Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Independence Day in Brasília - A Rather Long Tale

Ever since arriving in Brasil almost 2 years ago, Eric and I have wanted to visit Brasília. I'm not exactly sure why we wanted to so badly, and our Brasilian friends sure as heck didn't get it - they don't even have any desire to go there, but we really wanted to visit the nation's capital.

As Brasil's Independence Day approached on September 7, we decided the three-day weekend would be the perfect chance to make the trip. Lucky for us, Gol had a sale on flights there. Of course, then their website wouldn't work. And by the time we got tickets purchased there was only one seat available at the sale price. So we ended up putting Eric on an overnight bus on Friday night, and then Gabriela and I took the early Saturday morning flight.

We stayed at the Bristol Hotel, which is far from fancy, but was clean, comfortable, and spacious and located in a convenient location for sightseeing. But then again, most of the hotels are located in the "Hotel Sector" of the highly planned city, so location isn't really all that unique in Brasília. But they had a good weekend rate and looked decent, so we stayed there. (You might notice that is sort of a recurring theme with us. We love to travel every chance we get, but our budget doesn't really allow for extravagant spending. So as the designated family travel agent, I've gotten pretty good at hunting down airline sales and finding discounted hotel rooms. And if all else fails, well, I just send my husband by bus. hehe)

Since we are talking about the nation's capital, I feel a little history lesson is in order:

Brasília is the third capital of Brasil. The capital was originally located in Salvador and then moved to Rio de Janeiro. Apparently, since Brasil's colonial days, there had been talks about moving the capital to a more centrally located region of the country. But it wasn't until 1956, when Juscelino Kubitschek was president, that the idea was thoroughly developed. 41 months later, on April 21, 1960, Brasília had been designed, built, and inaugurated. And that was the fastest anything has ever been accomplished in Brasil, I'm sure of it! ;)

Brasília has received mixed reviews from the Brasilians all along. The concept was to create a capital somewhere more centrally located, despite that the Southeast and coastal regions of Brasil are home to an enormous majority of the country's inhabitants. It was thought that building a capital in a less inhabited part of the country would bring more residents to the area and increase the standard of living for the surrounding region. And all of that has happened. But it was an incredibly expensive venture (to build an entire city in the middle of nowhere in 41 months) and I suppose that now there is the ongoing expense of getting all the politicians back and forth - since few of them are actually from the region. I would compare it to the USA deciding to build a brand new capital in an Iowa cornfield. Lovely idea, as it would be equal distances from the east and west coasts that way . . . but seriously, in Iowa? I can't imagine the concept of Brasília was considered much different.

But it is what it is, and it is where it is, and we were there last month. The End. Okay, not really.

A map view of the city resembles an airplane. With the main government/memorial region being the fuselage and then the wings extending to both sides being the residential, hotel, restaurants, etc. sectors of the city. And on a map it is all neat and pretty, and the maps make it appear that the airplane is heading south and everything is nice and linear in a Cardinal-direction sort of way. And then you notice that the North arrow is quite askew and what you think is North after glancing at the map is actually very northwest and then you and your husband end up arguing about where things lie in relation to one another because you are thinking in terms of the map and you firmly believe that North should be straight up and decide to refer to things on the ground as if North is up on the map. Meanwhile your husband, being quite the precise engineer type, keeps misunderstanding you since he is thinking in terms of actual compass directions and not the way something was portrayed on a map. And then at some point during day 3 of perusing the city and arguing with your husband which way you are heading and realizing that there isn't a single road in the city which runs East to West or North to South, you throw your hands in the air and shout, "Oh good grief, for the love of all that is good and holy, if they were going to go through the trouble of building a city in the middle of nowhere, why on earth couldn't they just make the dadgum thing line up with a compass!!!" Except you might not have used such nice of language. And now seems like a good time to just show some pictures . . .

The TV Tower is probably main feature of Brasília's planned landscape. You can ride an elevator to the observation desk and get great views of the city. (It is located towards the tail of the "plane".)

From the TV Tower observation deck, looking towards the cockpit of the plane. (Notice I'm not even going to mention compass directions here.) Most all of the monuments and government building are located along this strip, called Eixo Monumental.

