Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Friday, September 30, 2005

A Better 'Love Story'

Yep, thats right, Love Story, you need to relinquish your 1970's title as de facto romeo-n-julietesque sentimental tearjerker, you've been kicked to curb.

Being a film ho, I know other film hos, and they know two friends and so on. And thats how I found myself bullying my way into being invited to see the pre-release of Brokeback Mountain. I was totally speechless at the end of this movie, totally. This is the new Love Story. I dont usually cry at movies; never a tear shed for Love Story, Terms Of Endearment or Steel Magnolias but this one broke the trend.

My grandmother used to say - 'You dont get to choose who you love, why you love them or how long it will last.' This has certainly been my own experience and I think this may provide some insight into the film's tagline 'Love is a force of nature' without giving away the entire plot.

Everything about this film is a 10. Beautiful sweeping panoramic shots, raw and emotional dialogue, exquisite direction, etc. And pardon my Portuguese but Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are unfuckingbelievably convincing in their roles as the two rural cowboys who turn a rocky-start friendship into something all-consuming and life altering. There is SO much chemistry between them that you start to wonder if they really aren't in love with each other off-screen. Explosive and stellar acting, indeed! Definitely noteworthy and probably more so than the boys are the girls. Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams were heart-breaking as the women in their lives who come to their own levels of awareness and (re)definitions of love.

I hope people don't view Brokeback Mountain as 'that gay cowboy movie' since that part of the film is insignificant to the message. Even though there is physcial activity, plenty of it , at some point you forget that these are two men. The tough guy inability to articulate what they feel is entirely overshadowed by their actions. At its core, this film is a powerfully moving journey through an undeniable love and the tide of social and personal pressures that threaten its bond.

It doesn't matter if you're gay, straight, married, single, jaded or a hopeful romantic -- you will absolutely feel this movie.

If you're a straight man, dont worry, there are some gratuitous boobie shots. I think these got thrown in at the last minute. Hopefully those will get you through some of the rough spots, lol.

Hats off to you, Ang Lee, for making such a powerful, bold statement. I thought you would not be able to outshine your efforts on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but you have. You and everyone in this film will sweep every category at the awards or something is terribly, tragically wrong.

Stock up on tissues, Brokeback Mountain opens Dec 9th.

From Houston, With Love

My friend Kathy always finds the most interesting aspects of living in Houston. Here a neighborhood watch expresses their concern about post-hurricane looting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Its Fall, isnt it?

A Note From Houston

The following is a note from my friend Kathy in Houston. Kathy, if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. My thoughts are with you in your time need. Be strong!

With all the news lately about Hurricane Katrina, we shouldn't forget that Houston has had its share of devastating weather also. The attached photo illustrates the damage caused to a home when Hurricane Rita passed through the Houston area a couple of days ago.

It really makes you cherish what you have, and reminds us not to take life for granted!!!

No! Flash

One of the reasons I don't watch network television is advertisements. I thought, years ago, that the internet would be a safe place from the devil on Madison Avenue. But no, they came. I installed AdShield and with a click of a mouse I could block pop-ups and in-line ads left and right. I was happy. Then came Flash advertisements, those pesky animated ads that hundreds of $60/hr American $30/hr Indian $2.50/hr Chinese programmers are working furiously and efficiently to churn out and unecessarily clog up bandwidth. AdShield wouldn't work on them. I was sad.

Now comes No!Flash, a new product that blocks the Flash based advertisements. Happiness restored.

Check it out, its free and easy to install.

No! Flash

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On Entropy And Relationships

We're learning some pretty cool stuff in Biochemistry, protein folding. Now, now, you just calm down and get yourself a tissue. How do all those proteins that actually do stuff in your body, like let you see, digest food and feel things through your skin, actually work? One of things that must happen is that the protein must fold into its natural shape. When this doesn't happen, bad things happen like disease and the tendency to vote Republican (ok, I threw that in to see if you were paying attention, lol.) One of the forces that makes proteins do their folding thing is entropy - the natural tendency for objects to be random rather than ordered.

Molecules and stuff have a tendency to want to be uncoupled, not to pair up, to have more freedom to travel. Blame entropy, I'm not making this crap up. But I started thinking, if its natural for objects to want to be random and uncoupled, what does this say about relationships? Clearly this would be everyone's first thought, right? :) If you look at the statistics on marriage they seem to nod heavily in the direction of entropy. Just in recent history my good friend Noeha has gone through a divorce, my aunt in Washington DC, Scott in Las Vegas, Brett in Baton Rouge and several good friends in Houston. Another day another breakup, its almost a numb reaction for me anymore. I can hardly stomach the 'I'm sorry for your loss' platitude that splatters Pavlovian from my lips. I'm not really sorry for the loss, rather the pain that the loss has caused. (I must remember to say exactly that.) But is it a loss or is it just entropy causing a transition to a more natural state?

Its strange for me to think these things since I have my parents as an example of a good relationship. Please note I didnt say easy, they have certainly had their moments squatting in the pissy spectrum of bitchitude. But, they have been (mostly) happily married for 44 years. FOURTY FOUR! Geez, I cant even imagine. When I talked to my mom about this amazing coup over entropy she had this to say -- 'You have to have some common ground and even more not in common, its about independence and the ability to communicate what you don't share in common. I mean, who would want to have a relationship with someone who is an exact replica of yourself? Thats stupid, get a mirror. The rest of it is just the ability to adjust to situations as they come up."

So, is that the entropy trump card? Could this be the final whack over entropy's head, leaving it broken in its hospital bed with a Do Not Resuscitate sticker planted firmly on its chart?

