Sunday, February 28, 2016

Carnaval, Part 2, aka The Bloco That Went Bad

Blocos, or street parties, occur before, during and after Carnaval all over this city.  Depending on their location and popularity, they can be (relatively) small and tame, or they can attract tens of thousands of people and be wild and crazy drunk-fests.  We had been to two blocos prior to the start of Carnaval, and they fell under the former category.  The second one was definitely bigger than the first and definitely less tame, but still we never felt threatened in any way.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that during the 5 days of Carnaval, we woke up and went to sleep hearing the hum of blocos all around us.  Although they start weeks ahead of Carnaval and don't end up the Sunday after Carnaval (a full 5 days after Fat Tuesday when Carnaval ends in the rest of the world), they are most intense during Carnaval itself, when you can hear the hum in the air if they are close by.

Cut to the bloco after the feijoada and Beija Flor, and it was an entirely different scene from our first two blocos.

We had been invited by Brazilian friends to their apartment for a bloco-viewing party, which, in their words, is the only way to experience this particular bloco in Ipanema.  I declined the invitation because the party started at 4pm, and I knew we'd be at the feijoada until 6.  They told me to come over late, that their apartment was near the Caesar Park and we'd still be able to see the bloco going on.

Their apartment is very close to the Caesar Park Hotel.  On a non-bloco day, it wouldn't take more than a few minutes of a peaceful, beachfront walk to get from one to the other.

Add tens of thousands of people, and the walk was neither fast nor pleasant.  
Photo from O Globo newspaper of the Banda de Ipanema bloco
We all quickly realized I had made a terrible mistake in insisting we go to this party.  The sidewalks weren't terribly busy when we started the walk, but they turned horrible in a flash. Once we were in the middle of this throng, it was impossible to decide whether it was better to push forward or turn back. No matter which way you looked, there were drunk masses of people as far as the eye could see.  

The Mathiasens held on to their girls, I had a death grip on Mac's shoulder (from which I woke up the next morning with a horrible pain in my shoulder and arm), and Jimmy brought up the rear.

We made slow progress.  I can't describe to you the heat, and the jostling, and the pushing, and the general feeling of panicky terror that simmered in my stomach.  

At some point, Jimmy realized his cell phone had been stolen from his pocket, but thankfully his wallet was still in the other pocket.  The rest of us were luckier and lost nothing.

At that point, we decided to abort the mission with the best course of action being to cut across the road and get to the beach.  I felt like if we could get down to the water, we could make our way from Ipanema back towards Leblon, where it would be calmer since the bloco didn't go that far.  Everybody was told the plan and we tried to stick as close together as we could.   

If you look at that photo above, we were as far on the left side as you can be (all the way up against the fences around the apartment buildings).  We pushed and pulled our way across all those people to get to the right side of the photo.  Thankfully, Brazilians love assisting old people and people with children.  Anika was in front of our makeshift conga line, holding Sofie, and people screamed at other people to get out of the way because children were coming through.  Miraculously, it worked and we got across the crowd and onto the sand.

Only to realize that we'd lost Jimmy.  Who no longer had a cell phone.

Mac was very upset about leaving Jimmy behind but after looking for him (imagine the hardest game of Find Waldo! that you've ever played), I convinced him that Jimmy still had his wallet (please God, let him still have his wallet) and could taxi home just as we were planning to do.  (Jimmy's driver was waiting for us some blocks away.  The plan had been to call the driver when we were leaving the party to see where he was parked, but now Jimmy had no way of communicating with him after his cell phone was stolen.)

The five of us trudged down the beach, settled down our nerves, recounted what a horrifying experience the whole thing had been, got in taxis and headed home.  Where we found Jimmy waiting for us.  

Lesson learned:  Never ever go to a bloco ever again.  Ever. 

Next up;  Super Bowl Sunday

Carnaval, part 1

Holy Moly, I think we've lived a few months in the last few weeks.  I really - REALLY - need to tell you about Carnaval in Rio.  I have never seen anything like it, nor have I seen a collective body of people maintain the stamina required to celebrate Carnaval for weeks on end.  (And when I say weeks, I am not exaggerating.)

