Saturday, July 31, 2010

On the way back I'll be 640 pages lighter

We made it to Brazil without incident and are currently enjoying a few days of the good mountain life in Monte Verde, Minas Gerais.

The route we flew was fantastic, a new flight LAN started offering in July. It's billed as a direct flight from San Francisco to São Paulo, but there is actually a refueling stop in Lima. You get out of the plane in Peru, go through security, have enough time to pee and buy some water, then get back on board. In all, it's 9 hours on the first leg, then 4 on the second. Definitely recommended for people flying down to Brazil from California.

On the plane, I read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" from cover to cover. I don't think I've ever read so much, for so many uninterrupted hours, in my entire life. Doing the math, I was averaging about 50-60 pages per hour. The book was fantastic, and I can't wait to read the next one in the series. Hopefully I'll find someone in Rio who wants to read the book, and I'll buy a replacement copy for my mom once we're back in the US. That baby takes up a lot of precious space!

Rico and I have been enjoying our time in Monte Verde immensely. This is where we really have the opportunity to have a vacation while in Brazil. We're up in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, with no obligations or people to see for several days. Our time will be spent eating delicious food (Rico's dad is a professional chef, among other things), drinking vintage wines, running along trails and hilly dirt roads, getting massages at the spa at Rico's dad's hotel, and sleeping. Lots of sleep.

Then, once we're feeling duly rejuvenated, we'll head to Rio to deal with all the pending issues that come from owning a home in one place and living in another continent entirely. We haven't been back to Rio since March 2009, and the to-do list regarding the Casa Rosa is, unfortunately, a long one.

We're also looking forward to attending Rico's cousin's wedding, to which I will be wearing a very loud, very neon-red, very va-va-voom formal dress. That is if my arse hasn't doubled in size from a miscalculation of the gourmet food: running ratio during our week in Monte Verde. :)

Speaking of clothes, so far the carry-on suitcase capsule wardrobe has treated me quite well. I'm trying to photograph my outfits so you can see what kind of a toll efficient packing has on fashion. Hopefully the trade-off is minimal!

Tonight at dinner (mandioquinha soup, cassoulet, pear confit), I sold my Fiesta trade bead bracelet off my wrist to one of Rico's dad's friends. A very unexpected sale, but one that left me super happy. It's always such a thrill to tell someone about the Mozambique Island trade beads I'm so fascinated by and have them "get it". It's moments like this I must remind myself of when the accounting and website updates and creative droughts get to me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Success! (plus some tips for carry-on only international travel)

I totally, 100% nailed the challenge. I've got enough clothes and shoes for 3 weeks in Brazil packed into the above carry-on, and I'm still under my weight limit (currently at 16.3 pounds). My hope is that the dress I'm going to wear to Rico's cousin's wedding will fit perfectly in the bit of space left in the suitcase, and that it won't send me over the 17.5 pound limit. As my friend Sayama put it, it's a capsule wardrobe extraordinaire!

A commenter on my previous post asked a simple question, but one I definitely want to address here: Why bother going through the hassle and potential inconvenience of only taking carry-on luggage on an international trip, when we can easily check a bag for free?

Part of the answer has to do with practicality. We will be traveling quite a bit while in Brazil, jumping between various destinations and staying with multiple relatives within each city. The idea of lugging a big ol' suitcase around is quite frankly unappealing. Furthermore, there is the advantage that you don't have to wait around at the airport for your luggage to come out before you can clear customs. You also avoid the all-to-common stress of losing your luggage for a couple of days. If everything you need fits into a small bag, you're good to go in any situation!

The other part of the answer is more subtle and has to do with the part of my personality that is constantly waging a war on clutter. At home, I strive to purchase only what is needed and to keep only what is actively being used or displayed. Why should my approach be any different when I'm on the road? Yes, it's nice to have options, but if I can make do with 4 shirts instead of 15, I should do it. After all, even though I'm a pro at packing a suitcase, there is always stuff in there that I don't end up using. Dead weight that is hauled around, space that is taken unnecessarily. By doing carry-on only, I'm forced to carefully analyze what I really need and what I will use. It's a challenge, but every single time I've traveled with a minimalist philosophy I've been very, very happy.

