Little Big

April 15, 2010

Tuesday night we took over Perbacco, a tiny restaurant on 4th and B.  It was Scott’s family and all of the Brazilian cousins–Edite, Karen, Elen and Marjory. We filled probably three quarters of the space and we were all so excited to see each other that our voices reverberated off the walls.  It was wonderful to talk to our Brazilian family again and to spend time with them.  They were so important for the past year, our closest friends and family and I had missed them.  They’re so charming in fact, that rather than the manager being annoyed at our effervescence, he sent us a bottle of champagne for dessert.

From the tiny-ness of Perbacco we went to Woodbury Commons for the most massive shop-a-thon I have ever seen.  Our cousins were prepared, toting with them rolling suitcases to hold all of their purchases as they perused, tried on and bought things from 10.30am until we left at 6.15pm.  It was impressive–a feat of strength of I have ever seen one.

The role reversal is fun.  It’s great to be able to feel competent again here in the US, to show our visiting family that we are capable of doing things ourselves.  In some circumstances we can even be helpful.


Yesterday was a perfect day for a baseball game.  The sun was shining and it was opening day at Citizens Bank Park.  The field was green, everyone was excited.  Bob, Scott and I made our way into the stadium and we had a lovely afternoon watching the Phillies win, eating crab fries and cheering.

This morning I went to Philly Power Yoga, which was great, and after tearing my favorite jeans last night, went on a quest to find another pair.  I think that doing things in Philadelphia is generally easier than in New York.  I was looking for a pair of lightweight minimal sneakers to switch out with my Vibrams and went to the Philadelphia Running Store, where the people who worked there were extremely knowledgeable.  I needed black shoes to wear to the six weddings we have between now and next March and it was easy to find those as well.  After a hot, relaxing yoga class, I felt ready to bend myself into any pair of jeans that Barneys Co-Op could throw my way.  Not so simple.  It was lucky for me that Anthropologie next door had a great selection.

Now it’s back to New York to see all of our cousins for dinner!

Brazilian Intimates

March 18, 2010

I know for some of you, this is too much information, more than you wanted to know about me, but I feel compelled to write about this, so–my apologies.  I think I’ve written about how Brazilian bathing suits, no matter how skimpy, stringy, non-existent they appear to be, are much more flattering that our more full-figured American ones.  They know how to cut, twist and tie small pieces of fabric. There’s no question.   It’s amazing that you can have half of your butt cheek hanging out of a bikini bottom and somehow, miraculously, you look great.  Better than you could have imagined.  So it shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, that Brazilian underwear is equally miraculous.  Karen shared with me that she loves Corpo de Arte, an underwear store here, and also shared her wisdom of bra fitting with me this morning.  Without going into detail, it’s amazing how much better I feel, how comfortable I am, how much I feel like my clothes fit and look better.  It’s such a simple thing, but it helps to explain why Brazilian women look so good all the time.

We’ve been talking with Edite about going to Bom Retiro for a few weeks now, and after a cafezinho with her in her lovely breakfast room, with the parrot chirping in the background, she, Scott, Karen and I went to the wholesale neighborhood.  Bom Retiro, which translates literally to ‘good retreat’ is right next to the Estacao Luz and Pinacoteca (both of which I’ve written about in other posts), and it used to be the Jewish neighborhood, full of textile and wholesale clothing shops, and has now turned over to Korean immigrants.  Having Edite and Karen as our guides was amazing, as Edite grew up there (we saw her childhood home) and her family has owned various shops there since she was a little girl.  She knew all the streets and all of the history.

Bom Retiro is still a center for making and selling clothes.  Some of the streets have the latest fashions–samples hanging in the front and stacks of items tucked into floor to ceiling cubby holes in the back.  Almost all of the places require that you buy at least twelve pieces.  Karen said that buyers from both the stores in the malls and all over the country come here to buy shirts, dresses, pants, bags, in bulk.  On other streets there are factories where the clothes are made, and there are several shops that sell all the components of clothes–fabric, zippers, lace trim, buttons.  It feels like a cross between the Garment District and the Lower East Side, where the Jewish neighborhood was given over to Asians and now to hipsters.  The Jews here moved to Higienopolis, just like the Jews in New York moved to the Upper East and West sides.

