Wake Me Up in 20 Years

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I forgot I had a weblog.  Do they still even call it that anymore? I feel like I have just awakened from a coma, not that I would know how that feels, and everything is somehow different.  How, I’m not sure. I haven’t changed that much, but the country seems to have grown just a little more fearful and distrustful, which has lead to big Repub gains and control of both houses – wait is the senate a house or just a chamber?  Can a house be a chamber?  Have you seen the latest red state map showing all the victories?  What a bloodbath!  Must give the Dems the blues.  But as red as the map is, I saw another map that looks as green as the lushest rainforest (which unfortunately no longer exists) showing states that have legalized or are considering the legalization of pot.  It may actually be true that the country has gone to pot or hell in a hand basket, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, I’ve been living slightly off the grid and quite out of touch, somewhat unplugged so to speak. I’ve been reading more and watching less TV now that we’ve stripped down to basic cable, which ironically means that we don’t get any cable channels.  Used to be if you had cable you got everything there was, which wasn’t much, but you got it with one push of the button on that brown cable box. Now basic cable, at least in our monopolistic market, gives you the nothing but the big networks, PBS and some local stuff that airs city council meetings and reruns of Lassie. We pay for ABC, CBS and NBC that I believe would have been free before the time of cable and should be today with all the ads they run.  TV really used to be plug and play back in the day.

But I digress.  Actually, I don’t digress because I don’t really have a point to make in any of this.  I’m just trying to shake out, or is it shake off, the coma cobwebs.  It’s a new morning and I’m having a hard time getting out of bed. The Repubs will try their hand at governing which could be disastrous if they continue to deny science and with a wink, frack us all to kingdom come. Maybe I’ll just go back into my toasty coma. Wake me up in 20 years.

The House of Pablo Neruda at Isla Negra

Isla Negra

Isla Negra

It’s not an island exactly, but rather a seaside town, and a rather small and famous one at that, for it was where the poet and ambassador Pablo Neruda lived. The Nobel Prize winning poet’s home is now a museum and attracts visitors from all over the world. So popular are the tours of the inside of the house and the grounds that we had to wait an hour and a half. Rather than wait, we ate at a nearby cafe. I had a Churrasco Italiano with cafe con leche. It was essentially a roast beef sandwich dressed with avocado, mayonnaise and tomato and quite good though the meat had chewy veins of gristle. Coffee in Chile is generally not brewed and served instant. At this cafe, the waitress, who may also have made the food, brought out a glass jar of Nescafe, a coffee mug and a small spoon. About ten minutes later, she brought out a pewter pitcher of boiling milk that she poured into the mug over the spoonful and a half of instant coffee that I had put into my coffee mug. For instant coffee, it was surprisingly good, though I still prefer a Dunkin Donut medium with milk. My wife ordered the same sandwich and a bottle of Pap which is a very sweet “pineapple” flavored soda that has a golden peach chemical glow like Pine Sol.

Pablo Neruda's House

Pablo Neruda’s House

The toured commenced at 4:30. The tour guide gave us all telephone devices that had the tour recorded in at least three languages, Spanish, Portuguese and English. Each exhibit or room in the house corresponded to a number that we pressed on the recorder that gave all the details.  Below are my observations and the bits of information I remembered from the automated tour:

Neruda bought the house in the 30′s from a friend and over the years had additions built.  From the outside, it is a long and modest stone structure that looks a bit like a castle.  On the inside, most of the rooms are made of beautifully finished wood, logs and stones with rustic furniture that give one a feeling of being in a cabin. And most of the rooms have windows with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean.

Inside the rooms, Neruda had countless objects carefully displayed, some he acquired as a collector, but many, perhaps even most, were gifts from friends over the years including figurines, masks, wooden carvings, colored glass bottles, jugs, ships in a bottle, and seashells among other things.

He entertained quite frequently and was said to give press interviews inside the house in a room with a glass table built from a wagon wheel and giant stone mural that an artist friend built for him.  It was in this room that he received former President Salvador Allende and other friends and dignitaries. He was fond of and influenced by other writers and had framed photographs of some of them including Whitman, Doestoevsky, and Poe.

