Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brazil July 2011: The Roundup

Trip Highlights:
  • Selling the Casa Rosa. By far the most efficient turn of events possible. The house had been on the market for many months already, and Rico and I decided to go down to Rio to clear out all the furniture and the few personal belongings we had there so that, when a sale did eventually take place, the Casa Rosa would be ready to hand over. Never in our wildest dreams could we have anticipated that, not five minutes after stepping in the house the first Monday of our trip, the phone would ring and our broker would let us know that an offer had been made by an extremely serious buyer. Within 24 hours the house was off the market, and we were busy moving furniture and taking care of the initial paperwork for the sale.
  • I anticipated this being a really hard trip for me. It was, but only for a small moment. I'm happy to report that selling the Casa Rosa really did feel like the right thing to do. I had no remorse in letting go, my desire to cling completely dissipated. Simplification really feels good, as does recognizing and accepting when a particular chapter has run its course, as opposed to fruitless, tiring attempts to prolong it unnecessarily.
  • I got over one of my fashion hang-ups and actually wore Havaianas in public in Brazil. The mere thought of wearing flip-flops outside the house and/or beach used to provoke a cold sweat in my afraid-to-be-identified-as-a-foreigner person. I'm over it. When my feet are swollen and it's hot outside and I have blisters, I'll wear Havaianas and like it. Aside from going into the lobby at Citibank, I didn't even feel weird doing it!
  • The opportunity to catch up with most of the family and friends we wanted to see. So nice to reconnect.
  • Rico and I redecorated my mother-in-law's apartment. It looks amazing. We bought only a couple of pieces, relying rather on rearranging what my m-i-l already had and supplementing it with furniture, lighting, and paintings from Casa Rosa.
  • Rico and I celebrated our 3-year wedding anniversary. It was a treat to be in the Casa Rosa and at the church across the street, hard to believe that so much (and yet so little) time has passed. We had a photo shoot to say goodbye to the house and to celebrate our anniversary. The proofs arrived yesterday, and they look amazing.
The Lowlights:
  • I realized that, not only do I get slightly motion sick, I am *really* afraid of sailing at anything but a children's pace. We went sailing at Angra, which was incredible, but the winds were good and the boat was big and eventually we were at an extreme angle hauling through the water. For Rico and his family, it was paradise. For me, it was tear-inducing. Literally. I was so scared by the feeling that the boat was about to capsize, I couldn't help but cry. Not my finest moment, but everyone was very kind and understanding.
  • Speaking of such things, I also am increasingly scared by air travel. After years of not partaking, I am now a happy airport and in-flight drinker. And if I didn't feel like such shit after taking sleep aids or something like Valium, I'd be all over those, too.
  • I ate way too much fried food in Brazil. Inevitable, really. Everywhere you look there is a fried treat. Bars, highway rest stops, street fairs - hell, even breakfast - are the glorious kingdoms of bolinhos, pasteis, coxinhas and more. And if you manage to avoid the fried stuff, you will be satisfied to encounter large quantities of puff pastry, cheese and sweetened condensed milk. Not surprisingly, I put on a little weight.
  • To be fair, Brazilians do eat lots of healthy, fresh things. And drink lots of beer. :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Rose Chapter

The other night I indulged in a pity party on my mother-in-law's veranda, a good half hour of hot tears and thick, wailing sobs provoked by the impending sale of the Casa Rosa. I thought about the parties I'd never throw, the atelier I'd never have, the friends I'd never make, the sense of community that would remain forever fleeting. It felt like I'd somehow failed, given up not only on my bohemian dream life in Santa Teresa, but given up on Brazil.

And then, after that good crying session, there was a shift. I was sad, yes, but it was as if a fog had lifted and I could suddenly see the bigger picture. Casa Rosa was but a chapter (and a wonderful one, without question) in a much greater story, one in which I wasn't the lone protagonist but a member of an interconnected cast. Selling the house was a collective decision for a collective good. A shared future. Family.

At the end of the day a house is just a house, no matter how spectacular the salmon pink Neoclassical columns or the crystal chandeliers or the banana grove in the winter garden. It's okay to say goodbye and move on, even if your dreams and plans involved a different ending.

I frequently remind myself that selling the Casa Rosa doesn't mean that I've lost my traveler's spirit, that I've abandoned my international lifestyle, that I've become somehow less special because I don't call Santa Teresa home. A house is not an identity, and if it has become one, priorities should be reexamined. A house is just a house, and it is a welcome feeling of lightness to move on, to simplify, to let go of attachments.