Maybe, but what about the motivation for relationships. Why do we do it? If entropy dictates random motion and a tendency to uncouple, is the searching and wanting of a relationship more about control? When we establish a relationship and are we slamming down the accelerator, swerving our ego-mobile around entropy, middle finger extended out the window, a casually defiant glance in the rear view? "Ha, I win you butthead, I beat you!"

Who knows? I merely pose the question. I also factored in need. I've known some of these need people. They search endlessly for a relationship, constantly disappointed and depressed when the relationship never materilizes or worse, when it exists briefly then disintegrates. Observing this phenomenon routinely, I wonder if need is another force, a force that works in tandem with entropy. Need and entropy, Bonnie and Clyde of the emotional stage, shooting up the relationship before it can fold into its natural state, like so much confetti thrown from a Bon Voyage cruise ship.

Let's not forget insecurity. I know insecurity is a Category 5 force, causing the secure to recoil and evacuate in a concerted effort to avoid the inevitable flood of drama and possibility of live blow-by-blow coverage from Jim Cantore.

And love, the elusive and undefinable love. Is love another force that somehow mitigates the forces of entropy, insecurity and need? I might be on to something here. When I think about it, the relationships that I've known to survive the longest had high love to need+insecurity ratio. So maybe love must exist without much need or insecurity in order to survive the natural tendencies of entropy. I don't know this to be true, its just a theory I'm constructing, maybe we'll cover this today in Biochemistry.

(Hey, I didn't title this blog 'Stream Of Consciousness' for nothing, people :)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Weekend Addiction

Oh sure, it starts innocently enough. First your friend Jim introduces you to Pedro Almadovar. You take a liking to 'Women on the verge'. But then that isnt enough. You go back to him for 'Live Flesh', 'All About Your Mother' and 'Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down'. He is happy to give you what you need. But then, even Almadovar isn't enough so you move on, you need more Spanish film makers. Then you start craving Mexican, Peruvian, Brazilian and Argentinian. Soon you are a full-blown Latin American film addict going to the Vistas Film Festival!

In my full-blown addict state I spent the weekend alternating between my evacuee friends and the Vistas Latin American Film Festival. Both were great! Since Rita decided to spare Houston proper from its predicted destruction, my friends were upbeat and decided to get out and have some fun bar hopping. I had my own non-alcoholic fun at the Angelika theatre seeing 8 films in 3 days.

My picks. Not so surprising, they were all Brazilian films.

(3) Domesticas: A light-hearted comedy that follows the hopes and dreams of several domesticas (maids), living and working in São Paulo.

(2) Outro Lado Da Rua (other side of the street): A romantic dramady featuring Fernanda Montenegro (from Central Station), who I believe is Brasil's answer to Meryl Streep, Bette Davis and Cher. I particularly liked that at 76 years old she could get into leather pants and and a low-cut blouse to strut her stuff into a Rio nightclub (and pull it off). Think Rear Window with a faster pace, more colorful characters but less suspense.

and my favorite ...

(1) Favela Rising:

I heard two girls discussing this film after the viewing. Their earth shattering conclusion - That was merely a commercial for poverty. I'm sorry that was all they got out of it but please allow me to retort. Yes, Favela Rising definitely has a slick and artful production; very creative filming style, leveraging all manner of funky exposure, stills superimposed on moving, color bleaching on negatives and fast-speed, off-centered concert footage. It does have a lounge-esque feel in spots. Commerical quality? Definitely, but you would have to be completely blind not to expect poverty as a major theme when dealing with favela content. Oh and by the way this film is about a social movement, an ongoing one that is trying to bridge the poverty chasm in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary have directed and produced the best documentary I've ever seen. The most visible figures in the film, Anderson Sá and José Júnior, are from the favelas of Rio. But unlike most they stepped out of the narco-trafficking life to start an alternative culture based on music. Afro Brazilian. The film takes you neck-deep into favela life, something better seen in the theatre, I believe. A see saw of escalating hopefulness and plunging despair, the film displays the two men's admirable strength and commitment to giving favela youths a culture of pride. Which they did and are still doing, one small step at a time. Creating a band (and really a cultural icon) called Afro Reggae they recruited would be drug lords out of their 24-year life expectancy and into music. Slow progress initially but they attracted Brasil's Ford Foundation which donated heavily to their cause, creating some momentum forward out of the rubble.

Anderson Sá and José Júnior

A must see, definitely, but not without a warning - the images of favela life are harsh and extremely graphic. But don't let this stop you, the film ends on a upbeat and hopeful note. The music they play is uniquely fantastic -- high energy and infectious, the dancing follows the music.

If you are interested in the music, Sá and Júnior's group, Afro Reggae, put out their first album last year (to the US that is) called Nova Cara (new face).

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Gunning For Houston

Another week, another Category 5 hurricane. Rita, the big, dangerous bowling ball in the Gulf, is coming down the lane.

I didn't realize just how many people I knew from Houston until today. Emails and phone calls have been flying. People are leaving in droves and heading to Dallas. Two friends are planning on staying with me from Thursday to whenever if they can't find a hotel or someone with a proper house. I already know they won't find a hotel, Dallas has been full since Katrina. The prediction is that by the weekend people will have to go beyond Oklahoma City to find a place to stay. Ouch!

Welcome Houstonians! Our weather forecast in Dallas for the weekend -- 3 inches of rain and wind gusts of 50 mph. Not nearly as exciting as 12 inches of rain and 165 mph winds but we hope you enjoy your stay just the same.

Lets hope for the best scenario in Houston!

Update: One set of friends leaving Houston Wed., wee early morning hours, had a 14-hour drive to Dallas. Another set, leaving Wed. afternoon, had a 28-hour drive to Dallas. Crazy! For those of you who don't know, the drive from Houston to Dallas is usually 5 hours (250 miles).

