Thursday, August 31, 2006


While giving suggestions to my friend Clare Ferraro who is heading to Brasil - I found this old e-postcard from my trip a few years back. The memories!

Dear Friends,

The excuse was the wedding of my friends Nicholas and Cristina, but the end
result was a 6-days adventure in Brazil. For all you fellow travelers out
there here is my brief report:

First the background: Nicholas Lipovsky is a Polish guy who grew up in
France, lived in Spain and met Cristina in NY. After the wedding he is
moving to London to work. Nico speaks French, English, Spanish, German,
some Latin and is learning Portuguese. Cristina Kuo was born in Taiwan,
grew up in Brazil, met Nico in NY. After the wedding she is moving to Paris
for business school. Cris speaks Portuguese, English, Taiwanese and is
learning French. The reason for this prologue is because the
internationalism of the married couple set the tone for a very international

The Wedding was in Rio de Janeiro. The bride was 1 1/2 hours late. If you
know Cris this was not unexpected. Also if you know Brazilians this was not
unusual. Time has no meaning in this country. The wedding itself reflected
the couple perfectly - beautiful, funny and a little bit crazy. Events were
performed in Portuguese, French and English. Additional translations had to
take place because Cristina's grandmother only speak Taiwanese. The party
afterwards was very French-style for those of you in the know, complete with
lots of dirty songs, skids and costumes (yes, costumes, many Frenchies
showed up in soccer jerseys to remind the Brazilians of the 98 finals; while
others showed up as Elvis and Indians. Why? Not a clue). Lots of dancing
of disco, French rock & roll and samba. By 3 am we had nearly depleted the
bar and the wedding director begin to look like she is about to have a panic
attack (or maybe she was having one right there). We finally left at 4am,
only to retreat to a beach bar on Ipanema and drank fresh coconut juice
until sunrise and got mooned by a passing car of teens.

Rio: It's a beautiful city from a nature's point of view. Curving around
the Baia de Guanabara, it is anchored on one end by Pao de Acucar
(sugarloaf, the protruding phallic rock made famous in millions of
postcards) and the other Corcovado mountain, where the majestic Christo
Redentor sits atop. In between are beautiful beaches with names you already
know: Cococapana, Ipanema, Leblon. The city itself is a strange mix of
favelas (slums) and bad 50s style architecture. In fact often the favelas
are located next to an Armani store or a private golf course. It's a
contrast well known to travelers who have been to any Asian countries. The
carioca (how the locals call themselves) refer to Rio as the Cidade de
Maravilhosa (city of the marvelous) and it certainly is that. It's full of
passion and music and lovely people. In fact one of the best thing I did
was to parapante (paraglide) over Rio from Pedra Bonita (the beautiful
rock). There is a story here that explains the country well. I actually
took off from a mountain, but when I asked my driver why is it called a rock
and not a mountain. He shrugs and said in Portuguese rock sounds more
beautiful than mountain, so rock it is. I thought this explains the carioca
mindset very well. The other was going to a locals-only samba dance hall
and listened & danced for 2 hours to incredible music.

You can learn a lot about a city by how they name their airports. New York
has La Guardia and Kennedy. Washington has Regan. Houston has Bush. Paris
has Charles de Gaulle. In Rome it's the Leonardo da Vinci. In Rio? It's
the Antonio Carlos Jobim Int'l Airport, the pioneer of bossa nova. The
carioca know what's important to them.

Food: First of all, Brazilians eat a lot, I mean, A LOT of food. The
portions are many times bigger than in the US (at 1/3 the price) so I'd
suggest order lots of appetizers so you can try as many different things as
possible. For fancy dining the best experience is Rodizio, where waiters
bring you over 25 different kinds of red meat in giant slabs and carves them
for you at the table, often inches from your face. If you're a carnivore I
can't imagine a more exciting way to eat, except maybe you kill the waiter
and take the knifes yourself. I recommend a restaurant called Porcao, which
literally means ''Porky''. At the other end of the spectrum I usually ate
on street corners in shops called ''botecas''. They're similar to the
corner tapas bar in Seville - you order and eat at the counter standing up,
and the places are usually packed during the day with business men and
construction workers, and in the evening by old men bullshitting about
football and more football. Here you can usually expect to find a array of
roasted meats and fried seafood. Or, if you're lucky and see on the menu
''Moqueca'', which is a seafood stew cooked in a covered claypot that's a
specialty from the Bahia region. It uses palm oil, coconut milk and other
spices so it almost tastes like Thai food. It is SO good on rice with some
farofa and hot sauce on the side. Meals in Brazil are usually washed down
with a cold cerveja (beer), but I also drank a lot of delicious fresh juice
from maracuja (passion fruit), melancia (watermelon) and caju (juice from
cashew nut flowers).

