Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Continuing with the colors series...

White decor at beach house in Bilene, Mozambique

Detail of ceiling at Maputo's train station (CFM)

Church at Ilha de Moçambique

Well inside the centuries-old home of our friends Z. and K. on Ilha de Moçambique

Rooftop linens in the breeze - Ilha de Moçambique

Noon sun on white courtyard - Ilha de Moçambique

Train to Sapa, Vietnam

Vietnamese porcelain factory

Detail of stairway inside Museu de Arte Contemporânea - Niterói, Brazil

Old mansion - Santa Teresa, Brazil

Summer Plans

On my master to-do list for Summer 2010:
  • finish production for Fiesta jewelry collection
  • photograph and list new jewelry on my website
  • do a photography session with models wearing my jewelry
  • create a small ad campaign targeting jewelry clients in Mozambique
  • lots and lots of gardening
  • plant some squash
  • make blackberry jam with the berries from our garden
  • paint Rico/my mom's home office a nice steel blue
  • paint the tv room a dark amber-ish color
  • rip out carpet downstairs and install new wood flooring (together with Rico, obviously)
  • have a brazilian bbq
  • finish the drawing of my rehearsal dinner dress
  • organize my art supplies
  • get a better filing system for all of my papers
  • formalize my translation business
  • continue typing up my old journals
  • hang our hammock in the backyard
  • organize and print photos from our time in Mozambique
  • go hiking on a new trail
  • have an almond dessert party
  • get a massage
  • go to a friend's wedding in Houston
  • go to our cousin's wedding in Rio

Sounds like fun, no?

Five Years

Chimoio, October 2005

Five years ago today I arrived in Mozambique for the first time. I gave a shout of joy when I saw Rico waiting for me in the midst of the crowd of taxi drivers and hustlers outside the Maputo airport. We hadn't seen each other - or even been in touch - for the previous five years, since the good old days when we were classmates at business school in Rio. Rico took me out to dinner that night at Costa do Sol where we watched the moon rise over the Indian Ocean, then ate crab and drank too many bottles of white wine. The rest, really, is history.

Lucky, lucky me. :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CCA 1st Semester: Drawing I

This was perhaps the class at CCA I was most nervous about. I've never had formal instruction in drawing, in fact never taken any sort of a drawing class in my life. I imagined art school would be full of the kind of people who can draw amazing pictures seemingly from birth, and that I would clearly be the odd one out.

My initial feedback from the school sort of confirmed this. I was under the impression that prospective students were required to include some drawings in their application portfolios. So, trying to make up for my lack of experience, I decided the best thing would be to practice drawing as much as possible in the months leading up to the application deadline. Back in Maputo, I recruited my friends A. and H. to sit and draw with me. I asked an artist friend to give me some pointers (the most emphatic of which included 1-never use a conventional pencil sharpener when you are making Art, and 2-never, ever draw from a photograph). Over a few months I drew my own hands, a ceramic vase, lots of squiggly technique exercises, a pair of guinea hen statues that sat on our table, and the interior of our friends Z. and K's centuries-old home on Ilha de Moçambique. I thought I was on a roll.

Upon arriving in the US, I thought it would be good to show some diversity in my drawings, so I tackled portraiture. I drew a portrait of my mom, then a self-portrait using a mirror that took me 4 long hours to complete.

I submitted the two portraits and the drawing of the home on Ilha in my application portfolio. The man who reviewed it, after looking at a dozen or so photos of my jewelry, looked at me perplexed when he came across my drawings.

"Your jewelry is really good, but why did you include these? I'd consider removing them before you do the official online submission of your portfolio."

Well, ok. I can respect someone who is honest in their feedback. I'm not a master of drawing, and the reviewer was simply calling a spade a spade. So I took the drawings out of my portfolio and mentally prepared myself for the semester-long struggle that would be Drawing I should I be admitted to CCA.

It's funny how these things happen. Quite surprisingly, Drawing I turned out to be one of the best classroom and learning experiences I've ever had, in any of the (extended) schooling I've done over the years. In large part, this was due to our fabulous teacher, Jean. She is in the fashion department at CCA and is the right balance of warm, tough, funny, down-to-business, encouraging and realistic. She started each class with a meditation period, then proceded to teach us the basic bones of drawing. We learned specific techniques. She coached us along the way. She assigned challenging (but fun) homework and gave concrete, useful feedback during critiques.

