Thursday, May 28, 2009

Brushing or shaving?

I don’t want to brush my teeth with shaving cream. Really. But without a little extra vigilance I might do just that.

On the one hand I like that shaving cream comes in a tube not unlike toothpaste. But on the other hand I don’t want to be confused some morning and lather up my gums with a numb-inducing cream meant for my facial hair.

See for yourself. Pretty confusing – no?

This is a good reason to be sober in the morning!

Living without voicemail

I want to leave a message.

I want others to leave a message for me.

Alas – it seems most Brazilians are not on the voicemail train. Practically no one leaves a voicemail message and most do not have a voicemail option on their cell phones.

Luiz and I are to the point that we are ready to say in our outgoing phone recording “Please leave us a message – PLEASE!”

The problem seems to be that voicemail is a double-charged reality here. As a caller – you pay extra to leave a message in someone’s voicemail box -- and as the called you pay extra to listen to that message. The phone companies are working it at both ends.

When our friends hear an outgoing voicemail message they hang up.

We are trying to encourage our friends to leave a message on our personal home phone machine (we don’t charge anything!!) In fact, for the most part, we never answer our phone when we are home. We wait to screen the call. But here – nobody leaves a message. They just hang up without a peep.

This is a far cry from the two or three minute voicemail messages I used to leave with friends in San Francisco – almost like talking to them directly. Now we are back to not knowing who called or why – until we track them down.

On the bright side – there is no time spent emptying the phone machine and calling people back.

Do you remember when you did not have a phone machine?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Spectacular beach

Hosting Carlinhos, Dü, Rebecca and Tiago presented the perfect opportunity to go to Itacoatiara beach. While it is another of the local beaches near Luiz’s parents’s house in Itaipu, we never seem to get there. Mostly, I suppose because there are no services on the sand.

It’s a real “bring your own” kind of destination. We prefer the comfort and convenience of food and beverage vendors wandering the sand making our life easier. It is the beach after all.

But Itacoatiara is without doubt one of the most visually spectacular beaches in the Rio area. The surf is pretty rough, so it attracts the surfer crowd. Swimmers are mostly confined to the prainha (little beach) tucked back behind some rocks where a somewhat protected area allows for safer swimming.

The surrounding mountains (rocks? hills?) are breathtaking. In years past we have hiked to the top of the northern most outcropping to relish incredible views of the immediate area and Copacabana in the distance.

I repeatedly mention this beach to travelers coming to Rio (on the Lonely Planet discussion board), but mostly they pass on bussing it northward over the bay to a destination in Niterói. They seem to frown on beaches beyond the most famous in Rio. Their loss. Itacoatiara has a real ‘getaway’ feel, fantastically clean water (Rio beaches can be seriously polluted) and is perfect for photos to make the friends back home wish they had come along.

We had a great time, got some sun, and enjoyed a little challenging surf.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Our birthday celebration

Another year, another great party.

This past Saturday Luiz turned 57 and on Sunday I turned 49. Friends joined us, one and all, to celebrate. Carlinhos and Dü came down from Belo Horizontes with Carlos’ younger cousin and her boyfriend. Ricardo is back from Cabo Frio, so he was there. Serginho, an old friend of Luiz from his Rio Ballet Company days, made a surprise visit. As well as all the usual suspects!

We made it easy on ourselves this time around. We covered the drinks and asked everyone to bring a favorite dish to share. This is (mostly deridingly) referred to as a “festa americana”. But among our crowd everyone is more than happy to help make it all happen.

Once again Carlos and Victor pulled out guitars and the stereo was quickly vetoed.

At midnight, bridging Luiz's birthday and mine, we sang happy birthdy, cut the cake and released those who were getting a bit tired and wanted to go home and sleep.

The most popular item of the evening may have been my Jello shots. Earlier in the day I combined a liter of boiling water, a liter of icy vodka and four boxes of strawberry Jello. Then I poured the concoction into 50 ml cups and chilled for several hours. At about 2:00 a.m. we pulled out the trays of crowd pleasing squiggly shooters and – kabam!

Folks had not seen those before.

Just short of 5:00 a.m. we locked the portão, shut down the stereo and went to bed. Nice night.

Friday, May 8, 2009

You know you are in Brazil when

You know when you are in Brazil when you have to spend three hours to cash two paychecks.

Fine with me. I have the time and the iPod. But it is a curious way of doing business for the masses. It seems things could be smoothed out a bit. I’m just saying…

My version of this reality is this: I get paid for my month’s work at each school on the fifth workday of the following month. To then cash those checks I have to wait in line at the branch of the bank where each check originates. The funny (strange, not ha ha) thing is that both checks are from the same bank. But I am required to go to the branch on Gavião Peixoto Street to cash one check and then walk 10 blocks to the Miguel de Frias Street branch to cash the other.

Believe me – I have pointed out to tellers repeatedly that they are the SAME BANK presumably operating on the SAME computer network. Why must I go to different physical locations?!

Breathe. When in Brazil…

Now – this problem will be solved when I am added to our bank account and I can use the ATM machine. I will then just deposit the check from any ATM. But our bank branch is requiring that I produce a federal ID before I can be added to the account (key word in that sentence is “branch”). My physical federal ID is still in the pipeline. It should be here in the coming month or so.

In the mean time I spend the better part of a morning or afternoon processing my paychecks.

The flip side – and another “You know you are in Brazil when…” example is that while waiting in those bank lines I will become instant friends with the people in front and behind me, talking about everything from how long everything takes to how beautiful their new grandchildren are. I like that part.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Luiz health update

Luiz went to the cancer center today. We are always anxious about what might be reported.

His bloodwork shows absolutely steady numbers. In fact, his platelet count is dropping. This is good news. I love to see the line on that graph falling!

A full-on review shows that things continue to be present and a problem, but in the short run he is holding steady.

And the best evidence of this is that the docs have asked him to return in 3 months -- not the 2-month interval he has been practicing. If they are happy to slow their observation -- we are happy Luiz needs less frequent observation.

The world of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is stressful on a daily basis -- but occasionally we get some good news.

Luiz is staying out of trouble.