Friday, February 27, 2009

Carnaval: Sunday Night at the Sambódromo

The highlight of our Carnaval experience this year was certainly getting to go to the Sambódromo in Rio de Janeiro! We saw 6 samba schools compete (6 more paraded on Monday night) between 9:00 pm and 5:00 am. It was an awesome experience that I think everyone should have at least once in their lifetime!

The parades were a combination of huge crazy floats carrying tons of people, people marching/dancing along in huge elaborate costumes, a large group of drummers/other percussion instruments, and the oh-so-famous samba girls with their high heels, feather headdresses, some glitter, and not much else. Each school had a theme along with their own song that was sung repeated for the entire 1 1/2 hours that they paraded.

To give you an idea of just how hot and humid it was, we had just arrived at 9:00 pm when we took this picture. We did actually start off the night with showers and looking a little less greasy too! And, we were up at the very top where we could get at least a little bit of a breeze and where I wouldn't be brushed up against by quite as many sweaty people. (My personal space bubble gets larger when the temperature is above 90 degrees . . . even Dear Hubby was sternly warned not to touch me on more than one occasion!)

A panoramic shot of the 1/3 mile parade route

The float above was really cool. The gold-painted people would stop dancing and freeze every so often, looking like statues!

Proof that Z Baby got to celebrate Carnaval 2009 in the Sambóbromo!

There was a huge group of photographers that followed each of the samba girls down the parade route taking tons of pictures. Some were probably famous people, others were just beautiful and almost naked.

This chick is brave. Based on the construction techniques I've witnessed here (you know, like kitchen sinks that can't stay attached) you'd be hard pressed to convince me to stand on a moving piece protruding from a moving parade float over 3 stories high in the air . . .

Now, is it just me or do you also want to warn this girl that her lovely round cheeks are about to be pinched by a giant claw?

This was one of my favorite costumes. Part of the theme for this samba school was a celebration of the evolution of baths. These costumes were designed for two people and meant to look like they were taking a bubble bath in an old round wooden tub! Too cute.

Holding strong past 4:00 am. It brings a whole new meaning to the "5 o'clock shadow".

Leaving the Sambódromo after sunrise . . . we passed lots of the parade participants walking down the street carrying their hot, heavy costumes. I was ecstatic to be in an air-conditioned taxi at this moment.

And a little video montage for those of you wanting a better taste of Carnaval! (It may take a little while to load.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two awards we'll be applying for this year:

Samba Dancer of the Year: Z Baby

I swear she picked up some moves from the dancers in the parades at the Sambódromo! And I'm not even close to kidding. She's had some seriously fancy footwork and booty-shaking going on ever since Sunday night. And apparently she partook in some other Carnaval festivities without me - she got hiccups for the first time (that I could feel) on Saturday and they have continued on and off since then . . .

Trooper of the Year: Yours Truly

Not to brag, but I did manage to stay at the Sambódromo from 9:00 pm until 5:00 am in all of my 33-weeks-pregnant glory. Our tickets were in the general seating area (arquibancadas, setor 5), meaning concrete bleachers, and we spent the first three parades without a place to sit. Which means that I had to stand until after 1:30 in the morning. After that, some people in front of us left and we were able to score enough room to sit down when I needed to. It was quite hot and humid and we were surrounded by lots and lots of sweaty people. (Have I mentioned my incredibly heightened sense of smell since being prego?) Furthermore, I would like to add that when we had to wait in a poorly managed line for over an hour for a taxi, from 5:00 - 6:00 am, I was the one who kept having to encourage Eric to relax and just chill out. (Well, except for the one incident involving the middle-aged Brasilian woman who cut in front of a bunch of people in line and kept trying to push her way in front of me . . . I did sort of lose my patience with her and share a piece of my mind . . . but hey, a hot, sticky, sleep-deprived pregnant woman with slightly swollen ankles and a full bladder can only handle so much, you know?)

But in all seriousness, we had an awesome Carnaval. I am incredibly exhausted still, but it was a great time! Look for lots of pictures coming tomorrow.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Carnaval Here We Come!

Carnaval is upon us. Tuesday is the official day, but things get kicked off this weekend in grand fashion.