Rio - Pimp Daddy Cabbie

We met Pimp Daddy Cabbie (aka Rodrigo) on our cab ride to the Botanical Gardens. We were really impressed that not only could speak English fluently and without an accent but that he also knew colloquial language. He referred to things as 'totally cool' or 'really jacked up' and seemed to know more about our country's politics that we did. I suppose this is occupational hazard from toting around weary English speaking tourists, day in, day out, 18 hours a day.

It seemed that everytime we needed a cab, Pimp Daddy was right there at the hotel to whisk us off to our adventure. So it comes as no surprise that on the day I left Rio, he would be the one to take me to the airport.

The last day in Rio was not particularly pleasant. The New Yorkers all had an earlier flight so they left me on my own for the afternoon. That would have been fine except that a thunderstorm had rolled in and was making outdoor activities difficult. I spent some time up at the rooftop of the hotel with Juvenal, sipping coffee and having my last 'ham, cheese and salt' meal in Rio.

Since the rain was heavy and I knew there was only one major artery from the beach to the airport, I decided to get on the road early. I was pleasantly (not) surprised to see Rodrigo holding the cab door open for me as I exited the hotel.

Rodrido: Amigo!

Me: Rodrigo, funny that you are always here when I need you!

Rodrigo: Always for you, amigo!

And off we went. We chatted the entire 3 hours it took us to get to the airport, about 2 1/2 hours longer than normal. As always, we chatted about Bush and his antics. Actually Rodrigo talked and criticized and I listened. Then he went on a tirade about the Brazilian president and his cronies.

Rodrigo: He's put all of his buddies in key postions and the rest he pays off, we'll never get rid of him!

Enough of politics, change the subject. I reached back to an event that had happened the day before. We travelled over the mountain and through the woods (and favelas) to the Fashion Mall. Not an interesting trip except we did get some fantastic Brazilian music at a CD shop. But on the way back Jairo, Scott and Mio had taken a separate cab. Their cab stopped on the freeway in a place where the hills form a valley. Gun shots were overhead. Turns out, drug lords in the hillside favelas were having a territory fight (favela means turf, loosely). Rodrigo had read about this in the paper.

Rodrigo(laughing): And noone got hurt, I read it in the paper!

Me: Well, thats good to hear!

Rodrigo: I was being sarcastic. In your country your media rolls under the 'if it bleeds, it leads' mentality. Here in Brazil the media operates under the 'if it bleeds, bury it under page 9 and hope it dies without anyone noticing' philiosphy. Believe me, someone died, they always do. But enough about such unpleasantness, how was your trip? Did you like Brazil? Will you come back?

Well thats a no-brainer, I loved my time in Rio and I will come back!

Rodrigo: Did you meet anyone?

Me: Sure I did, I'm not particularly shy.

Rodrigo: But did you meet anyone special?

Me: Oh, no, not really, I was kinda into my group.

Rodrigo: Oh, well if you come back let me know and I will hook you up.

Me: Oh, um, sure!

Rodrigo: My girls are the best, you probably saw Club Help, yes?

Me: Um, yeah, I actually did. Copacabana, right?

Rodrigo: Yeah, thats where my girls work. They only like gringos so they would really like you!

Then I got the breakdown; cost, shapes, sizes, availability and the 24 hour hotline number. I took his card, just to be polite. There was no sense in getting deeper into this conversation.

I was rolling with Pimp Daddy Cabbie, the perfect exit!

For the next 13 hours I rolled my Rio trip around on my tongue, savored it all again, bit by delicious bit.

"Welcome to Dallas International Airport", she said.

That bitch! How very, very cruel to say that to me. Yeah right, welcome back and remember you have a midterm in two hours. I drove home instead, dead tired and smiling. I'll ask for forgiveness tomorrow, isnt that what any good Brasileiro would do?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Rio - A Praia

Praia, the beach, has a magical pull on some people. I, however, am not one of those people. I'm a momentum junkie. Asking me to lounge on the beach for hours while sipping drinks and watching the day go by is like asking me to wear a straight jacket or listen to Britney Spears on repeat.

But, I did find a way to enjoy the beach. By bike. We rented bikes one afternoon and it was one of the best afternoons in Rio. I loved biking through the city streets to get to the beach; all those people to weave in and out of, cars to avoid narrowly, other bikes screaming past you within an inch. Who wouldn't like that :)

Starting from the end of Leblon we rode all the way through Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana. The avenue by the beach has a separate bike lane so its easy to ride aimlessly without pedestrian inteference. Leblon is worth taking slowly, this is where all of the really good looking surfer boys and the women (and men) who watch them will be. Ipanema, home to Poste Nove (post 9) is the epicenter, definitely the most crowded and the most active part of the stretch. Volleyball and soccer are the draw. Copacabana is where you will find the pasty white, out of shape tourists and exhausting numbers of street vendors pushing their tshirts, necklaces and other finery in your face.

At the end of Ipanema there is a small jutout of a rock. Climb to the top and enjoy an incredible view back to Ipanema.

If you're going to the beach to see scantily clad or bare-breasted women, I think you will be disappointed. I never saw a one. Looking for men in small speedos? Strike two; square cuts and board shorts are the rage, particularly with the younger set.

