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.

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Striped Socks

November 13, 2009

Scott and I had a lovely Rio day so far for his birthday.  The funniest thing, aside from the onslaught of clouds that came every time we thought we might get some sunshine, was a guy at the Fasano (I got Scott a massage as a gift) wearing a white terry cloth hotel bathrobe, green striped socks (two shades of green, striped), and black dress shoes, carrying a mess of papers, a blackberry, and Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book.  It was comical.  We asked if we could use the pool, and after many phone calls to reception and deliberation, they said that it was too crowded and escorted us back out to the street.  Also, Madonna is staying there, since she’s in town meeting her new Brazilian underwear model boyfriend’s parents.

The Home Hotel on Honduras Street makes for excellent people watching.  For less than a nice dinner in New York City, Scott and I are staying at an industrial chic, super cool hotel (on the wrong side of Palermo Viejo’s tracks).  I’m falling for it’s polished cement floors, shaggy rugs, warm wood furniture, and giant pump bottles of high-quality shampoo, conditioner and bubble bath.  I also just got back from the included breakfast, where the small dining room was filled with the most universally attractive tables of hipsters and carefully ruffled jet-setters.  As we all spread jam (served in shot glasses) on bread there was an Asian couple next to me, he with tattoos up his forearm, she with perfectly mussed hair and a cute flowered dress.  At another table, two Brits in plaid shirts mused as they sipped apple basil juice from another shot glass.  The conversations that floated through the small space were quick and witty.

Another table had a young British businessman and a stunning Brazilian woman.  He was asking her questions in English, she was speaking to the waitress in Spanish, and every once in a while she peppered her sentences with Portuguese.  It reminded me of something Fabio had said as we were driving to Democratica a couple of weeks ago.  (Fabio lives in Rio and we were connected to him though Marshall’s manager who was in town for the Rio film festival–he’s a mover and shaker in the Brazilian film industry).  He was talking about doing business in English–that there’s one English that people have to know to do business with Americans and Brits, and then another sort of international English.  He was describing meetings that he’s had in LA, or New York, or London with Parisians, Spaniards, Japanese people, and they speak in English, but it’s grammar is less precise.  The sentences can be wrong, but they all know what they’re trying to say.

Scott and I were talking about that last night, too.  As we spoke together in Portuguese over dinner to practice, I was saying that I’m less shy about it now.  Even if some of the conjugations are wrong, I’ve realized that I should just go for it and not be self-conscious about speaking.  We were talking about the collaboration of speaking a foreign language–that even if someone speaks English badly, you’re still immediately at ease when they speak your language.  You work to figure out what they’re saying, meet them half way.  I like the idea of language being a collaborative effort between the speaker and the listener.

I’m also still trying to figure out what I think about Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Price.  I guess everyone is, huh?  Thoughts?

Petropolis

September 10, 2009

Scott and I just got back from twenty-four hours in Petropolis,t he mountain town put on the map by Emperor Pedro II, who built his summer residence in the “Imperial City” when it was too hot in Rio.  The town itself is quite cute, with canals running throughout and grand old buildings.  It still has the ubiquitous Brazilian things–pe sujos and lanchenettes, drug stores and hardware stores, but it was a nice change from the city.

One of the best things about being in Brazil during the low season is getting to stay in very nice hotels for not very much money.  We stayed at the Solar do Imperio, which had an amazing lawn and this beautiful patio.

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We went to the Imperial Palace, a lovely home if you’re into that sort of thing.  It had some crown jewels, a bunch of old furniture, some really fantastic floors.  The most interesting pieces were a print of what Copacabana looked like in the mid-1800s and a full family tree of the Portuguese/Brazilian royal family, including people like the Princess of Saxony.  Wandering around the house with funny slippers that fit over our flip flops, it was hard not to think that an actual family lived their life there, and they probably never dreamed that some American jerks would be critiquing their taste in dining room tables.

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There wasn’t much else of note.  We had a mediocre dinner at Luigi’s, an Italian restaurant, and hung out on the veranda for most of the night.  This morning we visited Santos Dumont’s house.  Santos Dumont is coined the “Father of Brazilian Aviation,” and had a number of really remarkable sky bound accomplishments. (Sorry, Karla, for not being more rigorous with my research).

