Friday, October 30, 2015

14th - Cosme Velho

Yes, still writing about Brazil. Too much to say. Too little time to write! 

Anyhow, one of the things we couldn't miss was going up the Corcovado, one of Rio's most iconic hills and where the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) stands. But to get up there you have to get to the neighbourhood of Cosme Velho (hence the name of this post) first and, once there, you take a tram up the hill!

The ride up is amazing, because even though more often than not the woods block your view, when you finally get a clear stretch, the surrounding views are gorgeous! Especially if you aim to arrive around before sunset, like we did. Also, please note, do take the tram! You can take a special van, but what's the point of being inside a van when you can have a leisurely ride with better views in a tram? and cheaper?

Once up there, the best is yet to come. First of all, the walk from the tram station to the actual statue offers more stunning views of the whole area around which, combined with some beautiful pink flowers growing from the local trees, gave this walk a very zen-like mood...

As for our fellow Jesus in the shape of an immense Art Déco statue and über-recognizable symbol of christianity, I actually liked a lot more the sunset light on his back. Plus, you can find tons of pictures of the front online. Plus, I guess the christianness of the whole thing was a bit too much?

One interesting fact, though, is that the base of the statue is actually a chapel! and there was a wedding going on when we visited! I can't imagine how difficult it must be to book a ceremony there but, if you wanted to marry somewhere catholically memorable, I guess this would be in the top ten, right?

For us, the reward was obviously not being close to the holy statue, but the impossibly beautiful views from up there. Back at Santa Teresa it had been obvious what a privileged place Rio is. Seeing it from the Corcovado only served to reinforce this conviction – Cariocas really won the lottery with this place, eh? It's truly, undeniably, ridiculously stunning. And with the changing colours of sunset? Wow. Really, how many cities this size can boast of such a setting?!

We stayed until the very last bit of light was gone. Enjoyed some night views. Were thankful for such a privilege – the clear views! the perfect weather! the fantastic sunset! – and started the return back to our place.

Crazy amazing place.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

a surprisingly good UNplanned birthday

When what you had foreseen as a pretty standard and unremarkable birthday turns pretty nice thanks to the small details... 

Like my dad's traditional birthday phonecall to sing to me the extra long Mexican birthday song (Las mañanitas).

Like a surprise simple but super cool gift at work, which sets you in a better mood to go for your coffee, which turns out is free because it's your birthday, so you then spend that saved money on a rich dark chocolate cake.

Like a barrage of birthday greetings on Facebook from dear friends all over the world.

Like the habibi preparing your favourite food for lunch, with a glass of wine, and a special dessert.

Like your colleagues going the extra mile and surprising you with a very creative twist on a vegan cake (actually two!) made from typical Mexican (vegan!) snacks! 

Like going for just a couple of drinks at night, and getting a free shot of really delicious mezcal because, once again, birthday!

Like one very fun night at home - further details currently unpublishable. ;-)

Like the odd comment from the new people in this stage of your life revealing sides of you that were completely below your radar - I have a sense of humour? You have no idea how dour I perceive myself like! I'm ritualistic? I guess that pairs nicely with my rampant atheism? LOL

All in all, my mind's film of the previous year is a nice one: plenty of love, silly partying, interesting art, good food, multiple traditions, new challenges, and even some travel! Looking forward to see what this new year of life brings!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Thanksgiving - Canadian and vegan!

Remember how we were celebrating the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival not long ago? Well, the second weekend of October was Canadian Thanksgiving, and so we were invited to one! This moving around the world and picking up different traditions is sure enriching, eh? Anyhow, though it implied a long, long, looong drive (this was outside of Mexico City proper), we got together with our Canuck and honorary-Canuck friends to celebrate the good things we have – this, unlike the US version, is clearly a harvest festival and, therefore, the main theme is gratitude because of the year's harvest. And sweet and caring as our Canucks are, I had my very own vegan meal, including portobello with couscous. Yum!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

the Day of the Dead approaches

With the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) approaching, shops in the historic centre are doing some decoration changes, like this traditional sweets shop (Dulcería de Celaya) that put up a miniature version of itself with miniature skeletons visiting it! Loved it!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mid-Autumn Festival. Always.

The last Sunday of September was the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), a time to get together with friends or family to eat mooncakes, gaze at the brightest full moon, and celebrate togetherness. 

After 7 years of living in China, this and the Chinese Spring Festival are the two Asian festivities I always make sure to celebrate, which we did this year by having friends over for white lotus, red bean paste and other mooncakes ("stuffing friends with" would be more accurate, LOL), drinking delicious loose-leaf oolong tea, and just being together. 

Some traditions are well worth adopting and maintaining. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

14th - Flamengo

Ah... Flamengo... this is probably one of Rio's neighbourhoods we enjoyed the most. You see, some time before travelling to Brazil, and definitely way before we had even imagined we could travel there, we saw a movie called Reaching for the Moon ("Flores Raras" in Portuguese) about US poet Elizabeth Bishop's romance with Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. We really enjoyed the movie, and at some point Lota is involved in the building of Flamengo Park and in the design of moon lamps: tall towers with lamps that are supposed to give light as if it were moonlight. I don't know, the whole thing was very romantic. And so there was no way we were not going to visit Flamengo and its park.

See that picture above? Those crazy tall things are the lamps I was talking about. I loved the view from the bridge we were on, the design of those things, and the strange feeling of knowing I had seen this in a film without knowing I'd visit myself some day! 