The National Museum

The National Cathedral (which was under construction - like a large portion of the city. No doubt they are trying to spruce things up for the 50 year anniversary of the city in 2010.)

Inside the National Cathedral

National Congress (The flagpole doesn't actually extend from the giant bowl there, it is actually well behind the National Congress building.)

Hanging out in the really comfy leather chairs inside the National Congress building after a guided tour (and hoping that they have plans to replace the bile-green indoor/outdoor carpet in that reception area - ICK!)

The Supreme Federal Tribunal

A statue of Tiradentes who died (by hanging before having his body cut up into pieces and put on display throughout Brasil by orders of the Portugal king in case anyone else had the grand idea of trying to lead the country to independence) on April 21, 1792. His date of death is a national holiday, one of the most important in Brasil. You might remember that Gabriela was born on Tiradentes Day!

The largest Brasilian flag in the country; on display on a giant flag pole at the nose of the plane. We tried to watch the changing of the flags, which occurs on the first Sunday of every month and is supposed to be quite a ceremony. Turns out, the flag hasn't been changed in 6 months, as the flag pole is under renovation. (Quite the ongoing theme this year - I recommend not visiting Brasília until after April 21 next year. It should be pretty awesome after all the renovating going on!)

Hmmm, I don't remember which building this was now. But I loved the waterfalls on the side of it!

We encountered this crabby owl during our self-created walking tour. Not sure what he was doing out and about in the middle of the day. And given his mood, I'm not sure he wanted to be awake at such an hour - he did not seem to like us.
The Don Bosco Sanctuary in Brasília. From the outside, the building isn't all that spectacular.

But step inside and you are engulfed in a sea of blue. Walls are all covered from floor to ceiling with blue and purple stained glass.

It is one of the most serene and yet captivating buildings I have ever been in. I could have stayed in there for hours!

After lots of walking and sightseeing on Saturday and Sunday, we got up Monday morning and headed down to the area that was set up for the Independence Day Parade/Air Show.

Gabs thought we had her up and moving entirely too early, but that's my kid for you!

We got excited as we heard the parade approaching us. And then as we awaited for the first group of parade marchers to come by, the military police in charge of the route and crowd control went rushing past us towards the paraders and motioned for them to turn off on a side street . . . 100 meters from where we were standing in the front row just behind the barriers put up to keep everyone off the street. Yep, all of our hurry up and get down there to get a good spot to watch the parade was for nothing. But at least we weren't alone. There were several thousand other disappointed families further down from us when the parade (seemingly) decided to end the route shorter than planned. Oh Brasil, how I do (not) love you some days.

Gabriela and me all decked out in our yellow and green trying to be patriotic (in front of the cavalry (?) after the parade.)

Early that afternoon, we decided to hop a city bus and go out to the airport where we rented a car for 16 hours so that we could check out some of the "further out" sights. (Since we needed to leave for the airport at 5:00 am Tuesday morning and didn't want to take a bus at that hour, and since taxis were rather expensive, given the distance to the airport, having a rental car worked out great and didn't cost us much more than a taxi the next morning would have!)

Out of curiosity, we had to go visit the Templo da Boa Vontade which was built by the Legião da Boa Vontade (Legion of Good Will). Turns out, you couldn't enter the building wearing shorts (which we were), but luckily they were prepared for visitors such as us and had a lovely pair of black polyester drawstring pants for Eric and a calf-length skirt of the same material for me to put on over our clothes.

There is a giant (21 kg) raw crystal at the very top of the pyramid. And once inside, you can take off your shoes and walk a spiral path along the floor until you are directly underneath the crystal. We were encouraged by the welcome committee to silently walk the spiral path and pause when we reached the center to absorb the energy from the crystal overhead. The quiet walk (which took a lot longer than you would think just looking at the black and white path on the floor) was very calming, but the energy of the crystal was lost on Eric and me. It was one of the most "finished" and well-maintained places we have every visited though, proving that plenty of folks are totally buying it and are more than happy to send in their money to the "organization". (I am resisting the urge to use the word cult. In all fairness, I don't really know enough about it, even after our visit and some further research. But it had a cultish feel about it. Or maybe it was a Rolex-wearing-send-me-your-money-and-God-will-heal-you-TV-Evangelist feel. Hard to say exactly. But I left feeling rather untrusting of the institution. Just my honest opinion.)

