28 May 2012

Azeda and Azedinha Beaches

I feel I should send letters of apology to all of our guests who visited us before Mark and I "discovered" Azeda Beach, and its little sister, Azedinha. You all really missed out on something, and for that I'm truly sorry. These two out-of-the-way beaches are my favorites in Búzios. Getting there takes a little effort. Start at Ossos Beach and stroll down a cobblestone street lined with quintessential early-Búzios-style cottages. Keep walking, even when the road stops and cars are no longer allowed and the signs announce you've entered an environmentally-protected area. If you stay alert, you'll find the trail that leads down a steep, rocky path to Azeda Beach.

Once you've slip-slided down the path, you'll see a beautiful old 1950s-era seaside house standing squarely in the middle of the beach. The house has most certainly seen better days, but it retains a certain shabby chic. It's unoccupied and boarded up, and occasionally the various courtroom dramas concerning its status surface in the local press. Does the original family still own it? Does the municipal government own it? Or is it owned by the federal government because it sits in an environmentally-protected area? Nobody really knows for sure. All we know is that the dilapidated house serves as a grand backdrop for your own private dreams.

During low season, and particularly during the week, the locals have Azeda all to themselves. Offshore, the fishermen go about the business of casting out their fishing nets, and closer to shore snorkelers paddle happily around the clear waters and coral reefs. Even the one or two beach vendors that bother to come to Azeda are relaxed, never trying too hard to sell you anything. Walk to the end of Azeda and pick up another path that takes you over rocks and through woods. You'll come out at an even tinier beach, Azedinha (Little Azeda). For all intents and purposes, you're alone in the world on a desert island, at least for a little while.

I went to Azeda to take pictures for this post and was astonished at the changes. Progress has come, in the form of a soon-to-be completed stairway down to the beach, with handrail, in place of the rough trail of yesteryear. There were lots more people than I used to see on a weekday morning. Azeda and Azedinha have been found.

Lovely neighborhood of old, renovated fishermen's cottages

It will be very easy - maybe too easy - to get to Azeda now

The beautiful old house, smack dab in the middle

Trail to Azedinha

View of Azedinha from afar, nestled around the bend

21 May 2012

Three Things About The Good Old U.S.A. We Don't Miss At All

1. Lack of eye contact — Not a glance, not on the streets of New York, not upon entering a store, not in an elevator, nothing. Present yourself to an office receptionist and you have to wait until she slowly raises her eyes from her compelling desk work to acknowledge your presence while staring into the middle distance. I know, I know, I'm generalizing, maybe even exaggerating, and perhaps New Yorkers — well known for their aloofness — aren't the best test case for the whole of the U.S. But now that I've gotten used to the more intense, hands-on, eye-to-eye human contact of the Brazilians, I really feel the difference when I visit the States. There's a very studied way many Americans have adopted to look through you. Or over you. Or behind you. Not to mention the ones who talk to you while staring at their electronic devices. Want to know who still looks you straight in the eye in the U.S.? Airport immigration officers. I know it's their job, but I'm happy for any human connection and it makes me feel good.

Comes early, and with a preprinted thank-you, too!
2. Unrequested restaurant checkHave we finished our meal yet? What if we want something else? Can't we order dessert? Did we ask for the check? These are the things I want to scream at our waiter when the restaurant check is slapped down on the table, unrequested and unwanted, along with our meal at many restaurants in the U.S. I know, it's all about efficiency. We're going to ask for the check anyway, why not deliver it before we ask? What's the problem? We're not rushing you. (Ha!) We're not looking to turn over the table. (Double ha!) Sorry, but it makes me lose my appetite, having to stare at the check with every bite I take. How different it is in Brazil, how accustomed I've become to the studious way a Brazilian waiter will ignore you at the end of your meal. They act surprised when you ask for the check. Wouldn't you like something else? they ask. Stay as long as you want, we're open until the last customer leaves, they assure us. This delay in getting the restaurant check is one of the complaints I often hear from our American guests. Funny, huh?

Generic Brazilian doctor's office. Amazing, huh?
3. Doctor's examining cubicles — The last time I ever sat shivering in a frigid, air-conditioned cubicle wrapped solely in a piece of paper, waiting patiently as the doctor visited the six or so cubicles lined up along a corridor, was in early 2002. I had the idea I should get all of my routine check-ups done before leaving my U.S. doctors to doctor on without me. I don't know how medicine has progressed in New York City since then, but going to a doctor in Brazil is a whole different animal. For instance, the doctor's office in Brazil has the examining table in it, discreetly off to one side. In other words, when you walk in — clothed, and for the initial purpose of sitting down and talking — you are the patient, the only patient, for as long as is needed. One of my doctors always begins the visit with a lively conversation about the latest food trends, or some Tunisian movie that's just been released in Brazil. At first, I would sit there worried about the other patients out in the waiting room, but I got over that fast. This is how it's done here. On average, I spend a good 45 minutes with a doctor per office visit. Only on a return visit to go over lab results am I able to get out in less than 45 minutes. But that's only if my doctor has no new restaurant to recommend.

14 May 2012

Three Things I Miss About The Good Old U.S.A.

