–the Mercado Municipal, followed by the Praca de Luz and both Pinacoteca museums.  We strolled around the park and then went over to the Praca de Se and spent a few minutes in Liberdade.

We started yesterday at a great Cartier-Bresson exhibit at SESC (sort of like the Pinheiros Y).  Since I’m in this traveling, noticing, consuming frame of mind, seeing his perfect moments of capture are even more impressive than I had thought when I first encountered his pictures in college.  His eye for composition is unreal.  Seeing the prints through Scott’s photographic eye was also super cool, since I don’t have any photography training.

From Pinheiros we took the subway up to the centro and headed to the Mercado Municipal.  Emerging from the Sao Bento subway station, the streets were completely packed, in every direction.  After trying to find a parallel to something we knew, we realized it was more like an over-jammed Canal Street than anything else we could think of.  The Mercado is housed in a huge, beautiful old building in the middle of a lot of ugliness and crazy energy.  Inside, there were were rows of stalls, mostly clustered by what they were selling.  Fruit stalls had mangoes, citrus, melons, juicy things I had never seen before.  They had mangosteens, which I haven’t had since I was in Vietnam.  The small purple fruits were just as delicious as I remembered. Italian stalls sold cheeses and salamis, prociutto and parma ham, olives and dried fruits and nuts.  There were sweets, and whole sections of seafood and fish stalls.  Opposite the fish, vendor after vendor sold every cut of meat imaginable, from whole pigs and lambs hanging on meat hooks to steaks to unidentifiable offal.  Scott thought it felt like what we imagine the Essex Street Market or the Fulton Street market must have felt like in the early twentieth century.

We walked back up to Sao Bento through throngs of people. Tarps and tables lined the streets, where people sold everything from cell phone holders to scarves to tupperware to cheap shoes, towels, jewelry.  Up the hill we reached the Bovespa–Brazil’s Stock Exchange.  Cobbled pedestrian lanes led to big, old buildings, and the tables from outdoor cafes spread out on the sidewalk.

Walking around Buenos Aires, Scott and I wondered why Sao Paulo didn’t have the same beautiful old buildings.  It turns out that they’re here, of course, but they haven’t been preserved or restored in the same way.  Many of them have been assaulted by graffiti–both the cool, mural kind, and the more aggressive, less artistic variety.  We walked though Anhangabau, the Praca de Se and the Praca Republica, looking at the Teatro Municipal de Sao Paulo and the Biblioteca.

We wound our way through the pedestrian streets with their Wall Street-ish feel and wound up in Liberdade in time for dinner, where we had Chinese food, and wandered through the Asian markets of their little Japan.

This city is incredibly complex, dense and varied.  I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it, but each of these explorations on foot helps with the orientation, the understanding.

Lewy Brazil: Rio

December 1, 2009

We got back last night from traveling with my parents.  I think they liked Brazil much more than they thought they would,and were surprised by how easy it is to live here, how essentially Brazilian it is.  We had a really great time showing them around Rio, and then we were lucky to have them take us out to Iguazu Falls and to Florianopolis and Governador Celso Ramos.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was one of the most perfect places I have ever been.

In Rio, we took them to Pao de Acucar, to Zuka, biking on Sunday along the beaches (where there was a pro-Israel rally, a plus for my parents), and up to Santa Teresa and to the Centro.  Scott took his camera along to the Centro.

Bicycling and the Centro

November 23, 2009

Yesterday the four of us rented bicycles and rode the length of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana.  It was a super hot day, and the beach was packed, umbrella to umbrella, without a scorching inch of sand to spare.  It was cool to see such a mosaic of colors, and the biking was rewarded by agua de cocos at the Morro do Leme and an ice cream stop at Mil Frutas in Ipanema.  We even managed to ride through the pro-Israel, anti-Ahmadinejad rally.  We couldn’t have planned it better if we tried.

Today we went to the Centro, taking the bonde up to Santa Teresa (sadly, Aprazivel was closed) and walking around Cinelandia.