Here's the complete list of what's in the suitcase:

- 1 pair black trousers
- 1 denim skirt
- 1 pair khaki shorts
- 2 pairs leggings
- 1 cashmere sweater
- 2 long-sleeved tops
- 5 t-shirts
- 5 tank tops
- 4 summer dresses
- 2 sets workout clothes
- 2 sports bras
- 2 pairs socks
- 1 bikini
- 7 pairs underwear/2 bras
- 1 brown belt
- 1 pair fancy black sandals
- 1 pair brown leather sandals
- 1 pair brown leather ballet flats
- 1 pair havaianas

Not in the suitcase (i.e. my travel outfit):

- 1 pair jeans
- 1 tank top
- 1 long-sleeved top
- 1 lightweight sweater-wrap
- 1 pashmina scarf
- socks/underwear
- 1 pair running shoes

Going in at the last minute:

- 1 floor-length formal dress

Items for my (big) purse:

- complete set of travel-sized toiletries
- makeup
- jewelry
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- cell phone
- camera
- wallet + passport
- a laptop (!)
- glasses and sunglasses
- empty water bottle

The key to making it work? Choosing main color schemes (mine are blues + brown accessories for casual looks, and black + black accessories for fancy looks), ensuring you can mix and match your pieces to get lots of possible outfits, choosing several smart accessories that can change the look of your clothes, avoiding bulky shoes, and taking the lightest-weight clothes possible.

My selection of clothes and accessories will get me through a formal wedding, a trip to the mountains where it will be cold and we'll do some hiking, a trip to the beach where it will be hot and we'll do some sailing, and plenty of walking + dining + going out with friends in Rio and São Paulo. Hopefully I've chosen well, and won't be forced to buy clothes or shoes while in Brazil (although that's always a great excuse!).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Making Those 17.5 Pounds Count

Friends, I am up for a big challenge. Rico and I are going to Brazil for three weeks, and we've decided to travel with only carry-on luggage. That means one bag each, with a weight limit of 17.5 pounds (plus a giant, heavy purse for me!).

See the lovely suitcase above? That's it. I wanted to take a photo with my Havaianas for scale, but Pria hopped on and decided to do a bit of modeling for y'all. So now you can put the carry-on in perspective with my size 8 flip-flops as well as our 18-pound cat. The full scope of this challenge hits home when I realize that the total weight of my clothes and shoes (plus the 5.3 pounds of the suitcase) must be less than big boy Pria.

We're going to a wedding while in Rio, to which I will be wearing a full-length neon red beaded gown. Part of me suspects it will take up half my alloted suitcase space and at least as much of my weight limit. We'll also be going to the mountains, which means I'll need to bring some cold-weather clothing as well.

So far my packing list includes:

- 1 pair jeans
- 1 pair black/gray trousers
- 1 wool sweater
- 2 light cardigans
- knit black pencil skirt
- 2 pairs leggings
- 3 casual dresses
- 3 tank tops
- 3 t-shirts
- 2 long-sleeved shirts
- 1 bikini
- 1 set lounge clothes
- 2 sets of workout clothes
- running shoes (which I may be doomed to wearing on the plane since I doubt they'll fit in the suitcase...nothing says gringo like running shoes while traveling!)
- formal dress
- sparkly black sandals
- ballet flats
- lint roller
- pashmina scarf

We'll see how it goes! Packing starts tonight, after a few requisite loads of laundry. :)

Three Times the Love

Nina, Pria and Mano watching me cook. My heart just melts every time I see these sweet cats, and I am so happy we brought them over from Mozambique. The Amaro family just wouldn't be complete without them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

La Vida Expatica #5: Reverse Culture Shock

My greatest fear upon relocating to California after nearly five years in Mozambique was that I would suffer from some wicked culture shock. I was afraid I'd have such a hard time adapting to life here that I'd become somewhat of a social outcast. In some ways, what I worried about came to pass - I do feel very, very different from most of my 'peers' here - but it's not depressing or anxiety-inducing or something I'm out to change. It just is.

My life's path has shaped me in a way that, while I've become the consummate chameleon and am able to adapt and fit in anywhere, it also means that I never really fit in anywhere at all. The best way to describe it, perhaps, is that I now feel slightly foreign in the US. And surprisingly, it doesn't really bother me at all (which was, in truth, what I really feared - being unhappy with the culture shock I might experience, not the culture shock itself).

Here are a few of the "differences" I've most noted about life in California - the positive and the negative:

- The postal system works reliably and for a reasonable price. Being able to send and receive mail with confidence is something very much appreciated.

