The Long and Winding Road Home…

Today began the long and winding journey home. It’s been a great three weeks but it’s time…

We had a few errands to run around Sao Paulo before heading to the airport at around 7pm. One of the things Lu & I had to do was to pick up jeans that we had bought during our first week here but needed to be hemmed. This was the store (Forum) where we had bought them….

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Home to pack – and it was quite amazing that Lu managed to stuff all her purchases into the shipping container she calls a suitcase – especially considering it was virtually full when she left Canada. This was definitely Houdini-like skill! Marilda was kind enough to start us on the first leg of our journey to the airport by dropping us off at Lu’s Mom’s place. There we were greeted by Marcello Jr., Lu’s Mom…and, of course, Tommy the Chihuahua (no photos of this emotional reunion). After a great pasta dinner, we were whisked off to the airport. Warming up for getting back to work, I was quite impressed by this monument to bingo….

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You had to know that all those Houdini-like packing skills would be derailed somehow. Two words – Air Canada. I have to admit that the airline does care about its workers – and having to haul Lu’s container onto the plane would, no doubt, have created all sorts of extra work for Brazilian chiropractors. 32 kilograms was the max allowed for one suitcase – and Lu’s behemoth came in at a portly 37! So…two options…pay over US$200 in overweight fees (presumably to go towards the chiropractic bills) or buy another suitcase and split the load….so the only logical course was followed….to the accompaniment of many chuckles from her travelling companions and rapt fascination by the surrounding crowd….

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Let me say here that I’m not quite sure who should get the credit for the fabulous thing that happened next – I suspect it’s Lu’s Mom but, then again, who knows what role the Chihuahua played…. Vera & Tommy had a chat with their regular Air Canada check-in woman and lo and behold we were greeted at the gate by the same woman holding out three business class boarding passes. Yahoo, Yahoo….and yes, one more Yahoo! Just to make sure that the full luxurious experience was felt, Mel & I went for a quick massage from the packs of masseuses who were waving to us from behind their massage chairs. It did wonders for my back…my hair, on the other hand, according to my travel mates, seemed to have developed a life of its own…. Here we are pretending to be royalty….

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Mel’s friend, Charles, very kindly picked us up after our 10 1/2 hours in the air and dropped us off at our various destinations. I had decided that the perfect way to decompress was to shack up at the Sutton Place hotel and take advantage of all their facilities – the first of which was the bed and a 3 hour nap! Toronto was only about 35 degrees colder than Rio so the only way to compensate for this minor irritation was to go out on the town. Charles cooked up a storm at his place and treated us to some amazing wine. Mel, Charles, Mel’s friend Karina & I then headed out to a club where, chronologically, Charles lasted until midnight, me until 2:30, and the girls until something like 5am. No more jokes about Mel falling asleep by 11! I had a very enjoyable lunch with Jorina the next day and then off we went to the airport (somewhat hung over, I might add) courtesy of Charles….

Generally speaking, one can go from Toronto to Vancouver in January and be pretty confident of an improvement in the weather. WRONG!!!! We arrived to -10 degrees and snow everywhere!Very pretty…but brrrrrrrr……

So, here we are at home once again. I have to say that my abiding impression of Brazil is the immense hospitality of everyone we met. We were treated as one of them by all of Lu’s family and I can’t imagine how one could improve on that kind of treatment. I can only hope that we get to return the favour at some point. A huge thanks to Lu for inviting Mel & me along and to everyone we met in Brazil for making us constantly feel that our stay was too short.

If this trip was any indication of what 2005 will be like….I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the year!

I Think This Blog Has Been Dog-Jacked!

I’m not quite sure how it’s possible for a small animal, barely the size of a large mouse, formerly humble and merely happy to be alive…but now master of his domain….in spite of his missing teeth and bad breath…can somehow show up in the majority of photographs taken on this trip. Yes…Tommy the Chihuahua is the canine of whom I speak and…well…let’s just get this over with….

Here he is travelling First Class with Mel en route from Rio to Sao Paulo….

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apparently a little chilled by the air-conditioning…

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….and even popping up between the coconut-drinking subjects at a roadside stop….

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Chihuahua’s aside (which, I admit is getting increasingly difficult to do), part of the countryside between Sao Paulo & Rio has been planted with vast plantations of Eucalyptus trees. I couldn’t imagine that kind of volume would be necessary for all the World’s need for the Eucalyptus version of “essential oils” and…sure enough, it turns out that Eucalyptus trees are used for pulp in this part of the world. You should see the numbers of trees….they stretch out to the horizon from the road – it’s quite amazing. Another funny thing spotted on the road between Itaipava and Rio was a pick-up truck with slightly raised sides cruising down the road – with a very contented looking dairy-cow gazing serenely around at the scenery from the box!