What you will find is that the beach is the social center, its where you will meet the Cariocas up close and personal, and I do mean close. I had forgotten that in countries other than the US and some parts of Europe there is not the obligatory 18 inches of personal space. While sitting on the steps leading down the beach in Leblon a surfer plopped down next to me and started talking. Literally, his wet board shorts were on my leg and his face was 3 inches from mine. It was benign conversation but all the while I was thinking - if you get any closer, one of us is going to need a condom.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Rio - Jardim Botanico

One cloudy day Dutch, Scott and I went to the Botanical Gardens. Defintely set aside a couple of hours for this. We took a cab out since its quite a jaunt from the beach. The cab ride turned out to be a good idea, this is where we met Pimp Daddy Cabbie, the subject of a future post.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rio - Pork, Special 4U!

Hello, my name is Jim and I'm a food whore. Thats why this post will be the longest, its food related.

Instead of a day by day progression through the wonderful world of culinary Rio here is a list of places we tried and loved along with some stories and general comments.

Marina Hotel
Av. Delfim Moreira
630 - Leblon
Rio de Janeiro 22441-000

Its a good introduction to the food scene and how things will differ from home. Try the Club Sandwich. I know, it sounds boring but when the plate arrives you will notice the subtle differences. First, its made with ground pork, bacon and ham. Pork-o-rama, a harbinger of things to come. Also notice the fried egg, you will see this again, on eveything. Cheese, lots of cheese. They will bring you additional salt but black pepper does not appear on any table in Rio.

Primary rule of eating in Rio: You bettter like pork, cheese and salt or you are in trouble.

Definitely order a coffee. They will ask you if you want a double or single. Sounds strange, doesnt it? Not really and be prepared, all coffee in Rio is espresso. I, for one, loved the fact that the whole city completely understood my addiction to strong coffee. MY PEOPLE, YOU KNOW ME! lol. Don't be silly and ask for decaf, they won't understand what you're talking about. As Juvenal said, 'Why take the caffeine out of coffee, its why you drink it, no?'

Couldnt agree with you more, Juvenal!

Also try the free breakfast bar here. Definitely help yourself to a plate of fruit: papaya, guava, kiwi and a host of fruits you will not recognize. I particularly like the big green pimply fruit that tasted like a grape. Now that you have that out of the way go back for the Brasileiro breakfast. Take two slices of buttery cheese bread, add some cheese (just for adhesion of other ingredients) and some ham (about 1/2 pound), add some more cheese, making sure there is enough so when you melt the whole thing under the broiler the ham and bread totally disappear in a sea of melted cheese. Enjoy! Oh, dont forget to add salt, you know, because the ham and cheese dont have nearly enough! lol

Rua Barão da Tôrre
667 - Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro

Sushi, I could eat my weight in sushi. When Dutch recommended we try Tenkai for sushi I had to contain my squeals. I think I've eaten enough sushi to form a small island. In Dallas, the best fare comes from Teppo. Tenkai makes Teppo seem like Jimshi (for those of you that remember my ill-fated burrito sized attempt at making sushi at home). Everything was so squeaky fresh and immaculately presented. The Buritoro Sashimi just melted in our mouths, 15 pieces of lovely, buttery yellowtail tuna and at the whopping cost of $6. We almost ordered another one but we remembered the other 400 items previously ordered that had not yet arrived.

The sushi was not the only highlight here, there were Caipirinhas -- Sake Caipirinhas. Standard Capirinhas are great, the lime and Cachaca are bitingly refreshing, but the Sake Caipirinhas are smooth and velvety, pairing nicely with the subtle flavors of the sushi.

The real highlight here was our server, Francesco or simply Cesco to his friends, he was easily the best looking man we saw in Rio. 23 years old, full time student and full time server and just two years into learning English. We bonded over our love of languages, umm, yeah, languages, I'll go with that. When we tallied up our bill it was rather large. In Rio there is an automatic 10% added in for gratuity. Since Cesco went out of his way to make us all comfortable we gave him another 10%, R$50, or about US$20. You would have thought by his expression we had given him the Hope Diamond. My guess is people dont usually go beyond the included gratuity. He thanked us profusely, we did the same and told him we'd be back.

We came back. The second time we had more people so we opted for the sushi 'boat'. We saw a group enjoying the 'boat' on the last trip so we ordered it. A 'boat' comes is sizes, so we got the one for 4; a big wooden boat that spanned our table for six, end to end with little room for anything else. A boat has a list of items on it, no substitutions. Cesco made substitutions, lots of them, expensive substitutions. Plus he brought out other plates 'on him'.

When we left from our second round Cesco asked "You will come back to Rio, no?" Well, duh, of course we will! "I'll wait for you", he said. I think he meant I'll look for you but its a nice thought just the same.

Various locations

Looking for a quick crepe fix? Try Bibi, its fantastic. Thinking your crepe will be of the light fare variety made infamous by the French? Think again, this isnt France. The crepe is definitely heavier in texture and its brimming with ingredients. Try the ham (yes, more pork!), cheese (yes, more cheese!), tomato and oregano crepe. Dont forget to smother it in the salted garlic butter that will come with!

Rua Barão da Torre
218 Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro, 22411-000

No trip to Brasil is complete without visiting a churrascaria, a 'steakhouse' Brasileiro style. If you live in Dallas, no doubt you've heard of or been to Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil. These are excellent but mere child's play compared to the de facto churrascaria of Rio, Porcao.

Our happy Porcao staff!

If you don't like meat, you are in trouble. Slab upon slab will be brought into your proximity. Don't bother with the little stop and go sign that indicates whether or not you want more, they ignore it. See the guy on the right of picture? One of the many knife wielding servers ready to slice you a piece of whatever they were carrying. But this guy had a pitch everytime he came around.

Agentinian baby beef, very special for you!
Filet in bacon, special for you!
Frog hearts in garlic butter, so very, very special, and all for you!

