Monday, August 31, 2015

a matter of semantics

Here in Rio, there is definitely crime to be wary of.  From what I can tell, the crime is mainly normal big-city street crime.  Pickpockets, grabbing cell phones, etc.  Obviously, bigger, more serious stuff happens, but this is a big metropolitan area and bigger, more serious stuff always happens in big cities.

The word for "robbed" in Portuguese is "assaltado", which sounds remarkably like "assaulted" in English.  So I hear these stories that everyone tells of being "assaltado" and I'm sure everyone has been physically assaulted at gunpoint. That their person has been violated in some way.  Maybe not raped, but they've been beaten up at knifepoint for $20 in their pocketbook.

And I freak out a little.

But then I remind myself that they've been robbed.  Like pickpocketed.  Which is still horrible, but their person has not been attacked, which to me is the worst thing I can imagine.  What's happened to them happens all over the world, every single day, to tourists and residents alike.  Crimes of opportunity.

And then I calm down a little and feel like I can go outside to face the world again.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A piquenique at the lake

On Sundays, the banks of the lake in front of our apartment are packed with children's and dogs' birthday parties; people running, cycling, skateboarding, rollerblading and strolling; and families and friends having picnics, which is called a piquenique in Portuguese. 

One of the cool ways to have a piquenique here is to hire it done. And by "hire it done", I don't mean stop by the KFC on the way to the lake and buy the family bucket of chicken. 

It turns out there are services that will set up a whole fancy picnic for you, including comfy seating, and provide food according to your budget. You just show up with your friends, lounge around and eat. How cool is that?

Here's an example of one picnic we saw today:

Gorgeous setting, nice umbrellas to block the sun, and comfy seating... They even have a teepee for the kiddos to hang out in. Are you kidding me?

I'm a sucker for ambiance so if I'd been invited to this piqueniqueit wouldn't even really matter if I got sick from bad mayo in the chicken salad. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

P.S. on the construction in our apartment

Our building has hollow ventilation columns that run right up the center of each half of the building.  (There are two apartments on each floor and presumably there are two ventilation columns per building.)  Two of our three bathrooms have tilting windows that open out into this column to vent the moisture and heat from the showers since there are no ventilation fans in the bathrooms.

After posting yesterday morning about the construction noise making me crazy, I went to take a shower before attending an art exhibition.  I entered the shower to this racket:

The hot and cold water knobs were literally vibrating from the drilling going on just on the other side of the shower wall. If there were ever a way to ruin the calming effects of a nice shower, it's taking a shower with this nonsense going on.

I was so rattled and ticked off by the time I finished getting ready in the bathroom that I just wanted to run away from home.  I grabbed my handbag, threw my Pilates clothes in a bag because I intended to stay away from home for hours until my Pilates class, made profuse apologies to Leo for deserting him with all that noise, and left.

I got in a taxi and promptly realized I didn't have my house keys.

I dumped out my bag, I checked in and around the seat.  I lifted up a floor mat in the taxi that was covered in some sort of animal hair.  

No keys.  Nada.  Zilch.

I called Jimmy to ask him to call the police officer on duty at our building to ask him to look in the elevator, out on the street where I got the taxi, in the back hallway, etc.

No keys, Nada, Zilch.

Jimmy's driver met me at the art exhibition (which thankfully was very close to the consulate) to bring me his set of keys.

Instead of staying out for a couple hours until my Pilates class, I went back to the apartment because I had to find the keys.  Naturally they were right where I left them.  On the kitchen counter.

I don't think I've ever lost my keys before.  Not ever.

All of this is to say that I must, for reasons of health and sanity, get out of this construction-ridden apartment building sooner rather than later.

Eleven more sleeps.  Eleven more sleeps.  Eleven more sleeps.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

quick update on housing situation

Jimmy was told yesterday we're moving into the house on schedule on September 10.  Hurray!!

We stopped in on Saturday and everything looks GREAT!  The bathrooms are gorgeous and the painters had already done at least one coat on the interior of the whole house.  I guess they're doing a second coat now and then the house will be cleaned and the furniture arranged (along with moving everything out of the temporary apartment).