We have two friends visiting from Iowa that will be celebrating with us this year, Bob and Lisa. We decided we'll take off tomorrow morning and drive down to Tiradentes to check out things there before continuing our drive down to Juiz de Fora to spend the night. Sunday morning we'll head into Rio de Janeiro. We've got tickets to the Sambodrómo for the famous Carnaval parades on Sunday night (actually, more Monday morning, I guess, since the parades start at 9:00 pm and continue until around 8:00 the next morning!)

Meanwhile, I'm starting what I'm afraid is going to be the beginning of a new trend: eating my words. I've heard that it comes as part of the 'parent package' . . . you know, all the things you swore you'd never do when you had kids of your own. I recently flashed back to our experience at Carnaval in São João Del Rei last year. I distinctly remember seeing several women who were quite pregnant joining in on the fun in the streets - walking along with the blocos, singing, and dancing and having a grand ol' time while parading around a great big belly. And I seem to remember that I turned to Eric and said something along the lines of, "Geez, this really doesn't seem like the place for someone that pregnant!"

And here I am 33 weeks along (that means over the 8-month mark!) getting all giddy and excited to attend one of the world's largest Carnaval celebrations in all of my whale-like glory.

Oh well, at least I don't have a screaming kid in a restaurant . . . (yet?)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The timing was perfect.

Because if it had happened at, oh, let's say 6:00 pm today, Eric probably would have arrived home to find me in a pile on a flooded kitchen floor crying. I've generally found that

Emily + pregnancy hormones + frustration ≠ a good time

Last night I was in the kitchen washing my hands at one of the two sinks in there. The second sink had my 8-quart stock pot and 5-quart dutch oven each full of water and soaking after making salsa and sweet pickles yesterday afternoon. Just as I was reaching for the towel to dry my hands off, I heard a loud crash behind me, followed by the sound of flowing water. I quickly turned around to see a large hole in the countertop where my sink used to be.

I went rushing over to see what happened. Halfway there, my bare feet were splashing through water. Lots and lots of water. I got to the sink area, reached through the hole in my countertop, and grabbed my two Calphalon pots from the fallen, sideways sink - they had maybe four cups of water left between the two of them.

In case you were wondering, 12 quarts of water covers A LOT of surface area.

Standing there in shock and disbelief in an expanding pool of water, my first instinct was to cry. Because that's such a logical reaction. But then I remembered my sweet, helpful, rational, (not pregnant) husband was at home. So I called out across the apartment, "Um, Sweetie . . . could you please come help me in the kitchen . . . quickly"

He had heard something fall. And then when I asked for his help, he quickly assumed I had dropped the 6 pints of salsa we had made while trying to put them in the freezer. You can imagine his relief when he came in the kitchen and just found water on the floor. (As opposed to salsa splashed on every surface within a 20' radius . . .)

What he wasn't so excited to see was this:

Of course, this wasn't exactly the first image he saw. These pictures were taken after we had everything cleaned up and the sink/garbage disposal moved into an upright position. They actually fell more sideways and were laying across everything stored under the kitchen sink.Trying to figure out how the heck a sink spontaneously falls, we did a little investigating and discovered that our under-mounted sink, with the biggest, heaviest garbage disposal you've ever seen (we're talking like, seriously, over 30 pounds . . . maybe over 40) attached to it, had absolutely no support holding it up. Whatever genius installed the sink just sort of plastered it to the bottom of the countertop. Seriously, I have no idea how it lasted as long as it did!

The one redeeming factor about the whole thing: a flexible drain pipe. A shattered pvc sewage line would create a whole new set of problems!

See how our other kitchen sink (below) has some braces under it? That seems like it might have been a good idea for the sink supporting the gigantic hunk of steel (aka the garbage disposal.)

So today's plans now include dealing with the apartment owner's representative and getting someone out here to fix my sink. I could end up curled up in a ball on the floor crying still . . . especially if they send me my same little plumber friend from last time. Oh, and have I mentioned we have company coming into town on Wednesday? Yeah, maybe the timing wasn't so perfect.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


That's how many days are left before Z Baby's due date rolls around.