The really cool JK Bridge. It's design was inspired by a stone skipping in the water. Built in 2002, it was named "The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World" by the International Bridge Conference of the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania in 2003. And you know those engineers in Western Pennsylvania . . . they know their bridges! (Oh, I kid. It is a nice bridge. The title is lovely, I just thought the naming organization was a little funny.)

Palácio da Alvorada is the official residence of the President. Hello Lula! It looks like you could walk right across the lawn and knock on his door. There is actually a 4' moat around the edge of the grassy area though - we just zoomed in past it. Eric said he could pretty easily hop right over the moat, but I suggested that he would probably be shot by the armed guards long before he ever got to give Lula a big thumbs up or hug or anything.

I was totally intrigued that Brasília had a planned camping area in the original design of the city. Camping just isn't that big of a thing in Brasil, so I made Eric drive way out of the way so we could go check it out. And it appears that, who knew, camping isn't that big of a thing in Brasília either. If it was built in 1960 with the rest of the city, it appears to have been abandoned since 1965. But that doesn't stop them from putting it on all the maps and maintaining a fairly new sign out front. I even insisted that we drive in for a better look. 100' in, Eric was pretty sure someone was going to come behind us, shut the gates, and then proceed to murder us and leave our bodies out there where no one would find them for another 15 years when the next set of curious Americans came along to check out the campground. So we left rather quickly.

We tried to go check out the Museu dos Povos, but it was already closed. So we just grabbed a quick photo outside and then went across the street to the Memorial JK.

In front of the JK Memorial, which also houses the tomb of JK, I said something completely harebrained. I turned to Eric and said, "You know, there are a million things named JK (pronounced Jota-Ka in Portuguese), and yet I have no idea who that is even." Eric stopped walking and stared at me for a second to determine if I was being serious. Then he shook his head and laughed as he said, "Uh, Juscelino Kubitschek, the president of Brasil who was responsible for Brasília being built? Juscelino Kubitschek . . . JK." Ooohhhhh, makes sense now. That one goes down as Emily's Blonde Moment Number 71,347. A really neat museum of his life and family.

Igreginha Nossa Senhora de Fátima, probably the most famous of the many little churches in the designed residential areas of the city.

Ultimately, it was a really nice trip. The modern architecture is really interesting and there are some neat museums and things to see. We were most disappointed in how difficult it was to walk around though. The main tourist areas (although plenty close enough to walk) have unkempt sidewalks and few (if any) crosswalks. The Eixo Monumental is just 2.25 miles long, and even though we made it okay, it really wasn't pedestrian friendly . . . which is really a shame! The sidewalks are right along the curb of the main road (6 lanes of traffic in each direction) when they have an entire grassy park area that they could have put a sidewalk in! In the end , we were really glad that we:
1. took the jogging stroller with the bicycle tires instead of the "mall" stroller,
2. chose to walk the Eixo Monumental instead of doing a bus tour - saw so much more!, and
3. rented a car for one day to see all the further out sights as the bus system was alright, but it would have taken forever to see everything by bus.

In my humble opinion, it doesn't even come close to comparing to Washington, D.C. though. I love Washington, D.C., although I think maybe it's the historical factor as much as anything. And can you believe Eric has never even been there?!? He is more ready than ever to rectify that situation now though. As soon as we get moved back to the US we will be watching for on-sale flights to our nation's capital! (Besides getting her father fully cultured, it is important for Gabriela to see the capital cities of both of her "home" countries too!)

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Mandatory Visit to Rio

If you're only going to be in Brasil once in your life, you really have to make sure you visit Rio! So before we sent our guests back home to Iowa, we spent their final weekend in Rio de Janeiro. Eric, his parents, and his youngest sister all drove down Friday, August 14 after Eric got off work. They got in around 10:00 pm and, after checking into the Ipanema apartment we rented for the weekend, Eric came out to the airport to pick up Gabs and me.

The following morning, we got up early and headed down to the beach after having a salgado and açaí breakfast at a juice bar.