I feel satisfied, centered, at peace. It's not the address or the neighborhood or even the country that matter, it's who you are with. I am looking forward to the next chapter, full of family and friends, at home at Casa Cali or wherever else the story takes us.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Farewell to the Garden

One of my favorite aspects of the Casa Rosa is the internal courtyard. The banana grove, the lion head fountain, the mini pool, the pedra portuguesa that replicates the paving pattern of Copacabana beach... Some of the features were there when we bought the house, but much of the current look is thanks to upgrades we made over the years. Perfect for a garden party. Happily we've had many a great festa in that courtyard, the crowning glory being our wedding reception. :)

The Master Packing List for Traveling Light

Last year Rico and I traveled to Brazil for nearly 3 weeks with only a small carry-on suitcase each. This year, we have traveled with a bit more stuff (a lot more, really, in my case). My big, not-at-all-surprising revelation has been that I would have been just as happy with half the clothes and knick-knacks. I could have easily gone carry-on only for this trip as well, and have really learned what is essential and what is not.

In the spirit of creating the perfect minimalist packing list for our next trip (and for you to use, too) I offer the following guide. This list is geared for a destination that has a moderate climate that is somewhat unpredictable (e.g. San Francisco Bay Area in the summer, Rio de Janeiro in the winter), so the clothing choices are layering-friendly. Also, there isn't anything for really cold weather, although in my experience you could easily throw in a heavy jacket and boots and tailor things as necessary for chilly climates. This list should get you through 1-3 weeks of travel, with the occasional need for washing underwear/socks/exercise wear. Here are my suggestions:

- 1 pair black trousers
- 1 pair dark jeans
- 1 pair cargo or khaki pants
- 1 casual skirt
- 1 pair shorts
- 1 pair leggings
- 1 pair lounge pants

- 1 lightweight jacket
- 1 zip-up hoodie sweatshirt
- 1 cashmere sweater
- 3 long-sleeved tops
- 5 short-sleeved tops (some fancy, some casual)
- 5 tank tops (some fancy, some casual)
- 3 dresses (1 beachy, 1 casual, 1 fancy)

- 3 sets workout clothes (+ sports bras, socks)
- 3 pairs regular socks
- 1 bikini
- 8 pairs underwear/3 bras
- 1 belt
- 1 pashmina scarf
- 1 lightweight scarf
- 1 kanga/capulana/pareo
- 1 baseball cap or sun hat

- 1 pair mary jane-style high heels
- 1 pair ballet flats
- 1 pair leather sandals
- 1 pair havaianas flip flops
- 1 pair running shoes or canvas sneakers

- complete set of travel-sized toiletries
- sunscreen
- makeup
- jewelry
- reading material
- cell phone
- camera + charger
- wallet + passport
- a laptop or ipad
- glasses and sunglasses
- empty water bottle
- breath mints or gum

I've found that I have a few "warrior pieces" that are super versatile and can easily be dressed up, dressed down or layered. These include a lightweight navy blue jacket from Pilè ou Face that can go effortlessly with a fancy dress or a pair of jeans; a pair of dark stretch jeans in a slim bootcut from Adriano Goldschmeid; a sailor-inspired striped top that goes with everything; a long-sleeved black lace top from Victoria's Secret catalog; and a black shift dress that is appropriate for an afternoon with friends or an elegant evening dinner. I also swear by my high-heeled mary janes from Clark's Indigo. They are super comfortable and instantly dress up any outfit.

Do you have any "warrior pieces" to recommend?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Classification Fever

I am incapable of passing an unfamiliar tree, fruit, vegetable or animal without feeling a desperate need to identify it. Languages, too. Hearing people speak some strange tounge makes me go crazy. I want to know what it is, where they are from.

I keep a running mental tally of things I need to google. The latest searches have been prompted by the caimans that hang out in the canal down the street from my m-i-l's house (jacaré do papo amarelo), the medium-sized rodents I spotted in the bushes while on a run yesterday (pretty sure they are cotias), and the tree full of mango-like yellow fruits I saw while eating lunch in Santa Teresa this afternoon (cajás).

I remember frantically trying to identify the caterpillar that stung Rico a few years ago while cleaning vines out of the pitanga tree (tropical relative of the io moth caterpillar), not to mention the myriad snakes spotted along the roadside in Mozambique (forest cobra, puff adder, and what I'm nearly positive was a black mamba).

When I'm able to make a classification it gives me such great satisfaction. Like all is well in the world because I strung together the magic combination of key words to find the beast or fruit I so desired to identify on the internet.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jet Lag and News of a Sale

Traveling East is always so much harder for me than traveling West in terms of jet lag. Although I love to sleep, I really dislike sleeping in (strange, I know) so the fact that I'm not tired at night and then sleep until 10 or 11 in the morning is really hard for me to manage. It makes me feel like I've wasted half the day, and there's nothing I can do about it until I've adjusted to the new time zone (by which time, of course, it's time to go home).