Everything was very special for you! Damn man, are you getting a commission per slab? But really, it was special. The beef was excellent and very tasty, not just because it had been marinated in salt and garlic butter before being grilled to its 'special for you' perfection. One of the favorites was the pork loin that had been marinated in a garlic butter. It was about 2 inches thick but barely needed a chew before it melted in your mouth.

The happy Porcao carnivores

Are you a non-smoker? Well, 'not so special' for you then. You're going to hate the fact that outside of the Rio airport there are virtually no non-smoking sections anywhere. People generally smoke while they eat too; pork in one hand, cigarette in the other.

Feel uncomfortable dining out with hookers? Again, 'not so special' for you. We had a blast when a group of older men came in with their 'dates', both of which were about 40 years younger and drop dead gorgeous. We particularly liked the one lady that left the tag on the outside of her skin tight white dress, she was obviously just being pratical, the dress was most likely going back the next day.

Dutch made nice with the restaurant manager (first pic, on the left). When he found out Dutch was from New York we discovered another interesting fact about Brasileiros, most want visas to the US. Restaurant manager boy would not let the visa conversation drop, somehow knowing that Dutch would know the right people to get him a visa. He relentlessly pursued it, even offering to meet us after dinner to carry on the conversation. Dang hoss, let it go!

Let me say first that I will defintely revisit Porcao on my return to Rio, however, for two days following that meal I felt like I was retaining the Pacific Ocean in my stomach. Maybe it was all the salt or maybe its that I'm mostly vegetarian now and I overloaded my system with meat, regardless, that feeling was not so special for me.

Arab Copacabana
Av. Atlantica
1936 Copacabana
Rio de Janeiro 2235-6698

One night we decided to taxi it down to Copa. We had abmitions of going to the street fair to pick up some presents but wound up taking a lengthy dinner at Arab. Its the subtle differences that we noticed first. Hummous is made from the usual ingredients but they added black beans and vinegar. Tasty but way off course from authentic hummous. Cheese tarts were defintely feta based but they had used a bit of cardomon to spice it up, again very tasty.

Each one of us ordered a sampler platter. We almost hid in shame when all of the plates hit the table. There must of been 30 plates of food, smaller than regular dinner plates but still, we almost had to annex an adjoining table to make room for everything. We managed to finish just about everything though, face saved.

The best part of Arab Copacabana is the al fresco dining. A cool breeze constantly made it way around us and the salty sea air smelled just as good as the lamb kabobs.

Dominos Pizza
Yeah, I can see you rolling your eyes back in your head. You went all the way to Rio to eat pizza? Well, that particular day we left our cushy digs by the beach and walked deep into the neighborhood where the real people live to hunt out bikes to rent for the day. It was past lunch time and we were starving. We all descended on the Dominos because it was close. No, the pizza isnt much different. But they do something interesting, they serve it with a dessert pizza: carmelized bananas, sugar and cinnamon. Wow, its was fantastic! If you see a Dominos definitely stop in for the Banana Pizza!

One side note, they serve ketchup with pizza. I dont know if this is the way they eat it in Rio or if they thought that since we were Americans, ketchup would be the appropriate condiment.

Rua Joana Angélica
40 Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro

OH. MY. GOD. This goes down in history as one of my top 3 meals, ever.

It was our last evening in Rio so we decided to go out with a bang. Dutch had been here before and he knew that this would be the perfect place for closing dinner. Did I mention Dutch has exquisite taste?

We unanimously decided to try the Tasting Menu; seven courses (plus dessert) selected by the chef. It was pricey for Rio R$120 or US$50 but what the heck! We had our champagne toast and the parade of plates began. I'm simply going to list the courses without commentary, I think they speak for themselves. But please, if you ever find yourself in Rio, you owe it to yourself to try this place!

  • Altantic Cod in Coarse Salt; vanilla and prosecco seasoned vegetables.
  • Veal Filet Mignon; white beans, tomatoes and rosemary.
  • Cashew Nut Crusted Tuna in Balsamic-Teriyaki Sauce; horseradish whipped potatoes.
  • Duck Breast In Thyme Honey Glaze; potato pear gratin and cardamon sauce.
  • Skirt Steak In White Pepper Caramel; leek and potato confit.
  • Shrimp Risotto; lemon and green apples.
  • Fresh Foie Gras Steak; mini pancakes and Grand Mariner jam.
  • Fresh pot of cream; homemade cinnamon ice cream.

There wasnt much conversation during dinner. Once Dutch did threaten to stab me in the hand with his fork if I continued to distract him from his foie gras, but that was about it.

At the end of meal we all wanted the chef to come out and take a bow. Everyone agreed this was a top 3 meal, we had to see the mastermind. She was about 20, maybe, she still had braces! lol I was totally speechless. She told us her secret to making everything perfect was pratice - 'I insist that we keep making it until I like the way it tastes!'

I asked her if she would mind if I took a menu. Not at all, she unraveled one from its binding, signed it and gave me a dual cheek kiss for luck.

Rio - The Geevil and Mr. Juvenal

When visiting a new city I like to get a perspective from the common man -- In general, what would it be like to live here? Sure, I could try to see the most exclusive spots or alternatively, the most impoverished but really these offer limited insight into what it would be like to live in the area.

For years now, when I visit a new city, particularly in another country, I work straight up the middle and infiltrate the people who know the city the best: cabbies, bartenders, waiters and hotel staff.

From day one at the roof top pool I befriended a Brasileiro, -- Juvenal. I mention him now because I think he embodied all the qualities of the Brasileiros I met during my week in Rio. A young man of 24 years, probably all of 5'6" but the spirit of an giant, he carried himself as most Brasileiros do -- with a sense of pride and confidence. Jet black hair, olive skin and those eerie cool eyes that are decidedly brown until you see them at close range and realize they're green.