The beach was pretty empty when we got there, so we rented chairs and umbrellas and got set up right at the edge of the water. It was a beautiful day, so it wasn't long before the beach got much busier!

We spent the day taking in the scenery, working on our tans, and playing in the water.

That afternoon, we thought we'd let Gabriela dip her feet in the water. She was totally not digging the cold Rio water though! She was much happier playing in her beach tent or on a kanga in the sand (and working on her poses for the Sports Illustrated Baby Swimsuit Edition, apparently?)

That evening, Eric took his family up to Pão de Açúcar to watch the sunset.

It was a beautiful night and they got some great views as the sun set over Corcovado and the city began to light up.

Meanwhile, I threw Gabriela in her BabyBjörn and the two of us went for a nice long walk. We walked down the beachfront along Ipanema, hopped a city bus through the back streets of Arporador (to be safer, since those streets were pretty deserted), and then got off and walked almost the entire length of the Copacabana beachfront. It was a real testament to my comfort level in Brasil/Rio and with my Portuguese. I remember a time when I would not go out by myself at all after dark! And I am still plenty cautious, but the beachfront was very busy and I was not the least bit uneasy.

Gabs and I met up with everyone in Copacabana at Deck for a delicious pizza rodízio (all you can eat pizza, except instead of a buffet, they bring the pizzas around to your table) and sangria (YUM!).

The next morning we were greeted with more gorgeous weather! I stayed at the apartment and let Gabriela sleep while Eric took everyone else up to the Cristo.

And then, when they got back, I was completely jealous. They got to see a sloth on their way back down the mountain!!! Eric and I have been dying to see a sloth. I have no idea why, but we both really wanted to see a sloth in the wild before we left Brasil. And they saw one. Right there on the edge of the road! Thank goodness they at least brought me back a picture!

They made it back to the apartment a little after 10:00 am and we headed back down to the beach for the rest of the day.

Besides drinking coconut water and eating Globo biscoitos, we also indulged in one of my other favorite Rio-Beach pastimes: shopping. Kelly and I each ended up buying a bikini from one of the guys wandering through the crowd with an umbrella displaying dozens of Brasilian bikinis. As the two of us looked at swimsuits and held them up to ourselves trying to decide which we wanted, the kind salesman (pictured with us below) kept making suggestions and pulling more options out of his duffel-bag. All the while he was grinning from ear to ear . . . I got the feeling he liked his job!

Later that Sunday afternoon, we headed back to the apartment, got cleaned up, packed up, and headed to the airport (in two shifts, darn little car - Eric took Gabs and me and then came back for his folks). We said our goodbyes to Eric's parents and sister, and then we made the 5-hour journey back to Belo Horizonte, where we immediately fell into bed and passed out.

And We'll Call Her Destructo

I took Gabriela into the laundry room with me this morning while I was hanging clothes from the washer (remember, no clothes dryer). I put her in the Bumbo seat, attached the tray, and gave her a toy to play with. In less than 30 seconds, she had destroyed my little set-up and was most pleased with herself. I put it all back together again and then captured this:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Just a Little Squirt

This is the scowl you get when you wake her up and throw her in the shower at an hour she deems entirely too early (7:00 am) and then you make her feed herself a bottle while you go get yourself ready. She's sort of like having a teenager around sometimes - she really doesn't do the morning thing!

Gabriela had her 5 month check-up this morning. (Here in Brasil, you go in every month for the first year.) She's still healthy as can be, and the doctor and secretary are both always so impressed by what a calm, happy kid she is. Gabs laid on the charm as usually giving big toothless grins and a little giggle, but otherwise didn't make a peep the whole time.

And while she's a good eater, good sleeper, and all the way around a great kid, she's just a little thing. Her stats this month put her at 24.8 inches (50th percentile) and 13.8 pounds (25th percentile). That's up from 24 inches and 12.9 pounds a month ago, so she's growing but she won't be winning any giant baby awards. And of course, given that 4 of her 6 grandmas/great-grandmas never made it too terribly much over 5' tall, I suppose there's a chance she's just going to be petite.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Now, where was I?

Oh yeah, I was trying to catch up on our entertaining and traveling. I last posted about being in Salvador with Eric's family . . .

