Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas - days 3 - 4

On the 24th, Lenira and Paulo left to meet their family at the beach south of Porto Alegre. We were on our own to celebrate our Christmas in Gramado. Besides the bright lights and cheerful store front decorations, the area around Gramado and Canela has attractions for young and old alike. It is full of things to do. [I recommend that if you make this trip you rent a car - we didn't we hired a taxi for the day... cost as much as a car and gas for 3 days but we didn't have to drive unfamiliar roads, some of them dirt - for the most part there is quite a lot of distance between things and if you want to go slow, not within a time frame, driving is best] There is the teleferico in the Parque do Caracol that takes you up & up, circles the platform and as you head down it feels like you are soaring out over the forest.
In Gramado, there was Santa's workshop and home. You can see where the elves sleep during high season, where Santa reads all the letters he receives, and even tour his wine cellar. There are several places to buy "the best chocolate in the world". You can visit the antique car museum - one of the best I have ever visited - and a museum of the history of the steam engine with miniture working steam engines showing all the ways man has used steam since the late 1880s. And, finally there is a camp grounds and an open cable car in the Parque da Cachoreira, that I took one look at and said, "that is for young people - no way!"
In the end even Santa needed a few hours in the hammock to rest and recover from the holidays.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas in Gramado - end day 2

After spending the afternoon in the wine country, we finished our drive to Gramado. There was a long line of cars - stretched for miles into Gramado and local people walking. We ended up missing the evening program and parades. It took nearly two hours to find our hotels, get settled and to make our way back to Gramado's center.
The lights, and storefront decorations satisfied, exceeded, all my Christmas past and present memories. There were hundreds of people and cars, everyone in a festive mood: eating, strolling, laughing, lifting their children high to see all the action.
Lenira and I sang Christmas carols as we walked from one end of the main street to the other - at least we sang the words the best we could remember. She found I'm dreaming of a white Christmas on her IPOD, so we sang all the words start to finish. I sang as loud and as off key as I wanted (no real option there) - no one even glanced at me - it was just another part of the show - we all enjoyed ourselves.
My recommendation is that if you want to do Christmas in Gramado - you reserve a hotel room in the downtown center, (6 months in advance) park your car and walk everywhere - OR get there early to avoid the traffic mess.

More of day two - Serras Gauchas

THE mystery of Portuguese - Serras Gauchas translates into cowboy hills. Except in the restaurants, I never saw a cowboy in these hills. Gaucho is masculine but in Serra Gaucha is feminine because Serra is feminine - this is pronounced Ga USH o - how am I ever to remember these things?
Back to travel - after the side trip on Maria Fumaça, we drove out into the countryside around Bento Gonçalves. This area is predominately German/Italian in heritage. There is no mistaking the differences between Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande de Sul. The houses are painted in bright oranges, yellows and blues. The vineyards are impeccably kept, streets of the cities clean - everything has the feeling of prosperity and loving care. I think the loving care is more important than the prosperity. Even the most basic homes have a coat of paint, flowers in front of the house and a garden including grape vines in the back. These small gardens and the rolling green hills is what reminds me of Italy.
For the Christmas season though, it was in the mid-upper 70s in the day, the sun was bright and hot, the nights in the low 70s - for me, a Michigander, not at all giving the feeling of Christmas.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Day two - a ride on Maria Fumaça

A ride on Maria Fumaça was not in the plan - but thank goodness Paulo enjoys impromptu activities because this is too great to miss. While Lenira and I ate breakfast, the guys hustled up four last minute tickets and we started our day. One thing you have to appreciate about Brazilians is their ever-ready ability to have fun. This group started at 9:00 am with a taste of wine (not me - not before noon... too American) and a dance or two on the platform, then loaded up, waving and cheering and blowing mock whistles (this I did - remember when the trains passed by when you were a kid? Woo Woo!)
When everything settled down there were German singers, Italian singers, a comedy skit and, of course, more wine for entertainment. At about 35 minutes, the train stopped for a station break, photo op, wine and more music, then took off again.
There was one crazy moment when we had blocked a road crossing and a line of Semis honked and blew their whistle to greet us as we passed. Totally great fun, a good way to enjoy the back roads without having to drive.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas in the wine country- day one

Meet Paulo and Lenira, they are from the Porto Alegre area and as wine lovers, had never been to the nearby wine country. They had been many times to Gramado to see the Christmas decorations and programs, and enjoyed telling us about great time they had had. Camillo and I decided to spend this Christmas in Gramado and they decided they would take us there via the wine country.
SO on the 22 of December, we met at the airport in Porto Alegre and after a great lunch with Lenira's sister at A melhor galeteria - Via Vêneto, we began making our way to 'the wine country' of Brasil. I have to admit that Camillo and I have not EVER been fans of ANY Brasilian wine. The reds are .... well I have no words, maybe immature fits, and the white are just okay. But the wine country of Brasil itself - comes Close to having the look and feel of Umbria in Italy - Do you realize how beautiful I mean it is by saying this? Umbria is my MOST favorite place in Italy.
Sorry, I have to back up a moment - the resturant - Via Vêneto a small family restaurant specializing in Galeto - a little roasted chicken, flavored much like a Cornish hen, got us started with a glass of local spumante - it was light, bubbly, cool and refreshing in the heat. A very good start.
Camillo and I generally travel with a loose plan, sometimes with reservation but not always. Paulo on the other hand discusses plans but then adjust them by the minute as he thinks of things we should see. After many hours in the car, weaving in and out of towns of his youth, and stopping for a moment at the Perterlongo Winery in Garibaldi, we arrived in Bento Gonçalves. Once in our first planned destination, it took only 35 minutes to find a hotel to our liking, make plans to meet for dinner, (With both Camillo and Paulo the next meal is of utmost importance.) and to jump into a hot shower.
End Day one!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A little adventure