Neruda was said to have been attracted to Isla Negra because aspects of it reminded him of his childhood in the south of Chile and of his visits to the sea which play a prominent role in his poetry. Other inspirations for his poems include food and his wives (three in all) to whom he was quite devoted, particularly Matilde, his last wife with whom he is buried on the grounds.

grave

 

The Earth Ends Here

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If you really want to go down south for a beach vacation, try the seacoast towns of Chile between Mirasol and El Quisco including Isla Negra, where Pablo Neruda once lived, that form a stretch of the Pacific Coast about as far south as it gets. Far out kind of far south too. So far out that I am convinced the earth ends here. I don’t mean the end of the earth in a derogatory way necessarily, although there are aspects of the landscape and climate that are harsh such that the locals indubitably lead a hardscrabble life. And I don’t mean end of the earth literally as if our fair planet were flat and something like only 200 years old. I am not a science denier but of course don’t deny that there are many who do. And as proper as these beaches are in their own right, they are somewhat otherworldly. One beach at Punta Altraca has capital ocean waves with sharp rocks and a beach, but one without sand, or so it seemed – rocky, but finely ground rocks, not quite sand, granulated – the texture of instant Nescafe.
DSC_0920We saw the sunset on Canelillo Beach which sits below a steep hill near Algarobbo where we are staying. The roaring ocean waves slap razor sharp black rocks.  The impressive breakers create violent splashes.  Hardscrabble cactus patches grow on the side of the hill going down to the beach. Groves of barbed wire protected cactus flourish and rot in the same lot. Precious pine trees and other species stripped of bark stand tall. This is where the earth ends.

The End of the Earth

The End of the Earth

Dank Montevideo and Pink Freud

Back in Montevideo

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Cool Bleak Dank Dark.

Smoking smokers and the strangely pleasant smell of diesel fumes.

Snarling dogs growling the night away.

Sassy birds and prancing donkies;

No need for alarm or alarms except whatever you doo watch out for dog poo.

Cars.

Small ones. Mostly

Of European persuasion – Peugeot, Renault, Citroen, VW and Fiat -

All shapes and sizes from micro cars and tiny toy pickups to vans and trucks.

An occasional Chevy Spark and some strange unknown models to the U.S. and perhaps unwanted too. And over there – on the other side of 1961 Fiat 500 sits the confident and nimble Nissan March.

Manual transmission and automatic internet for the people.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500

 
Onward to Barra 7 for some veggies as Jimi plays Monterey on the big screen. Pink Freud on the wall staring us down, frowning upon the Patricia beer never to be ordered to sound like Pilsen. For Particia is not Pilsen nor is it soap in a bottle of Coke. A cistern and a stern warning. Student patrons with a gift of art hanging freely as the fruit juices blend and the pizzas mend the soul.

The Walls of Barra 7

The Walls of Barra 7

Last and Final stop:  La Inglessa.