Exploring around, we crossed some fascinating parts of the park, with weird trees that grew in a way that you could basically step within, as in a cage of living matter. 

And this was also our very first approach to Rio's beaches! Sure, we had no beachwear at all, but this was the first moment I realized how incredibly lucky Cariocas (that is, people from Rio) are: gorgeous beaches, gorgeous background and gorgeous people!

As many other parts of the city, Flamengo had a very nice share of old, colourful architecture. I mean, I was indeed expecting some, but not in these quantities! Though it's obvious they've torn down plenty of older buildings to erect the newer and very bland concrete and glass towers we all know, there is still plenty to see.

And Flamengo was where I tried the two foods I liked the very best by far during all our trip! We got to this very unassuming, very basic and very popular eatery called Tacacá do Norte. What's so special about this place is that it serves authentic Amazonian food (from the states of Amazônia and Pará) which, needless to say, I didn't even know existed! 

The first thing we had was a nice, hot bowl of tacacá. A very peculiar soup! It contained tapioca, tucupi (a yellow sauce from wild manioc root), yellow peppers, shrimp, and jambu, a kind of greens with slight anaesthetic properties!? And served, necessarily, in a gourd. It was tangy, peppery-spicy, unique, and I absolutely loved it.

But then you had to follow that with dessert, right? Well, they also had very authentic açaí dessert. I have no idea how this is made, but it is deep red-brown, it's served very cold (sort of like a very cold mousse?), and it has a very rich flavour, not too sweet, and... complex? I'm really trying to think what this tasted like... maybe like a mix of... nah, forget it. It's amazing. And those white things on top is sugar, but sort of in the shape of styrofoam bits? LOL  And also, not exceedingly sweet, which I really appreciated!

Finally (at least food-wise) we went for a beer at a place called Devassa. It was hot, we wanted to just sit down and relax (Tacacá do Norte was delicious, but it's no place to sit down and unwind). I didn't have high expectations, as this looked like your average very commercial brewery. But I had a blonde, my habib had a dark one, and both were amazing! and both were draft! Thumbs up for Brazilian brews!  

Afterwards, we were ready for some culture! The MAM (Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, or Museum of Modern Art). Again, one of those places the habibi knew pretty clearly he wanted to go to, and about which I knew next to nothing. Getting there involved a walk through part of the park, which offered us some incredibly luscious pink-red flowers whose petals also carpeted the ground! This city is so teeming with plants and flowers!

Anyhow, the MAM, right? First off, it's a beautiful Modernist building. At least, I found it beautiful. Strong. Simple. Stark. Intriguing...

And once inside we proceeded to have one incredible experience, thanks in great part to the architecture of the building itself. I mean, look at that staircase! And a number of the pieces fit just way too well with the space! 

It was nice to see some Carioca graphic art, including an inspiring quote that included the phrase "poetic materialization" (materialização poética).

As well as the transformation of space, for which this museum was just perfect. 

And of course, Rio being the kind of city it is, it was just not going to happen to be looking at art installations without a hunk casually sitting outside shirtless. Because Rio.

My last view of Flamengo? The museum's pond, with a carp, and the reflection of those romantic moon-lamps. Amazing neighbourhood, amazing day. Enjoyed it enormously.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

14th - Laranjeiras, Catete, Glória

We walked a lot around Rio. Like, really, a lot. But it was so hard no to! I mean, all these neighbourhoods with their own special character! and so pleasant to stroll around and between them! Unlike my previous posts, I'll cram three neighbourhoods here instead of waxing poetic over just one. Gotta hurry and finish posting, we went to Rio in July and it's October already! Plus, this post is pretty much about a single day walk that took as through all these three, so it was just natural to put them together.

Anyhow, so, we began with Laranjeiras, one of Rio's oldest neighbourhoods with numerous 18th and 19th century buildings. To get there we had to walk downhill across the favela right beneath the place we were staying at. Did I mention before that crossing that favela was quite alright? Sure, there weren't any fancy buildings, it was mostly pretty simple brick or concrete houses. But there was lots of vegetation, and it was pretty calm. Of course, emerging from that unto Laranjeiras with its buildings and parks did make for a huge and stark contrast.

We came across this park, Parque Eduardo Guinle, which had this rather funny entrance where someone thought that putting a cherub - with this expression of "get me off this thing!" - on a sphinx,was sort of artistic? But the park itself, though small, was pretty cute, with the slopes of the nearby hill giving it an amphitheatre shape, with a few artificial lakes and waterfalls, and luscious - so luscious!- vegetation. This was one nice start to our day. 

From there, we got to Catete, another one of the old neighbourhoods (yeah, I know, it would sound like all of them were old, but that's not true, and you'll see that in some other post), with a nice leafy square (Largo do Machado) and more old architecture: rows and rows of old buildings in orange, blue, yellow, and many with a curious round shape for their upper floor windows too.

And we finished with some exercise in Glória, walking uphill through a maze of streets and steps to get to Nossa Senhora da Glória do Outeiro. This is considered one of the most important representations of Brazilian colonial art. It's small. It's octagonal. And it's got numerous beautiful white and blue Portuguese tiles depicting various scenes. Had it been a less hazy day, I guess we could have had wonderful views from up here. But still.  

Now, I'll be the first one to admit this is not a very exciting post, . But I enjoyed Rio tremendously, so I'm happy to cover everything we saw and did. Plus, there are some posts ahead that will very much compensate the blandness - but it wasn't that bad, was it? - of this one here.