Wednesday, September 30, 2015

14th - Niterói

Our visit to Niterói was the habib's idea and his only. He proposed we go, I didn't have the slightest inkling what was so interesting about the place, and we had plenty of time. So off we went to take the ferry and cross Guanabara Bay to, as I later discovered, is Brazil's district with the highest Human Development Index.

The ferry ride was really nice: the bay, the hills, the sun... and the views of modern Niterói ahead (pic above). And on that side, we finally figured how to take the bus to go to our (my habib's?) goal – the MAC, or Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói). But before I talk more about the MAC, like, really, the views from the bus stop next to it? Stunning! The Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) in the distance, the clouds, the vegetation and beaches... Gorgeous!

And then if you combine those views with the MAC, designed by the one and only Oscar Niemeyer, well...

Unfortunately, the MAC was closed at the time. But we had an amazing time appreciating the beautiful curved lines of the museum from the outside, the reflecting pool, the views from the access slope... We really loved this unusual place, by a cliff ending in a beach.

I guess one day we'll have to visit Brasilia and explore plenty more of this very interesting Brazilian architect, right? In the meantime, I guess I'll have to do with having visited just one of his buildings.

Not surprisingly, the ferry trip back at sunset was beautiful too, with more views of the Pão de Açúcar, of the Corcovado, the clouds over the mountains...

So there you have it. Niterói. Well worth the very nice ferry trip, with the museum closed and all.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

beer and mezcal for the soul

With the exchange rate through the roof and my habib's plans to practise Butoh for a month in Japan cancelled, with weeks of rewarding but exhausting work behind, and some personal emotional turmoil of my own, last weekend I was more than ready for some good music, beer, mezcal, orange slices with chili powder and peanuts. For the soul. And as the song goes, hakol over (הכל עובר), everything passes.

Friday, September 25, 2015

14th – Lapa

It was only natural the second neighbourhood we explored in depth would be Lapa, as it lies between Santa Teresa (where we were staying the first part of our trip) and Centro. Known for its architecture, its aqueduct (I can' t believe how I forgot to take a photo of it!), and numerous bars and restaurants, if there's one place a tourist will visit in Rio, it's probably this one. And if there is one single sight, it's gotta be that one in the photos above and below – the Selaron Steps (Escadaria Selarón).

With 250 steps and over 2000 tiles from over 60 countries, this eclectic work by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón is a real must-see. Now, the walk up back home from Lapa was a true pain in the ass. It's so much harder to walk uphill after a whole day of sightseeing! But I digress. Lapa offered us an interesting bazaar, where I almost bought a menorah. There was something romantic about getting my first menorah in Rio, but it was too expensive and we didn't feel like bargaining. 

Also, besides curious paraphernalia, we found a capoeira group! This was capoeira Angola, it seems, as the moves were rather playful and dance-like. It was fun listening to the music and watching the group. I mean, what better place in the world to see capoeira than in Brazil, right? 

That and the views of the colourful old buildings, of the nearby cathedral, and of the odd piece of art made for a very nice walk. Ah... Rio!

And talking about architecture, there was plenty of it, especially from the early 20th century, and in hues of yellow, pink, orange, red, blue... glad they were not shy about their use of colour!

Finally, the food. Since this was my first time in Brazil, I decided to venture and try a number of non-vegan dishes. I've mentioned it before – if it's about trying something new, I may decide to eat animal products, which I rationalize by remembering that over 99% of my meals are vegan. So, why did I try then?

Well, for one, feijoada. Supposedly the quintessential carioca dish. And probably my one and only non-vegan foray where I felt like I had used up my "non-vegan pass" needlessly. Sure, I had never tried it. So at least it was new. But a pork and sausage stew with beans, kale-like greens, white rice and farofa, a sort of manioc flower that resembled sawdust, only very slightly tastier. Really meh. But now I know what this famous dish is about.

We also tried a place called Bar Brazil. Dating from 1907! And apparently originally called Bar Adolf, but with the WWII events leading to a wise change of name. A very German place, with very German food. And where I had some sausage with sauerkraut and a potato salad. And unlike my feijoada experiment, this one was worth it! I can live perfectly well without sausages, but I have to say this place had some damn good food. Glad we had the patience to line-up, 'cause it was packed!

So, that's Santa Teresa (my previous post on this trip) and Lapa so far. Both very different from each other, and also very different from the other places we visited. Honestly, this was one rich, fun, amazing trip. As I hope to manage to convey in future posts!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

vegan pozole

Last year I was pretty excited about my first Independence Day celebration in Mexico after many years (you can read that post here). I was supposed to do a much more elaborate post this year, with more about traditions and rituals and so on. But too many things have happened rather recently, like the appointment as Deputy Secretary for Crime Prevention of the spokesperson of the Green Party (Partido Verde), who had fought to bring back the death penalty and whose party repeatedly and shamelessly violated electoral laws for months. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission published a report proving that the General Attorney's office's investigation of the disappearance of 43 students was flawed, unprofessional, and unscientific. We're still missing 43 students, and on the way we've uncovered dozens of mass graves about which almost nobody has cared much. A report from the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy revealed that, though there are less people in extreme poverty, the population in poverty (both as a total and as a percentage) has increased. Various government offices threatened their employees with sanctions if they didn't go to the Independence celebrations in Mexico City's main square (the Zócalo), while at the same time advising them to dress neutral as to not let other people know they belonged to government offices and had been forced to go. I was in no celebratory mood.