Mobile Vendors on Rio Beaches

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach

The beaches of Rio are some of the nicest you’ll see anywhere. The hills that surround the beaches give the place an exotic look and when there’s nobody around, I felt like I was on another planet, Mars maybe or Pluto perhaps. As beautiful as the beaches are and some of the people who frequent them, there is something about the experience that is not so pleasant.  And it wasn’t the usual suspects – powerful and ferocious waves that attack and swallow innocent waders or the cigarettes butts littered about the sand that many use like an ashtray.  And for the record, Brazilians don’t smoke nearly as much as the tourists do. No. What annoyed me were the vendors. Yes, mobile vendors on the beach selling everything imaginable: single cigarettes, beer, caipirinhas, water, soda, juice, sandwiches, pao de queijo, shrimp, kibe, ice-cream, candy, coconut, watermelon, caps, soccer jerseys, flags, jewelry, dresses, bikinis, beach towels (cangas), beach chairs (for rent), purses, whistles, trinkets, toys, flags, kites, sunscreen, tanning oil, sunglasses, license plates, and arts and crafts. Every two minutes or so, a vendor would approach and not leave until I said no or shook my head firmly. The first few days, I would politely say “no, abrigado”, or smile and shake my head respectfully. But on the third day, all the activity started to bother me as if the vendors express purpose was to disturb my peace. One of the problems I suspect was that I looked foreign enough to have excess money to spend and thus became a favorite target. What they didn’t know is that I had no intention of buying anything. I brought my own beer, towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and food. I didn’t need or want a mini-statue of Christ Redentor. I don’t like shrimp and am not fond of gritty watermelon. Now for my last few days on the beach, I did rent a chair and it was a pretty good deal – about $2.50 for the whole day. And I did buy a caipirinha too (a limeade-like drink made with a Brazilian sugarcane based liquor) which cost about the same, and that’s it. But a thought occurred to me and I think it would have made for a good documentary: what if I bought one of everything that came my way? I think it would be fun haggling a little with the vendors and having a conversation. They certainly appear friendly enough and obviously hard-working, hauling their wares on their backs and shoulders plowing through the sand with bare feet going up and down the beach all day. It was clearly not easy labor and I suspect that most work for some sort of syndicate and have a quota to meet each day. I would like to hear their stories to understand the Brazilian economy and culture a little better. I had heard that many of the vendors are among the poorest of the population and live up on the hills behind the beaches in the favelas. It would be an interesting project for a sociologist, or a linguist, but given that I was on vacation and not doing research, such an endeavor was not for me. I just wanted to be left alone to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the world’s most beloved and magnificent beach areas.

If you don’t want to be bothered by the vendors, it’s best to stretch out on your towel, canga or chair and close your eyes as if asleep.  Or you could simply ignore them by looking down when they approach, but they will stop if they think you can see them.  The other strategy is to go down to the water and swim, wade or walk the beach.  Vendors don’t vend near the wet sand.

The vendors are a part of the Rio fabric and can’t be avoided as most of the famous beach areas – Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon – are public.  If you want a vacation with a beach all to yourself, Rio is not your place.  And anyway, if all you want is a beach vacation, you’d be better off in Florida.

 

The High Down on Rio

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Ipanema Beach

When one thinks of Rio, the first thing that might come to mind is the iconic and welcoming art deco statue of Christ the Redeemer a top Corcovado mountain. Or maybe you think of beautiful stretches of exotic beaches on the open Atlantic.  If you had asked me what I knew of Rio before I came, I would have said beaches, the Christ statue and music.  Now that I am here I realize that Rio has much more to offer and in my view, and view is key here, it can’t be fully appreciated until you visit.  But….

 

Samba Night at Club Bip Bip

Samba night at Club Bip Bip

Brazilian music is not just any music.  It is THE music in my book.  Bossa nova, samba, chorinho and all those great musicians from Luiz Gonzaga, Chico Buarque and Jobim to Elise Regina,Gail Costa, and Gilberto Gil and the list could go on.  Even turning on the radio and listening to Brazilian pop music is a pleasure.  It sounds uniquely Brasilian and catchy and NOTHING like that  sanitized auto-tuned corporate crap you hear on most commercial stations in the States. And then there is live music.  If I did nothing here but go to the beach in the day and catch live music at night, I’d be happy. We have already checked out Samba night at a tiny storefront club called Bip Bip that opens up to a sidewalk on a obscure street in Copacabana where the locals sit around a table (Roda de Samba) and jam as patrons take beers from the refrigerator inside the club, pay the owner who is seated at a small table outside the club, and then gather peacefully on the sidewalk, to watch/listen, dance (a little) in place and sing along if the words are known, as they are to all the Brazilians in the crowd.  The scene is all protocol driven. The owner does not like the musicians to be disrespected in any way.  At the gathering on the night I attended in which German tourists and younger hip-type Brazilians represented the majority, the owner (Fernandinho) stopped the music and lectured us in a hoarse, barely audible voice in Portuguese explaining that the club existed solely to preserve and maintain Brasil’s rich musical culture and that it was not a place to socialize or party- which meant no talking, laughing or clapping after the music either, but we were allowed to snap our fingers to show appreciation.  It wasn’t clear whether we were allowed to take photos, but I did and even took a little video too as did my daughter.