The move, for me, cannot come a moment too soon.  The construction is ongoing on the outside of our apartment building and it's quickly driving me crazy on the days I'm home to hear it.  The entire building is covered in a bazillion little tiles.  Like 1/2" tiles.  They are drilling off all the tiles in order to put up new ones.  Do you know the noise and the dust and the commotion that is caused by drilling off a bazillion little tiles from a 10-story building?

Leo does not like it one bit either.  He goes totally bonkers when he sees the construction elevator passing by our apartment balcony.  And if the elevator stops at our floor so they can drill the tiles in our area?  Let's just say there's stiff competition for what will drive me crazy faster:  Leo's non-stop barking at the construction workers or the noise from the drilling.

I leave you with yesterday's view of a construction worker fixing his zipper on the construction elevator when he didn't realize I was sitting in my favorite chair in the corner of the living room:

Welcome to my world. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Random lesson learned on a Tuesday morning

This morning Leo and I went out for our customary walk at the lake. We don't make it too far because Leo is very easily distracted by all the smells. 

We had turned around and were heading back towards home when I spotted some capybara by the lake for the first time since we've been here. 

These animals are like giant rodents that live all over Brazil (and probably other places, too, but I think I've only ever seen them in the wild in Brazil). 

(An image from Google of a capybara). 

We stopped to look at them. Or rather I stopped to look at them, but I'm not sure Leo even noticed them because they were so still. 

We walked on, but stopped a few seconds later because Leo was once again distracted. I turned back to look at the capybara and also saw two men with their large dogs that I see just about every morning. We were all up on a raised walkway a couple feet above the lake level where the visible capybara were. The golden retriever, however, spotted a capybara out of our sight line. That rodent was still below us but right up against the wall where we were walking. 

The owner of the golden retriever yanked the dog back and jogged away from the edge with the dog. 

He then explained to me that the capybara has three babies and the mother will attack dogs with her long fangs to protect the babies. He said there are stories of this capybara taking big bites out of dogs. 


Now in addition to protecting Leo from the attack bird across from our apartment that squawks and buzzes the poor dog's back (and gives me a near heart attack in the process) if we dare walk too close to her tree, I now have to be on the lookout for killer capybara. 

Rio is literally and figuratively an urban jungle. 

Monday, August 17, 2015


Before I can go one bit further on this blog, I must tell you about going to the fight.

We ended up getting tickets to the UFC fight a few weeks ago.  It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and none of us will ever forget it.

First of all, it's not one fight.  I think the night we went, there were about 15 fights.  They start with the preliminary, no-name fights and work up to the big one.  The big one on the night we went was American Ronda Rousey vs Brazilian Bethe Correia.  There was a lot of pre-fight smack talking from Correia.  Originally the Brazilians were behind her as the "hometown girl", but then she ran her mouth too much and made remarks about Rousey's father's death by suicide and the Brazilians turned in favor of Rousey.  But more on that fight in a minute.

We got there in time to watch the whole shooting match, starting with the no-name people who are fighting whenever they can to try and get better and bigger billing.  There were only a handful of us in the arena for most of those fights.  People "in the know" apparently know enough to wait to arrive because this night drags on for ages.  And when I say ages, I'm talking like ice ages.  We arrived before the first fight at 8pm and we did not leave the arena until 3am when the last fight was over.  When I say it's a long night, I mean it.  I normally would have been on at least my second REM sleep cycle by the time we left the place.

The Storys before the fights began
(As an aside, I wasn't 100% sure what one wears to the fight.  What I learned is that, at least in Rio, you can pretty much wear anything you want to a fight, but the higher your heels, the better.)

So we watched fight after fight, ate some food, drank some drinks and really enjoyed ourselves.  Our new US UFC VP friend took excellent care of us and made sure we met some fighters who weren't fighting that night (including current UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos), introduced us to UFC President Dana White, and got us into a VIP area.