We rolled into Sao Paulo and we dropped off by Lu’s Mom – who had to drive significantly out of her way to get us there. Another big Thanks! to her… We’d promised to take Lu’s Dad & Marilda out to dinner so we met up with them at one of Sao Paulo’s best restaurants, Rubaiyat. We had a lot of wine and a lot of laughs and some really good food…and rolled home and into bed….it was a long day!

One Last Attempt At the Beach…

It was a bit of a sad morning when we had to pry ourselves away from out little haven in Itaipava….but our flight home was creeping ever closer. So, one final fabulous breakfast….

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…and we were out the door back to Rio. We got a little stuck in traffic jams, slightly lost but, in the end, made it in one piece. The intent was to meet up with Lu’s Mom and head directly back to Sao Paulo – but, since Sao Paulo was being deluged by large amounts of water from the sky, we made the decision to stay one more night in Rio. Lu, I think, is genetically programmed to shop…but I’ve been quite amazed at Mel’s stamina in that direction. With that preface, it’s safe to say they went shopping…. Mel did head over to the beach on her own in search of the elusive Henna Man and managed to come back with various objects painted on her left leg and lower back….

We had decided to take Lu’s Mom out to dinner at a very cool restaurant called “Bazar” (note that’s the correct Brazilian spelling)….

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….and the food was stellar. This was my serving of “Namorado”, which is a Brazilian white fish, on a bed of risotto..mmm…….

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After the usual struggle to make sure we got to pay (we finally won!!!), we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening…

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One final note from dinner…my shirt is really not quite so fluorescent as it might appear!

The Lunatic Has Escaped The Asylum…

How do I put this gently? The maid thinks I’m a lunatic!

I realize that I have a few friends who may, occasionally, think that I’m slightly bananas but Maria Jose (affectionately known as “Zé Zé”) really is very concerned that I get some help – preferably immediately! How did I end up in this sorry state within the course of only a few hours? Here’s the “nut”shell version….

1. A couple of hours after arriving, I was innocently answering someone’s question while sipping a very pleasant Vogika Tonika outside the poolhouse. Of course, as I am more than hopeless at anything more complicated than saying “Avocado” in Portuguese, I thought it best to answer in English.

2. Zé Zé has never heard a language other than Portuguese in her life! So…she inquired of Rosanna as to why I was making funny sounds emanating from the back of my throat….and presuming that anyone else would have a clue as to what I meant.

3. Rosanna, holding up her end as one-half of a charming & witty couple, replied that my mother had dropped me on my head when I was a baby and that, as a result, I had developed some tongue deformity which made me unable to speak in any comprehensible fashion. This, combined, with the psychosis resulting from the brain damage meant that I needed to be dealt with very carefully.

4. Zé Zé, by now very concerned that I was allowed to walk around in this condition, asked why my mother hadn’t taken me to the doctor (apparently she thought I was the ripe old age of 19…). The crowd, by now all enjoying this little theatrical piece, chipped in that I was the last of 12 children and that if I had been allowed to talk like all the rest, the extra noise would have been just too much…so no one ever bothered fixing my problem. Zé Zé opined that she did not have a very high opinion of my mother (sorry Mum!).

5. The next day as we were sweltering around the pool, Marco asked if I’d like a Caipiroska (vodka with crushed fruit and a little sugar)…the answer to which was a resounding “yes”! After Zé Zé had brought me the drink, Marco informed her that she should keep a close eye on me because of my mental problems. Needless to say that nervous glances were shot in my direction….and a scolding to Marco for allowing me to have that drink in the first place. After we got back from a tour into Petropolis, Rosanna mentioned that, indeed, the Caipiroska had produced the dreaded effect and that I had run around Petropolis topless and waving my shirt around, and that Rosanna had to go and capture me. Apparently, rumour was that my deeds were to be in the next day’s newspapers….

6. By that evening (yesterday) Zé Zé was convinced that the only way to “fix” me was for Marco to keep me on the property – preferably in the little shed at the back! She was quite appalled when told that my mother kept 30 cats and yet could be so callous in my direction. In Zé Zé’s opinion, the cats should be toast….with the hopeful result that I would get the required attention to fix my problem. She was quite miffed at Marco for pouring me a fantastic glass of wine (a 10 year-old Italian)….and kept trying to get it away from me by bribing me with two wrapped pieces of chocolate. I’m afraid I cemented her diagnosis of me when I took one of them and pretended to dip it into the glass of wine….

7. After that, even when Rosanna tried to tell her the truth….ie. that I spoke some language called English and that I had not been dropped on my head as a baby….it was met with extreme skepticism. All this concern on her part, however, I think led to a special bond between us. So…still somewhat unconvinced of my sanity, we were photographed this morning just before our departure back to Rio: mental patient and therapist….