My dad mentioned that he’s surprised we don’t have more Brazilian friends.  I, too, am surprised, but it seems worth saying that it’s hard here.  We haven’t found an accessible ex-pat community, and we’ve only started recently speaking fluent enough Portuguese that we can talk to strangers.  Our leads–IlRio, Ruthie from Rio–let us down a tiny bit.  We’re going full court press in Sao Paulo.

That said, we had a great night on Friday night, pushing and begging our way into the club at the Copacabana Palace for a brother of a friend of a friend’s birthday.  It was fun to see Rio’s elite, decked out in short skirts and spiky heels sipping drinks in a sparkly room with thumping music.  It was even more fun beforehand when we sat at a plastic-tabled juice bar with some friends (a guy from Penn and our friends who are teachers at the American School) and drank some icy cold beers first.

We did yesterday perfectly.  We checked out the Museum of Modern Art (not Burle Marx’s best work) and then walked through the Centro to the Bonde.  We passed downtown streets that we had never seen before–leafy city streets with the old colonial buildings resting stately on the sides.  People with office jobs grabbed lunch at the lanchonettes and coffee shops, chatted and bought things from the vendors selling sweets, belts, and cell phone covers.

At the Bonde station, we were too far back in the line to get seats, so we climbed up on the side rails and hung on to the old trolley car. We laughed as we chugged up and over the Arcos da Lapa, the streets vacant where on Saturday nights they’re throbbing with people.  In the half sunshine, Santa Teresa showed its best side.  Without the nauseating cab ride where the driver has never heard of the up-and-coming bohemia, the ride up the hill was pleasant, with great views.  We arrived in the center of Santa Teresa and immediately asked directions to Aprazivel, a restaurant that Scott and I had half-heartedly looked for every other time we had gone up there, without any success.    Straight up cobbled streets we looked wondrously at the mansions, feeling optimistic that this time we would find it.


We were rewarded after about ten minutes with an elegant restaurant overlooking the city and Guanabara Bay.  The veranda, where we sat, was traditional, but the patio and some of the other levels had tables made of giant tree trunk cross sections.  It was relaxing and felt exotic and special, eating a carefully prepared meal among pervasive trees spreading over Rio’s hills. From there we took the Bonde back down the Centro and visited the Espaço Hélio Oiticica.  We skirted through small streets filled with cabeleireiros, chaveiros, pe-sujos–it felt like real city, like real Latin America.  It was grittier than our easy-going Leblon, a little less sunny, both Scott and I were intrigued.

The space of the Espaço Hélio Oiticica was surprising.  On a nothing street, surrounded by buildings that looked just like it, there was this amazing space on the second and third floors.  From the street there was little to see, but the upstairs offered a sensory world created by this artist who believed that art should be felt in a visceral way, and viewers were urged to walk barefoot through different mediums, touching, feeling.  It was cool and totally unexpected.

From there we had a coffee at Confeitaria Columbo, took the subway home, Scott and I went for a speedy run and then we went to Maracana for a Flamengo v. Flumense game.  The stadium, which was built in the 1950s and holds 100,00 people, was about a fifth or a quarter full. It’s the biggest rivalry in Rio and Flamengo is the most popular team in the country.  It was fun to see the fans cheering on their teams with marching bands in the bleachers, fireworks, tons of jerseys, and even inter-family and inter-relationship rivalries.  We went with a group (for safety–it was a 9.50pm game and we didn’t know what the scene would be like, if it would be possible to get cabs home afterward).  We went in with the group and didn’t get drinks beforehand.  We thought the stadium was dry, and were elated to find that they sold cervejas at the concession stand after about twenty minutes of wandering around Maracana.  We toasted–saude!!– and then Scott looked at the cans of Itaipava.  Sem Alcool.  Oops.  The game ended in a 1-1 tie, enough for Fluminense to move on to the next round of the Copa Sul-Americana and Flamengo to be disappointed.