Fernandinho gave us a suspicious look and I was afraid he was going to stop the musicians and call us out and say “no music for you” and banish us from the club, so we bought some beers to appease him.  Wednesday is bossa nova night and we plan to go back.

But the point I am trying to make is that Rio is MORE than music, beaches and a stylish Christ.  Rio is a place of hills, rocks and mountains that give it that characteristic exotic and ancient look as if it were located on Pluto or someplace. Now the terms hills (morros), mountains and rocks are used interchangeably in descriptions of Rio de Janeiro. Around the beach areas, the smaller ones are called morros in Portuguese, as far as I can tell.  The larger, more touristy rocks would qualify as mountains in my book,  although geologist may beg to differ.  Sometimes the rocks, hills, mounds, morros or whatever they are are just referred to by their names, for example – Corcovado (where Christ welcomes), and Sugarloaf (Pao de Azucar) the one that has a face and a bunch of cable cars running to the top.

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Sugarloaf

You see, to REALLY see Rio, you have to get high (and quite a number of people are already that judging by the pungent odor on nearly ever street corner) and most of the larger “mountains” offer a supreme view.  Unfortunately, my acrophobia prevents me from summiting them all, but I did climb to the top of Morro de Leme (a smaller but formidable hill) and managed to make it up the third highest rock (from the sun) called Pedra Bonita inside Tijuca National Park.  I hiked the trail to the summit with my oldest daughter.  The hike is just that – a hike -  and unlike what the tourist guides say, it is not an easy, leisurely stroll.

The Trail

The Trail (not as easy as it looks, trust me)

If you look it up on Trip Adviser, folks say the thing is an easy trail for the family.  But don’t believe what you read.  The reviewers must be fitness freaks and triathletes, who think all people run 5ks before breakfast everyday.  I do not.  I don’t run at all and on most days of my somewhat sedentary life, I’ll manage 5,000 steps if I’m lucky.  I am by no means a slouch and am reasonably fit and can on a good day walk 10 miles, as I have done repeatedly on this trip.  Believe me, this trail is not for beginners.  It was rocky, steep, and slippery, with nothing to hold onto except some sketch vines, bamboo poles and a few thick low hanging tree branches that lovers had initialized.  The red clay surface was wet and muddy in spots and treacherous roots presented extreme obstacles to footing, something I lost several times.  And if the grueling trail alone wasn’t troublesome enough, and it was, there were mosquitoes darting about that bit with bloody abandon and perhaps injected us with a little dengue fever.  I may be exaggerating with the dengue fever, but who knows and it does sound dramatic.  Fortunately, I was not eaten alive thanks to my B vitamin regimen – mosquitoes don’t much like B6 and find B12 repulsive, I’m told anyway.  I suffered only 4 minor bites, but my wife, daughter and our Brasilian friend and host were mercilessly attacked by the parasitic marauders.  I did miraculously make it to the top but not without a great deal of effort.  To keep me going, I fantasized that I was about to be one of the few to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. When we did finally summit, I got so dizzy and paralyzed by fear that I had to crawl around as dozens of people around us were already taking in the view, frolicking about, taking selfies left and right, some even getting right to the edge and pretending to jump or fall off the mountain. My daughter recorded my pitiful crawling performance but I won’t be sharing that, or any of the pictures of me precariously standing with a look of absolute dread on my face.  I did manage to snap some nice shots of the mountains and Rio far below.

From the summit of Pedra Bonita

From the summit of Pedra Bonita

Rio is a city of remarkable beauty but to really see it, you’ve got to get high.

 

Forte Do Leme – What a View!

