Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving in Both Hemispheres!

This post was going to be called "The Lamest of Ducks," but I found out yesterday that someone had used this title on in an article about President Bush. Except that I was going to talk about a couple of ducks: ours, of course, and Rio's outgoing Mayor César Maia. If our Commander in Chief has at least been spotted in Peru and other places closer to home, no one down here has seen Mr. Maia for as long as I can remember (as the city almost literally crumbles around us). I sometimes wonder if the man is no longer alive or if it's just that he doesn't have the courage to show his face anymore. In any case, the expression used to describe Mr. Bush, "of stupefying ineptitude," fits the carioca chief executive official like a glove. I couldn't have said it better. Absolutely no one will be sorry to see him go, except perhaps the people his incompetence and arrogance have benefitted. My only concern is that his successor doesn't seem like someone endowed with the kind of moral fortitude and political boldness needed to tackle this disaster area. We shall see!

Anyway, besides the fact that we'll be seeing the back of these two men before too long, I today gave thanks for my health and my Brazilian friends. Two of them were kind enough to join me for a good, hearty meal and a glass of Argentinian Malbec, this being an appropriately cold and rainy day. I remember wearing my snow boots almost every year in Boston when we lived there, so I suppose I should also rejoice that I now have lived in the tropics for a good many years.

A non-sequitur: I've been spending a lot of time researching the nineteenth-century; it all started with a DVD of "Jane Eyre" and the book about Brazilian and American history I mentioned a few days ago. I've been weaving my way through stories about fashion in the Victorian Age, the history of indoor plumbing, underground trains, social movements, scientific discoveries, industrialization in general, and immigration to the U.S. Somehow, I've ended in Sicily and the Italian Risorgimento and Garibaldi and a DVD of Visconti's "Il Gattopardo." So, I guess, I should also give thanks for the Internet and all this wonderful technology!

Well, this is what the Corcovado looks like right after a storm.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Get It Off Your Chest or a Samba for Obama

Carnaval is a few months off, but a bloco in Ipanema has already released their samba...and it's in honor of President-elect Obama. Of course, who else could it be? I suspect that 2009 is going to be a very interesting year for street carnaval in Rio; I'm anticipating many more songs, costumes, and Obama masks (those should sell like hotcakes!)...and Bush jokes, naturally! The samba starts with these words: Desem...Bush! É coqueluche, essa febre de Obama se alastrou no mundo inteiro, which translate more or less as "get it off your chest, it's all the rage, this Obama fever has caught around the world." I have to explain that the final syllable of the verb desembuche is pronounced, more or less, like bush. Get the pun?

I might have helped spread the infection; I've been wearing my Obama t-shirt since the primaries and now sport an Obama '08 button on my straw basket. My photos have been on MSNBC (this one taken on election night by an AP photographer) and UOL, the Brazilian news site from São Paulo.

Now all I have to think about is my costume for next February's celebrations, which will be post inauguration! I'll have a lot to sing about...we all will!!

Photo credit: Maria Ester Rabello. Thank you so much for this!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Perfumes

Have you ever heard the expression "the best perfumes come in the smallest bottles?" I've come to the conclusion that it can be justly applied to mangoes, after eating a few mangas carlotinhas this week. They're the smallest mangoes I've ever seen and coming into season now. They're a yellow-green color (deep orange inside) and not much bigger than a large egg; very fibrous, strong-flavored and the sweetest of the bunch (I mean, of all varieties I've ever tasted). I took a picture of a couple on my kitchen table; if anyone has ever tried these anywhere else in the world, please let me know! I've just consumed these two and need to rush back to the market for more.

Spring downpours are here and my daily walks have suffered, so I've been catching up on my reading. I bought a small book called "Brasil e Estados Unidos: o que fez a diferença," written by a journalist called Ricardo Lessa. Mr. Lessa digs up the economic, social, and political roots of Brazil's chronic ills and compares that with U.S. history. I don't need to tell you which country comes out as the winner, but the message is that the South American slumbering giant can (or rather should) learn from past mistakes and awake to fulfill its spectacular potential.