I started speaking Portuguese to him and my obvious accent precipitated our first round of conversation.

"Are you German?" he said in German. Nope

"Are you French?" he said in French. Nope

"Are you British?" he said in English, faint accent but nothing as I expected. Close, very close.

So he asked me to speak some more Portuguese, I obliged, then he interrupted me mid stream.

"You're American!" he declared. We have a winner.

He wanted to know where in the States I lived, so I told him. He knew Texas and even Dallas. He smiled and said.

"You are from the place where the geevil is from."

Geevil? Did he mean Gerbil? Weevil? Then it struck me. In Rio, the 'de' is pronounced like 'ge'. The was telling me I was from the place where the devil is from. Obviously he was talking about Bush. He launched into a tirade about our president, it was not flattering. Of course, for me, opinions are just that. I like to hear them since it lets me know more about how someone thinks, what boundaries will exist in my relationship with them and how to navigate around them without drama.

Second thing about Brasileiros - They are passionately opinionated and not afraid to express.

I didn't care that he had an opinion, so what, everyone does. I agreed with some of what he said but what really stuck in my mind was that he was speaking English without much of accent. I thought maybe he wasn't from Brazil orginally. Wrong. He was emphatically from Brazil. He made it clear that he was of 100% Portuguese descent. Each time he made this point, and he made it often, I felt the shadowy emergence of a caste system or at best, racial profiling.

Turns out he starting working as a butler for a Brazilian family in his hometown in the state of Bahia, at 14. The family moved to London and took Juvenal with them. He was 16 when he left Brazil, he didnt know a word of English. In the two years he lived in London he learned English via the indoctrination by fire method. When the family returned, he took the opportunity to leverage off of his new language skills to enter into a more lucrative profession - working in a high end hotel. Lucrative you question? Yes, actually it is. In Rio, the average Joe takes home about $300 month. Juvenal, now armed with English skills allowing him access to work in a high end hotel, takes home about $1000 month. Yes, still below unemployment income in the US but this defines a very small middle class in Rio.

In other words -- Language is power in Rio. This would explain the stacks of English, Chinese and French language books he kept behind the bar. They don't teach any languages in government run schools and outside English courses cost upwards of $10,000 a year, only accessible to the 1% of Brasileiros who are 'bastard rich', as Juvenal would say.

Juvenal was very aggressive at learning English from this native speaker. But I got my share of Portuguese in return. In the end I gave him my email -- "Keep in touch amigo!"

He did. While he kicks ass at speaking English, it took me 15 minutes to decipher his 2 line email.

Baby steps.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Secuestro Express

Ok just one more departure from the Rio thread but not too far away, still in Latin America.

I went to see Secuestro Express today. Secuestro meaning kidnap, express meaning, well, quick. 'Secuestro express' is a phrase coined in Latin America to represent those kidnappings of wealthly kids held in ransom for quick cash. Its unfortunately an integral part of the culture.

This is the first Venezuelan film I've seen. For a first, I'd say Venezuela has a future in film making. The movie was very well done. The filming is fragmented and fast, angles are hyperextended and nothing is in frame for very long - chaos permeates all. Editing must have been a nightmare, so cheers to the team that managed to create seemless chaos. Jagged, raw and very sexually charged, it follows one young wealthy couple on their secuestro through the pulsing, crowded streets of Caracas. There were a couple of priceless moments but ultimately it paints a sad, scary reality of polarizing wealth and poverty in Caracas and the group of thugs called a police force that do anything but protect and serve.

The acting was generally good but Mia Maestro (playing the kidnapped Carla) and Carlos Julio Molina (playing Trece, the romantic kidnapper) burn up the screen. Ordinarily I would object to romance comingling with this amount of aggressive violence but in this case there was a very natural progression from one to the other.

Somewhat confusing was the film's very heavy-handed illumination of have, have not discrepancy in Caracas and the motivation for secuestro express. On one hand they seemed to be saying that the poverty stricken class is 'forced' into these extremes in order to survive. On the other hand, the kidnappers (except for Trece) seemed more about disrespect, anger and drug use, not survival. Not once do we see how these kidnappers live, how they struggle just to get food and other necessities. What we do see is a lot of gratuitous coke, X and herion use and an anarchistic terrorist mindset.

Another thing that did not flow with the movie - random insertions of drag queens and one scene that was pretty close to gay porn. Right then, so there are gay men and drag queens in Caracas. Wow, imagine that. Insert smirk here.

"Oh Jim, these things happen infrequently." Wrong. Here is a website from Argentina listing all of its country's known secuestro expresses. Its not pretty. Secuestro Express Argentina

"Oh Jim, these things only happen in other countries." Wrong. 3 years ago one of my neighbors was forced into the trunk of his car at gunpoint, driven to an ATM, withdrew cash, then was left on Industrial Blvd locked in his trunk. Yes, he lived to tell about it, fortunately he was found by the Dallas police the next day.

The tag line at the end of the film was a cry for social justice if ever I heard one.

You either feed the monster, or invite it to dinner.

Overall I give this strong Venezuelan entry a 9/10.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

We Interrupt This Broadcast

Breaking out from the Rio sequence to update on Mark and his family from New Orleans. They are all fine, well, relatively speaking. Friends of his parents have given, yes given, them their vacation house in Taos, New Mexico. Truly remarkable generosity. I feel almost pathetic that all I could do was to donate my remaining 1000 American Airlines miles in some hope that they will do some good to someone. They begin their journey to New Mexico tomorrow.