I heard the story of how Paulo and Edite met–Edite’s mother knew Paulo and Edite went to the Purim Ball at Hebraica to scope him out, then one of her friends started dating one of his friends, and she had another friend who lived in the same building as his family.  We saw where Paulo had his first architecture office. After wandering in and out of a few stores we went to a synagogue where Edite’s father was one of the benefactors and played an instrumental role in the building’s refurbishment in the 1970s.  It was beautiful inside–all dark wood and dreamy blue light.  Karen hadn’t been there for thirty years and she said it looked exactly the same as she remembered from being a child.

Upstairs in the women’s section, we also found where Edite’s mother still has a seat with her name on it. Flank was her maiden name before she became a Traiman.

After the stop at the synagogue we went to a kind of galleria where upstairs there was a small, totally nondescript stand that apparently sells the best falafel in Sao Paulo.  It was.  We got plates with crispy, lemony falafel, tomato, cucumber, and onion salad, some pickled cabbage and fresh pitas.

Full and satisfied we went next to Unibes, an amazing NGO and community center that started out as just a Jewish-based organization (União Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem-Estar Social), but has expanded to become an entire community improvement operation, offering a wide array of services.  We first met Ida and Henrique, who showed us around.  They took us to the pharmacy, where doctors offices all over the city donate hundreds or maybe thousands of free sample drugs to Unibes.  Volunteers sort them by brand, kind, and expiration dates, and the result is shelves upon shelves of medicine that will be distributed to anyone who comes in with a prescription.  If the organization doesn’t have the right thing, they will buy it for the patient.  About 120 people come in per day with prescriptions to be filled for free. From there we went to the Bazar, through the back where we could see boxes and bags of clothes waiting to be sorted.  The bazar looked like the Salvation Army at home, with a combination of new clothes donated by stores and used clothes donated by individuals.  We crossed the street and went to the center for the elderly.  A young woman in jeans and a tee shirt was leading about fifteen or twenty older people in arm exercises while they all sat in a circle.  We saw their herb and vegetable garden in the back, and learned that a gardener comes every Thursday.  Each day each there’s a different activity for the old people, idosos.

From the center for the elderly we stopped at the bazar for non-clothing items, where lines of refrigerators and stoves and washing machines, all used, gave way to a room full of stools, chairs, tables, paintings, luggage, toys.  We went then to the kindergarten, where two hundred children are supposed to come tomorrow for the first day of school.  They are there from 7.30am until 5pm when their parents come pick them up and the school provides them with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It was an extremely happy place, with teachers cutting name tags out of construction paper, and a sparkling clean kitchen waiting to turn out hundreds of meals over the next year.  There was a playground in the back and classrooms upstairs with miniature desks and chairs, small toilets and knee-high sinks.  In another part of the city the center offers professional training classes, teaching adults how to work as maids and house cleaners, cooking, computer programing and web design, typing and financial skills.  I was totally, utterly impressed and hope to go back to volunteer.  While we were waiting by the front for a taxi, a group of mentally disabled elderly were leaving to go on an excursion to the mall.  At the front of the line, there was a tall, skinny man holding hands with a woman.  Those two, Ida said, are a couple.  Whenever there’s a party and people dance, she always stands next to him and keeps hold of his arm. Keep your hands off her man.

After a day of such exploration we spent the rest of the afternoon at Karen’s, hanging out at the pool and doing research for a possible trip to Jericoacoara.  Our relaxing afternoon was offset just the tiniest bit by getting ensnared in Sao Paulo’s terrible traffic on the way home, and Scott just made bacon (which we had from making bacon and chili pepper tomato sauce from scratch last night), and sweet potato fries fried crispy golden in the remaining fat for his dinner…and now fried ravioli.  Adventures in bacon fat frying on Rua Bandeira Paulista.  He said he can’t believe how easy it is to make food taste good if you can use bacon fat.

Also, VOTE FOR MENINA NA RIO TO WIN! Right now I’m in third…

Close to Home

January 17, 2010

I feel guilty that I haven’t posted more, that there haven’t been more adventures in the world of Brooke and Scott.  The truth is that we’ve spent most of the past week somewhere between our little flat and the courtyard downstairs.  It’s been peppered in with a few trips to Pao de Acucar for groceries, dinner at Paulo and Edite’s on Friday, and a nice dinner at a tapas restaurant last night, and, of course, running.  I’ve been working on economics and writing this, gulp, book, and Scott’s been consuming securities law at a rapid clip.

