Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gramado e Canela

On Thursday Nadja and Rafael took us to the local mountains, about 2 hours away from Porto Alegre. We stayed at an amazing hotel, the Hotel Continental Canela, located in the small town of Canela, which is located right next to the small town of Gramada. They are in the heart of gaucho country, the Brazilian version of the cowboy. Reminds me of the paniolo, which is the Hawaiian version. Lots of cows and sheep, so lots of leather goods and woolen goods. As it is summer and quite warm, even in the mountains, the woolen goods weren´t very appealing, but as for the leather goods....?....let´s just say that that problem I mentioned before? Yeah, I´m going to need an intervention soon. Or another suitcase.

The mountains are beautiful, and the views of the valley were truly breathtaking:

Again, I am struck between the similarities between Brazil and Hawaii. The plants, the stones, the architecture, the temperature and humidity........I am in a new world, but it feels familiar to my skin, my senses. Even as I type this, glistening with a fine sheen of sweat, feeling the breeze blow across my face, I am home.

And though it is summer here, it is still holiday time, and one of the fun things about Gramado e Canela is that they go all out for Christmas - the entire area is done up in splendor, and they leave the dcorations up until the end of January to give everyone (especially tourists) time to enjoy them. A small example from the town square:

It´s hard to see in the picture, but there is an entire Santa´s Village wrapped around the tree, complete with reindeer, little elves and even a train. As incredible as all these decorations are during the day, once the sun goes down they become eye-poppingly spectacular. I can not even imagine the electricity bill for this town during the holiday season. Perhaps they have a huge dam somewhere, or a giant lizard turning a any rate it really is something to behold.

We had so many wonderful adventures in Gramado e Canela, but I just finished one of Rafael´s killer passion fruit capirinhas (recipe to come, I promise) so now I have to go to bed.

Laugh of the Day

Oh, rest of the world! You are so funny with your ridiculous phrases and sayings!

We found this at breakfast the other day:

The literal translation is "Coffee Sweet Jesus", which pretty much sums up how Brian and I feel most mornings.

And if that doesn´t just take the cake then I´ll be a monkey´s uncle!

My Name Is Jennifer and I Have A Problem

And boy am I in the wrong place.

You see, I am addicted to shoes. And purses. But mainly shoes. I love them. I dream about them. If I could marry them I would (although I´m guessing that both Brian and the Republican Party might have something to say about that).

Let me present exhibit A:

My first pair of Brazilian shoes, I found them when Nadja brought me to her favorite shoe store at the local mall, ARREZZO. It looks like a small shop, but do not be deceived. It has dozens and dozens and dozens of shoes, all of them beautifully crafted, and in your size. And what is that? A matching bag you say? Well, I don´t mind if I do......

On to Exhibit B:

Havaiianas. The *BEST* rubber flip-flop; cute, comfortable and available in a zillion yummy colors. These are the ones with the thin straps that I prefer, and did you know that they sell these little rhinestone-encrusted charms that you can have surgically attached to the straps? Well now you do! How fun is that?!?

I chose a pretty orange butterfly and a Brazilian flag - how´s that for an awesome souvenier? Daily History Lesson: In the Brazilian flag the green stands for the forest/jungle, the yellow is for gold, the blue is for the ocean and the white is for peace. Don´t you feel smarter? Also, Nadja´s daughter Carina is studying advertising in college and told me all about the history of Havaiianas - they are native to Brazil, and for years were just the cheap shoes that poor workers wore. Enter a brilliant marketing campaign and - viola! - they are now much-sought-after around the world (and of course MUCH more expensive). You gotta love marketing.

Which brings us to Exhibit C:

Yes, they are red like Exhibit A and they are flip-flops like Exhibit B, but did you see the giant diamond?

OK, OK, it´s not really a diamond, but still. How could I possibly reisist that combination of simple elegance and bling?

Which brings us to Exhibit D:

Oh. My. God. Seriously - are you looking at these?!? Do you SEE them?!?

I don´t think the pictures do them justice. The large stones are the palest pink, with shimmery flecks throughout, ringed by diamonds - fine, rhinestones - with bigger stones in between. They wrap around the ankle with a sheer floral scarf-like ribbon, although I´m not sure if I´m in love with that part. But no matter; I have an excellent shoe guy at home who can fix them up for me. It´s not a big deal because, as I mentioned before:


Just looking at these shoes makes me happy. They make me feel warm and peaceful, and thus make the world a better place. Never underestimate the power of a really great pair of shoes.

In the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost. Amen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My New Best Friend

No, it´s not Nadja. Nadja introduced me to the devil´s workshop - a store filled with exquisite, high quality (read: $$$) shoes and purses, the kind that make you ache with longing as you consider how much you might reasonably get for your first born on the black market. So Nadja is currently at the top of my sh*t list, but more on that later.

No, my new best friend is this:

The passion fruit caipirinha. It is sweet, sour, just a little bitter and very fresh. It smells divine and makes me giddy. All qualities that I value in a friend. It also comes in a glass, and while this isn´t something I necessarily look for in a companion, I can´t say it isn´t convenient. The best part? I can make it myself, once Rafael shows me how. (He says if you make it with organic cacha├ža then it´s considered a health drink. Did I mention he is brilliant?)

Some friendships come and go, but I think this one is going to last.......Saude!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Catching Up

So, here is what we have done so far:

Taken a lovely walk around Nadja and Rafael´s lovely neighborhood. It reminds me so much of Hawaii it is uncanny; lush and green, humid with sweet air and a cool breeze when you need it.

