Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Light

It's somewhere at the end of the tunnel, just not quite visible yet.

I am overwhelmed - in a good way - by my school application. I want to study jewelry design and metalsmithing, and that requires a good old-fashioned entrance essay as well as a 20 image portfolio. The essay I can knock out with no problem; it's the portfolio that is making me a bit anxious.

I've been sketching quite a bit the last few days, including a self-portrait that went down like a tasty slice of humble pie, and still have a couple more images to produce. I also bought a table-top studio for photographing my jewelry. I know you can make them at home quite cheaply, but for me this is one of the best investments I've made in recent memory. I need to tinker with the camera settings a little more, and tomorrow I'm urgently going to buy a tripod in the morning, but even if I have no more time and no tripod, the photos I'm taking at present are, in my opinion, good enough for my portfolio.

In the midst of getting my school application ready, I worked my tail off last week to finish my final consulting assignment (for the time being) in Mozambique. It was this giant business plan about community maize mills in the 'grain belt' in the norther part of the country. It was interesting about 4 months ago, but I am so burned out it was more than a bit torturous to finish the job. Still, I put in the effort (including a marathon all-nighter on Sunday) and am really happy to be done. The pending document was taking up mental space that, quite frankly, I don't have to spare at this point. I both need and want to concentrate on other things now that we are in Casa Cali.

So, other than school and jewelry, what are some of the things occupying my mental space?

- My translating business (this is my counterpoint to making jewelry - it's good work and pays pretty well, plus it keeps my language skills sharp). I registered with the Northern California Translator's Association, am signed up for a workshop on using Trados translating software next month, and am getting ready to sit for the national certification exam for translating into Portuguese.

- Etsy. I have long-term plans for a website of my own, but until then I am sticking with Etsy for my jewelry sales. I am going to update with new pieces in the next 2 weeks. Check out for some unique holiday gift ideas featuring 300-year-old trade beads from Mozambique Island.

- Decorating. I have my studio/office somewhat organized, but there is still a lot I want to do in order to make it the beautiful and inspiring space I envision. I want to paint the walls (of course!) and am leaning toward a light, muted pumpkin spice color. The room is full of fabulous antique furniture I inherited from my dad's side of the family, and I plan on re-upholstering the loveseat and wing chair in a lilac brocade (both have been torn to pieces by multiple generations of my family's cats - suffice to say they're in need of some restoration and love). On the walls thus far I've put some Mexican bark paintings in the arte naif style I appreciate so much, and a fabric wall-hanging from Cuba that features a woman reclining with a fan and peacocks and sunflowers in the background. It is one of my absolute favorite pieces of art (I bought it in Havana several years ago and have since hauled it to Austin, Brazil, Mozambique and now Cali) and I'm happy to have it in a place where I spend so much time.

- Earthquakes. I got this publication at Home Depot called "Putting down roots in earthquake country". It scared the shit out of me, but I suppose that's its purpose. I'm slowly going through the checklists they provide: personal emergency kits, shoes and flashlights under the bed, household emergency kit, etc. We need to have Casa Cali retrofitted at some point, but for now I'm preparing what is within my reach.

- New Mexico. Rico and I are going for a visit next week. I can't wait!

Ok...time for me to get off the computer. I have a long day of photography and sketching ahead of me tomorrow, so I need my rest (and my requisite episode of Law and Order before bed).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Today is my birthday.* Sometimes I have total blanks when it comes to my age and honestly can't remember if I'm turning 26 or 29. Apparently this problem applies to others as well because the other day I told our neighbor that Rico is 28 (he turned 30 earlier this year).

The highlight of my day today was lunch with my mom and Rico at this lovely French restaurant in Marin County. It was not where we'd planned to go, but today was one of those days where scheduling anything seemed futile. There was a giant rainstorm - remanants of a typhoon - that soaked the Bay and made you appreciate what it must be like to drive in a wind tunnel. We got lost in the city, stuck in terrible traffic when they closed the bridge we needed to cross to go home, and took an improvised but beautiful detour around San Pablo Bay as a result.

It was one of those days when, upon finally arriving back at Casa Cali at the end of the day, all I wanted to do was put on a pair of slippers, curl up with a blanket and watch Law and Order. Rico bought us a bottle of Moet and some Fiddle Faddle popcorn at the local market to prepare for the trash TV marathon, and the friendly clerk there threw in a pint of Haagen Dazs on the house. This is the kind of neighborhood we live in. People look out for each other, bring gifts of baked goods for no apparent reason, give free ice cream treats. :)

Rico and I are still loving our new home. Every day I actually look forward to waking up early, having coffee while looking at the view over the water, and planning what useful things I will do throughout the day. The previous owners of our house completely abandoned the garden, and now Rico and I have massive, overgrowth thickets of blackberries, ivy and weeds to tame. Blackberries are much better as an end product than as a backyard resident. They are full of thorns and put down root systems that put all other plants to shame. We have to wear double-layer kevlar gloves to even have a chance at cutting back the blackberries. It's hard work, but definitely satisfying (especially when we think of what the garden will look like in the spring).

Being in Casa Cali is an exciting way to start out being 28. I have a good feeling about what the coming year will bring.

* My birthday is actually October 13th. I need to update my google settings because they are apparently still on Maputo time (where it is already tomorrow).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

African Cities More Expensive than San Francisco?

If so, we've ironicaly made a move in the cheaper direction by relocating to the Bay Area. Not many people out there who can say San Francisco put some slack in their budget!

Read the full article "African Cities More Expensive than San Francisco?" (link found on Expatify).

