Saturday, July 23, 2011

The library, the bazaar, and my last day at the circus

Hello all—

Today was my last day at my project—I can't believe my six weeks there are over! It was a challenging, wonderful experience and I learned so much. I'm going to miss my circus kids and my fellow coaches. I'll see them down the road :)

I continue to be pretty busy, and it's hard to remember what I've done this past week! On Tuesday after project I baked an apple crisp for my friends at the hostel, just for fun. I've enjoyed having the chance to cook here.

On Wednesday I FINALLY got a tour of the National Library. It was beautiful, but not as nice as the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura. I also visited the fine arts museum, which is conveniently right next to the library. I tried to take a tour of the National Theater, but couldn't find the entrance for the tours (it turns out you can't just walk in the front doors where they have the "guided tours" sign). Frustrating yet comical, especially as I am the daughter of a travel writer who makes his living helping smooth out the bumps and obstacles for tourists.

Yesterday (Friday) I spent part of the afternoon giving a new volunteer (from France) a preliminary tour of the center of Rio and making a visit to the exchange office. Next, an American friend and I walked to Saara, an area of town that looks quite similar to traditional middle eastern bazaars (except it's full of brazilian products). I bought a few souvenirs, and mostly enjoyed the bazaar atmosphere. Afterwards, we tried again to get a tour of the national theater, but this time it was sold out!

Last night we had a group dinner at my pousada (hostel), which was fun. It's always nice to get all the volunteers together for dinner. I made a giant M & M cookie (to be cut into bars), but not for my fellow volunteers...

As you may be able to guess, the cookie was devoured by my circus kids today—it was a sort of going-away present. I thought it might be good to bring something typically american to my last circus class.

One interesting incident did happen at the end of class—after most of the kids had left, I was helping put some unicycles away and managed to gash my head on a metal window shutter. It wasn't serious, but I did start bleeding everywhere until one of the other coaches could run and grab some paper towels. Grand finale?

Today it's dreary outside, so I'll be working on packing and preparing for my mini-vacation this week. Next stop, Paraty!

Monday, July 18, 2011

New York, a palace, and a whirlwind weekend

Hey all!

I've been quite busy the past couple days. My good friend Will came to visit! But for now, I'll start last Wednesday, when I went to New York City Center...

Gotcha? New York City Center is actually a shopping-mall-type-place in Barra da Tijuca, an area along the southern coast near Rio. I decided to check it out because a friend had described it as quite similar to the US, so I thought it would be an interesting cultural experience. I started out by taking a bus to São Conrado, an area of Rio with lots of very expensive apartments, that is ironically situated right next to Rocinha, the largest favela ("slum") in Brazil. After walking along a highway lined by expensive-looking apartment buildings, I decided I had seen enough of São Conrado, and hopped on a bus to Barra da Tijuca.

Barra was, as expected, not much different from some areas of America. After passing by the beach and more expensive apartment buildings, I got off at New York City Center, a shopping area complete with a Statue of Liberty. I spent the afternoon walking around the giant mall, immersing myself in the international culture of consumerism.

On Friday, I took the metro out to the Quinta da Boa Vista, a park containing a palace where the royal family in Brazil lived in the 1800s. The palace now holds a somewhat out-of-date archeology/natural history/ethnographical museum, with a potpourri of exhibits ranging from extinct sea creatures in antarctica to greek pottery to brazilian indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, I enjoyed strolling around the museum and the park, which, like many places I have discovered in Brazil, contained a circus tent (no shows at the time).

Next came an adventure. I gave myself around 2 hours to make it from the park to the international airport, where Will's flight would come in. According to google maps, the trip would take around 45 minutes. I boarded the right bus, and rode it until the end... I still don't know where I was when I got off. I wandered around the area, asking for directions, when I discovered that I needed to take a different version of the same bus (same number even). I hopped on that bus and rode for 45 minutes or so, past some landmarks I had already seen and through some semi-sketchy areas of Rio. Finally, I was able to arrive at the airport (after catching one other bus, without problems), where I wandered around more, trying to find Will according to text-message directions we sent to each other.

Finally, I met up with Will, and the adventure ended! We took a much better bus back home, and, after a quick tour of Santa Teresa, headed to Lapa to meet up with some more friends, Samara and Georgina. We had a nice tapas-style at a botequim (place to get drinks and things like meat pastries or fried cassava root). We wandered a bit around Lapa afterwards, watching the neighborhood come alive for the night—Lapa is a big nightlife destination on Friday nights. We didn't stay, though, because the next morning was an early one for all of us—I went to the circus, and Will went to sugar loaf/pão de açúcar. We joined Sam and Georgina for lunch in the old colonial center, then took a boat across the harbor to Niterói, which holds the contemporary art museum, housed in a fantastic flying saucer-shaped building by Oscar Niemeyer, a famous Brazilian architect.