I'm grateful they are alive but still, you have to wonder what it must be like to lose everything. No, I'm not just talking about the house, car and every possession you've ever had but something more important. Mark's parents are in their 70's, they've spent their entire lives in New Orleans, so have all of their friends. Now everyone has dispersed, they still don't know what has happened to their life long friends. Except for a few photos in big plastic ziplocs, they carry nothing with them to New Mexico.

They called tonight to tell me they would be stopping in Dallas tomorrow to see me. I hope I dont have a melt down when I see them, I'm not sure what to say to someone in their situation. 'I'm sorry for your loss' seems trite, or even worse, its sounds like assuaging my own survivor guilt.

Bush didnt really impress me tonight, its too little too late. But then again I'm unplugging from watching any more CNN, its become political bitchslapping and predatory career shifting. Bleck. More words, stupid words, words that wont repair what nature has stolen. When I tried to capture one word to describe how I feel about the many people I know in New Orelans who lives will never be the same, I couldn't, one doesnt exist. But I did find a face that expresses it perfectly. You probably knew of him or maybe liked him as much as I did. Even when photographed with his wife and child he always looked like he was watching some horrible movie, frame by painful frame.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Rio - Work The Top

If you've never been to an airport in Latin America, you are in for a treat; people come at you from all sides trying to 'help' you. Yes, you should read that as trying to sell you something. Rio is no different. Official looking men in uniform trying to recruit you away from American Express to their money exchange people, pretty girls calling from plywood taxi booths, street kids begging for change.

Dutch took one of the pretty taxi girls up on her offer since she was so persistent in grabbing his attention with her big smiles and waves from behind her little blue taxi prison. Poof, we're on the road.

If you have never gone for a ride in a taxi in Latin America, once again, you are in for a treat! Brasileiros, in particular, drive very aggressively. I would say that lines in the roads, speed limits, stop lights and traffic signs are mere guidelines but even that would be lying; they simply don't matter in Rio. People drive as they please and honestly, it works for them. Important note: The first lesson in knowing Brasileiros - Rules dictated by established entities are vehemently ignored.

People told me beforehand that the drive from the Rio Airport to Leblon would be uneventful. Not true. It gives you a good feeling for part of Rio that you are never going to see again once you take up roost along the beach. Its industrial, worn out and from what I saw on the hillside favelas, not entirely friendly to anyone.

30 minutes at Warp 9 and we're at the hotel -- The Marina Palace in Leblon, a nice beach area of Rio frquented mostly by locals. I highly recommend! After the elevator got over its attitude problem we ascended to the 24th floor to our room.

Here's the view we had.

This leads me to my first suggestion about Rio. Work it from the top. If you are going to stay in a hotel, get a high floor. IMHO its a better way to get a feeling for the scale of the city. In the name of working the top, also do go to Sugarloaf Mountain right off the bat. The views are incredible and it gives you a better appreciation for how enormous (end-to-end) Rio is in its expansive ribbon of population along the water. Its an incredibly touristy thing to do but the cable car rides up the mountain are fun (at least for me, since I like heights) and you will be able to put the small areas of Ipanema, Leblon and Copacabana into a better perspective.

Views from Sugarloaf

Since we arrived at 1030am and had nothing but yummy plane food to eat we decided to go to the rooftop pool and grille for a spot of lunch. Our next guest, Mio, was not arriving until 1p, so we would catch some more views of the city and fuel up for our first day in Rio!

View of Leblon (city side) from the rooftop pool.

We planted ourselves on the rooftop for hours. Eventually, through some gravitational pull, or perhaps just exquisite taste, Mio appeared. Equipped with a GSM phone, Mio informed us that Jairo and Scott's flight from NYC was delayed. When they arrived in Miami, the Rio flight had just closed its doors and pulled out of the gate. Since all flights from Miami to Rio are night flights, they had that night and the whole next day to spend in Miami. This actually worked out well since Scott had never been to the area and he had been wanting to see Miami Beach.

Mio, Dutch and I had lunch, coffee and soaked up the view from the top.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rio - Missing Persons

Welcome to Miami International Airport!

I struggled in my Skyy haze to gather up my carry ons and the hefty party bag. I stumbled down the little corridor of the plane snickering for no apparent reason, hugged my friend goodbye and tried to focus on the little screen indicating where my next flight would be leaving. Nice, they moved it to another terminal, the one on the opposite side of the airport.

What the hell is that smell? Oh, right, Miami, I thought I smelled mold and Hi Karate.

Smiling and laughing to myself I trudged from gate to gate. About half way I had to stop. This will be a good time to check my phone messages, rationalizing my need to sit down again. I plopped myself next to a blue-haired raisin reading Vogue and fumbled for my phone.

Before leaving for Brasil, as we all know, there was hurricane Katrina. Since my family lived in New Orleans for many years before moving to coastal Georgia, we know many people in the area. One friend in particular, Mark, emailed me before Katrina's landfall to say he would be riding things out in New Orleans with his elderly and immobile parents. Naturally I was concerned but respected his decision. Of course, there was no way to contact him after the water hit the fan.

As my phone warmed up the little screen told me I had 2 new text messages. First one from my NYC friend, Dutch, with whom I was flying from Miami to Rio, informing me of the gate change. The next one read 'Mark and family are ...' with the little question at the bottom 'Proceed?'. Uh oh, do I proceed? What will the full text read when I open it? 'are fine', 'are missing', or would it be something else.