I photographed this patriotic yellow, blue, and green bike at the Botanical Garden in Rio about a week ago.

PS - I'm planning a trip to the south of Brazil in early December to visit the ruins of the Jesuit Mission of Saint Michael the Archangel (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), where I used to play as a kid. I'm also going to stop by my old school; I owe it the debt of an extraordinary education and wish to see it again (but judging by their website there's little I'll recognize!). More later...I need to go floss my teeth now!!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Mutt Like Me

My President-elect will have to forgive me, but the copyright to this phrase belongs to this grey-haired lady here. To tell you the truth, my exact words were "a mutt like us." I was giving my own family as an example of people with roots in several continents, bloods so mixed at this point that the only box to fill out on official U.S. forms under ethnicity is "Prefers Not to Disclose." One of us, a product of a racial and multi-cultural hodgepodge, a true representative of the people of these United States of America, is now headed for the White House and Godspeed!

In a similar way (but with marked differences), Brazil is also a land of mutts or vira-latas, the funny, descriptive, self-explanatory Portuguese word (it literally means "overturner of trash cans"); down here miscegenation started almost on day one, with Portuguese officials taking Indian women (sometimes several at a time) as wives to guarantee powerful alliances with tribal chiefs. Not to mention, of course, what went on unrecorded by historians...Brazil has a President, now on his second term, who certainly qualifies as a bona fide specimen of this Southern hemisphere melting pot (in his case, a mixture of indigenous and white), and one who grew up in extreme poverty and came to power on a tremendous wave of hope and goodwill. I keep being reminded by my friends down here that his Workers Party cohorts, seduced by the irresistible combination of power and money, have been involved in numerous corruption and influence-peddling scandals. Whether Lula himself had any knowledge of what went on remains a mystery, but educated, middle-class voters are, shall we say, totally disenchanted. I keep telling myself that Obama is not Lula, even though I realize that, in order to run the country, he's going to have to make compromises. But it's not going to be politics as usual, for sure!

This is not the best photo I have of the most adorable mutt in the world, but I hope the mass of natural bouncy curls covering her face will help protect her identity.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's a Rainy Night in Rio...

It's two o'clock in the morning and it's raining in Rio and I'm crying in here by myself!! We've made history!!! CONGRATULATIONS BARACK OBAMA!! You did it!!! And we did it!! I'm so happy and proud to be part of this historic moment for the United States and the entire world!!!

CELEBRATE! And then, let's get to work!!!

I'm looking at the sea of faces in Chicago on CNN: blacks, whites, young people, white-haired women, a blonde little girl!!!


Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Eve and Chicken Soup for the Soul

Well, here we are: it's November 3rd, a rainy night in Rio. Tomorrow evening (or rather, late at night, since we're three hours ahead down here), I should either be jumping for joy or stunned, heartbroken, and scared as hell. A few months ago, I registered as a Democrat and joined an organization called Democrats Abroad to be able to vote for Obama in the primaries. I bought my t-shirt and sent in my small contribution to his campaign. I mailed in my absentee ballot three weeks ago and e-mailed all my friends more than once, reminding them to vote early (they did!). I wish (and then maybe I don't, when I think of November 2000 and 2004...) I could be in Florida to scream out the window: At last! It's over! And believe again that everything is possible, that not everything is lost, after eight years of this disastrous administration.

I don't think I've ever been this anxious before an election: there's too much at stake, I guess. If only I could go to sleep tonight...To help me relax, I've enlisted the help of two Janes: Austen and Eyre, who are the equivalent of Brazilian canja de galinha for my heart and soul. I'm going to dream of love and immerse myself in romance and mischief and gallantry; cry a little, laugh a little, and maybe snooze through the night.