The next morning we had a wonderful tapioca and açaí breakfast at the weekly market in Glória, then met up in Cosme Velho to try to take the train up to see the Christ the Redeemer statue. It was absolutely packed, so we gave up on that idea and headed to the Parque Lage, a beautiful tropical park that holds an art school in a beautiful old mansion. Afterwards we took a bus to Leblon, and walked along the beach from the edge of Leblon, through Ipanema, to Copacabana. Will and I stopped for chocolate pizza (on his to-do list) and ice cream, then made a quick visit to the Copacabana Palace. This weekend the Palace had a special guest—Tom Felton, the actor who plays Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films. We paused to take pictures in front of the palace and noticed a few dozen fans sitting outside, holding copies of Harry Potter books, waiting for a glimpse or an autograph from "Draco." Security, of course, had been upped since I visited the hotel last week. I wonder how often the Palace hosts famous guests?

That evening Will and I made dinner at home, complete with a (mostly-succesful) attempt at pão de queijo—traditional brazilian cheese bread, made with cassava root flour.

Today we managed to make it up to see Christ, and I didn't mind going a second time because the top of the statue was shrouded in clouds, and it felt like the top of the world! We got a few glimpses of the ground, but otherwise we were "in heaven." We had lunch at my favorite kilo buffet, then went to see the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, a beautiful hall full of books (sort of a library, I guess). We had a wonderful snack of coffee and sweets at Colombo, Rio's gorgeous and famous café and sweet shop. The afternoon came to a close, and I saw Will off at the airport. It was a wonderful whirlwind weekend, and now I'm planning on an early night. Tchau!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A quick post about a great weekend

I had such a great Sunday and Monday, I just thought I had to share. Sunday was "Arte de Portas Abertas" in Santa Teresa—essentially an open-house for all the cool bohemian artists in the neighborhood. I spent the afternoon wandering around this beautiful area, wandering into artists' houses and studios and checking out their work. All the restaurants were packed with people, and I even found one that specializes in gluten-free fare! There were stands all over the neighborhood selling handicrafts, and street performers on the corners. I spent a long time wandering around, exploring places I had never seen. I found a shop selling traditional portuguese food, and met a french artist named Lydia.
On my way back home, I enjoyed a caipirinha made with passionfruit, kiwi, strawberry, and lime, and stopped to sip and hear some street jazz. My sunday afternoon was one experience that everyone in Rio should have!

Today a friend and I from my guesthouse went to Ipanema. I guess there's not much to chronicle about that, but as usual, it was beautiful. We bought overpriced popsickles and enjoyed the warm winter sun (heh).

Just a quick post for now. I'll try to put some pictures up on facebook soon!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Feijoada and a Drink in a Palace

Hi all!

And the Brazilian adventures continue... The Fourth of July celebration was great fun—we made burgers (frozen—in true American style) with fries, corn on the cob, apple crisp, and ice cream. Americans and non-Americans alike had a good time.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were all rainy, stay-inside kinds of days. Therefore, Wednesday was a cooking day! I went to Copacabana and took a Brazilian cooking class. The chef was humorous and a great teacher: we made feijoada (VERY traditional beans and pork dish) with rice, greens, farofa (not going to try to explain that), fried cassava root, and caipirinhas (Brazil's national drink). The only other participants were a couple from Florida (though the woman was born in Rio), so it was nice to have a small class. I look forward to cooking Brazilian food when I get home; I am rapidly finding my favorite dishes!

After the cooking class, I wandered around Copacabana. You would picture sun, palm trees, people lying on the beach in bikinis, right? Well winter has finally arrived in Rio, so you can picture me walking along a cloudy, empty copacabana beach wearing a sweatshirt and long pants. I enjoyed the walk nonetheless.

Tuesday and Thursday, of course, I went to my circus project. Now that the show is over, we have gone back to a normal schedule, with three groups of kids rotating between aerials, mini-tramp, and stilts/unicycle. During my time here I've been discovering how I can help out the most, and as I keep saying, I'm getting so much out of my work there.

Friday was a wonderful, full day. A volunteer friend (Louise from Denmark) and I had an açaí (smoothie made of a berry from the amazon) for breakfast, then took a 2-hour boat tour around Rio's harbor. The harbor is said to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world (I'm sceptical of the number of "wonders" there are...), and it's beautiful. We had some great views of sugarloaf mountain, as well as Niterói, the city across the bay from Rio de Janeiro.

