Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Green Haven

A couple of times a week I take refuge at the Botanical Garden down the street, armed with a few reais and my digital camera. I'm trying to escape the high decibel levels of this tropical metropolis and looking for clean air to breathe, but every leisurely walk comes with a bonus: monkeys up on the jackfruit trees, bromeliads galore, an occasional lizard. This particular morning I went in search of the abricó-de-macaco, a longtime favorite of mine. A native of the Amazon, this is one of the strangest and most beautiful trees in Brazil.

Dogs, of course, are an absolute no-no, unless they're leading a visually impaired person. I did come across this snoozing beauty, though, at the very back of the arboretum and concluded that he must belong to one of the homes there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pretending to Be Me

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I'm in the midst of (yet another) identity crisis. This particular one was brought about by a remarkable film I saw the other day called "Jogo de Cena," in which filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho (see my post on Brazilian documentaries below) goes quite a few steps beyond merely recording the daily lives of ordinary people. This time around he combines real interviews with fake ones, except that the actresses are playing the roles of the women he's talking to (who actually responded to a newspaper ad looking for women who would like to tell their stories on camera). I got quite dizzy and with two exceptions could not tell who was who. The only clue was given by a famous face I recognized: according to her, if the woman is trying to hide her tears, if she's constantly wiping her face, then she's the real thing, because actors will let the tears flow for everyone to see. The stories are all very dramatic and even traumatic at times and there's plenty of crying (but they also make you laugh). I left the theater deep in thought. To what extent do we play-act in our daily lives and am I playing the part of the expat gringa? Who am I really, a stranger in a strange land trying to fit in or a prodigal daughter making an effort to remember what it is like to be Brazilian?

While I ponder this question (and I'm not sure I'll come up with an answer anytime soon) you all have a very happy Thanksgiving!

The tree pictured here is the very fragrant manacá. Its sweet-smelling flowers in hues of purple and periwinkle have again become part of springtime for me. I miss the lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, but not all is lost, as you can see!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

This Little Piggy Goes to the Market

I live kitty-corner from a large market called Cobal do Humaitá. Or you could say I almost live IN this conglomerate of vegetable and fruit stalls, flower shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, supermarket, crafts store, clothing stores, and the best DVD rental store in Rio (over 9,000 titles and growing, including rare, obscure, and alternative genres). Any day of the week, I'll be coming and going, toting fresh papayas, having breakfast with Rio's daily O Globo for the latest corruption scandal, picking up a documentary I've been wanting to see for ages, buying lunch, or having a caipirinha and gossiping with my neighbors. This whole thing comes with outdoor tables and first row seats to Corcovado Mountain and the Christ statue. The other day the smell of gardenias next to my table almost drove me to distraction. I came running home to grab my camera and here's one of the culprits.

Also pictured here is the lovely young lady who serves my daily espresso and pão na canoa. This expression translates to a small French bread basically reduced to its crust, lightly buttered and toasted to perfection (well, most days anyway). She arrives at work at 7 a.m. from across town and was greatly inconvenienced when a huge landslide recently shut down the tunnel that slices through Corcovado Mountain. This is the main connection between Rio's northern and southern "zones" and its closing for several days caused the city to basically turn into a parking lot (and her bus to take a roundabout way that forced her out of bed almost two hours earlier). I was talking to her about it the morning I took this photo. We were discussing a comment from Rio's inept mayor to the effect that the disaster had only affected people who owned cars. She shook her head, laughed, and went back to work. I hope they all remember this come election time.

Hanging Out in the Neighborhood

It's been pouring rain in Rio for the past several days. When that happens, I tend to stay closer to home. This makes perfect sense: I avoid massive traffic jams, while still enjoying some of the best food and entertainment this city has to offer. Some of Rio's top movie houses are a short bus ride (or a healthy walk) away. This area also boasts, together with Jardim Botânico down the street, quite a few of my favorite restaurants and botequins. This wasn't the reason why I chose to live "under the Christ's armpit," but it's a huge plus.

I'm very fond of walking up the quiet streets behind my building that dead end at the forest. Especially when it drizzles and the mountain puts on a white, wispy shawl, it too, probably, relishing the cooler weather. These two photos were taken this morning. The jackfruit, which are as big as melons or even watermelons at times, were all over the cobblestones, too. Peaceful strolls in the neighborhood are not entirely without peril and excitement around here!