Whoa. That's not very many.

We're trying to get things in order around these parts and make sure we're as prepared as possible - preferably prior April 11 in case she decides to make her grand entrance early! (A very real concern in the back of my mind given that 2 of my best friends have had their babies quite a bit in advance of their due date . . . as in like, the nursery isn't set up, no hospital bags are packed, still planning to work for at least six more weeks kind of early.)

Besides making sure the apartment is all prepared and my life is thoroughly organized, there's also that little detail of getting our child from her cozy little residence in my womb to out here in the real world where I can tickle her toes and pinch her fat rolls - as opposed to her fun little current games of kicking my ribs and punching my bladder.

So in our effort to get prepared for that little journey, we started a childbirth/baby care/breast feeding class last night. It's composed of four sessions, each 2 1/2 hours long, taught by a local doula, with us and three other couples in the class. Beyond the need for a few vocabulary clarifications (like when Eric leaned over to ask me, "Is parto Portuguese for birth?", thereby confirming that he hadn't spent much time reading the information I gave him so that he'd be caught up on the vocabulary that he otherwise probably wouldn't know), we did pretty well catching everything. And in Eric's defense, I suppose he doesn't have quite as much time during the day to study this stuff like I do - something about a pesky little job and bringing home a specific pork product and the whole reason we're here and blah, blah, blah . . .

We really like the doula a lot and stayed after class yesterday to talk about using her services. The deal is only sweetened by the fact that she lived in the US for 17 years (from age 6 - 23) and is completely fluent in English. In fact, she did her doula training there, so English is her first language from the technical birth/labor side of things. Given that I can completely see myself wanting my back rubbed and someone fetching me ice chips at the same time, and that there is a real strong possibility my feeble Portuguese abilities might abandon me with the onset of the first real strong contraction, having the additional support of a bilingual doula could be beneficial (for both me and Hubby!) on several fronts.

So, time ticks away. We try to get ready. But for now I go and figure out if there is anything I can take for a bad cold. I've underestimated my need for breathing . . .

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Well, whatayaknow . . . they're not Carioca axe-murders disguised as Canadians!

I've always been told that Mineiros (people from our state) tend to be very untrusting of strangers and seemingly have a fear of most things pertaining to Rio de Janeiro. After Eric revealed our last minute weekend plans to one of our friends on Friday afternoon, I'm starting to believe there may be some truth to that! The conversation went a little something like this:

Concerned Colleague/Friend: So, let me get this straight . . . you're driving down to Rio, getting in late tonight, and staying the weekend with some people you've only 'met' on the internet.
Eric: Well, yeah, basically, I guess that's it. She and Emily have been emailing for almost a year, they keep up with each other's blogs . . .
CCF: You know you have to be careful with Cariocas (people from Rio). I mean some of them are real sly and really know how to lure people in and take advantage of them and . . .
Eric: Yeah, well, this is a Canadian couple, they're just expats like us.
CCF: Well, they say they're Canadian, but some Cariocas . . . well, do you personally know anyone who has met them? I mean, really, you never can be too careful.

One of my bloggy friends and I have been trying to get together and meet in person ever since she and her husband moved to Rio almost a year ago now. We've shared a lot in common and thought it'd be fun to hang out sometime (moving to Brasil as newlyweds, figuring out our new role as an expat wife, being sucked into the world of blogging, and now we are both pregnant and due within a month of one another!)

This weekend both of our schedules opened up and Eric and I made the drive south to go soak up a little beach time and finally meet 'the Canadians in Rio' (as my husband was prone to refer to them - he sometimes has a hard time keeping up with all people I tell him about from blogland!) They were kind enough to open up their home in Leblon (and only 2 blocks from the beach!) to us and keep us entertained for the weekend.

The weather this weekend turned out just gorgeous (albeit more than a smidgeon hot and humid) and we filled our days with some beach time, walks through Leblon and Ipanema, great food, and lots and lots of conversation about prenatal care, birth plans, cord blood banking, parenting theories, babies' in-the-womb movement patterns, pregnancy-induced nasal congestion, and all the other stuff that you really can only talk in depth about while around another pregnant couple. And being that my contact with other pregnant women has been rather limited - especially someone at basically the same point in her pregnancy - I was excited to compare notes and get to talk about all the stuff nobody else cares about. The husbands were real good sports too and never once complained about all the baby-talk. (I might even go so far as to say they were interested participants in the discussion!)