I really looked forward to Drawing I each week, but in no way was it an easy class for me. In fact, it was a struggle nearly every step of the way. There was no way to procrastinate my way through the work, and it was hard not to immediately be "good" at new skills. I especially found it challenging to draw the figure, which made for a wholly frustrating 4 weeks or so when we were drawing from live models.

Interestingly, I think a lot of the students had similar experiences, even if they were very proficient at drawing to begin with. Firstly, our teacher was incredibly good at pushing each student according to their own capabilities, and not expecting everyone to be at the same level. Secondly, it seems that everyone has a strength and weakness when it comes to drawing techniques. Someone might be a master at line drawings, but have an insanely hard time seeing shadow and creating mass on the paper. Others are much more comfortable working in 3-D (mass) versus 2-D (line). I'm definitely the latter, my favorite medium being conté crayon.

Then, at the very end of the semester, we got thrown the curve ball that is ink wash. Drawing with wet ink is super different from anything we'd done in class thus far, and to be good at it you basically just need to let go and be very free with your hand. Hard to do after a semester of learning technique and precision!

Without a doubt, my drawing skills improved immensely, but I'll never be a superstar. Still, I learned a lot and can definitely see how being able to draw reasonably well will help my jewelry work as I move forward.

Here are some of my drawings from the semester, in chronological order. I'm still working on my final drawing, even though I've already received a grade on it, and will take a photo once it's finished. I'm drawing the teal cocktail dress I wore for our rehearsal dinner. It's full of ruffles and rutching and is a big challenge to draw!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Recycling in Maputo!

Good news for Maputo and for the environment. I'm so pleased to see a formal recycling scheme finally being implemented in the city.

The Associação Moçambicana de Reciclagem - Mozambican Association for Recycling (AMOR - LOVE in Portuguese) opened three "eco-points" in the city of Maputo where you can leave your garbage in bags already sorted (Monday to Friday from 8h to 16h).

AMOR collects all waste including paper, cardboard, plastics, cans, glass bottles and e-waste. The waste will be paid per kg depending on the type of product. The "eco-points" are green containers located in the areas of Coop, Museu and Baixa.

For more information, please contact:

AMOR email:
Stephane Temperman; Presidente, +258 84 46 177 64.
Antoine Bossel; Vice-presidente, + 258 82 30 399 11

Now the next step should be a campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags. I've never seen such plastic bag waste - from veggie sellers to supermarkets - in my entire life. The worst part is that most of the baggies are so flimsy they get holes in them before you've got your purchases home, and therefore can't be reused. What a difference cloth totes would make!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Summer (a girl can hope, right?)

1. Moçambique3, 2. Astounding colors of glowing Coral Plant and its wondrous turquoise seeds, 3. 5 May 2007 Maputo Mozambique, 4. Periwinkles, 5. Pomegranate, 6. Indian Wedding, 7. Turquoise, 8. When I Think of New Mexico, 9. Fuschia Macro

Colors and senses inspiring (and inspired by) my latest jewelry designs. Lots of corals and turquoises and royal blues for summer. While it's no secret that I love strong colors, I find myself even more drawn to them now. I imgaine it's the direct result of spending an entire semester working with nothing but metal when it comes to jewelry designs!

Perhaps I'm also trying to coax the weather to become more summer-like here at Casa Cali. Apparently we are having an exceptionally wet, cool, and extended Winter/Spring period, which gives me some hope. Still, I am longing for pool weather in a major way!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

La Vida Expatica #2: The Things We Take With Us

Dear fellow expats (and serial in-country relocators),

When you are an expert at packing up and moving all of your worldly posessions at least once every two years, you become awfully practical about what to keep and what to leave behind (as discussed here).

However, we are all sentimental beings and occasionally a not-so-practical item will squeeze its way into the mix. You know what I'm talking about: those special little (or not so little!) objects that remind us of home, of family, of friends, or even of a particular cuisine or lifestyle. We carry them with us in hopes that geographical distance won't be the end of our fond memories and personal bonds.

Sometimes these mementos are easy to fit in a suitcase or pack into a cargo box: old photographs, a cookbook, a jewelry box, a satchel of lavender from a garden past. Other times, our sentimental objects are oversized, impractical, heavy as all hell, and prone to cause problems at customs.

