South Kensington

July 1, 2010

I arrived Tuesday morning to London to visit my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, Yannick.  It’s been wonderful to be back here–I feel like I used to come a lot, every six months or so, but it’s been a few years. Zach and Anja have a gorgeous flat with a tiled balcony on a green garden square that they can go play in whenever they’d like. It really feels like they’ve found an ideal place. It’s been bright and sunny, and we’ve played soccer in the garden (it has hedges and flowers all around the perimeter and is only open to people who live around it), we played pirates, and read stories. We had some wonderful long chats and have eaten delicious organic food from Daylesford. We’ve walked around Notting Hill (it out cutesies even the cutestiest block in the West Village) and I’ve run around Hyde Park. It just feels comfortable here. It’s a place that I’ve lived, that I know. The architecture all seems gorgeous and everything seems so walkable after the boxes and congestion of Brazil.

This morning we also went to Yanni’s pre-school play. It was nearly a charicature of itself. The parents were all dress impeccably–a mix of nationalities, a complete jet set crowd at this Young England School.  The director of the kindergarten was a perfect English school marm, bobbed blond hair, slightly overweight, making jokes at which a few people politely chuckled. The kids came on to perform Noah’s Arc. One little blond girl, one of three Sophia’s in the class (sorry, there’s a Sophie, Sophia and a Sofia) was clearly the most advanced and got to play “The Lord.” There were squirmy little red head boys playing Noah, and Noah’s wife was played by a little girl who spent the entire play waving at her parents. At one point she also lifted her skirt up over her head. As my mom whispered to me, mid-show, “that’s why you should always make sure your child wears nice underwear.” Yanni was thunder and lightening. He looked adorable and while didn’t get up to his normal volume (I think it was shyness in front of the crowd) he did a fantastic job. All in all there were a lot of iphone videos and photos snapped of people under four feet tall followed by a flurry of double-cheeked kissing to say goodbye as said sub-four-feeters pulled and squirmed and ran and jumped and tugged at their clothes.

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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.

After moving into our new apartment, Scott and I spent the weekend celebrating the marriage of Michael and Jenna–two of my favorite people in the world.  It was a warm, beautiful rehearsal dinner and wedding.  We danced.  We sang and laughed and mostly we danced.  And Jenna had the most incredibly beautiful, ethereal wedding dress I have ever seen.  More selfishly, it was extremely fun for me to be back with some of my closest friends in the world and Michael’s family, who I grew up with.

Today for Mother’s Day, the Behars and my parents came to Brooklyn.  We hung out at the apartment and then went to a store that Scott and I have been meaning to visit to buy a large dining room table for our new space. I would write the name here, but I want it to be my secret (another selfish indulgence).  There were graceful, heavy wooden planks with so much character, each with its own ancient story.  We didn’t find the perfect thing yet, but we got a good idea of what’s possible in the fluid world of hardwoods and tropical trees.

The last thing that’s been amusing over the last couple of days was that Scott was putting our books on the Ikea bookshelf that we tiredly put together on Wednesday night.  He thought he saw some sawdust and that we didn’t do a very good job.  Turns out our books from Brazil had some sand lingering between the pages.  The detail made me smile. A little bit of Jericoacoara in Brooklyn.

Brazilians for Lunch

April 18, 2010

We had the cousins over for lunch yesterday.  My mom wanted everything to be perfect.  She’s a proud hostess, and after reading and hearing about life in their Sao Paulo and Belo-Horizonte homes, she was determined to show she could lay everything out perfectly, too.  It was a bit of a carb-a-palooza, with bagels and smoked salmon, coffee cake, croissants (chocolate and regular), quiche, fruit, salad, dessert.  It was fun to have them all here at my parents house, for my parents to finally meet them.  They filled the house with gifts and their voices, and stories.  I can’t thank the cousins enough for coming, for allowing this meeting to happen, for the sides of my family to come together and share a meal, put faces with names.