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Relaxation, Relaxation and…Yet More Relaxation…

Breakfasts at Chez Marco are rather symbolic of the whole experience at the “Itaipava Palace”! Lot’s of food, great company and happy faces…. Here are Zé Zé the maid, me, Rosanna, Daniela, Lu & Paulo…..

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Once we’ve all stuffed ourselves, the usual routine is to pry ourselves into our bathing suits and head for sunshine and the pool. Even though it’s not nearly as hot or humid as Rio, the sun is probably even stronger due to the altitude and lack of pollution (the stars at night are amazing and completely different from those in the Northern Hemsiphere!). As you can imagine, Tommy the Chihuahua requires his handlers to take special measures to ensure he doesn’t get sun-stroke!

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The rest of us are less concerned with sunstroke and spend vast amounts of time soaking up the rays. This looks like some sort of Dali painting…minus the clocks…

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Marco and Lu hanging around in the pool…..

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…and finally, I’ve been pressured into a Brazilian-bathing suit shot…sheesh…with only a Chihuahua for protection….

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Right…enough of that….off we went for a tour of Petropolis and a great lunch. There are some very cool old colonial buildings – City Hall for example:

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….and the local cathedral…

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We returned home after a couple of hours…stuffed and ready for a nap. BTW…everything works on Toronto-time here…so lunch was at 4pm (1pm in Toronto)….and the afternoon nap started around 7pm! A very nice light dinner consisting of some terrific Italian red, followed by a spinach-like soup (from a local spinach-like leafy green) and quiche & salad….hit the spot. Finished off with some Brazilian bread pudding, it was the perfect ending to another perfect day!

Verdant Hills, Sunshine and a Country Paradise…

The Hippie Market has been around in Rio since the ’60’s and is still flourishing! We went there in hope of finding all sorts of bargains and we did! Man…it was hot (temperature & products). I managed to find a very funky incense burner (where the smoke comes out of a head in the middle of the thing) and an even funkier incense burner saleswoman named Cynthia. They were on sale for 15 Reais (about Cdn $6) but, given that Cynthia serenaded me with a rendition of “Happy Days are Here Again”, I insisted on paying her the pre-sale price of 20 Reais. I then found a couple of carved wooden keychains for 3 Reais each and my good karma resulted in Cynthia insisting on me paying for only one. Loads of fun….

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We all bought lots of stuff, including Lu finding prints of the characteristic mosaic patterns you find on the sidewalks in Ipanema & Copacabana. Unfortunately, only the Copacabana version was on an individual print with the Ipanema one being part of a larger piece. The artist was very sympathetic to her plight, however, and cut out the Ipanema section from the bigger work. How’s that for customer service??? Here’s Lu with the artist who sold her the print (to her left) along with two women artists who also display in the market.

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Among other things, Mel bought an amazing map of the ancient world on a leather background. We had planned on heading back to the apartment and heading up to Itaipava where Lu’s Uncle Marco has a house in the country. First, however, we needed to get some cash so Lu stopped at the HSBC – where only one of the 5 bank machines appeared to be working and, therefore, had a long lineup. Thinking that the line hadn’t realized that you had to choose between the “Plus” system or the “Cirrus” system in the machine (a mistake that previously almost prevented Lu from getting cash in the first place), she thought she’d try her card in one of the others. BAD MISTAKE!!! Goodbye card….. An hour on the service line later, and she’d got their call centre to agree that she could pick up the card when we got back from Itapaiva a few days later…. Frustrations, frustrations….here are the guilty parties….

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We finally hit the road a bit later and Lu managed to manoeuver out of Rio….with only a little bit off help from the GPS that Marco left us to play with….and which kept announcing we were “Off Course” (that may have had something to do with my inability to get it to work properly). It is only about an hour’s drive from Rio but the transformation of the countryside is amazing. You go from coastal heat and humidity to rising straight up the side of the mountains into incredibly lush valleys. The air is about 10 degrees cooler and the humidity drops right off. It’s an amazingly pretty place. Itaipava is a suburb of Petropolis – the place where the last Portuguese Emperor (Dom Pedro II) loved to retreat from the heat of Rio. As a result there are all sorts of great colonial buildings and (now that it’s so quick to get to from Rio) has become a weekend retreat for Cariocas looking to get away to the country.

Marco’s place is absolutely gorgeous. The main house is (I presume) an old colonial bungalow which he has almost finished renovating. There is also a pool house with a brick oven, barbecue, big screen tv, couches, bar, etc…..which is a fabulous place to hang out in the evenings. There’s also a sauna at the back of the property. Here’s a view looking up the hill from the main house…

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Marco, his friend Geraldo & Mel having an afternoon drink in the pool house….