We even ran into our old friend Fabricio Werdum (remember he's the current UFC heavyweight champion), who treated us like long-lost friends.

Seriously, even had we not watched any fights, it might have been the best night ever.
Mac watching the action with the two Marines who went with us

And then, the coolest, most awesome, best thing in the whole world happened.  The UFC VP found us and said he needed to take Mac with him for awhile.  Now this arena was pumping by then and it was dark so I was a teensy bit nervous, but Mac knew where we were seated so I knew he could find us if he got lost.

The next thing we knew, Mac was walking down on the floor of the arena straight to the cage.

And then he sat down right by the cage next to the judges, put headphones on so he could listen to the announcer call the fight, and watched the action.

Right. By. The. Cage.  

Are you kidding me?

This will surely go down as one of the top 10 highlights of this kid's life in Rio.  Shoot, this may go down as one of the top 10 highlights of this kid's entire childhood.
Shot of one of the big screens when the camera was angled to where Mac was sitting.  Do you see him?

What about now?  He had the best seat in the house.
More of the fight without Mac in the screen

So he watched American Patrick Cummins (in the white shorts above) up close and personal beat Rafael Cavalcante in the 3rd round via TKO.  Seriously super-cool stuff.
Here's a little video Mac took while cage-side.  Look at that face!

When the fight ended, our UFC friend introduced Mac to the fight judges and that baldheaded guy who calls all the fights (he used to be on Fear Factor and I apparently am the only human being in the world who doesn't know who this man is).  Then all of a sudden the loudspeaker came on and they announced that our friend Fabricio was walking out on the floor.  He walked right over with his entourage to where Mac and the UFC VP were standing and treated him like an old friend.  The coolness factor of this kid's life was carved in stone with that one.
Mac in a mob scene meet-and-greet!

I have no idea who Mac is talking to in this photo, but talking away he is!

This picture is fuzzy but Mac is sort of in the center in a gray polo (about an inch from the cage on a laptop screen), having his photo taken with Fabricio Werdum.  

Mac and the UFC VP walking back to us (this is the same corridor Ronda Rousey used to come out for her fight)
We watched the rest of the nights, including the amazing 34 seconds that it took Rousey to knock Correia's lights out.  The crowd was CUH-RAZY nuts with excitement.  It was very exhilarating.
This place was pulsating!

Ronda Rousey entering the mat

... and still the undefeated UFC Bantamweight champion of the world

We left the arena, totally exhausted but completely blown away by the whole experience.  I cannot tell you how much fun we had.

The next afternoon we had a 5pm early dinner date with an old State Department colleague of Jimmy's who was in Brazil with his wife and adult daughter.  We were early for the reservation but we were going to enter the restaurant and wait for them.  As Jimmy was speaking with the hostess, I noticed a man walking out of the restaurant, who I was sure was a fighter from the night before.  I got Jimmy's attention quickly and told him that I thought this guy was a UFC guy.  I then confirmed with the restaurant's valets that he was a fighter and off we went.  Of course, Jimmy remembered exactly who he was by name because he was the American Mac had watched fight cage-side!  

In an earlier blog I wrote that these guys were so nice when I expected them to be mean and eat children's and puppy's organs.  Well I told this guy and his handlers this and that I'd become a convert of UFC after meeting Fabricio, Tomas and the UFC VP because everyone was so stinking nice.  They told us that a) they're really nice people and b) 88% of all US UFC fighters have a college degree.  In fact, Patrick Cummins himself earned a fine arts degree in ceramics from Penn State while he was wrestling there. 

I'm sorry, come again?

(For the record, I did some stalking and he did have a little jail stint because of a college prank, but I'm chalking that up to youthful indiscretion.  He's a totally nice guy now.) 

Of course, I asked if we could take a photo, and they happily obliged.  
Photo #1
Then his sports agent told him to remove the glasses for the next photo.
Ouch!  Classic case of "but you should see the other guy"  (There was one other photo taken with the glasses off where Jimmy's eyes are opened but this is a better photo of my new BFF Pat so I included this one instead.)