Familia Brasileira

March 21, 2010

Yesterday morning, Edite pulled out a giant box of old letters and photos.  Most of the photos were from the 1950s and 1960s, and into the 70s from when Karen, Elen and Marjory were small.  The letters dated back to the mid-30s, written in Hebrew and Yiddish, a little in Portuguese.  They went from Poland to Brazil and most were between Edite’s grandfather and her father.

It was hard to get good pictures with my iphone, but it was such a window into this family.  I loved seeing the letters, in their perfect handwriting, through when the Nazis swept through Poland and the letters got returned.

There were also pictures of Edite when she was a baby, and a teenager with her family.

And of course there were pictures of the Traiman family with all of the girls.

And one of the most fun parts was seeing the correspondence between Scott’s family, his grandmother and grandfather and his great aunts and uncles, with Paulo and Edite.  There were notes from when the kids were born and pictures of one another at different bar mitzvahs and weddings.

Here’s Bob at his bar mitzvah, and the family at Saul’s bar mitzvah.

And Scott even made an appearance.

It’s amazing how well the families kept in touch.  We take email for granted but it makes it so much easier.  Paulo and Edite and Jose and Massi and all of Massi’s sisters and brothers all had to work harder to maintain the relationships, yet they were definitely there, in each other’s lives.  I’m excited that we’re able to help continue the closeness.  I hope that all of the kids, Mark and Gi and Alan and Izabella and Rafa feel comfortable enough to come stay with us in the US and then we’ll all get to stay friends.  Looking at all of these pictures, it feels very important.

La Piscina

January 13, 2010

Life feels good today.  After reading economics chapters all morning I now understand supply, demand and how to calculate GDP slightly better.  We also spent the rest of the day at Karen’s, where we were very well taken care of.  Lounging by her pool was pure bliss.  For anyone who lives someplace that’s cold right now, please come visit. Eu adoro minha familia Brasileira.  Eles sao increivel.

After a wonderful shabbat dinner at Paulo and Edite’s last night, where we all got to catch up and share stories from our holiday travels, Elen and Ricardo took us to meet Ricardo’s mother.  It was her seventieth birthday and she had some people over for dessert and champagne.

Their apartment was extraordinary–a huge cavernous space filled with more fascinating, beautiful art than I had ever seen in one person’s home.  Her library was particularly incredible and rendered me speechless. She had full wall to ceiling shelves filled two rows deep with books–normal volumes– novels and Jewish tomes, exquisite art books, all in a variety of languages.  Her furniture, too, was graceful and stylish in deep woods and clean lines.  It’s a home that should be featured in Architectural Digest.  The company, like the art and the space, was warm and complex.  Ricardo’s uncle was there, an aunt on his father’s side, some very old friends and the family doctor.  Scott and I had not expected this twist in the evening and it was fascinating.

Nannies in White

January 7, 2010

I’m sitting in our courtyard doing some roof gardens work, but I keep getting distracted by the scene in front of me.  There’s a woman, thin, lithe, wearing very stylish white shorts and a gray tank top, silver flats, she looks great, poised, relaxed.  At the table with her are two nannies both dressed totally in white, both in their mid forties, I would say.  There’s also a set of adorable twins, which I would guess to be about a year old.  The mother occasionally laughs and giggles with the babies, but mostly she is drinking coffee.  The nannies are eating fruit and yogurt, and small cakes, and are mostly keeping an eye on the little guys. None of the adults interact with each other, really.  It some ways it looks like a lovely, stress-free way to have a family.  It’s also a little confusing, like there’s a detachment between the mom and her kids, a lack of instinct. It seems like the mom wouldn’t have a clue what’s in the diaper bag, or which toys the little boys actually like.  Really interesting.

The Amazon

January 1, 2010

The Amazon was one of the most unbelievable places I have ever been.  It’s a time warp–many of the villages still don’t have electricity, and the ones around where we were staying just got it a year ago.  There are no roads, the region is only accessible to the rest of Brazil by water and by air. The sheer volume of the river is unbelievable, looking more like a sea than any other river that I have ever seen.