Brazilian Flag

If you ever find yourself in Rio (actually it’s a big enough place where you could lose yourself quite easily) not that I expect anyone to randomly go, but anyone who might be thinking about going to the 2016 Summer Olympics, plan to do this:

Walk to the end of Copacabana Beech toward Leme.  Veer off to the left.  Go to the kiosk.  Buy a ticket to Sitio Historico do Forte Duque de Caxias for R$4 or about $1.80 U.S. and head up the hill. You have to enter a military base to access it, so don’t be alarmed to see an armed guard staring at you as you pass through. Just smile.

Rio is known for its hills called morros.  Leme is one of the larger beach side hills and is the site of an 18th century Fort built to protect the city.  It is the third largest hill in Rio next to Sugarloaf and Corcovado where Christ the Redeemer welcomes with outstretched arms.  Morro do Leme has a nice stone paved twisting trail that you can take to the top to visit the Fort and get a magnificent view of Rio.  As you enter the trail, look straight up at the rock face and you’ll find cactus growing. It reminded me of a Dali painting.  Wear your walking shoes because it’s a bit of hike, but a pleasant one, as if going through a rain forest, with an abundance of fauna and flora, colorful birds and tiny squirrel-like monkeys called micos. And what a glorious view!

The walk from the middle of Copacabana Beach to the top of the Hill and back is about 9 miles, 17,000 steps according to my pedometer, and is well worth your time and effort; highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

Dali Exhibit in Rio De Janeiro

Dali Exhibitioin_Rio (2014)

I like Salvador Dali, though not as much as I thought I did. Dali first came to my attention as a freshman in college after seeing a print of his dripping clock in the University bookstore. It hung on my dorm room and apartment walls for 4 years alongside a Chagall. The surrealists made sense to me then – I got it. But now that I’m older, surrealist works seem a bit cheesy to me.  The shock value doesn’t carry as much of a punch and feels dated – trapped in time, aging badly.  That’s not to say I think Dali is a fraud, even though he was very much all about Dali, like so many self-promoting “superstars” of today.  He was certainly an artist oozing with talent whose mind saw things in a very peculiar and interesting way.  I have seen some of his works that are part of collections at major U.S. museums, but never an exhibit of them until now.  

I had the good fortune and pleasure to see a free Dali exhibition in Rio De Janeiro of a wide range of Dali creations from illustrations and sketches for books like Alice In Wonderland, and Don Quixote to some of his best known works from all phases of his artistic career. After viewing the exhibition, I came away with a better appreciation and respect for his talents, but also the realization that I don’t much like surrealism anymore. 

I did take a limited number of photos, with some reluctance, I’ll admit, of the stuff in the exhibit that I liked. We were allowed to take photos without a flash, so my reservation wasn’t so much that I was doing something illegal.  My reservation was more that the camera might cheapen the experience, act as a substitute for my eyes, such that I would not appreciate or savor the rare moment with the original artwork.  These days, people blow by exhibits taking photos and selfies indiscriminately with ALL of the art, without even really seeing or feeling anything.  And while it may seem hypocritical for me to critique this practice and then take photos too, I believe my process was a little more respectful to me, to the other patrons and to the artwork itself.  First, I went through a section of the exhibit making mental notes of what I liked and then went back and took low-fi snapshots with my Samsung Galaxy.  Below are the ones I took.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  

Cheers! 

   

What I like about Brasil

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  • I like that that the country is spelled with an s in Portuguese and not a z. I’m not fond of the letter z.  And I love the sound of Brazilian Portuguese. It has a pleasing rhythm, cadence and intonation that I find musical and linguistically interesting.  I like that the t in a word is pronounced as sh – Argenshina, for example, although that might not be the best example, especially if Argentina wins the World Cup in Rio. I wonder if Brasilian fans will be rooting for Germany or Argentina?
  • Free and low cost museums.  We will be going to the Banco do Brasil Cultural Center (BBCC) to see a major and free exhibition of Salvador Dali and then to the Museu Da Imagem E Do Som (Museum of Image and Sound).
  • The beaches.  We’ve been mostly going to Copacabana near where we are staying, but we’ve seen Leblon, Ipanema and several others.  We are here during the World Cup, so there are a lot of soccer fans from all over the globe kicking the ball around on the beaches and drinking beer and caipirinhas.  The sand is brown and thick very much like the sand on Cape Cod.  The ocean waves from the Atlantic are dramatic and ferocious at times. On a clear day, the contrast of the pastel and white buildings and hills against the blue skies is breathtaking.  And the blend of blue/green ocean, white foam caps and brown beach reminds me of an exotic lime tapioca parfait with cashews.