The UFC trilogy is thus ended by UFC's newest and biggest booster!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Random Musings from today's activities (UFC Part 3 is coming soon!)

1.  Today a taxi driver asked me if I was from Portugal.  I took that as a compliment because normally I'm asked if I'm American, which means I'm speaking Portuguese like a tourist.  The taxi driver's question means, to me, that he understood I was speaking Portuguese, but he knew it wasn't his breed of Portuguese.

2.  Today I had a meeting with a French chef that I met in a butcher shop last week.  Pierre has worked in restaurants in Paris, NYC, London and somewhere in Ireland, but he landed in Rio 19 years ago to work for the Meridien Hotel here.  He's worked for several other restaurants since then and has married and divorced a Brazilian woman, but still finds himself drawn to Rio.  He's now a consulting chef who does event catering and special projects.  He was hired by friends to teach their housekeeper how to prepare the meals they like to eat.  That housekeeper is helping me find someone to housekeep/cook.  I have a first interview with a prospect next Tuesday.  Wish me luck.

3.  Pierre told me today that when we first met last week, he thought I was from England.  So I'm obviously winning in the going incognito competition.

4.  Feeling like I needed to impress Chef Pierre, I served coffee and blueberry muffins on a pretty silver tray when he arrived. I had the china coffee pot, creamer and sugar dish plus I dug out the little silver demitasse spoons.  It was very pretty and I felt like I was living on the set of Dynasty or some other old-school tv show where the lady of the house serves coffee from a pretty serving set.  Pierre told me that the coffee was delicious three times and finally asked if I'd made it (knowing full well that I don't have a housekeeper yet).  I said, "of course".  He looked shocked as if I wasn't supposed to know how to make coffee or like I was hiding a secret barista in the kitchen.  He told me there's an expression in Brazil that says "if  a lady can make good coffee, marry her."  Clearly Jimmy's a lucky man.

5.  When discussing my housekeeper requirements, I said that I wanted someone who either knew or could be taught how to, for instance, serve coffee to guests.  Or how to correctly remove plates between courses.  Or could discreetly work a cocktail party to remove used cups, plates, etc. He indicated that we'd just have to hire extra people to work parties.  I explained that I hosted a coffee yesterday for 20+ people and I did all the cooking, all the serving and all the refilling of coffee pots and food trays during the coffee so surely a housekeeper could do those few things I mentioned.  (I did hire a friend's housekeeper to help me clean up afterwards, but she came as the party was winding down.)  Again, he was shocked and I had to repeat that in fact, nobody helped me cook or serve the party.  Chef Pierre must think that American women are either lazy or incapable because he could not believe that I would or could do all that on my own.  It was a very good lesson for him to learn that I'm not a slouch in hard work so don't tell me I need a whole bunch of people to work a party and expect me to pay for it blindly when I know good and well the effort that goes into parties since I've cooked for and hosted my own parties for years.

6.  Today I had lunch with a new private-sector friend that we met at middle school orientation last week.  Super cool lady from Mexico who, besides Mexico, has lived in NYC, Belgium, Atlanta, and Costa Rica.  They also just arrived and should be here for the 3 years we're here.  We ate at an adorable restaurant that I've had my eye on for weeks.  It's called Formidable and I had their special lunch where you pick an appetizer, main dish and dessert.  I chose a wonderful green salad with warm goat cheese croutons for the appetizer; gnocchi with tomatoes, olives and spinach for the main dish; and profiteroles which they surrounded with the most decadent hot chocolate ever for dessert.  The meal was divine and I will go back early and often.