We stayed at the Ariau Towers, a sort of bizarre, but amusing complex of huge towers on stilts, connected by catwalks.  We were greeted by a woman wearing a plastic coconut bra with the Brazilian flag painted across each boob.  She handed out necklaces, Hawaii-style and we went inside the main tower for juice.  Everything was painted green, the doors were carved with parrots and other animals and brightly painted and small squirrel monkeys were everywhere.  Any piece of the hotel seemed like it could pitch or fall or break, at any moment, but now it all seems charming rather than dangerous.

The Araiu Towers is on the Rio Negro, or Black River, which joins up with the Solimões just east of Manaus to form the Amazon.  The Rio Negro runs at two kilometers an hour, allowing all of the leaves and organic matter that falls into it to settle and decompose.  The water is clear and nearly black (hence its name) and the decaying material makes it acidic and inhospitable to mosquitoes (a huge plus).  The Solimões on the other hand runs at six kilometers an hour and picks up all kinds of sediment.  It’s said that between 5pm and 5am, the air is so thick with mosquitos that you can’t talk outside without getting bugs in your mouth.  Because they have mosquitos there, they also have the frogs that eat them and the snakes that hawks that eat them and up and up the food chain.  Where these two rivers meet, they run parallel for seven kilometers before fully mixing.  It’s wild to see, two bodies of water that won’t blend.  We learned that Roberto Burle Marx got his idea for the famous Copacabana sidewalks from visiting the Meeting of the Waters.  We all loved this detail.  It’s such a perfect emblem of this country–that something so famously displayed on the most well-know beach comes from this amazing natural phenomenon in the heart of the country.

I wish I could remember all of the statistics we learned about what percentage of the world’s wildlife lives in the Amazon, and how much water the river holds, all of those things, but the numbers escape me now.  Opting out of the hotel’s planned group activities, we had our own guide, motorized canoe and boat driver each day.  Edi, our guide, was fantastic–loud and quick to laugh, full of information and stories.  She was like the mayor of the jungle, waving hello to everyone.  She had been a guide for twenty-five years and had hosted everyone (she said) from the crew that shot Survivor: The Amazon, to Arlen Spector and Jean-Michel Cousteau.  Along with our boat came Antonio, the most useful, fearless, adept driver we ever could have imagined.  We even started to play the game “Antonio vs. __________.” Some of the things we were sure he could beat in a fight included Hulk Hogan, a race car driver with his car, and a jaguar.

With Edi and Antonio we explored the little tributaries of the Rio Negro, where both had grown up. They were both Caboclo–part Indian and part Portuguese.  They spoke easy, jungle-time Portuguese.  We went pirana fishing– we caught a few, watched Antonio clean and gut them on the flat part of an oar with a machete, and ate them fried for dinner. We trekked to an inland pond in the pouring rain to see gigantic lily pads two meters across with intense vein systems underneath.  We saw pink and gray river dolphins loping in and out of the calm waters, and countless birds.  On a night boat ride, Antonio captured a caiman–a reptile that looks exactly like a crocodile or alligator–with his bare hands, after spotting the creature’s red eyes poking out of the water with a flashlight.  He brought the animal, totally calm, back to the boat, resting it in his lap.  With his hand securely around its neck, I guess cutting off whatever adrenaline glands are there, Edi and Antonio pointed out its teeth, how strong its scaly, pointy tail was, how the eyes are double lidded for land and swimming under water.  It was wild.

The last afternoon we were on the Black River we took a boat ride into the open water.  That morning had been the lily pad expedition, where it rained continuously (we were in the rain forest, after all).  During lunch the sky had cleared, and coming out of the tributary, peaceful river stretched on all sides.  The air was fresh and clean, and after a while we pulled up to a deserted, empty beach.  It was a stretch of fine white sand with a small hut on it.  Apparently in the wet season the beaches don’t even exist. The water covers them.  It was mystical.

From there we went to visit a local family.