1. Disciplined traffic — On our most recent visit back to the States Mark and I rented a car at Miami airport. A courteous driver slowed down to let us join the flow of traffic and we continued seamlessly north on I-95. All the cars obeyed the speed limit, keeping pace at a steady 55 miles per hour (88.5 km), increasing to 65 (104.6 km) the further north we went, but only when it was allowed. Drivers used the left-hand lane only for passing, otherwise they stayed to the right. Nobody rode on the shoulder on the right. What might seem to a first-time visitor to be a Stepford-Wife-like submissiveness to the rules of the road gave me a profound sense of security. I relaxed in a car for the first time in a long time. I knew our fellow drivers had all taken driver's ed in high school, were properly licensed and were probably not fleeing the scene of a crime. In a much earlier blog (Driving in Brazil, November 7, 2011) I gave in to a little rant about the bumper-car-style driving of Brazilians. Well, I grant you that driving in Brazil is far more exciting than this auto-pilot traffic we were cruising in on I-95, but as the years encroach I find it's an excitement I can do without.

2. Bagels — This is such a cliché, isn't it? And I even subscribe to the "if-you-can't-live-without-your-comfort-foods-stay-home" philosophy. But as the years in Brazil went by, I found myself with a real taste for an everything bagel. I literally hungered for one. So I decided to make them here myself, as best I could. And armed with the ancestral recipe (complete with a secret step bypassed by most home bagel-makers) I succeeded. My small, sesame-poppy-seed bagels — what we've come to call "dainty bagels" — actually look and taste like the real thing. Aren't they cute? We found all the fixings, too, even Philadelphia-brand cream cheese for that all-important smear. Now every once in a while, when I feel up to it, I make a batch and we invite other bagel-cravers to a real bagel brunch. (But now that I think of it, just why is Philadelphia-brand cream cheese even available here, if they don't have bagels? What else is it used for? These are the mysteries.)

3. The Sunday New York Times — I look at the New York Times online nearly every day. So what is it, you might ask, that I'm missing? And why am I particularly missing the Sunday edition? Well, I think I miss its heft, its feel, its presence. I miss how it punctuated our week. I miss the ritual we had for reading it. In Manhattan, the Sunday Times was available early, on Saturday night. So that's when we'd get the paper, take refuge back home from the Saturday night rowdies, open a bottle of sparkling wine and settle in for a long, leisurely read. Here in Búzios we've developed a comparable ritual (old habits do, indeed, die hard). Since what's important to us now is what's happening in our neck of the woods, we buy O Globo every Sunday morning. It may not be the Sunday Times, but it's a solid substitute. Now we settle down to O Globo, a leisurely breakfast, and . . . it's not too early for some sparkling wine, is it?

07 May 2012

Watchin' Movies

Part of our movie life in early 2010
I don't remember exactly why Mark and I felt we needed to take a little notebook and write down the title of every single movie we saw after moving to Brazil. Perhaps because we were seeing more movies than ever before? Perhaps because our memories had jointly begun to fail? Perhaps we thought this would be an Important List That Would Mean Something to Somebody Someday? To be honest, I admit that I do have this kind of obsessive behavior in my blood. I own, for example, a collection of playbills of every single play or show I ever saw from 1968 (Gilbert Bécaud at Carnegie Hall) to our attendance two weeks ago at Bibi Ferreira's one-woman tour-de-force in honor of her 90 years on stage, with each show's ticket stubs neatly slipped between the pages of the playbills. (Hmm, I wonder what this collection would fetch on Ebay? But I digress.) Once we were happily ensconced in our little town of Búzios, with its one movie theater (introduced in my blogpost of January 30th) we realized that movies would be a big chunk of our cultural life. And so, between that movie theater and several video rental stores, our movie list was spawned.

I have been as faithful as possible in keeping the list up-to-date, give or take occasional human lapses. I don't usually include films that we turn on and turn off within five minutes, either. As of this writing, we have seen 1,460 films in ten years, or 146 films a year, about 12.2 films a month. Put that way, it doesn't seem like much. But juxtaposed with a fairly normal life full of other things to do, I feel we're holding our own. And I don't just write down the titles, either. I've taken to adding a one-sentence "blurb," something to remember the film by, à la Howard Thompson, the former New York Times film critic famous for inventing and writing those pithy capsule reviews for the Times television listings. I don't come close to his wit, but I have fun trying.

To be seen . . . one day
I joked above about our faulty memories, but it really is hard to keep all these movie titles in your head, especially when they're in different languages. Say we read a review in English about a French movie and decide we want to see that film. That's two titles we have to remember (i.e., La Graine et le Mulet in the original French, and Couscous in English). Then that movie is released here in Brazil under a Portuguese name (O Segredo do Grão). That's three titles now swimming around in the deep end of our heads, and the titles are not always direct translations, either, which complicates things. Now we keep yet another list in another notebook, this one of films to-be-seen, along with all their titles, so that at any given moment in a video rental store we know where we are. Sort of.

I'm in charge of keeping a third list, too, but this one is just for the fun of it. "Film Nationality Count" is its name. The United States tops the list at 737 films, with France in second place (139) and Brazil in third (133). Could this list possibly be of any interest to anyone? Does it say anything about anything? I think it does, actually. I'm convinced that our living abroad has opened up our film-watching options. We may not see all the films that are released in the States, and we may never see all the films on my to-be-seen list, but we see plenty of high-quality cinema that never makes it to the U.S., and that's unfortunate for the American public. And I'm not so sure that even in New York we would have seen as many Argentine films as we have, or Israeli, or Afghani, or Uruguayan, or Turkish, or Mongolian, particularly now that Kim's Video is closed. Our movie lists are a good, solid history of a decade's-worth of cultural life. They track our tastes, they track what's available to us and they track our travels. They even show when we went from watching VHS to watching DVD (in 2005, we were slow). See you at the movies!