This article backs up what I've been saying since moving to Maputo: life in the principal African capitals can be very, very expensive*. Angola is usually at the top of the list when it comes to absurdly inflated prices, but Mozambique isn't far behind. These days to rent an un-remodeled 2-bedroom apartment in a nice, central location in Maputo you are looking at around US$850 per month. A small, older house starts around $2,000. Newer or remodeled places easily go for upwards of US$3,500.

Rico and I did the math, and we paid much more to minimally furnish our flat back in Moz than we estimate we will pay to furnish our much larger house here in the Bay Area. Mozambique seems notorious for cheap, poor-quality furniture à la Home Center that costs an arm and a leg (with the only budget option being wicker furniture)...although there are certainly shops that cater to the high-end consumer (i.e. Bali) where you do get quality but pay through the roof.

Other things were also quite expensive: food (despite being such an agricultural paradise, most of the food - and even much of the produce - is imported in Mozambique), computers and electronics, vehicles, airfare (US$1,000 round-trip to go to Pemba at the end of 2008; US$450 round-trip Maputo/Joburg), hotels, office supplies, clothing, most household items, etc.

There are some great deals still to be found, though, make no mistake. We definitely appreciated the great price of: handcrafts (in particular those made with hardwoods), printed cloth (capulanas), labor in general (empregadas, nannies, guards, etc.), taxis, local fruit and veg when in season and, of course, the seafood. Ahhhhh, the seafood!

* I am primarily referring to expat life, as this is what I experienced first-hand. Of course, the mere presence of expats in many of these cities is what drives up the prices (i.e. inflated rent); however, obviously expats are not the ones affected by high cost of living in the middle and upper-class sectors of society. Locals must deal with high costs as well...and one of the things prominently left out of these cost-of-living surveys is the fact that local hires typically make far lower salaries than their expat counterparts. Some organizations/companies are taking steps to equalize salaries, however there is still a very real glass ceiling for many qualified local professionals. I mention this as a footnote here, but it really deserves a full post at some point.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Bay Area friends, I promise I haven't forgotten you. It's just that I grudgingly have to apply a bit of discipline to my life these first few weeks of Cali. That means, contrary to the philosophy I usually follow, work has to come before play (temporarily).

Number one priority is to finish this giant Maize Mills project I was working on prior to leaving Moz. I'd hoped to wrap it up before the move, but that turned out to be overly ambitious and I'm still tying up the loose ends and editing like crazy. The document must be out by tomorrow, so I may have an all-nighter in my immediate future.

Priority number two is applying for school. I have my heart set on studying jewelry design and metalsmithing at California College of the Arts. They started accepting applications for Spring on October 1st, so I've got to get on it. I still need to write my essays, but that's not a big hurdle as I know exactly what I want to say about my desire to study art. The real challenge will be to prepare my portfolio. Half of the images must be of my jewelry, the other half must be observational sketches. It's the latter part that has me a bit nervous, as I'm not the world's best sketcher and really need some practice. My goal is to get my application finalized by October 23rd, as I've signed up for a portfolio review on October 24th.

Then I'm off to New Mexico for some much-needed time with my dad and my friends in the Burque.

After these two things are ticked off my list and I'm back from NM, I will call everyone and fill the calendar with plans for live music, hiking, bar hopping, clothes shopping, gallery browsing and general discovery of our new home in the Bay.

In the meantime, please know that I'm thinking of you all very much and can't wait to catch up!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Changes in the U-S-A

The last time I was in the US, they were advertising 3-blade razors. Now, apparently, what you really need for a close shave is 5 blades. This makes me laugh since I've been making do for the last 4.5 years with crappy disposable 1-blade razors with no moisturizing strip and a plastic handle that will crack if dropped in the shower.

Apparently bamboo is now the popular, eco-friendly choice when it comes to wood. From furniture to flooring to chopping blocks, it seems every store we've been in has some sort of bamboo product to push. We actually bought some of the kitchen stuff - very cheap, good design - and drooled over a high-end catalog with marbled "espresso finish" bamboo chaise chairs when shopping for our basic furniture needs. Sadly, the beautiful deck furniture didn't make it on that list...

It seems America has discovered açai since I was last here. I've seen signs of this in my spam folder for several months, interestingly with açai being toted as the next big thing in weight loss aids. Funny, because in Brasil it's known as a high-calorie, high-energy snack that jiu-jitsu guys eat with granola prior to training. Also, here it's sold mainly in juice or pill form, while in Brasil I've only ever had it as a frozen pulp that's blended with banana and honey and eaten with a spoon.

Granted we are in California, land of the recycling fanatics, but it's clear that if you don't walk into a supermarket or shop armed with your own canvas bags you will get VERY disapproving looks from the cashier and your fellow shoppers.

For the first time ever I am living in a place with organized recycling that is collected along with your regular waste on trash day. It takes some getting used to (each item in the bin is preceded by a question: Can you recycle plastic clamshell packaging? What about corks?) but I'm very happy it's an option.

Organic is clearly the only choice around these parts. Vegetarianism and veganism are mainstream. I feel like the odd man out buying oxtails and non-organic butter in bulk at Costco, although some of my "guilt" is offset by the fact that we have been gorging ourselves on 100% organic apples and meyer lemons right from our own backyard that are the definition of Local Produce.

Leggings are in. Knee-high boots over jeans are as well. Neither look particularly good on me. :(

I am out of date with slang. I speak like an overly proper school marm compared to the way kids these days sound. I wonder how long it will take for my regullllrrr English to come back, if it will at all.

Apparently you now get tax credits for buying a new car, not just for first-time home ownership. Looks like Rico and I hit the jackpot on this one. There are definitely small silver linings to the recession and to climate change.

It's been fun noticing all these small changes, taking stock of what my first baby steps of reverse culture shock turn out to be.