Pulling up to their dock (again, there are no roads, everyone gets around by boat), we all felt a little uneasy about seeing “natives in their natural habitat.”  It wound up being okay, I think.  The family was welcoming, and we learned later than they only get visitors about once a month.  They were close friends with Edi, and our skepticism quickly turned as we learned about the family.  The father was sixty, with the build of an in-shape twenty-five year old, all wiry, mahogany colored muscles.  He and his wife, who was beautiful, if a little wrinkled from the sun and weary from daily life, had seventeen children.  They had lost count of how many grandchildren they had.  We only met a few of the daughters and three of the small children, who were totally captivating. The youngest that we met was named Nataniel, and his mother was only about fifteen or sixteen. He was already an agile climber, clinging to a pole of the thatched roof structure, and a more agile soccer player than any 14-month-old I had ever seen.

The other little boy was shy, and Edi told us he liked to spend time by himself, walking among the trees and hanging out with the animals.  Scott got him to engage a little.

On their land, we saw the wife’s medicinal garden, a collection of raised beds and filled pots with aloe, and herbs that create seeds that you put in your eyes to make them clear, and other things that solve indigestion.  There were spices and a large space in the back planted with manioc, the staple of Amazonian diets.  We learned how farofa is made–the manioc tuber is peeled (with a machete) and put through a sort of grinding machine, powered by a giant wooden wheel cranked by two people at a time.  The pulp is spit out the other side and then put into long cylindrical baskets to dry.  The meal is separated from the manioc juice (which is also collected and bottled in reused water bottles) and then toasted on the surface of a giant wood-burning clay stove. They also served us freshly cracked open Brazil nuts, and a huge tapioca pancake.

While there, we came back from where the manioc was planted to the stand of açaí trees. Antonio was standing there with a loop of plastic burlap.  He tested its soundness as we stood looking at him, wondering how the piece of material was going to help him climb a stick straight palm tree.  He looped the band around one foot, twisted it, and stuck his other foot in the other side.  He put his arms around the tree, kicked his legs up against the trunk and shimmed all the way up, and then slid down.  Emily gave it a go, too.

It was really special to see a piece of the family’s life.  The generations, and how they spread to form a village of their own.  Their self-sufficiency was pretty inspiring.

Later that night, sitting at a table near the Araiu bar, we recapped the day.  Washing down my Malarone with a sip of capairinha in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, it just all seemed so surreal.

Christmas in Rio

January 1, 2010

From Sao Paulo, Bob, Barbara, Scott, Emily and I flew the short flight back to Rio.  We arrived to an entirely different city than the one that we had left at the beginning of December.  It was packed, people everywhere, and sticky hot.  The people generated more trash, and by the end of each day, the beach was littered with plastic bottles and wrappers and coconut shells and other detritus in a way it hadn’t been before the holiday season.

That said, it was great fun showing Scott’s family our Rio apartment, introducing them to Marcos (he was the doorman who unclogged our kitchen sink with MacGyver-like skill).  We noticed the changes in our pretty Leblon neighborhood–a new pizza place and Lebanese restaurant that we would have loved to have.  The walk gave me saudades and I was super excited to go running up and down the beach just as before.

The first night we were in Rio, we had a memorable evening at Carioca da Gema.  We arrived early enough to get a table in the main room and listened as the music built and the dance floor filled up.  The capairinhas ran sweet and strong (something we would all regret a little later) and we had a great time, progressing from eating to drinking to bopping in our chairs to full foot moving dancing.  At midnight, as it turned to December 24th, we toasted to Emily’s birthday.

The next morning we had brunch and went to the Corcovado.  Later in the day, as we headed back up to our rooms to relax and get ready for Emily’s birthday dinner, we heard the concierge tell other guests that all of the restaurants that were open that night were totally booked.  We smiled smugly, knowing that we had made a reservation at Zaza Bistro six weeks ago.  Ready to go, Emily in her sequined party dress, we walked past carolers and palm trees spun with Christmas lights, we walked to the restaurant.  I had the email confirmation in my hand.  We arrived at the restaurant.  It was closed.