But I was not going to say no to my sister preparing vegan pozole for me. And I love garnishing it! Radish, lettuce, onion, oregano, chili powder. Family. Very good. Very filling. And at least there was one good thing about Independence Day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

once a Beijinger, always a Beijinger

Dry seaweed, mochis galore, peanuts with hot peppers and szechuan peppercorns, grass jelly, sesame crackers... Can't believe how crazy we get over this stuff!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

14th - Santa Teresa

Since I came back from Rio work has been absolutely non-stop madness and I've hardly found any time to write. But things seem to be finally calming down just a tiny bit, so here's at long last the first real post on our unbelievably good trip to amazing Brazil.

We did a lot. Saw a lot. And I took tons of pics. So I've decided the easiest way to organize my memories will be to write about each different neighbourhood we visited. And the very first one we saw and got to know? Santa Teresa!

That gorgeous view in that pic above deserves special mention. When looking for places to stay at, I found this one, Casa 48. Frankly, all I could think about after looking at Casa 48's photos was that view! They were stunning, and people spoke great about the place. The only caveat: it sat at the entrance of a favela. Since the owner assured on the website this was a very peaceful favela, and since I couldn't envision an anniversary without those views, I went ahead and booked a small studio. 

Now, getting to Casa 48 had its own... charm? Santa Teresa is atop a hill, and Casa 48 was pretty much at the most remote part of the neighbourhood. The cab had to leave us on a main road nearby, and then we still had to walk up a narrow path. The area didn't look too bad, but it definitely didn't look remotely upscale. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. But then, we got there. And we were shown to our studio. And then I saw the terrace. Our own private terrace! And that the photos on the website were as true to reality as a picture can get - it was absolutely breathtaking! If there was a perfect way to begin a trip, this had to be it! I mean, even the bathroom wall had a window-like opening so you could see the view while showering! 

Ours was a private studio, but breakfast was at a common area in the upper floor, with a balcony and more extraordinary views. I was so surprised by Rio's incredible location: hills, jungle, lagoons, sea, beaches... And good coffee. Very appreciated by us, having arrived in an overnight flight.

Now that I'm done raving about the views from Casa 48, let's get back to Santa Teresa. This is an old neighbourhood, founded some 250 years ago and, at some point, it was one wealthy part of town. Then times changed and it stopped being an upper-class area, but it's been recently re-appropriated as an artistic neighbourhood. A very nice combination of old houses, art, a tram (called bonde, and doing just a very short stretch since an accident some years ago), restaurants...

In one of our walks we visited the Parque das Ruinas (the Ruins Park). Here stand the ruins of the house of a patron of Rio's Belle Époque. The house is interesting, but the views from there are much more! You can practically spot all of Rio's neighbourhoods from up here!

We also had to have a walk through the favela below us. On one hand, we were repeatedly assured this posed no danger at all. On the other hand, why not visit one? And finally, it provided a very good shortcut to get to another part of the city below. And I have to admit, this was a nice walk downhill through steps and vegetation, with friendly people around, more birds flying above us, and one excellent way of shaking off stereotypes about what favelas are.

By the way, and before I forget, this was the entrance to Casa 48. We had been instructed to walk straight until we hit the house with the graffiti. It sure was not hard to miss!

Fortunately, it was not all "seeing" here. There was also eating to be done! And so good! One of the best pizzas we had ever had. Super thin. Super tasty. And traditional Brazilian fare like moqueca, which is a stew with coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, garlic, coriander, palm oil... It's from the sate of Bahia, and though it's usually made with fish, this one was vegan, with plantain! Loved it! 

This was also the first time I got to try caipirinhas, a mix of cachaça (a Brazilian eau de vie), cane sugar and lime. Very tasty. Very strong. I had one and, as much as I liked it, one was more than enough!

And sure enough, there was also a samba night in the neighbourhood! At a very old building (a sort of mansion?), with a bookshop that apparently only opened at night or during parties, with more Brazilian food, more cachaça, sweets from the state of Bahia, and a number of songs I had heard many many years ago. What a perfect combination!  

I really liked this neighbourhood. But my best memories will undoubtedly be the views. We had them every morning, every night... Birds, kites, sunsets, sunrises, city lights, the sea... And a good cup of coffee the very last morning we spent at this magic place.