Photo taken a few minutes ago in my living-room: One of my freshly-painted red nails (for what I hope will be an Obama victory party tomorrow night!), my wonderful BBC DVDs, and my Obama paper doll (purchased at The Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach).

Fingers crossed now!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Heaven on Earth

At least as far as my stomach goes. Before you ask, yes, I'm back in Brazil. How many times have I written about Brazilian food, including all those pages on my website? I lost count. But anyway, I landed in Rio this morning and had to go food shopping. After three weeks in the U.S., as you can imagine, my tastebuds were in serious withdrawal. So, I dragged myself to the market (I never sleep on those all-night flights...) to pick up a couple of papayas, one fruta-do-conde, and one mango. Then I went to the bakery for a couple of freshly-baked baby baguettes; then on to the supermarket for some goat cheese and some all-natural chicken. I walked right past the coconut water stand, but didn't stop. You have to understand, it's not only the availability of all this stuff across the street. It's what this food tastes like. To begin with, it tastes like nothing we're accustomed to: it actually tastes like it should. I apologize, I really can't explain myself better than this right now; I've been running on empty for a couple of hours and I'm falling asleep as I type.

I leave you with one simple question: why can't we have a café in Miami like the one half a block from me? Like the countless cafés in Rio, serving espressos in tiny china cups with dainty, scrumptious miniature cookies on the saucer? Why must there be a Starbucks on every block, selling the same lattes in paper cups, and boring doghnuts, muffins, cake slices, and do-good water? Argh! I need to go to bed.

I took the picture of frutas-do-conde at said market across the street from where I live. I had this cafezinho at the Parque das Ruínas in the Santa Teresa district of Rio. The little cinnamon stick is the stirrer! Now, what do you say?

I almost forgot: I mailed in my absentee ballot. Nothing secret about it: GO, OBAMA, GO!!!

Updated October 31: And all my friends have voted early for Obama, too!!! Happy Halloween! Remember: there's nothing scarier in the world than another Republican administration!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Close Encounters With Scary Blondes

I promise I'll explain the scary part in a minute. It's not frightening a la Sarah Palin, though. That woman makes me want to cry and hide under my mother's skirts, wherever in the Universe that beautiful creature may be at this point. I hope American voters have sense enough to send her packing back to Alaska where she can sit at the window and watch for any island-hopping Russians. But first I must tell you that I've been riding the buses in Miami again; if you're following this blog you already are aware of what happens to me when I take public transportation in this slice of Paradise. Like this afternoon: I sit down and immediately am assaulted by a tiny old lady in drugstore-style shoes waving a Jehovah's Witness Atalaya in my face: Habla Spanish? Habla Spanish? Yikes!!

I met the first blonde on the flight from Rio. I swear I listened to every word she said, while my eyes were riveted by artificial nails with a French manicure and a mouth exactly like the Marilyn lips sofa. She was a nice, friendly, well-meaning lady, but when she got to the part where she attended the Landmark Institute, I shuddered. You see, I'm allergic to self-help-whatever. It's usually really, really good for the person telling you what to do with your life, I don't doubt that. They're not the ones wasting precious dollars on books and seminars.

I ran across the second blonde on the bus to South Beach. The exact opposite: overweight, barely able to walk, I held her hand and helped her sit down. She then launched into a long tale of woes that included stomach surgery to lose a couple of hundred pounds, diabetes, and some awful degenerative disease; she was on her way to a public clinic. Oh, to be reminded of obesity and other ills endemic to this country as we crossed bridges over such blue water under azure Miami skies!