BeachParfait

  • Caipirinhas.  It’s made with Cachaga, a Brazilian rum from sugarcane juice.  The Cachaga is mixed with sugar and fresh limes and served on the rocks. It’s super sweet, tangy and refreshing. These are sold everywhere, even by mobile vendors on the beach. They range in price from 5 Brazilian reais on the beach ($2.25 U.S.) to 8 reais at a cafe/bar for a well-made (strong) one ($3.6 U.S.)
  • The weather in July.  It’s winter here and it’s 75 on average, 80′s in the day (perfect beach weather) with a slight ocean breeze on most days, and 70′s at night for great sleeping weather.  There’s no need for AC’s or even ceiling fans; best to sleep with the windows open.
  • The music.  It’s everywhere from the typical accordion-based music of the Northeast a la Luiz LuisGonzagaGonzaga to the guitar chords of Bossa Nova and the rhythmic beats of Samba.  It’s all here, home to some of the best music, musicians and dancers in the world.
  • A relaxed feel.  While Rio is a big, bustling city of over 6 million people, people do not seem to be as rushed here like they are in NYC or Boston. This may be partly because I am on vacation and am myself relaxed. Be that as it may, folks do walk at a leisurely pace and seem cheerful and pleasant most of the time. Everyone has been willing to give directions or tell us which bus to take when we’ve asked, even though our Portuguese isn’t the best – and mine practically non-existent.  When I do try to talk to people, I speak Spanish slowly and sometimes I am understood and very often not.

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Dismantled Brazil Could Still Finish 3rd

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Well, I didn’t predict the winner – I had Brazil.  But I did predict that the losing team would score 1 goal.  You see, I had Brazil beating Germany 2-1.  I never imagined that in a semi-final World Cup game a team would/could score 7 goals. 7 goals! Germany completely dismantled Brazil with seemingly little effort, scoring 3 goals in 3 minutes and 5 goals total in the first 29 minutes.

I happened to be watching the game in Rio in the comfort of a friend’s apartment drinking sangrias (fittingly so it turns out). And good thing, because if I had been down by the beach drinking caipirinhas watching the game on one of the Jumbotrons set up on Copacabana beach, just down the street, who knows what might have happened to me.  I’m not saying I would have been attacked or anything, but I do look more German than Brazilian and don’t speak Portuguese. And trust me, the vendors make a beeline for me at the beach, marking me as both a tourist and a probable gringo with dollars. No one has yet to ask me, “Alemao? or “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

The game was an embarrassment to watch and I am sure an embarrassment and shock to all in the soccer community, Brazilians and Germans alike.  A 6 goal differential is the largest defeat a host country has ever suffered in a World Cup game and 7 is the most goals ever scored in a semi-final game.  And it’s too bad it happened in the way that it did.  Brazil had two men down essentially – star Neymar and captain Silva…but they did have the home field advantage with the support of the entire soccer crazy nation.  Soccer is a religion here.  An addictive drug one could say that keeps the masses distracted from the many problems Brazilians face from wealth inequality to corruption.

Whether Brazilians will forgive their team for their pitiful performance remains to be seen.  Many left the stadium before the first half even ended.  After the game, some of the players and the coach apologized to the fans and the country.  Players were praying on the field as if asking god for forgiveness for their sporting sins. The Brazilian team can only hope for a victory against the loser of the Holland and Argentina match – certainly no small feat.  It would be a consolation prize that could help heal the damage that Germany inflicted and restore the people’s pride and faith in their national team.

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