Last week Camillo and I went to the Continental Air office in the Copacabana Palace to get my tickets to the USA in February (yippee!, Yippee!). I saw a magazine called 'Eating Out' on one of their tables and I helped myself to a copy. We are Always looking for new places to eat in Rio . We have three favorite places and tend to get stuck in a rut - eating only at the favorites - so the search. To our surprise there was a restaurant featured called Parador Lumiar, practically at our own back door in Condominium Stucky, Nova Friburgo.
This Sunday the weather was fantastic in Friburgo so we decided to take the MP, top-down, and have an adventure (this means that we promise not to complain if disappointed.) We drove to Lumiar to try this place. This Parador/Pousada/fazenda is not in Lumiar but in Boa Esperanca - another fifteen minutes past Lumiar on a very bumpy, roller coaster dirt road. I am not exaggerating! The road starts as a wide dirt road, becomes a narrow dirt road and finally end up a trail that only one car can drive on at a time - all widths are in terrible repair. By the time we got to the narrow, narrow dirt road, we had begun to despair - the ad promised 'a privileged view' and 'that chef Isias Neries matches Brazilian country (fresh) ingredients with contemporary cuisine techniques' so we continued on with a positive adventure like attitude. (I gave you all the bad first because you have to be willing to accept the trip to reap the rewards.)
Finally - we found a one lane private drive lined in Bromeliads and colorful flowers. There are sloping lawns, chalets spaced for privacy and a stylish building that houses the reception area and the restaurant. We both took a big breath of relief. Inside the resturant, from the open patio you can sit to look out over the flower bed and herb garden, watch the cook's helper picking fresh herbs for your dinner.

They have a wine cellar but we decided to try their caipirinhas. GOOD! choice! We shared a starter of fresh made goodies - hot pepper jelly, eggplant, jabuticaba jelly, buffalo mozzarella and more. We shared a green salad with apples/nuts/and arugula. We shared 'Rissotto de Rabada' and finally we shared a desert (a Neapolitan tort - strawberry, vanilla, chocolate delight). We ordered much too much food but everything was excellent and was absolutely worth the bumpy dirt road. (Note that we also shared a special treat from the chef - a small but fantastic mix of coconut/pinapple/sugar desert. We has already ordered the neoploitan tort so we ate both - no problem one was with coffee - no sugar added.)
We have our own little piece of heaven but if we didn't, and needed a quiet place to recharge from Rio City Life - we would spend time in one of their Chalets - as it is, we will return again for more of this Brazilian food. Visit

Monday, December 10, 2007

Missing persons

I feel I have to apologize for not writing something, anything this past week. I have eaten a ton of chocolates, played solitaire by the hour and written nothing for a week. It is not just this blog, but the paper that is due tomorrow for my class at PUC that is causing my distress.
The paper due is for the section on literary discourse. It is not that I haven't read all the material, done Internet research to clarify the definitions and had my basic idea for over a month - it is that I can't seem to put my mind in order. To combine the concepts learned (well discussed) in class with my idea, is what is driving me to overdose on chocolate. We have gone over (I almost said 'learned' again) so many concepts, written so many papers and made so many presentations that the ideas are overlapping and instead of getting clearer are becoming jumbled. I simply can not find the words to make this paper mine. This is a blow to me - I always have words - but to put the literary work of Hemingway within the context of literary discourse and corpus linguistics is driving me MAD!
Where is Rosemary that is my real question? Have you heard from her? I know she is on a roof top in Rio planting flowers but where is she??

Sunday, December 2, 2007

More thoughts from the veranda

There is a clear distinction in my mind between expat wives and myself. Some of the day to day problems are the same. Lack of language skills, name substitution (cuts of meat, spices, types of flour, which shampoo, MAKEUP!), the constant need to find new friends, and just the need of getting general directions, all add to both our day's feelings of 'disassociation'.
I feel that being expat means temporary assignments, it means your children and husband travel with you, it means that you know the people you meet and learn to love are temporary in your life, while I feel my situation is a lifetime of change from what I knew.
In my first photo, in the extreme left is the building where I worked in Houston on the 23rd floor. The photo brings memories of laughter with the other 'girls' as we walked to lunch. It brings memories of days 7:30 - 5:30 filled with problems to solve and tasks to accomplish. It brings memories of night classes, and lectures on the arts, history or architecture that I was always attending. It brings memories of who I was. It reminds me that I am sitting on a fence watching the ships go by while the rest of the world is learning and growing and changing their lives. It reminds me that I have to find ways of keeping busy that maybe I will learn and grow from - but mainly I will be busy. It reminds me that I am not fully a part of this world and no longer a part of the other - that I am caught between two worlds.