Honestly my worst fear would be to hear that they were missing. With missing there is an uncertainty in my analytical mind as how best to process. Do you assume the worst in the name of preparation? Do you assume the best in the name of hope? Missing means my mind would wander with possibilities, conjure up horrific images beyond the dramatic footage of CNN. With my fermented potato induced courage, I clicked yes to the proceed question. ' ... are fine and coming to Houston next week', revealed the full message. Fantabulous -- I'll drink to that! So I groped around in the party bag for another mini blue bottle of fermented potato juice and did exactly that. The anxiety of what might have been had somewhat diminshed my in-flight buzz, it was definitely time to revamp. Anxiety melted, I smiled at the blue-haired raisin who became annoyed with the click, click, click of my sending text messages, then I made my way through the rest of the terminal to find Dutch.

Dutch is still in his 20's. I have a hard time remembering the differences in our ages since Dutch is so far beyond his years in maturity and life experience. 3 years ago, in a two week time span he decided Dallas no longer offered him any learning experiences, so he picked up and relocated to Manhattan. Ballsy move for the boy from East Texas. He works full time, part time MBA student at NYU, persistenly meets new and interesting people, travels (mostly to South America) and now, he's buying his first apartment. Dutch was the sole organizer of our 5 person adventure to Rio.

Dutch was the lone person at the gate, plus at 6'3" hes usually quite easy to spot. We caught up and I shared my perfect start to the trip, revealing the party bag. 'Oh, thats great Jim, I will need something to wash down the Ambien', he laughed his booming infectious laugh, I laughed with him. He seemed a little disturbed that two other NYC friends, Jairo and Scott, had not yet arrived for the connecting flight to Rio. No worries, still an hour to go, maybe flights are backed up due to Katrina fallout? An hour and several unanswered text messages to Jairo later, Dutch and I boarded the 1130pm Rio flight, Jairo and Scott were missing.

I was seated next to a Rio native, a handsome older man that talked non-stop and fluently in both English and Portuguese. I learned more about Rio and Brasil from this man than I did in months of research. I couldn't sleep at all during the 10 hour flight so he was welcomed distraction and education.

I learned quite a bit of Portuguese from my temporary companion. I also learned that he, like many other Brasileiros of means I would meet later, have lived in other countries but always came back to Brasil. Many stories of he and his family moving to Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lisbon and Chicago to escape perilous financial collapse, governmental oppression and other violent ugliness, always ending with 'and then we came home'. I thought he was kidding when he told the story of his wife taking a grocery bag full of currency to Zona Sul just to buy standard groceries. He wasnt. Apparently at one point currency in Brasil had taken such a hit and inflation had become so bad that it took huge sums of cash just to buy the basics. They relocated to Chicago during this time.

In the wee morning hours I peeked out of my window to see that we had started flying over land again; scruffy plains yawned and stretched all the way to the horizon. A little later the popping in my ears told me we were making our descent.

A deep, penetrating voice came over the speaker in Portuguese -- "Bem-vindo a Rio de Janeiro"

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Rio - Leaving Dallas On A Bonus

There are some distinct advantages of living in a group of townhomes mostly occupied by flight attendants. They know whats happening in every major city, when moved to have you accompany them on flights they can usually plop you into a seat for a minimal charge and then ... there is the bonus of 'special friend treatment' when you happen onto one of their flights.

Wednesday, my departure day to Rio, started like any other: I got up at 7am, obligatory 3 cups of caffiene to prevent drowning in the shower, classes from 8-1230, lunch with my friend Lauren, then the mad dash to DFW, park, shuttle, check in, security and wait. I was cutting it close that day so it wasn't much of a wait, I arrived as they called my group number to board. Strolling into the small walkway and crossing the galley to the far side of the 767 I felt a sense of release.


Thats when I saw her. I know her. I just can't place her. I looked at her with that cockeyed 'puppy hears a strange noise' look, she reciprocated, in the opposite direction, just for the sake of symmetry or balance I suppose. Then, simultaneously, we recognized each other. We hugged, commented on how strange it was to see each other out of context, laughed, then she escorted me to my seat.

'I'll come back to check on you after we get in the air', she said.

I love the lift off, the momentum, seeing the city disappear behind me, smaller and smaller, cares I had just 15 minutes ago, becoming as temporary and disposable as the popsicle stick and Elmers bridge I made in high school science class. 'We've reached our crusing altitude' is simply code for blank out your mind. My friend came back several minutes after the fasten seat belt sign went away.

"I'm so sorry Jim, we were not be able to get you the upgrade to first class, will business class be acceptable?", she smiled mock concern.

"Oh, well, I suppose that will be fine", I tried to keep the air of concern without saying 'Business class? Are you kidding me, sign me up! woo hoo!'

Off I went to business class, smiling my ambilvalence at not being able to get my non-existent upgrade to first class. Free Skyy Tonics flowed; 4, 5, 10, I dont know I lost track of how many little blue bottles she brought around. I'm sure my row mate thought I was a budding alcoholic, judging by the looks.

I leaned over to my row mate and said. "First time in a plane."

"OOHH ... I totally understand. Its nothing really, flying, you just have to get used to it.", he smiled all-knowing , the well-seasoned traveler consoling the neophyte.

Right, OK, so how about another Skyy Tonic while I try to forget I've been on more flights than some pilots.

Free snacks, headphones and 'Jim, could you stop by and see me in the galley when you have a chance'. Sure, if I can pry my wobbly legs out of this comfy reclining seat and somehow disengage from my personal DVD player. I did. In the galley my friend had made me a little care package to take on my trip to Rio: dozens of little Skyys, Makers Marks, Baileys, wine, spa treatments, corkscrews. The travel bag weighed about 20 lbs. Wow!

She really made the first leg of my trip very special. Thanks sweetie, you know who you are!

3 hours and many Skyy Tonics later I arrived in Miami, drunk.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I heart RIO

So I'm back from Rio. It was amazing! When I get a handle on a few other aspects of life I will start writing about it.