- Everything is cheap. Food, clothing, shoes, electronics, entertainment, jewelry supplies, books - you name it. Prices are even better now that the wonderful world of online shopping is at my fingertips and immediately available.

- It's a bit of a 'returning from the developing world' cliché, but the variety and subsequent choices one is faced with as a consumer can be crippling. What brand of toothpaste to buy, what breakfast cereal to eat, what shade of lipstick to wear - I was so accustomed to not having much choice at all, I get overwhelmed quite easily when faced with all the lovely options here. Ironically, this is one of the reasons I love COSTCO so much - yes, it's a crowded warehouse where you buy a year's supply of toilet paper or whatever, but usually there are only one or two options per type of good. Want a 12-pack of canned tomatoes? Great, there is one kind available. Need shampoo? Choose a giant vat from generic Kirkland brand or a name-brand competitor.

- People frequently comment that I have an accent. Even now, nearly a year after we moved from Mozambique, I still get the questions. "But where are you from originally?"

- I love being able to be anonymous. Walk down the street, enter shops, drive the car, go work out, go to the movies...whatever. This place is so diverse you really have to try to get some attention.

- California knows how to embrace diversity, but judging from the young 'uns I've met at school, much is left to be desired in terms of embracing basic education. I do not mean to play into an 'uneducated Americans' stereotype, but it seems that much is lacking as far as math, reading, spelling and general culture go. I am increasingly appreciative of the education I had growing up, and of the education that is so appreciated in other places because it truly is the key to getting ahead.

- So much concrete. So many highways. So much urban development.

- The Bay Area is definitely a hot spot for liberal thinking, but I find myself amazed at how radical and uniformed much of said liberalism can be. Every time I see a 'Free Tibet' or 'Not on Our Watch' sticker it makes me want to let out a cynical laugh. I really want to ask the person who's plastered that on their car or house window if they truly know what's going on in those places, or if they've decided to support the cause because it seems the 'right' thing to do in the face of all the injustice happening in those oppressed, far-away countries.

- Even in this mecca of recycling and reuse, I am struck by how much is wasted. Ziploc baggies are used once and thrown away. Food is bought and left to waste in the refrigerator. Paper or plastic plates are used at parties, then tossed. I am not immune to the convenience of the trash can. It's a daily battle to wash the used Ziploc or wash the real plates instead of caving and using plastic. It's so easy to slip back into old habits. I'm not preachy about any of this, and I try not to judge. It sadly seems inevitable that there is a trade-off between conservation and convenience.

- People love their dogs like nowhere I've ever seen before. I feel like I'm missing an arm sometimes because we don't have a dog.

- Eggs are refrigerated here. Always. In store and at home. I wonder what peoples' reaction would be if they knew I've been eating room-temperature eggs for the last several years and never once got sick...

- It's really, really, really difficult to get on board with the health system here. I know this is a complex subject, but to someone who's just come from the "outside" and not had regular health insurance for quite a while, the system seems very messed up. I find it absurd that I can have a consultation with a dermatologist and they can't tell me up front how much it will cost, that I have to wait for weeks until the insurance company determines how much of this mystery amount they will cover, and then I am billed for the rest. We are transitioning to a different plan now, one with co-pays, so hopefully this will no longer be an issue. Still, how backwards! Also, I've yet to see a doctor who I truly believe cares about me or my affliction. It's all so impersonal, I feel very unmotivated to go get non-emergency medical attention because it seems I spend money for generic advice. I'm thankful we have doctors in Rico's family, because they are the ones I turn to when I'm feeling ill.

- Not exactly a news flash, but it's amazing how Spanish is truly the new universal language of the US. There's not a day that goes by without me hearing or speaking Spanish. It's the language of our kitchens, construction crews, shop attendants, bus drivers, social workers, teachers, house cleaners, city planners, small business owners, international executives. Shame mine is all muddled with Portuguese these days. :)

- Poor Brazil suffers from quite the heavy stereotyping here in the US. On multiple occasions, upon hearing I'm married to a Brazilian, women have asked me, "So, is he really hot?" Seriously! They all have the image of a samba-dancing, soccer-playing, dark and tan lover. I tell them, "Yes, my husband is hot, but not the way you imagine. He works in investment management and loves sailing and comes from a Portuguese family." They look at me like my answer does not compute.