BTW - in case you were wondering, NOBODY in Brazil speaks English. Maybe
you shouldn't be surprised since it is actually another country. But
usually you meet merchants or young people who have studied English. Nope,
not in Brazil. Since I don't speak Spanish and knows maybe 10-15 words in
Portuguese (half of them food names) it was like Thailand all over again,
with me gesturing wildly like Planet of the Apes trying to convey that -
yes, I'm human and I would like that fish grilled with lime, no, I would not
like that pig snout cooked with cabbage and rice (they do eat pig snout,
it's a key ingredient in the feijoada).

Back to the beaches. The ones in Rio are interesting because, well, they're
in Rio, but they're not great beaches (dirty and very rough currents). The
really beautiful ones are in places like Salvador and Buzios. However, the
beaches in Rio are full of beautiful, hot looking men and women, but mostly
men - who usually wear very skimpy Speedos and are playing football,
volleyball, or volleyball-football (which is volleyball but you can't use
your hands, you have to see it to believe it). As for the Brasileras?
There are certainly pretty ones (wearing the famous Brazilian thongs, in
local dialogue knows as ''dental floss''), but it is said that they all have
drunk & crazy machete-wielding boyfriends. The Really Beautiful women are
said to be men. So be careful.

Buzios is a peninsula about 3 hours north of Rio, and it is where the
carioca go for weekends. It has 23 beaches and it's absolutely beautiful,
with long stretches of perfect, smooth sandy beach, violent waves (packed
with surfer boys) and beautiful rock formations. Buzios was ''discovered''
by Brigit Bardot in the 50s. There is a bronze statue of Bardot on Brigit
Bardot orla (promenade), there are Brigit Bardot guest houses and
restaurants, it's quite amusing. About 30 of us spend 4 days there and
enjoyed every type of sports we can indulge ourselves in - swimming,
boating, water-skiing, football, paddle ball, volleyball, kayaking. Meals
were usually had on the beach and it's always freshly grilled fish, in fact
usually at sundown we went to the beach to watch the pescdores haul in their
nets for the days' catch, the highlight being joining them to throw back the
unwanted fish (including the local flying fish, quite cool looking but
inedible) into the ocean. This and wandering around town searching for
other things to do and in generally being misunderstood wherever we went
since nobody spoke Portuguese. We did discover a local bar that became our
nightly hang out. It's run by a crazy German guy (probably a Nazi fugitive,
he looked like one) named Kaiser and the bar's name is Takatakata, which is
suppose to the sound of 2 skeletons having sex. You get the idea. You know
how cool bars in New York have no signs? Well, Takatakata takes that a step
further. The door is actually locked, and Kaiser will only let you in when
he feels like it. Once in the bar the door is locked again and you can only
leave when Kaiser feels like. What happens inside the bar is probably best
not to discussed, you should go to Buzios and find out. Let's just say when
we finally left Buzios Kaiser's parting words to us were ''Last time,
everybody died''.

Saving the best for last. One thing that separates Brazil from other
countries is its music. It is everywhere (like Ireland) and it's all good.
Really. You know how when you go to places like Italy or Spain or France
and you're bombarded with bad pop music. In Brazil even the radio is good
and music is everywhere. In cabs, on street corners, a group of kids with a
boom box, a group of construction works with their truck's stereo on. You
have your usual samba and bossa nova, old favorites like Jobim and Veloso.
The hot new hit right now is Tribalista, which is the new collaboration
between Marisa Monte, Carlinhos Brown and Arnaldo Antunes. But the music I
really fell in love with was a style called Forros, which the music the
waiters, shopkeep girls and cleaning folks listen to. I can't describe so
you'll have to try it yourself. The band I recommend is Falamansa. I can't
find it in the store but Amazon has it as an import. I bought 16 CDs there
because I couldn't help myself. Other new stuff to try includes: Caiana,
Titãs, Paralamas do Sucesso and Fernanda Porto.

Six days is not enough to appreciate this splendid country, my experience
was very superficial but I got just enough of a glimpse that I'm hooked. I
will definitely be back, and perhaps I shall see everyone there.


Blogger La Gringa said...

Just how BIG was that postcard, dude?

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