Oh, and I also went on a quick shopping jaunt yesterday to Shopping Iguatemi, since everything is on sale right now.  I find shopping here really intimidating.  In the US, you can go into a store, pull things off the rack in your size, try them on, and either buy them or not.  It’s a different process here.  The salespeople are a much more active part of your shopping experience.  They greet you when you come in, and if you want to try anything on, you show them the item and they go grab it in your size.  They’re involved.  Also, while Brazilian clothes are amazing and the women here look wonderful–hip, breezy, stylish (see the Sartorialist)–they’re often drape-y and difficult to tell what they would look like on.  They also need each piece–the right shoes, the right belt, the right jewelry, something I’m not that good at.  So, needless to say, shopping was not successful.  I need someone to come with me, to put me together, to show me how to do it and talk to the salesgirls who are usually so beautiful and modelesque I become shy.  Any volunteers?

São Paulo Work-Shop

August 11, 2009

Yesterday was my São Paulo high fashion day.  Scott’s fashonista cousin took me on a whirl wind tour of the city’s poshest spots.  We began with Daslu, a kind of palace for fancy clothes and luxurious things.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it–it takes Barneys and Bendels and Bergdorfs to the next level (and the next price point, since all of the clothes, which are expensive to begin with, are marked up to astronomical levels).  Customers arrive by car or helicopter, and I counted at least three or four different coffee bars throughout, where the attractive guests and salespeople stand and sip espressos while looking beautiful.  Clothes are arranged as much by color as collection or designer.  I didn’t see this, but apparently wealthy women (presumably with perfect Brazilian bodies) can stroll from one plush clothing salon to the next in their underwear (no men allowed) trying on things as they please, while maids in uniform clean up behind them.

Right now they were embracing a jungle/safari theme, with a fleet of leopard print Range Rovers by the valet.  This New York Times article does a good job describing the crazy excess.  The picture to the right is of the floor in the hip men’s department.  There are toy cars in sand underneath a glass floor.

This other picture is of the terrace, where they hold events (the cousins have been to bar mitzvahs there.)  I couldn’t find any good pictures of the salons.  The mansion also had a few of São Paulo’s most upscale restaurants, a Laudere look-alike pastry shop, and the list goes on…

My work-shop day continued (Scott worked, I shopped–but didn’t buy anything), as Elen and I went to Shopping Iguatemi–a slightly more pedestrian, but still really upscale mall. After running a few of her errands we went to Rua Oscar Freire– São Paulo’s Rodeo Drive or Madison Avenue. We had lunch, and then strolled.

It’s sort of a 14-year-old girl move to talk about the Havaiana shop, especially with so many other great Brazilian designer boutiques, but there was something so appealing about it (and it was the only place I could afford anything).  IMG_0113

I also learned today that the brand new store won a design award for it’s masterful job in fitting in with all of the upscale shops, while staying true to its quintessentially Brazilian feel and selling $4 rubber flip flops.


From our stroll we ducked into the Fasano hotel.  It’s the best hotel in Rio, and one of the best in São Paulo, but it’s more exclusive than outright fancy.  It’s decadent and gorgeous in a clubby sort of way, filled with chocolate colored wood and soft leather chairs in coffee and cordovan.  It’s all so understated and classy.   Their security is also incredibly tight.  Elen began talking to the concierge, and she whispered to me that we were just waiting for their events person to show us around.  They brought us a coffee while she filled me in that she had told them that we were planning an event and wanted to check out the Fasano to see if it was suitable.

We were able to see all of the different spaces around the hotel–the more informal bar, the restaurant, the spa, while their event planner kept asking us questions about what kind of event we wanted to have, how many people, whether we wanted cocktails and dinner, or just a more informal party.  The whole hotel was like falling into a meticulously cared for cigar box filled with the most loved baseball glove, an old Hemingway novel, maybe some single malt scotch, tempered by fresh white linen and lavender by the pool.


July 28, 2009

There’s been a request for me to talk about the shopping scene in Rio. I have to say that it’s pretty great, although I haven’t bought anything yet. There are big, modern malls, and I think they’re enough of a novelty that there are trendy restaurants in their ‘food courts’ and they’re all very glossy and pretty. Escalators are strangely narrower here and the up is always on the left, the down on the right (which is neither her nor there, just sort of interesting). Most of the stores are Brazilian–Salinas, Osklen, Farm, Bum Bum–and the styles are laid back and beachy. It’s wintertime here, so there are boots and coats and things like that, but it’s still a little too hot.

I’m pretty excited for summer. I have been toying with the idea of buying one of those tiny bikinis, but I’m not sure any amount of running on the beach can get my bum ready for one of those. Looking at these Brazilian girls, it’s all about commitment and confidence. We’ll see if I get there.