After our week in Bahia, we all flew to Belo Horizonte. And boy, was it nice to be home again. We do love to travel, but coming back to your own bed after being away several weeks is the best! Even if you do bring the in-laws with you. ;)

We arrived home on Monday, August 10 and Eric was scheduled to be back at work the following day. He wasn't feeling too spectacular on that Sunday night or Monday though and by the next morning it was obvious he was sick: fever, sore throat, body aches . . .

Being that we had just been on quite a few flights and had been warned about H1N1 (Swine Flu) during each of them, I did a quick search for the symptoms. Of course H1N1 has all the same symptoms as everything. So either Eric was fighting a common cold or he had Swine Flu. We both agreed that he probably should go to the doctor instead of to work that morning. I was just thinking about how supremely unpopular he would be if it were indeed Swine Flu and he took it into to everyone in the office!!!

So we left the family to fend for themselves (and babysit Gabs) that morning and we headed to the hospital - where we found 30 or so other people with a fever and some combination of cold/flu-like symptoms who were all concerned they were afflicted with H1N1. Once we finally got in to see the doctor, he asked about Eric's symptoms and said something along the lines of "Yeah, well you definitely have some kind of viral cold or flu. You should stay home the next 3 days to avoid infecting anyone else." And then he sent us along on our merry way with instructions to drink plenty of fluids, get some rest, take Tylenol as needed for fever and pain and, for goodness sakes, stay away from the rest of the human population.

So Eric cuddled up in bed with his laptop and cell phone and tried to rest in between catching up on 2 weeks worth of emails from his time on vacation.

Meanwhile, Gabriela and I began our 4-Day Tour Extraordinaire de Minas Gerais with Eric's parents and sister.

Stopping back by the house to bring the sickly-one lunch

Over the course of the next four days, we

-Visited Ouro Preto

-Got a bird's eye view of Belo Horizonte

-Ate a gigantic Brasilian hot dog from a street vendor

-Went to Mercado Central

-Enjoyed a lovely meal of Frango ao Molho Pardo (and only after the fact informed our guests that the delicious "gravy" smothering the chicken was made out of chicken blood. But I think they thought we were kidding. Okay, believe whatever you'd like . . .)

-And made plenty of other site-seeing stops in between.

Then late on Friday afternoon (when Eric was feeling much more chipper), Gabriela and I dropped off the car and our guests with Eric at work and they took off on the 5-hour journey to Rio de Janeiro. (The car only has five seatbelts, so Gabs and I ended up taking a taxi back home and then catching a late night flight and meeting them down there.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

5 Months

To My Awesome 5 Month Old,

Oh Gabriela, the fun we've had this month! We took 2 long weekend trips (one to Brasília and one to Maceió), you've gnawed on everything that's come within a 3' radius of you, you decided your feet are the best toys ever, and I have finally figured out some of the ways you try communicating with me.

From a developmental standpoint you are on target or ahead on pretty much everything. Among the new accomplishments this month:

-You have total support of your head - it never bobbles or lags behind your body when pulled to a sitting position.
-You can sit unsupported for up to a couple minutes (when you want to, otherwise you sling yourself over).
-You can bare all of your weight on your legs and stand if you have something to hold onto, like our fingers.
-Laying on your stomach, you can push up with your arms until your entire chest and belly is off the floor.
-You can roll, spin, and wiggle until you get to something you want (no crawling quite yet, despite quite an effort!)
-You are super interested anytime your Papai or I put something in our mouths (eating, drinking, brushing our teeth, etc.), so now when you sit with us at mealtime I give you a baby spoon and you feed yourself imaginary food (you're still only consuming breast milk). And you actually do a really good job getting the end of the spoon in your mouth almost every time!

Your hair keeps growing longer and getting curlier. When wet, your bangs come past the bottom of your nose and your "mullet" extends well down your back. It has so much curl it only looks that long when it's wet though. And thank goodness for hair bows or else you'd have lots of hair in your eyes!

