Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Bluest Sky

I read somewhere that Rio is supposed to have the bluest sky in the world. Whether that is true or not, we've been blessed with a string of perfect days this July and if you look up this is what you see. I took this picture Friday morning at the Botanical Garden, during my daily walk.

I went in search of blooming pitangueiras (more on this later). On the way back, I took a detour to an area I hadn't explored yet (there are plenty of those since the arboretum is quite large) and discovered this gorgeous old jaqueira. Here's a good piece of advice: first thing you do when you come across one of these beauties is look up; jackfruit as big as the ones pictured here are also to be found hanging from branches and there's no telling when one of these watermelon-sized babies will come down and make a big, messy splash on the ground (and hopefully NOT on your head).

I hope our luck as to the weather holds on a bit longer. Nights have been rather cool, a little cold even, but it's such a welcome change from Rio's sweltering summer and such a great excuse for some good red wine!

PS - There's a great song that includes a jaqueira in its lyrics. It's called "Meu Romance" and it's indeed memorable like the CD's title ("Memorável Samba"), especially when sung by Marcos Sacramento! The words sort of go like this: Under that majestic jaqueira that grows up on the hill, from where one can see the sambistas from Mangueira, it was there, who'd have guessed, that our love was born, the afternoon of that memorable samba, etc. etc. As I've said numerous times, I wouldn't have found love under that tree. I'd have found a jackfruit, or rather a jackfruit would have found me (by falling on my head!).

Obstacle Courses 2

Once again, I seem to have my finger on the city's pulse or, at least, some pretty good ESP for what's going to be on the Sunday edition of O Globo. I was having my coffee and pão canoa na chapa (which translates to a French roll reduced to its crust, buttered, and toasted...scrumptious stuff!) and reading the paper this morning when I came across an article about urban chaos in Rio. And one of the subjects was, you guessed, parking on the sidewalks. It turns out that the iron posts I mentioned below are routinely sawed off or broken (?) at the base and the concrete pillars are somehow demolished (maybe someone comes with a sledgehammer in the middle of the night?).

These two pictures I took yesterday in my neighborhood show perfectly good examples of how far people go in their efforts to keep cars where they belong, that is, on the street or inside parking lots. Apparently (at least according to the newspaper) it's a losing battle, due to a widespread urban pathological condition called "so what if it's illegal."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Obstacle Courses

No, I'm not going to tell you that I'm training for the Olympic Games in China, even though I DO have something in common with athletes, mainly a tendency to hurt myself. Having recovered from the latest injury (to my right hip), I'm proud of the fact that I have resumed my long walks in the Botanical Garden. But that's not where I face a daily obstacle course and have plenty of opportunities to acquire new bruises. No, I'm talking about the sidewalks of Rio. And I'm not referring to the small black and white stones in different patterns that make it impossible for a woman to wear high heels; one of those gets loose and you're bound to slip and fall. And I don't even mean the street peddlers who spread their wares wherever they can. I mean the iron posts, cement blocks, planters, and assorted other impediments to the free flow of pedestrians. Do you want to know why they're there? In typical Rio-style, it's to prevent cars from parking on the sidewalks. Wouldn't it be simpler to slap the owners with a hefty fine and tow their beloved Fiats and Peugeots? Not in this city where everything seems to function according to a perverse logic. And yes, I've managed to walk right into one of these hurdles one evening a few years ago and still have a collection of small scars on my left shin as a souvenir.

So, here's another thing I marvel at when I go to Miami: I can actually walk around town without having to weave my way through a hodgepodge of obstructions to circulation.

I took these pictures one very lovely afternoon in Urca: the first one perfectly illustrates this little story. The other...well, don't we all have moments when we wish this crazy metropolis was this serene and bucolic? Ah! Notice the good, old, plain sidewalk by the bay!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me...

When I'm Sixty-Four? And that happens to be today. I've been thinking about how an amazing life it's been so far (and hoping it'll continue to be so until one day, luck be my lady today, I just drop dead). And in the process of playing this film backwards in my mind, I've come up with quite a few scary, breathtaking, and downright funny memories. For example:

1 - My first earthquake in Central America in the seventies. I remember waking up thinking that I must have the flu and realizing that the tumbling toys and cracking walls meant that something totally unusual (for me) was taking place outside my body. Next thing I know, we were scrambling to get my daughter out of her crib and looking for a safe spot (the banana plantation across the way looked pretty good at that point). That same year, a couple of visiting friends and I drove down into the Irazu volcano crater (no sign in sight to tell us to stop) only to find out that volcanic ash is worse than sand when it comes to getting your car stuck. If it weren't for a pair of very strong German tourists, I'd probably still be there arguing with an angry policeman.

2 - Cut to Iguazu Falls at the border of Brazil and Argentina a few years later. It was mid-November and the weather was very hot and muggy. The clouds were dark and low and it definitely looked like it would pour very soon. We were taking a walk in the woods behind the hotel and got to a spot where the river was quite wide and not moving very fast (at least it SEEMED so). There was a man sitting in a small canoe and he invited us to get in: "I'll take you somewhere to see the falls," he said. I remember asking where exactly and the answer was "Devil's Throat." That didn't sound like a place I'd like to be, but he came back with something like "this is the last trip I'm making, because of the storm coming." So we had to make a split second decision to hop in. I still don't know what possessed us to do it, but a few minutes later we were in the middle of the river and I could see a little bit of mist ahead. We found out then that he was only taking us half way; from that point on another rower took over who knew the currents ahead. If you've seen the movie "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" you'll remember the sweeping, spectacular shots of the falls. If you looked carefully (and you can bet I did!), you saw an outcrop of rock, roughly a yard and a half from end to end, surrounded by zillions of gallon of rushing, falling water. Well, that's where we got off the second canoe and that's where this woman who suffers from vertigo and used to be really, really afraid of water, did the victory sign. I still have the photograph to prove it! This brings us to the last little story and the reason why I wrote "used to be."

3 - Cut once again to the British Virgin Islands in the mid-nineties. What do you do when you reach fifty and would like to celebrate in style? I decided that I needed to go see the wreck of the Rhone and NOT from the surface! So I spent a few weeks with a lovely young female instructor at a pool in Ohio who taught me the front and back crawl strokes; for someone who was terrified to put her face in the water, that was no mean accomplishment already. Now came the hard part: actually breathing underwater, through a regulator. Another woman (a fabulous divemaster at Peter Island) and another pool later and I was actually feeling pretty confident that I could manage that too. If you're thinking that I got this far to tell you that I failed miserably...well, you're wrong! As a matter of fact, I didn't want to come back up and haven't stopped talking since about how exhilarating (but peaceful) it felt to be down there with the fishes. I bought a book about the Rhone and the DVD of "The Deep" with Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset and everytime I feel like revisiting that afternoon I pull them out of my shelf.

And there were countless flights across the U.S. in a Mooney 201 and crisscrossing Ohio on a Harley-Davidson and numerous hurricanes in Miami and starry nights in the Arizona desert and hikes and camping in the backlands of Brazil and walking in the Amazon with a (literal) spider monkey on my back. I'm really enjoying this ride!

That's my hand holding my precious book.