7.  Today is the one-year anniversary of Leo's adoption so we went to the dog park as a special treat.  We went last Saturday for the first time and he's tried to steer me back there every day since on our walks around the lake.  I've avoided going back in because he comes out filthy and I haven't had time after these early-morning walks to bathe him again.  The park was way less crowded than when we went last Saturday so he didn't run as much, but it tuckered him out completely anyway.  He has been such a good dog since we got here.  Rio seems to have mellowed him - he doesn't complain or bark or whine when we leave him at home, he sleeps very well at night, and he's great around other people.  He was the hit of the coffee yesterday morning and allowed the few little children who were here to play with him and love on him. (And yes, he did get a nice bath today after the visit to the park.)
Leo posing in front of Dois Irmoes and the lake in front of our temporary apartment
All in all, a pretty great day from start to finish.  Happy Weekend to you all!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

UFC, Part 2

Where there are UFC fighters, there are also so-called Octagon Girls, or Ring Girls.

You know who I'm talking about, right?  Those pretty, scantily clad girls who walk around the ring during the fight and hold up the signs.

Yeah, those ones.

Well there were three of them at Providencia.  And they were pretty and fairly scantily clad compared to me.

They were also very nice and very accommodating to the people who all wanted photos with them.  Don't get me wrong - they play up their attributes as they're meant to do - but they were also much nicer and seemed more normal than I would've ever expected.

Mac with the beautiful Octagon girls

Can you spot the Octagon Girl's shoes among the regular people's shoes?

One of the girls in attendance was Jhenny Andrade.  Per the Octagon Girls' website (yes, there is one), Jhenny is one of the most beautiful ring girls in the UFC.  Her biography from the website:
An artist since she was a child, the beauty started to shine at 6 years old. Doubling as a Brazilian presenter in Brazil, she was such a big success in Ribeirão Preto that she presented for a local show for kids.
This was just the first round in Jhenny’s life. After that there were fashion shows, lingerie photo shoots for famous brands, TV commercials and much more.
When she was 18 she decided to move to São Paulo. The dream of the big city was scary but also exciting.
In São Paulo, Jhenny got an invitation to write for VIP magazine, one of the most prestigious men’s magazine in the country.
In her column named – The Perfect Girlfriend – she told experiences of how men saw the perfect woman. Jhenny learned to make barbecue, change an electric shower, and play soccer.
The success of her column was so big that it lasted for 6 and a half years and was the third most read section of the magazine.
With all that it was time to wear the UFC belt. Jhenny was picked to be part of the octagon girls team. As she says herself, “in the beginning it was all new and different. Today I am part of the delicious adrenaline and I am in love with fighting.”
Art, Muay-Thai
Favorite Foods:
Your perfect man: Doesn’t have to be pretty.
Most Handsome man: Fiuk
Most beautiful woman: Megan Fox
Most handsome Fighter:  Lyoto Machida
Favorite music/band:  Dave Matthews Band
What do you do to keep in shape: I go to the gym and train Muay-Thai. I fell in love with both.
Day in the UFC that marked your life: Watching José Aldo fight. 

See?  She's just like us.  She listens to Dave Matthews and eats McDonald's.

Before we arrived, Jimmy was pretty adamant that he wasn't going to take his photo with an Octagon Girl because he didn't want it to show up somewhere and make the wrong impression.  Well the girls wanted their pictures taken individually with him.  And one of them showed up on Jhenny's Instagram page and named Jimmy by name in the comment section.  Joke's on him!  

Let's play a little game I like to call "Find the Diplomat". Ready, set, go!

If you need a hint, the diplomat is the one showing the least amount of skin.  

Stay tuned for UFC, part 3!

UFC, Part 1

On Thursday morning, Mac and I joined Jimmy and some other folks from the Consulate on a trip back to the Providencia favela that I wrote about a few weeks ago.  The purpose of this trip was to accompany two UFC fighters to the favela so they could meet members of the community and inspire them with their stories of how valuable hard work and education are.

Before I go further, let me share with you my exposure to UFC.  Jimmy LOVES watching UFC.  He watches it, discusses the moves, the fighters, the broken noses, etc.  In Arlington we had a tv in our bedroom, which we've never had before, and I cannot count how many nights I fell asleep to the sounds of UFC fights in the background.  The noise of the fight alone is not conducive to a good night's sleep, but add Jimmy's commentary, like "he's getting ready to break that guy's leg", and you can have full-on nightmares.