Your eyes get the most attention of any of your features here in Brasil though. They are a stunning shade of blue that seems to grow more brilliant each week and rarely a day goes by that a stranger doesn't comment on them. Since it looks like your hair is going to be brown like Daddy's, Mommy is hoping that you keep her blue eyes. :)

At the beginning of this month, I set my sights on figuring out something of a nap schedule for you. You've been a great nighttime sleeper since birth, but you tended to fight sleep when you got tired during the day. Mommy's sort of a slow learner, but I finally figured out that usually the moment you get sleepy you start to whine, your eyebrows turn red, and you rub your eyes. If I swaddle you and lay you down immediately when you give me your sleepy signs, then you will dose right off to sleep and nap for 45 minutes -2 hours, depending on the time of day. We've been pretty successful the last few weeks and you have been a happier, less fussy kiddo because of it. (Not that you were ever all that fussy, but you're more pleasant when well-rested, for sure!) So now, based on the signs you give me, your natural sleep schedule tends to be something along the lines of:

8:00 Wake up to nurse, go back to bed
9:30 Wake up
11:30-12:15 Nap
2:00 - 4:00 Nap
6:00 - 7:00 Nap
8:00 Bath, Bottle, Bed

The key for you is being swaddled, otherwise you flail your arms around, yank out your pacifier, and do anything else you can think of to keep yourself awake! And oh are you moody then! The real beauty of it all is that so long as I wrap you up, you nap fine in your stroller, the car seat, in my arms, on the floor . . . you can totally nap anywhere on the go! You're just a girl who needs her sleep - I can appreciate that. My apologies for taking 4 months to figure out how to help you achieve the daytime sleep you were trying to tell me you wanted.

The big thing you've (we've) been working on is using the toilet. I had this somewhat "out there" theory that I could speed up and simplify potty training in the future if I got you accustomed to the toilet now. So at 4 months old, I started holding you over the vaso (toliet) each night before Papai gave you a bath. About every third night or so you would go xixi (pee). Two weeks later, I started thinking about how you go cocô (poo) pretty much the same time every day and I always know when you're about it do it - your eyebrows turn red, you get really still, and you have a very concerned look on your face. And afterwards you are not happy. At all. You do not enjoy sitting in your own excrement (not that I blame you one bit!) So then I started taking you to the vaso anytime I thought you needed to go cocô. The first week you only had two dirty diapers. The second week you didn't have any dirty diapers at home, just one when we were out. You've started straining a little bit each time I hold you over the vaso and try to do whatever you need to do. And you've quickly learned what you're doing because now you look up at me with a grin anytime you go in the vaso, waiting for my excitement and praise.

And then I thought, I can't be the first to figure this out, so I did some Googling. Turns out, there is a whole group of folks who have the same idea. They call it infant potty training, elimination communication (EC), or potty whispering and apparently in plenty parts of the non-western world, it is pretty much the status quo. It seems it's just us Westerners who delay potty training until 2 or older. According to other people who have tried it, once baby can learn sign language (around 7-10 months old) they can begin to tell their parents when they need to go. And although kiddos don't usually have the ability to "hold it" (and therefore they still have accidents) until they are 16-24 months old, my sources say by a year old plenty of babes can be using the potty most of the time! The only bad thing pediatricians had to say about it is that it can lead to unrealistic expectations, parents who get angry with their babies, and then foster a negative parent/child relationship. Well, your Daddy and I are dead set on just making it a fun thing and enjoying the excitement each time you use the vaso. I have no intentions of you being out of diapers anytime soon, but each time you use the vaso that's one less diaper I have to wash - which gives me that much more to be excited about!

But your newest trick that your Papai and I are really loving these days are the beijinhos (little kisses). Well, actually they probably need to be called a beijão (big kiss) to be more accurate. If you're in the mood for it (notice a recurring theme here?) and we kiss your cheek and ask for one in return, you will grab our face with both hands, lean it, and plant a great big, extremely slobbery kiss on our cheek that may or may not also involve sucking, gumming, and licking. And sometimes you can't even get through the whole process without cracking yourself up. And it always elicits smiles and giggles and another kiss in return from us. Nothing though has brought quite as much laughter as the two times you caught me off guard and kissed your ol' Mamãe right on the lips though - I'm not sure I've ever received such an affectionate (or as slobbery) kiss.

You make every day so much fun!
I love you lots, Punkerdoodle!