Back at the hotel (the lobby was full of girls in small red dresses singing, too), we stood with the concierge, trying to find any place that would take us.  We called everywhere we could think of.  In the end, we were left with two choices–being squeezed in to the hotel’s dining room and subjected to the pre fixe Christmas menu, or trying our luck at a restaurant called Marius– an all you could eat seafood buffet for an exorbitant price per person.  Deciding that anything outside of the hotel was better than any hotel restaurant, we piled into a cab and went to Marius.

The waiters were dressed as pirates, and the outside looked like the Jeckyll and Hyde restaurant on Sixth Avenue in New York.  It was like a Disney restaurant, with strange, off-putting decorations–ships, steering wheels, shells, sea glass, bottles–coming off of every wall.  We sat down, unsure of how to deal with the situation.  We didn’t know whether to just go with it.  We debated staying, starving, we started picking at the bread basket (which we would be charged for).  Bob ordered wine.  We weighed the pros and cons of leaving, of just ordering room service, of staying and downing some seafood and chalking it up to a crazy experience.

Eventually, we got up and went to the buffet.  It looked inedible, unsanitary.  We looked at the wilted, greasy salads, and fish floating in viscous, mayonaise-y substances.  Still uncertain, a few of the waiters walked by to replenish the chafing dishes in the buffet wearing surgical masks.  That did it, it was time to go.  We went back to the table, downed our wine, asked the waiter for the check, and had to try to explain why we didn’t want to stay.  He offered to move us to another table.  In our unnuanced Portuguese, we just explained that this wasn’t for us.  And it wasn’t.

The Behars are well-accustomed to having adventures on Emily’s birthday–they’ve had a few restaurant mishaps and run-ins with traditional seven fishes menus.  This time, after checking every restaurant that was open between Marius and our hotel (one fully packed pizza place and one second floor Chinese restaurant that Scott couldn’t figure out how to get into), we wound up at the makeshift dining room in the hotel lobby that accommodated overflow.  At 11.30pm we sat down to their pre fixe.  It was delicious, and Emily got another memorable birthday, if not so seamless, birthday.

I asked Emily to write a guest entry.  I’m hoping that by writing this here, she will feel pressured to do so.

Todo Mundo Juntos

December 22, 2009

Bob and Barbara are finally here, and we just came back from a wonderful dinner at Paulo and Edite’s with the whole family.

We’re so glad that they’re here and we’re very excited to go to Rio tomorrow and then to the Amazon, and then back to Rio for Revillion, or New Year’s Eve.  I won’t be bringing my computer, so posting will be sporadic, but I’ll be back in full effect on January 1.  Boas Festas!

Great Expectations

December 22, 2009

Yesterday was a relaxing day for Scott, Emily and I.  We had a leisurely breakfast and strolled around Ibirapuera in the sunshine.  We took in the many water fowl–ducks, swans, geese–the runners, bikers, nappers.  The weather was perfect and we found our bench after a little while.  From there we headed to Vila Madelena, where Emily and I dashed in and out of the little boutiques and Scott patiently read for a while.  We walked Oscar Freire, and Scott and I got ready for New Years–where two million people crowd Copacabana beach and where white.  We returned to Ping Pong for dim sum and took it easy.

Bob and Barbara, after being foiled by the great snowstorm of 2009 have finally made it to Brazil, and Scott went to go pick them up from Congonhas.  Wahoo!  We can’t wait for them to get here!

Family

December 6, 2009

Scott’s cousins have been unbelievably wonderful.  From staying at Karen and Andre’s house to shabbat dinner at Paulo and Edite’s, to invitations to the the country club with Elen and Ricardo, we have been made to feel more welcome than I could have ever imagined.  It’s an incredible feeling to have this sort of support after Scott and I were on our own for so long in Rio.  To have this warm, fun, open family feels really special.  I think our Portuguese is already better, too.