- I really miss some of the little luxuries of life in Moz, namely having Dona Lídia do my ironing and go for shop runs to purchase milk and eggs, and having the building guards available to help me parallel park (the hand gestures showing which way I should turn the wheel were priceless!) and carry heavy loads up the stairs. On the other hand, I love having a Roomba. :)

These are a few of my observations. This list is incomplete and ever-evolving.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of expats who have recently relocated, be it to a third country or "home". Did you experience reverse culture shock? What were the aspects you found most challenging/entertaining/interesting?

Sounds Like Summer

I can't get enough of this song. Makes me want to dance every time I hear it. Pure summer genius.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Patrão É Patrão / Patroon Is Patroon

Anyone who has spent time in Mozambique has likely heard the "Patrão é patrão" song by MC Roger (loosely translated, 'the boss is the boss'). A song that pushes a political agenda (hello, Guebuza - the country's current President) and glorifies class differences in a way that is questionable...but still, a catchy tune that really caught fire in Moz a few years back and, to my knowledge, continues on the DJ list at most places.

The point of this post isn't to discuss the merit of this song or of its singer. Rather, it's to share with you a new word I discovered in English the other day that rocked my world and made me flash back to many sweaty nights at África Bar or Coconuts dancing to this tune: Patroon.

Yes, patroon. As in the Anglicized version of 'patrão'. I couldn't believe it.

I am such a nerd when it comes to etymology and languages, this discovery totally made my day. And now begs the question: should I be singing "Patroon is patroon" now that we live in Amurrricah?

We Love a Good Festa

I think my love of antiques, color (in particular coral!), eclectic environments and good times come out in these photos. :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wedding Photos, Attempt #2

Mmmkay, looks like we are going to do the wedding photos over several posts, thanks to Blogger who will only let me upload five at a time. Last night I thought the photo dvd was scratched or something, but today it's clear the problem is not on my end.

Enjoy these images from our ring exchange to our triumphant exit from the church. We got married literally across the street from our house in Rio. As we came out of the church, there was a giant crowd waiting for us. I was so excited I let a triumphant fist pump fly, bouquet and all. One smart-ass in the crowd yelled out to Rico as we walked by, "D'aqui pra frente só piora, meu irmão." Hah! We're sure proving him wrong on that one. :)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

2 Years as Mrs. Amaro

As it tends to go on this blog, I missed writing about an anniversary on the day it actually happened. This time around it was my wedding anniversary. Rest assured that we celebrated in grand style at a Southwestern-chic hotel in Santa Fe.

Here's a couple of photos of our wedding for your enjoyment. Hard to believe two years have passed. I have to say, however, life as Mrs. Amaro just keeps getting better and better as time passes.

So the wedding photos dvd doesn't seem to be cooperating with me anymore. I guess these are the images I will share for now. Hopefully more later (because really, you've got to see our fabulous exit from the church and the crazy party we threw after the ceremony!).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Busy Bee

In the last week:

- A whirlwind trip to New Mexico, including a night in Santa Fe to celebrate our 2-year anniversary.

- My first gallery opening in California. A success, but as always a tremendous and inevitably underestimated amount of work to get ready for a show.

- Seemingly endless product photography, photo editing, cost calculating, spreadsheet updating.

- A very tedious translation on Mozambique's land policy.

- A house guest, a friend back from my days living in Austin.

- World Cup!

- An overgrown, thirsty garden desperately needing to be weeded.

- Cooking a delicious, collaboratively prepared meal of bbq pork tenderloin, arugula salad from the garden, homemade applesauce also from the garden, Cuban rice and beans.

- Sleep deprivation.

...and the list goes on. I need a holiday!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

We Have a Winner!

Thanks so much to everyone who entered the Alexandra Amaro bracelet giveaway. I really enjoyed receiving your entries, reading the lovely messages many of you left for me, and realizing what an international lot you are (entries received from the US, France, the UK, Germany, Romania, Italy, Slovenia, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Brazil!).

Alas, only one person was destined to win the Fiesta Fada bracelet. Rico did the drawing this morning (quite literally out of a hat), with my mom on site to be the UN-appointed arbitrator to ensure a fair election (her words - apparently development humor runs deep in the Burr-Amaro family).

And the winner is:

Congratulations, Meg! You will receive an email from me later today to get your shipping details.

Everyone else who entered the contest will also receive an email from me in the next week or so with a little gift to say thank you for playing.