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The place looks really magical after dark….

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…..and a great spot to enjoy a glass of good wine (& Marco being an incredible host….has plenty of those!)

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You may think this is a brilliantly trendy fruit bowl…and it does seem to work very well. However, Marco & Rosanna had completely forgotten that when I’d given it to them for XMas, I’d said it was meant to be water bowl for their family of Lhasa Apsos! There were a lot of good laughs over that one….and I think the Lhasas are still waiting….

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I have no idea of the name of the tree growing beside the main house – but it has amazing flowers…..

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As part of finishing up the house, Marco scours the region for antiques he can bring in as is – or modify to suit. Here he’s looking like some crazy Victorian inventor about to yell “Eureka” as the object of his work springs to success…. These were a couple of very cool lamps…

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Marco treated the whole gang to a great & fancy pizza place for dinner. It’s a good thing he loves the fact that the house is always full of guests…because I think there must have been 8 or 9 of us for dinner….and that doesn’t include Tommy the Chihuahua who was smuggled into the restaurant and remained under a shawl on Lu’s Mom’s lap all through dinner….

A New Year Begins…With Brunch, Of Course…

A 3am start to sleep requires the appropriately late wake up time. So, it was with no rush that we re-connected with January 1st and strolled over to have brunch a mere couple of blocks away at a place called “Alessandro & Frederico”.

Apparently, a vast number of others had exactly the same idea so we waited around outside for about 45 minutes. They brought out juice for us while we were waiting so it wasn’t so bad. Oh yeah….one small sidebar: they have this amazing juice combination here: pineapple whipped up with fresh mint leaves. It is quite amazing and I am going to see if Jugo Juice on Robson can create even a half-hearted facsimile. Lu doesn’t agree this juice is quite up to my glowing descriptions – but, then again, she has an unjustifiably hostile view of mint in any form!

Brunch itself was a bit of a kerfuffle. First they ran out of papaya & pineapple so they had to wait for another delivery. Other breakfast items then arrived in a very willy nilly fashion – resulting in Portuguese reprimands from Lu & Enio. The cofffee, for example, must have arrived about 2/3 of the way through…about 40 minutes after we sat down. Having said all that, the food was good….and hey….we’re just happy to be here! A very leisurely stroll back to the apartment followed through the leafy streets of Ipanema…. You do have to watch your step occcasionally….as no one picks up after their dogs!

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It didn’t take us long to pack up and head for the beach….as what else do you do in Rio when everything is closed??? This time I decided that thieves and sand be damned….the camera came along for the ride tucked securely in its sand-proof case and hiding cheek-by-jowel beside the sunscreen inside a grocery bag. I decided to buck the “coolness” factor and bought a “Canga” – really a sarong but very useful for using as a beach blanket. A couple of large brollys, a beach chair for me, a good book….and the requisite pair of sunglasses and one is all equipped for the Ipanema sand. Lu had a henna artist do a Japanese character on her shoulder a couple of days ago so Mel decided she’d like something similar….but Henna artists with any semblance of talent were nowhere to be seen. So…just enjoying the scenery all around and whiling away the afternoon was the result – not so bad, really….

Check out the coconuts! Reminds me of growing up in India – they do the same thing: chop off the top of the coconut, give you a straw to drink the juice, then chop up the flesh for you to eat….yumm!

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Happy beach goers….Calgary comes to Rio….

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Fortunately for all concerned….I’m the one with the camera….so no pics of that speedo-like thing on me….

We headed home all ready for a shower and cooling off – only to find that all of Ipanema had lost power. Even though it was still bright – one minor problem – the only way into Marco’s apartment was through the front door which was only accessible by the elevator. Uh oh…. So, we thought we’d try and find the service entrance and hope that the keys would work there. This strategy required going into the garage and entering a stairway so pitch black (no emergency lights) that you could not see your hand in front of your face at 3 inches! Lu followed by Mel followed by me inched our way up the stairs, groping our way along the walls and hoping there were no canyons in our future. Luckily, Marco lives on the first floor – and at that point that was a floor too far! Having made it to the door, we found (after multiple tries) that none of our keys fit the service entrance lock….aargh. So, back down we went sliding our feet gingerly to the edge of each step before leaping down to the next one…. We then headed over to Marco’s other apartment – where Daniela & Paulo were staying and clambered up their staircase (fortunately, mostly, lit by emergency lights…as this one was on the 5th floor). We couldn’t have been there for more than 5 minutes when the lights came back on – it’s a good thing we are all about the adventure….

We all met up for dinner at a really cool bistro around the corner, the name of which I can’t remember, but it made me happy nonetheless….

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