Home

September 19, 2009

I walked downstairs this morning and this was what was happening:

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Three generations of Lewy men eating breakfast.

Yanni also played with my mom:

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Continental

September 17, 2009

I got into a taxi to go to Galeao last night, and the driver and I had the best conversation I had had in Portuguese since arriving in Brazil.  We chatted about the Olympics, and my time in the city, where I learned to speak his language.  Then he took the stupidest way to the airport and as we sat in bumper to bumper traffic I strategized what I was going to do when I missed my 9pm flight.  It was a grittier highway than I had been on, snaking past Praca XV, cars inching toward the bridge to Niteroi.  Exhaust streamed in his open window and I fumed.

I got lucky arriving at the airport, and the lovely women at the Continental desk took pity on my screeching up to her 35 minutes before my flight was to take off.  She handed me a boarding pass and I sprinted through security and to my gate.  I then sat on the mostly empty plane for the next ten hours, until we touched down at Bush International Airport in Houston.  It was odd to be back in the US, not saying disculpe all the time.  The customs woman was confused.  You’ve been in Brazil for three months? And you haven’t taken any classes? Or worked anywhere?  I said that I had been traveling.  What’s your occupation? I was traveling with my boyfriend, he’s still there. Ahhh, she got it.  I went through the cavernous, stark airport at 6am.   I bought a Starbucks iced coffee (one of the things I miss most in Brazil) and headed to my connecting gate.

When I landed at La Guardia at 11am it was gray and drizzly, and we drove through the surface streets of Queens.  By the time I got to my house the day had slipped into Autumn crispness, with some sunshine.  It’s great to have all of the Lewys home, in the same place.  I’m glad I don’t have to miss a minute.

Minha (São Paulo) Familia

August 12, 2009

To put faces with all of the people who made São Paulo so wonderful, here are a few pictures.  First the adults and then the kids.  Because Elen was the photographer, she’s not in any of the pictures, but I’m still hoping to have Giovanna (or Karen) send me a few of hers, since they were also beautiful.

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From left: Andre, Paulo, Karen, Scott, me, Edite

Mark, Scott, me, Giovanna and Alan

Mark, Scott, me, Giovanna and Alan

Minha Familia

July 30, 2009

Minha familia tem oito pessoas.  Meus pais moram em Larchmont, perto de cidade de Nova Iorque.  O nome de meu pai e Glen.  Ele e um capitalista de riscos.  Antes, ele era um homem de negocios, e antes de isso, ele e um abogado.  Ele gosta muito de jogar e assistir golfe.  Ele gosto de falar com os filhos deles tambem.  O nome de minha mae e Cheryl.  No passado, ela era a prefeita de Larchmont por dez anos.  Ela gosta muito de velejar em Long Island Sound, e andar a bicicleta dela por Larchmont. Meus pais viajam muito por visitar os filhos deles.

Meu irmao grande mora em Londres com a mulher e o filho dele.  O nome de meu irmao e Zach.  Zach e um homem de negocios.  No passado, ele gostava de jogar beisbol.  Agora, ele gosta brinquar com meu sobrino.  Minha cunhada, Anja, e uma economista.  Meu sobrinho e Yannick, e tem dois e meia anos.  Ele adora carros, trems, e caminhaos.  Meu pai diz que ele vai ser um engineiro quando ele e um adulto.

Meu outro irmao e Marshall.  Marshall mora em Los Angeles com a mulher dele, Heather.  Marshall fez filmes.  Na dois anos passado, ele tinha um filme chama “Estado Azul” na Tribeca Film Festival.  A mulher dele e uma abogada de falencia.  Ela esta muito ocupada agora com este recessao nos estados unidos.  Eles gostam de correr, e correm maratons.  Ainda, eu corro mas rapido do que eles correm.

Tenho um avo e uma avo em Florida, mas nao moram juntos.  Meu avo (o pai de meu pai) gosta de Yankees, e naceu na Alemanha em 1919.  Minha avo (a mae de minha mae) e uma mulher elegantissima.