Visited the Public Market in downtown, a place filled with marvelous smells and sights and sounds. It is so cool to be surrounded by a language you don´t know, trying to guess at conversations by reading the faces and the few words you sort-of recognize - it makes you realize what an adventure you are having! After a lovely lunch we walked along the Guaiba river, watching the preparations for the New Year´s celebration that would be held there. Ava got to drink fresh cocomut milk out of a coconut!

Had dinner one night at one of Nadja and Rafael´s favorite pubs, and then another night at a fantastic sushi restaurant. We have also eaten delicious ice cream, and tasted some of the local fruits. But best of all has been the meals Rafael has prepared for us. In addition to being a brilliant scientist, he is also a gourmet chef. On New Years Eve he made mushroom risotto and filet mignon, and then on New Years Day, despite being a bit hungover, he managed to cook us the most incredible traditional Brazilian barbeque, complete with several varities of meat on swords, each one more delicious than the one before it. As I write this I can still taste it, the amazing flavors still lingering on my toungue.......

Last night still seems like a dream, staring out over the city from the windows of Nadja and Rafael´s apartment, watching the fireworks, drinking champagne.......This is our life! How is this our life?!?

Thank you. To all the powers that be. Thank you. We are eternally grateful.

We Made It!

So, the plan:
Leave LAX on Christmas day, 12 hour flight to Santiago, Chile, then a 5 hour flight Sao Paolo, and finally a short, one-hour flight to Porto Alegre, where our friends live. Simple, right?

And then the airlines got involved.

We arrived at the airport at 11:30am, in plenty of time for our 2:00pm departure. We are standing in line, waiting to check in, when murmurs begin rippling down the qeue that the plane is delayed. By 11 hours. When we finally get to the front of the line, this is confirmed. They kindly offer to put us up in a hotel near the airport for the duration. We ask about our connecting flights in Santiago and Sao Paolo; the flight from Santiago will be fine, but there is only only one flight a day to Porto Alegre from Sao Paolo - again they offer to put us up in a hotel.....

So, we spend Christmas day at the airport Hilton, admiring the giant gingerbread houses and eating our Christmas dinner at the buffet. We get on the plane, tired and full of turkey and stuffing, and mercifully it is not full and the kids can stretch out and sleep. None of us sleep well, but probably more than we would had the flight been on time. We have a brief stop-over in Santiago and then on to Sao Paolo. We have a moment of panic in Sao Paolo when we can´t figure out who to speak to about the hotel, but someone pointed us in the right direction and a lovely airline employee had our reservations and a cab to the hotel waiting for us. Isn´t it amazing when things work the way they should? The hotel in Sao Paolo gave us a much-needed chance to sleep, and when we awoke there was an amazing breakfast buffet awaiting us. Re-engergized and re-fueled, we headed to the airport for our flight to Porto Alegre.

Here is what I will always remember from that day: Seeing Nadja and Rafael waiting for us on the other side of the gate, waving and smiling, the happiness in their faces mirroring ours.

And the orange-carrot-honey yogurt at the breakfast buffet. That was really good.

A Little Backstory.....

A few things you should know before we begin our journey:

1. I *hate* Blogger. And gmail. And Google. And computer shit in general.

2. I am working on my friend Rafael´s computer, which has different keys (because it is Brazilian, as is he) and occasionally displays everything in Portugeuse, at which point I have no idea what I am doing, so if I start sounding strange just stay with me.

So, I tried to log into my regular blog, The Carlson Zoo, but Blogger decided to be a hater and wouldn´t let me in, so I had to start a new blog just for the trip. Whatever.

Our story begins over 10 years ago in the lab of John Marshall at UCI. I was a new post-doc and adjusting to post-doc life, going from being the person in the lab who knew EVERYTHING, to being the person who didn´t know where the tape was, a difficult transition. Fortunately for me there was another post-doc in the lab, Nadja Schroeder, who had arrived a few months before me and knew where the tape was kept. She was amazingly sweet and held my hand as I found my place in the lab. She was from Brazil, and had come to UCI with her boyfriend, Rafael Roesler, and her 5 year old daughter, Carina. We became good friends, and I spent many happy evenings with them, eating delicious Portuguese dinners and playing with Carina. When Brian finished his PhD and moved to California he got to know them and we spent many fun times together.
They returned home to Brazil after a year at UCI; I remember their going-away party - I cried all the way home. They said we should come visit them in Brazil, but we were poor post-docs and didn´t have the funds to visit another state, much less another country. A few years later we both got grown-up jobs, but our time of accumulating fabulous wealth as DINKS was cut short by the arrival of our beautiful babies. When the kids were 1.5 we took them to Chicago, a trip that, though we now look back on it fondly, scarred us deeply at the time. We vowed that we would not travel with them again until they could buy their own tickets and carry their own luggage.
But we do love to travel, and when the kids were 5 we decided to test the waters again and visit my mom in Hawaii. We had a great time, it was wonderful to watch the children discover a new part of the world, and we decided the ban on travel was officially over.
In the meantime, Nadja and Rafael had returned to Brazil, gotten married, secured their own grown-up jobs and had a little girl, Isabella. In 2010 they all came out for the annual Society for Neuroscience conference, held in San Diego that year. They were wonderful enough to come up to Orange County to reconnect with some old friends from UCI, including us. They came to our house and we had a wonderful time catching up and marvelling at the new family members on both sides. Our conversation was easy and enjoyable - it was as if we had never been apart - to me a mark of real friendship. They again asked us to come visit them in Brazil and this time when we looked at each other we could both see the "YES" in eachother´s eyes. "Let´s do it!"

And so we did.