Our dear friends, the Mathiasens, flew in from Bogota on February 6.  The Mathiasens were our traveling partners in crime when we went to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks a few summers ago.  We had the best time with these guys - and we were camping so if I can say I had the best time while camping, then you know it was truly the best time humanly possible.  We knew we were in for an amazing Carnaval week with them in town.  

We hit the ground running on the afternoon of their arrival with a traditional Carnavalesca feijoada lunch at the Caesar Park Hotel.  Feijoada is the classic Brazilian dish of beans and meat (sort of a stew) served with rice, farofa, collards and orange slices.  I love feijoada - rice and beans are what I grew up on - but during these very hot months of the Rio summer, feijoada does not appeal to me as much because it's such a heavy dish.  But we were told these feijoadas were traditional during Carnaval so off we went to the hotel.

As part of the whole experience, they had make-up artists set up to doll-up anyone who wanted it, and they distributed t-shirts, which you could customize.  The Mathiasen girls took advantage of both and looked stunning with their make-up and bedazzled shirts!
Sofie and Pernille instructing the t-shirt "bedazzlers" on what they wanted done to their shirts.
The food was excellent, but the most fun part was the presence of a dancer and drummers from the Beija Flor samba school.  Beija Flor was the champion of the 2015 Carnaval, and they did not disappoint at the feijoada.  They had everyone up and dancing, even those of us (me) who don't know how to dance samba.
The "bateristas" from Beija Flor

Pernille, Sofie, the Beija Flor dancer, and Mac
Check out that bum-bum...

and those bedazzled boots!

Missing Sofie in this photo, but we got that clown behind Jimmy
And here's Sofie in a post-dancing resting pose...

The Dancing Queens

Clearly giving the professional samba dancer a run for her money.  Now if only we had the right clothes....

So much fun.

A great time was had by all....  

Next up:  the time the blocos went bad....

(Photo Credits to Anika and Bo Mathiasen!)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Major edits to earlier posts....

The previously aforementioned "basketball" players do not, in fact, play basketball. They are/were baseball players. 


As happens more and more frequently, the synapses don't always fire correctly to connect the brain with the fingers. Old posts have been duly corrected. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

More on the BASEBALL players

On Thursday night at the baseball fundraiser, Jimmy gave the baseball players his phone number and told them to call him if they needed anything during their stay in Rio. The phone rang around 5pm Friday and it was Barry Larkin (Hall of Famer, Cincinnati Red legend) asking what they should do that night. (He and Steve Finley stayed through last night; LaTroy Hawkins flew home Friday night.) 

Jimmy and his protocol assistant scrambled and got them an invite to a VIP box at the Sambadrome for the first night of Carnaval. They had a ball and, by all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. 

Jimmy also told them
 that the consulate was playing beach volleyball on Saturday morning if they wanted to go. He said he'd check in with them that morning. 

He called them and they said they wanted to go so Jimmy went to the hotel to pick them up and get them settled at the beach so he could come back home to be with our houseguests who had just flown in. We had tickets to a feijoada/samba party in the afternoon and knew we couldn't do the beach.  

When Jimmy got to the hotel, they told him the hotel wouldn't let them have a late checkout (it's Carnaval and hotel rooms are at a premium). So Jimmy told him he'd bring their luggage to our house and the driver would bring them here after the beach where they could shower and get changed for their flight. 

I quickly straightened up our bedroom, cleaned our bathroom, put out some clean towels and we took off for the feijoada. 

When we got home, we found two notes from them. 

The first was left with baseball shirts in Jimmy's size:

The second was in Mac's room with two more shirts and R$150 (about $40), which is the change he talks about in the PS. 

These guys - these baseball legends - are such nice guys. Who would've thought they'd leave not one, but TWO, notes on their way out the door??

And hopefully since Barry Larkin himself told Mac he has great parents and should do right by us, Mac will finally believe it!