After the boat tour we wandered around the old historic center of Rio, which has some really nice colonial-style buildings. We explored the Candelária church, and peeked in the Casa França Brasil, which has an eclectic mix of art, dining, and books. We enjoyed our cheapest and most-satisfying buffet-a-kilo (R$1.59/100g! so good!) and had a nice coffee before heading back home to dress up classy.
Once "classy-fied," we took a bus to Botafogo beach, where we saw somewhat of a sunset over Sugar Loaf (not the most dramatic, but it was nice). After a nice yet reasonably-priced dinner in Botafogo, we headed to Copacabana for dessert, and then the "crown jewel" of the evening: a drink at the Copacabana Palace. The Palace opened in the 1920s, and has hosted many of the rich and famous visitors coming to Rio. Louise and I shared a Piña Colada (not too sweet) and a Manhatten, and snacked on nuts while enjoying our table by the pool and the service by the immaculately dressed waiters. It was a lot of fun, sipping our drinks (R$22 each = $14), and trying to look classy while taking blurry pictures of everything around us.

This morning I had a wonderful time at the circus. The class seemed amazingly calm, and I had a lot of fun coaching trapeze, chatting with some of the older kids about Cirque de Soleil shows we like, and helping kids walk on stilts. The coaches and kids at the circus are becoming my friends, and I'm going to miss them a lot when I leave in two weeks.

This weekend the artists in Santa Teresa are having a sort of open-house, so I plan to explore that tomorrow to check out what my "bohemian" neighborhood has to offer. Tchau!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The kids put on a circus show, and I get touristy

Oi (Brazilian "hi")! I've been pretty busy in the week since I last posted. I have been quite touristy, and have now seen two of Rio's most famous landmarks—the Christ Statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain.

First, though, my circus kids had their show! I went to the circus Tuesday and Wednesday to help prepare, and then they put on the show on Thursday afternoon, for an audience of parents, school children and friends. I heard that it went very well, though I didn't get to watch any! I spent my time backstage, trying to help the kids go onstage at the right time, and making futile attempts to prevent them from watching the show through the curtains. It was a very energetic, exciting, and chaotic afternoon, and I now have much more respect for my coaches, counselors, and staff from Smirkus camp and tour.

I'm really valuing this opportunity to work with the kids. It's challenging, but it's great for me to be able to see what things are like from the "other side"—having always been a performer, now I get to see what it's like to take a leadership role as a coach. It's also interesting comparing and contrasting the circus here with my time at Smirkus—especially Smirkus camp, which in some ways is quite like the social circus program here in Rio.

I was exhausted after the show, and had a relaxing Friday morning. That afternoon, a volunteer friend and I took the cog train up Corcovado to see Rio's trademark—the big Christ Statue. It was swarming with tourists, but still had a great view, and the train ride through the jungle was cool. We had açaí smoothies at the top and enjoyed the nice sunny view. My favorite part was seeing the mountains that surround Rio—they look so different from anything I've seen before.

Saturday I had work at the circus, then spent the afternoon at a beautiful market in Lapa, the neighborhood next to the one where I'm staying. It stretched a long way down a street full of antique stores, and had stands selling clothes, jewelry, decorations, dishes, and even juggling equipment! I had a tamale-like snack and wandered around the market, "window shopping" and enjoying the samba music that appeared every few blocks.

Yesterday was touristy day #2—two volunteer friends and I bussed to the neighborhood of Urca, and took the cable car up to Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar in portuguese). The first stop was Morro da Urca, a smaller hill with a couple souvenir shops, cafés, and exhibits, and a nice patio-like area. Sugar Loaf is much taller, and has some wonderful jungle paths, to my surprise! (You wouldn't expect it, since most of the mountain is bare rock). We enjoyed the beautiful view of the city and the ocean, wandered around the paths, and then headed back to Morro da Urca (nicknamed "sugar cookie" by us) for a snack and to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was too hazy to see even a tinge of pink in the sky (sad!). Nevertheless, we waited to watch the lights come out in the city, and then headed home.

Today it's cold and drizzly, so I haven't left the house. The three other Americans and I will be preparing an American dinner (burgers, salad, and apple crisp) for our friends here at the hostel in honor of the 4th of July. It's my second 4th of July out of the US (last summer was in Oslo), but it'll be fun to have a little ex-pat celebration, even if we don't get any fireworks. :)