On my personal list of the wholly absurd (but emotinally satisfying) things I've hauled halfway around the world and back, the following stand out:

- a complete set of antique silver flatware;
- all of my jewelry-making supplies (#1 in creating headaches at customs);
- all of my old journals (20 volumes, to be exact)
- countless cans of green chile (although as a New Mexican, this is really an essential and not a luxury).

What about you? I'd love to know the most random things you've repeatedly packed up and carried with you over the years. What are the objects you can't imagine leaving behind? Please share in the comments!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Calling All Animal Lovers in Mozambique

If you are in the Maputo area, please stop by the May fair on Saturday, May 15th to help M.A.P.S., the first and only animal crelty prevention society in Mozambique. They have finally found a place to rent that is perfect for sheltering animals in need, and will provide loving care, veterinary services and potentially grooming/boarding to dogs, cats and other furry/scaled/feathered ones. M.A.P.S. is conducting a membership drive to help make their vision a reality.

The plight of animals in the Maputo area is particularly bad - lots of abuse and abandonment - not to mention the TERRIBLE cycle of selling neglected little puppies on the roadside to people with soft hearts who just can't resist rescuing an animal in need, despite knowing it just perpetuates the problem. M.A.P.S. will hopefully raise awareness and provide some much-needed services and support for Mozambique's animals and those who care about them.

Monday, May 10, 2010

La Vida Expatica, #1

A nascent idea for a new series of posts...

I take comfort in surveying my things - clothes, art, notebooks, etc. - and realizing that a particular sundress or the yellow, brown and magenta abstract floral painting hanging on the wall of my office have accompanied me over several continents and through multiple years.

As expats we say so many goodbyes to people, places, even pets. It's hard, but I think most come to terms with that aspect of the lifestyle sooner or later. I can even see the silver linings in leaving so much that's dear to our heart behind: you get to meet and connect with hundreds more amazing people than those who don't live abroad (or in different cities distant enough either in miles or in culture to feel like different countries). That alone is worth the goodbyes, for sure.

You also tend to become a minimalist. I mean, I suppose some people are lucky enough to get sufficient container shipments paid for by their work to hold onto everything they so desire...but really I don't envy those people, despite lusting after their furniture and art.

I think when you have to constantly fit your possessions into two suitcases and a few air cargo boxes, you are forced to evaluate what's *really* important to you, to your happiness. There is an important line between what's nice to have and what's essential to have (to one's soul/well-being, I mean, not essential as in shelter and clean water - if you're an expat, you're likely already MASSIVELY thankful for all those aspects of 'essential'). The things you do keep, and haul halfway around the world with you, are the ones that are really worth hanging on to. The rest, at some level, is clutter.

The 'primavera ambulante' dress was made in Vietnam but now lives in California. I love that I'm posing so glamourously in front of a stack of bricks.

I take great pleasure in rediscovering and reusing the objects that have accompanied me over the last 15 years. It's like, by wearing that fabulous raspberry-colored wool overcoat I got at Zara back in 2001(in Rio, of all places), I am somehow reconnected with the Ali that was back then. I remember who my friends were, the apartment I lived in, the obsessions I had at the time (weight, bad skin, how to avoid taking Administração Financeira at school). It's a bit like reading through an old journal...the verbal and visual snippets from our past jolt us back in time, to an expired incarnation of self, if only for a few moments.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cinco de Mayo con Julieta

Tonight Rico and I are going to see Julieta Venegas' concert in Oakland. I am super excited, as she is one of my favorite artists and I've never had the chance to see her play live. Even better is that the concert hall is just a block from BART, so no need to drive or be paranoid about enjoying a beer or two.

Here are a couple of my favorite songs by Julieta Venegas. Wish y'all were here to join us!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Break

I have terrible tendonitis of the forearm. Not tennis elbow or carpal tunnel's, but a throbbing, chronic pain in the muscles on the top side of my arm that run from my elbow to my wrist.

Many people have wondered, upon hearing me complain of debilitating pain in my arm, whether it's due to my jewelry work. Thankfully - mercifully - the answer is no.

The tendonitis is due to hours upon hours of using a laptop and mouse, which is good and bad. Bad in the sense that these days, computer use is truly inevitable for most people in most professions in most parts of the world. I'm bound to overuse my arm in bouts for the rest of my life (translating, writing papers, emails, web updates, even blogging when I have an idea that I furiously need to record lest I forget it forever). The good news is that I can, in fact, reduce my computer use.