Friday, February 5, 2016

This life

Sometimes this foreign service life is nothing but putting your pants on, one leg at a time, every single day, no matter if you're living in DC or Timbuktu. 

And then sometimes, just sometimes, there are some really cool and amazing moments where you have to stop and enjoy the moment and realize this is only happening because you're living this crazy foreign service life in a place as cool and amazing as Rio. 

We've had a few of the latter moments over the last week, and they've reminded me how lucky and blessed we are. 

Last Thursday we were invited to the movie premier of Os Dez Mandamentos, otherwise known in English as The Ten Commandments"

Remember back in November when I got to go to the live set of the hit telenovela show?  Well they made it into a blockbuster feature film.  The premier was a red-carpet event with many of the stars (even Moses and Joshua left the Promised Land to come!). There was a cocktail party first followed by a showing of the film. It was a lot of fun and we met some interesting people, including some of the stars. 

Our official photo on the red carpet!

After the cocktail party, we all got popcorn and drinks for the movie.  

There's a blog post about the event, including photos of lots of famous people (and clearly less than famous people as we made the cut for inclusion). You can check it out here if you wish:

Saturday night was another fun evening at the Unidas de Tijuca samba school, which has already been documented. 

On Tuesday night we were invited to a Samba Supper complete with entertainment by some members of the famous Mangueira samba school. The hosts are Chilean wine producers who really threw a fun party with interesting guests, great food, fun music and, naturally, great wine.  

And last night we hosted a fundraiser to support a local organization which promotes baseball here in Rio. We had about a hundred people here, Jaqueline cooked an amazing menu, AND we got to meet 3 former Major League Baseball stars (Barry Larkin, LaTroy Hawkins and Steve Finley) and one active player, Paulo Orlando, a Brazilian playing for Kansas City who happens to be the only Brazilian to ever play on a winning World Series Championship team. These guys were so nice and stayed well past the hours they'd committed to the event. Naturally we took photos and Mac got a baseball signed. It was so, so much fun. 
Mac with former Cincinnati Reds superstar and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin 

Us and who I affectionately call our BBFFs (Baseball Best Friends Forever): Barry Larkin, LaTroy Hawkins, Mac, Steve Finley, and us 

Jimmy's single favorite part of a pretty stellar evening was hanging out with these guys on our balcony. They regaled him with personal stories about hanging out and playing baseball with the likes of Ken Griffey, Sr and Randy Johnson. Jimmy was like a kid in a candy store. 

We have a quiet night at home to regroup and get a good night's sleep before our friends arrive tomorrow morning and Carnaval activities begin in earnest for us. 

 It's going to get crazy around here. Pray that my stamina endures.

Bom Carnaval para voces!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

setting the table

When we were growing up, my mom was adamant that we would know how to set a proper table AND know how to eat at a place setting if there were multiple forks, knives and spoons around the plate.  (Hint:  use utensils from the outside in.)

When we set the table for any meal from an extended-family Christmas dinner to the supper table on a random weekday night, we knew that the utensils needed to be one inch from the bottom of the place mat, the knife blade needed to be turned in to face the plate, and the napkin was placed to the left of the fork and not under it.

My mother told us, as she told her Home Ec students, that even if the only fancy place setting we ever sat down to was at dinner before our prom, we would know how to use the right fork and appreciate it.

I am sure that my mother knew I would have more fancy dinner settings than just my prom, but I am positive she never imagined where life would take me.

Last night as I was setting the table for an official breakfast for oil and gas sector people at our residence this morning in Rio, I was overcome with gratitude towards my mother for teaching me something so basic (it's just everyday good manners) but yet so incredibly helpful for my adulthood.  I can't imagine the panic attack I would have before every event if I didn't have the confidence instilled by mom to do something as basic as setting the table correctly.  Not fancy, but correctly.

While we don't set the table this well for our everyday breakfast, our table is (nearly) always set properly for a sit-down meal at our house.  The knife will always be facing in and the napkin is always to the left of the fork. Some lessons can never be undone...