If you're not familiar with UFC, it's mixed martial arts fighting that mixes disciplines of judo, Brazilian jiu jitsu, boxing, karate, Muay Thai, etc.  I think it looks terribly violent and is definitely not the staged wrestling matches of my youth.  Jimmy points out to me constantly that nobody has ever received a life-threatening or life-ending injury from UFC, whereas people have died from boxing. So there's that.

Brazilians love UFC.  The current heavyweight champion - who happened to be one of the two people who went to Providencia - is a Brazilian guy.  People know this guy.  People love this guy.

So we went to the favela in a convoy, part of which was a big van that contained the fighters, the Octagon girls, the UFC VP of Athlete Development (from the US) and various members of the UFC Brazil office.  There were also members of the press everywhere.  Television cameras, reporters, photographers, etc.  It was really a much bigger deal than I expected.

The current heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum, also known as Vai Cavalho (Go Horse), got out of the van and everyone sprang into action.  The cameras start humming and clicking and people got some peps in their steps.  Mac and I had met the UFC VP back at the consulate, so he came over with Fabricio to introduce Mac and me to him.

This guy is huge.  He's about Jimmy's height and weighs right now around 260 pounds (which is +/- 20 pounds more than his fighting weight).  His arms and chest are so muscular and remember that I've fallen asleep listening to these people beating up on each other, so in my mind, I expect him to have bad breath and to eat the organ meat out of sweet puppy dogs and cute babies.

But he was the nicest guy in the world.  Seriously.

I had done some research on him and knew he now lives in Los Angeles, so when Mac and I shook hands with him, I said that I understood he lived in LA now.  He said that he lives in Redondo Beach, and they love it.  It's so idyllic and his kid can walk to school from their house.

I'm sorry, what?

Aren't you supposed to eat livers and kidneys out of babies and puppies?  But you're telling me about your sweet daughter walking to school?

I couldn't have imagined anything more unexpected.

I became a fan for life.

Mac being introduced to Fabricio Werdum

Jimmy and Fabricio discussing their similar heights

Fabricio helping Mac get the heavyweight champion belt fixed "just right"

Ready to fight

Then we entered the community center, specifically the sports room, and I gained even more respect.  This guy, who is larger than life to these kids, spent hours (along with another Brazilian, Thomas Almeida, who is an up-and-comer in UFC, and three Octagon girls) talking with the kids, demonstrating different moves, watching them practice judo, taking photos, doing interviews, etc.  It was so impressive.

Blurry photo but Fabricio "fighting" with a young boy from the favela


 Fabricio demonstrating some moves with the Providencia judo school sensei

Because in my mind, I am the heavyweight champion of the world

Mac and up-and-comer UFC Fighter Thomas Almeida
I discussed with the UFC VP about how powerful it was to see these people, these stars, who are so in demand and who could be doing a million other things, taking this sort of time with these folks in the favela.  He said that they love doing this sort of engagement.  We also talked about their behavior "outside the ring".  As we know, there's no end to bad press about professional sports stars in the US.  They beat their wives, get DUIs, murder people, flaunt their money and fame, etc.  He said that UFC really stresses to these fighters that they are representatives of the UFC brand, which means something to the people behind UFC.  They teach them that off the clock, people are watching and even if they're not fighting a UFC fight, they're still associated with the UFC and the UFC doesn't want their image tarnished by stories of misconduct.

I became a bigger fan for life.

We were there for over two hours and these people did not stop once.  They didn't hesitate to take the millionth photo, they shared the heavyweight champion belt around, they smiled the entire time.

Still smiling after all those hours
The UFC VP gave Mac the gift of a lifetime: a pair of UFC fighting gloves that are signed by Royce Gracie, who was one of the first UFC fighters and who is a Brazilian jiu jitsu legend.  Mac had the other glove signed by Fabricio Werdum.  Possibly the coolest day ever to a 12 year-old boy.

Mac and the US UFC VP of Athlete Development
Stay tuned for part 2!