Not That Bel-Air Hotel

August 21, 2009

We sat, not talking, as the bus wound around the dark mountain curves, passing slower trucks and getting passed by impatient cars. There was nothing left to say. We had been talking about not going to Teresopolis when Scott got out of work late, and we all discussed it again when it took us over an hour to get to Rodaviaria with all of the traffic. We even talked about it after we had bought our bus tickets. Eventually this bus took us out of the city and after an hour started climbing.

When we got to Teresopolis, there was no way to tell the bus driver to stop at our hotel as we passed it (sadly not in the middle of the town as I had assumed, or told Scott). The bus kept going farther and farther away. We got off at the next place we could, assuming we could catch a taxi back. There was a taxi stand, but no taxis. I tried calling the number on the taxi stand, no luck. I tried calling the hotel and tried explaining that we needed a taxi, and the person on the other end heard we needed a room and gave me the rates for the night. No record of our reservation at the Bel Air Hotel. I finally communicated in Portuguese that we needed a taxi, as we stood on a sketchy street corner in the dark, when a taxi pulled up. We got in.

Caldun, the person I had been emailing with about the reservation met us at the door. “Which one of you is Brooke?” He asked. I told him I was. “Welcome! I told you we have live music and wine and cheese, come be my guests!” I thought he was going to hug us, and behind him, two Brazilians with guitars and microphones were singing, “I wanna know… Have you ever seen the rain?” Credence Clearwater Revival filling every air molecule in the brightly lit hotel. We put our things down in our rooms and went to join the fifteen or so men who had been part of meetings for their company. They were very drunk, and started singing the Beatles, karaoke style, in the tiled bar room. A bottle of Cote du Rhone was poured into huge, bulbous glasses for us, and we had no idea what to make of the scene. A waiter wearing a Bel-Air Hotel uniform, an older gentleman with crinkly eyes, tanned skin and gray hair asked us if he could get us anything else. He was proud to have Bel Air Hotel embroidered in blue on his white jacket, and on the white shirt underneath. We laughed at the idea of him proudly showing us a tattoo with the same inscription below that. We laughed and took in the scene. “We just reopened on Friday,” the owner told us, explaining about renovations, and how he went to USC, that his family lives in the US, and asking us questions about ourselves. It was hard to know what was real, but we were so happy to be a part of this ridiculous scene, the only guests besides the reveling shipping company employees celebrating the end of their conference that it didn’t matter.

It was about 10.30pm and we were hungry, having not had dinner yet. We asked Caldun, our host, if there was a restaurant, if we might be able to have some dinner. He brought us upstairs to a huge empty expanse of tables, showed us the deck and plans for glassing it in, brought us into his brand new banquet hall (86 high hat lights!) he told us. We sat at the table, and we asked again what we could eat (they opened another bottle of wine and filled us up).  He glanced at the two chefs, who materialized behind him with their own bulbous glasses of Cote de Rhone, and started talking about filet with roquefort sauce, salmon, shrimp, trout.  We glanced at the two chefs for some clue of what would be easy, or even possible, and they grinned, and then realized that they were drinking and quickly ducked their arms behind their backs.  Everyone laughed, and we ordered four steaks.  They went and turned the lights on in the kitchen, and fifteen minutes later four perfect plates with deliciously cooked filets, circled by fried potatoes lay in front of us.  It was delightful, and indulgent and totally bizarre to be in this empty restaurant, in this empty hotel that just opened.

Once every morsel of steak, cheese and potatoes were devoured, Caldun came back (new glass of wine, new cigarette) and asked if we wanted dessert.  He started naming things, bananas flambe, ice cream, poached pears (which came accompanied by a story about some high roller who took a picture and said that they don’t have things like that in the United States.).  We declined dessert, agreeing that our two chefs had worked enough and all of the employees should kick back after hosting the conference, and now us.  Caldun disappeared and we laughed about everything, and he came back a few minutes later with a chocolate pie, sprinkled with KitKats in one hand and his Marlboro Red still in the other.  In disbelief we licked up every bite of pie as well.  Our garçom cleared our cleaned plates and then looked at the almost empty table.  He stood for a second, and with a veritable light bulb above his head ran out of the room into the banquet room.  He came back with a dish of candied peanuts and bright Brazilian taffies.  It was an amusing touch.

This bizarre and super fun night gave way to the strange feeling that we were in The Shining, or the Bates Motel.  There had to be a catch.  We were in an empty hotel in the middle of nowhere and I lay awake waiting for someone to come in and kill us.  After falling asleep eventually, we woke to deep  fog, an extensive buffet breakfast just for us, and a bus ride back to Rodaviaria.