Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Big City - Small Apartments

From the very beginning, when Eric and I first discussed the opportunity to move to Brazil, I thought it would be a really awesome experience both for him professionally and both of us personally. I've always felt that I was blessed to have been born in the United States where my parents were able to live "The American Dream" and I have never needed something that I was unable to have. I thought that living in another country would make me a better rounded person with a more open mind and a greater appreciation for other cultures. On Day 6 of my visit to Brazil I still believe that all these things will be true, but I've also decided that I am going to have to get used the the idea of very little personal space if I am to enjoy my time here!

On Monday, I began my only real task during my week here in BH (the locals pronounce this be-ah-ga): finding a place to live. Eric has a full schedule at the office this week, so I was given the task of looking into housing options. I was very lucky to have Andre's wife, Carol, with me on Monday. She has lived in Michigan as an exchange student and her English is awesome. But, being from Brazil, she was much more able than me to find real estate agents and help me to communicate.

Andre and Carol had given Eric and me a tour of several districts/neighborhoods in BH on Saturday. After driving through the different areas, Eric and I decided we were most interested in living in Belvedere. It is in the Southeastern part of the city and the closest neighborhood to the Case New Holland plant which is located in a neighboring town, Contagem. Besides that, it is also the newest, most upscale part of the city and has the highest elevation. It is my understanding that this area was only developed about 10 years ago, and it is continuing to grow. Most of the building are brand new and the area feels very safe. (We have read and it has been our experience so far, that this city is very, very safe. The crime rate is much lower than places like Rio and Sao Paulo. But, throughout most of the city, everything is covered in grafitti. Now, a rational person realizes that graffit doesn't equal crime, but I have a serious issue feeling safe driving into a garage covered by graffiti every night! There is something not totally comforting for me either when the buildings have 8-10' fences topped with several strands of electric fence. It's the American in me, I think, but still . . .) So, Carol and I set out Monday trying to find agents who could show me apartments in Belvedere.

I looked at 3 different apartment buildings. All three were very nice. They had 24 hour security guards who let people in and out of the building, the parking garages were secured and also had guards. The had nice pools and wonderful recreational areas. The apartments themselves were very nice - hardwood or granite or tile flooring in all the rooms, nice balconies with views of the city, decent closet space . . . but all the niceness took up very, very little space. I looked at 2 and 3 bedroom units and, literally, they were "bed-rooms." If you put a bed in there, that would be all you put in there. There is no such thing bedroom furniture outside of the bed itself. The dining and living areas were combined, which I like just fine, except that there wasn't really enough room for a table, couch, and entertainment center. And then there are the kitchens . . . eeek!!! I've always disliked the small kitchens that I see in the US in homes typically built 40 years ago or so. But compared to what I saw in these apartments, the long narrow kitchens would be luxurious! And then there is the laundry issue: no dryers! You have to hang everything to dry and there is no such thing as central heating and air here, so during the rainy season I am told nothing ever really gets dry. And when everything is hung to dry, that means everything needs ironing. I knew the move would require some lifestyle changes, but I'm not sure I was adequately prepared for all of this! And the really crazy thing about it is that these tiny little apartments cost 3-4 times what an apartment cost in any other part of the city, so I was looking at the best of the best!

But, here's the good news: I won't have to stay couped up in the house all day. At my favorite building, a brand new construction called Picasso, I have many beautiful outdoors options. They have a gorgeous pool and large fitness room. There is a squash court and pool tables. The common areas are very spacious and absolutely beautiful. They have a very large party room with kitchen that is available to rent for parties, and then there are a couple very nice outdoor kichens available to reserve for entertaining. There is a 12 person hottub and a sauna, and then there is a full-fledge movie theater where you can bring your own DVD's and watch it on the big screen! It is as nice as you would find in the most ritzy part of Atlanta or Chicago.

So, overall, my impression is this: the city is large, the living space is not. But if my time is spent at the pool, in the workout room, and entertaining in an awesome outdoor kitchen, I think I will be able to survive just fine!

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