Maybe at this point I don't need to explain why two such dissimilar women put the fear of God into me? And perhaps it might have been a good idea to accept the brochure offered me? Or is it just time to fly back to the country where assistance for self-defeating beliefs still may come in the shape of a figa or throwing white flowers into the sea? And tell everyone to keep eating the fruit and walk right past Burger King?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I'm flying up to Miami next Tuesday. One of the people I'm going to see during this visit is my doctor. Not that there aren't excellent physicians in Rio, mind you. It's just that he's been taking care of me for ten years now and he knows me. Not only that, he puts up with this recalcitrant patient with patience and good humor. He knows I'm headstrong and rebellious and that I like to decide what to do: taking this med doesn't seem like a good idea, I say, could I try yoga instead? With the one exception of my bones, for which at this point there's only one treatment alternative. Anyway, I've been thinking about him and what would happen if we had to discuss my diet and nutrition. He might get a bit frustrated. Because, you see, I've been living in the country of abundance. So, besides words that would be familiar to him, like, say, organic arugula, or maybe even papaya, I'd have to recite an interminable list of rather poetic-sounding names: bacuri, caqui, fruta-do-conde (sweetsop), pitanga, cupuaçu, mangaba, jabuticaba, jaca (jackfruit), graviola (soursop), buriti, goiaba (guava), caju, and taperebá, to name just a few of the fruits that I consume. I'd have to explain that I drink coconut water for potassium, passion fruit juice to calm down, caju juice for vitamin C; that caquis are great for calcium and iron, fruta-do-conde for potassium and vitamin C, and on and on. See what I mean?

I've mentioned before that I was supposed to make a list of all the things that I love in Brazil. Well, I've just written a short one...Pictured here are some goiabas at a street market in São Paulo; they're loaded with antioxidants. If you'd like to see more photos of Brazilian fruits and veggies, pay a visit to the pages dedicated to food shopping on my website.

Talk to you sometime in October!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bossa Not So Nova...or Maybe Not?

Here's a picture of a mousepad I got from my sister-in-law in São Paulo. She went to see the exhibition on the fiftieth anniversary of bossa nova. There's another one in Rio at the moment, and a new feature film called "Desafinados," and reissues of classic records, and shows everywhere. The celebrations have reached an Olympic (I mean the mountain, not the games) kind of height with three shows by an elderly, grumpy João Gilberto. I wasn't about to go fight for tickets to see an artist that should have (and did, sort of) retired a long time ago. So, what I'm telling you here is second- or third-hand information gleaned from newspaper columnists and disgruntled concertgoers. He was systematically late (not ten minutes kind of late, but hours) and not exactly in the best of moods to play and sing for fans who paid a not-insignificant percentage of their monthly income for the experience. I heard that in New York City he wasn't even a wee bit late and that tickets cost much less, which means exactly what? When in the U.S. do as Americans do or that Brazilian don't deserve anything better? I honestly think that he should have stayed home playing for himself and his little daughter and fans should have spent the money to buy some of his classic recordings. You get the artist in top form without having to put up with the man, who, by all accounts, wasn't the easiest human being even in his twenties and thirties. These days, if I want to go out of my apartment to hear the smooth sounds and delicate swing of bossa nova (with or without a pinch of electronica), I choose Celso Fonseca, Chris Delano, Leo Gandelman, or BossaCucaNova (their new CD will be out this month). These artists, plus Lisa Ono in Japan, have kept the flame alive and their sounds are as fresh as the French bread I get twice a day from the bakery across the street. Even if it's 50 years later.

I was talking to Carlos Alberto, owner of Toca do Vinícius in Ipanema on Sunday and he promised me a list of his all-time favorite bossa nova records. While we wait, I decided to post a few of mine:

1 - "Chega de Saudade," João Gilberto
2 - "Getz/Gilberto," Stan Getz, João Gilberto, Tom Jobim
3 - "The Legendary João Gilberto"
4 - "Isso É Bossa Nova," Leila Pinheiro
5 - "Garota de Ipanema," Nara Leão and Roberto Menescal, recorded in Japan

You can also look for CDs by Tamba Trio, and the recent releases with the music of Moacir Santos. Leave comments with your own favorites, please!