While a nearly imossible task to ponder, especially if the bulk of your daylight hours have been spent on or near a computer for the last 7 years, and admittedly quite anxiety-inucing to think about (What will I miss out on? An important email? A Skype call? A heart to my Etsy shop? A comment on my blog?), I am happy to report that it's possible. More than possible. It's a pleasure.

I am happily semi-connected these days.

Sometimes it's in intense bouts of blog posts or copy-writing, but for the most part I'm offline. At least to compared to my computer usage before the tendonitis problems (which really started to interfere in my life in the last few months we were in Maputo, to the point where for several days I was unable to hold a fork or a pen, much less do anything "productive").

I make myself turn off the computer at night, and I never bring the laptop upstairs if I can help it. Our decision to make the downstairs part of our house the Work level, and the upstairs part our Life level has totally helped. Unlike our work-on-the-dining-table, eat-in-the-office patterns in Maputo, we actually have parts of our house that are totally dedicated to work. We still don't maintain super-rigid schedules, but it makes a tremendous difference in being happy working from home.

Okay, sometimes we break down and eat takeaway pizza in front of our computers while working, but it's infrequent. I swear.

Back to the arm thing. Having a physical separation between "computer on" and "computer off" zones has helped get disconnected. School has definitely helped, too. Being in studio classes for 6 hours a day, during which I have absolutely no inclination to look at email or read celebrity gossip, I couldn't care less about a computer. Even about a phone (I am notoriously terrible for ignoring my calls, forgetting to listen to voice mails, forgetting my phone on silent/off)...

Speaking of the phone, I think I am the only person on earth who can say that getting a Blackberry lead to decreased internet use and time "connected". It's been a wonderfully unexpected silver lining to me finally agreeing to get a Blackberry. Remember the description of my phone use habits above? I was perfectly happy with a phone that didn't access the internet or any of that hoo-haw. I used it to make calls (and ocasionally receive them). I didn't even text because, despite my LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE SMS back in Mozambique, texting is damn expensive here and I refuse to pay $0.20 to say "Running 8m late".

I was content in my phone simplicity, but getting a proper website for my jewelry made me aware that it's important to be able to respond to an email in the middle of the day far from the computer. If I get a sale, I want to know asap so I can plan the time I'll need for production, if necessary. Hours can actually make a difference. So I agreed to Rico's long-running attempt to convince me to get a Blackberry.

In the beginning, I was frustrated because I didn't know how to use all the buttons. So I used the phone even less, and didn't even go online. But then I learned how to retrieve my emails, and all was good in the world. In my break between classes, I can quickly check to be sure there's nothing urgent. The rest of the emails or Facebook updates or whatever...I IGNORE. Part of me can't believe I've conquered the "Oh my God, what a ludicrous blog post on development in Mozambique, I HAVE TO RESPOND IMMEDIATELY with my opinion!" instinct that plagues so many of us online, but seemingly I have.

And what does responding immediately, via Blackberry, to the important stuff and simply letting the rest wait until I am ready to sit at the computer for a few hours accomplish? It gets me away from the trap of hour-upon-hour of vague, aimless surfing of the web and checking to see if I have any new emails just because I went online to answer one little thing, or make a comment on a blog post. It horrifies me to think about how much time I've spent over the years moving my fingers and exhausting my forearm muscles with absolutely no productive aim, no entertainment value, or even a semblance of a connection (with others)? Just compulsive refreshing of the inbox and the Facebook home page, with occasional outings to read blogs or look up random things on Wikipedia. I've wasted a horrific amount of hours doing nothing online. It's no wonder my arm hates me.

Between my newfound ally (the Blackberry) and my school schedule, however, things are looking up. Sometimes I go for 2 or 3 days without even switching on my laptop. Instead I garden, make jewelry, or watch tv. Okay, lots of tv these days. I'm not sure if switching internet gossip for 16 and Pregnant can be called a good trade, but my tendonitis sure feels better. And part of me feels, in a very humble way, like a miniscule 21st-century trimph has been made: we can actually choose how much time and effort we spend online, on the computer, connected. Although some days it's hard to believe there's not an umbillical cord stretching from the monitor, anchoring you to your chair.