At least my jet lag is compatible with our social schedule here. Cariocas like late nights, and nearly every day we've arrived home between 11pm and 2am after birthday parties and bar outings. We've had a chance to catch up with many friends and relatives, which has been wonderful. A welcome balance to dealing with the Casa Rosa and the general stress of trying to get a few too many things done in a short number of days.

The big news is that it seems the house has sold. Rico and I literally set foot in the Casa Rosa last Monday and the phone rang with the offer. We were getting ready to do our 'despedida' photo shoot when the news came, which gave a bittersweet but ultimately very satisfying sense of closure. I wonder if you'll be able to see that look in my face in the photos? Our photographer is on holiday, so we're anxiously awaiting the proofs when he returns.

We've managed to tie up a lot of loose ends in the last week. The house seemingly has sold (still have to close, so it's not a 100% done deal yet), we've sorted out our housekeeper/caseira B.'s situation and hooked her up with another job, we've sold/donated/moved most of the furniture that was still in the house, and in general it feels like a clean end to the chapter. It's so incredibly nice to simplify and move on while the moving is good, even if it's hard to say farewell to such a special house.

Here are a few photos from our trip thus far:

Friday, July 08, 2011


Every other day or so, Rico and I have been going running along the beach near my mother-in-law's house here in Recreio neighborhood. To get to the beach, we have to cross a small wooden footbridge over a drainage canal. The canal runs through a residential neighborhood and is surrounded by paved streets and apartment buildings on either side. There is a narrow swath of forested area along the margins.

Imagine my surprise when we spotted a fat caiman (a type of alligator commonly known as a jacaré) lounging in the water as we walked along the creaky bridge just a few feet above the canal's surface! Upon closer inspection, it wasn't just one lone caiman; there were eight, a whole group of scaly beasts ranging in size from just over a foot long to well over five feet with a belly the girth of a whisky barrel.

Apparently these urban alligators are quite common and residents don't even look twice they are so used to them hanging out in the canal.

I did some googling and found out the exact species:

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Rio Trends: Workout Jumpsuits and Knee Socks

This lovely trend is hot right now in Rio. Patterned fitness jumpsuits with knee-high socks pulled over the legs. I've also seen many ladies with these socks over regular gym pants. Their fashion sense may be questionable, but at least their bodies look good!


After a very long, line-filled trip, we've arrived in Rio. I have to say it was one of the worst arrivals in the city I've ever experienced.

We had a foreshadowing when, while pulling away from the jetway in Atlanta, our plane lost all power. The auxiliary power failed and we were left in the dark, literally, with no lights, engine, aircon, or PA system for the attendants to offer an explanation of what had happened. My stomach was in knots as they finally managed to recover power and we taxied toward the runway on our merry way.

The flight itself was uneventful. Arrival in Rio, however, was awful. The line for immigration stretched outside the labyrinth where weary travelers wait for processing by the federal police, all the way into the corridor that circles the airport where you first get off the plane. We waited in line for over 30m just to get in the proper line for immigration (foreigners vs brasileiros). We waited another 40 minutes in the foreigners line, thinking that because I don't have Brazilian residency we had to go through with the tourists. Apparently we were wrong and could have sped through the locals' line. Now we know...

Baggage claim and customs were a crowded mess. Imagine a metro car during rush hour, with people smashed up against each other, others trying to push their way in an already super crowded train, and others desperately attempting to wiggle their way to the door in time for their destination station. That's what the entire arrivals section felt like. Another hour and we were finally out.

The saga didn't end there, though. Exiting the airport we got stuck at a blitz, what people here call police checkpoints. We idled on the highway for another hour. We are used to blitzes, but this one was different. The army showed up, and soldiers on motorcycles pulled rank and "took over" the military police blitz. After quite some time, an escorted convoy of buses zoomed by. They were from the Jogos Militares da Paz, the Military Games for Peace (now there's an oxymoron for you!). We thought all was ok after that point, but when we finally inched our way to the actual checkpoint, we saw 4 officers with dead serious expressions, guns loaded and actively pointed towards the occupants of the vehicles going by. They were not messing around. We had to lower the windows and hope that all was ok as we drove past. This is definitely not common in a blitz. These guys were ready to shoot, a testimony to what kind of trouble they were anticipating coming through the blitz that morning.

Four hours after our plane arrived, we finally made it to Rico's mom's house. My comment to Rico was that I'm glad this wasn't my first impression of Rio, otherwise I don't know if I'd be motivated to come back for another visit!