We had a really great time down in Rio for the weekend and are so appreciative of our gracious hosts! Hopefully they can make it up to BH sometime and we can return the hospitality!

Our neighbors-to-the-north-turned-neighbors-to-the-south take a more anonymous approach to their online presence, so I won't share any pictures that include them. But, here's a few of Rio, Eric, and me.

Eric and I hit the beach each morning before 9:00 am. By the time we left (12:30 on Saturday and 11:00 on Sunday) the beach was starting to fill up. It is definitely vacation season around these parts!

The best thing about the beach when you're almost 8 months pregnant: you can dig out a hole in the sand and lay on your belly! Of course, much longer and I'd need a shovel (or maybe a backhoe?) to get that belly-hole dug!

Because I wanted to show off how gorgeous the sand, water, and sky was this weekend. (Or, because it has been a long time since I've shared a picture of Eric in his sunga . . . it's hard to really put a label on my motivation sometimes.)

Going for a walk from Leblon to the Hippie Fair in Ipanema. (Or, proof that we do actually cover ourselves with clothing . . . sometimes.)

And for all you fellas who put up with my baby talk week after week and are forced to see pictures of my growing belly . . . here's a little Rio de Janeiro 'postcard picture' for you:

You're welcome.

Yes, Brasil has some mighty beautiful women (of all ages . . . we guessed the woman in the middle to probably be the mother of the other two - who were most likely in their early 20's.)

Meanwhile, Eric's colleague and friend was happy to see him safely back in the office yesterday morning. He had been worrying about us over the weekend . . . ;)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Z Belly Update

Z Baby's growing like crazy . . . as is her temporary residence, Z Belly!

Does the fact that we're less than 10 weeks away from her due date amaze anyone else? The days are going so fast now! We've done some more shopping for the nursery, and once we get things situated I'll have to take some more pictures and update that progress too. It's all coming together!

We have a doctor's appointment tomorrow afternoon. I'll get the results from my glucose test and some other blood work then. But so far, so good.

Now, if only I could convince this child that my bedtime isn't the most appropriate hour to practice gymnastics or kickboxing or whatever she's got going on in there . . .

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Cartório - The Mafia of Brasil?

I've never claimed to be an expert. There's a lot in Brasil that I don't even try to understand. There's a lot in Brasil that I am content to know only enough about to get by. And then there are the occasional things that I've learned a lot about, asked countless questions about, tried my darndest to figure it out, and, still, I remain baffled. The cartório falls into the category of the latter, for sure. (Cartório is often translated as "notary's office". And I guess in some ways, their services are like that of a notary in the US . . . if all notaries were members of the mafia, that is.)

How much would you pay for the little sticker and stamp pictured?

Well, yesterday Eric paid R$4.00 for one that looks just like it. And he paid it 14 times.

"Authentication" is a big deal here. Everything needs to be authenticated. And the place to go to get something authenticated? The cartório. And even if it were exactly like the notary system we have in the US, I can count on one hand (um, with one finger, actually) the number of times I've needed to have something notorized.

A contract that you sign to get paid R$19 for editing a couple pages of English text? Not valid until you've been to a cartório, put your signature on file there, had someone take the signed contract to said cartório to pay them to place a sticker, stamp, and signature on it to verify that the signature is, indeed, yours. (And then repeat the process for each other signature on the contract. And there are a lot of cartórios in the greater Belo Horizonte area.)

The translation of your Iowa Driver's License which is on very official-looking stationary, signed, stamped, and raised-sealed by the approved office which did the translation? Not recognized as real until it is stickered, stamped, and signed at the cartório. Never mind that the person "authenticating" the document doesn't speak, read, or write English, has no idea who this translator was, wouldn't know a fake driver's license if you presented them one, doesn't even take a look over the original driver's license and compare it to the translation . . . so long as you pay the money, they place a sticker, stamp, and signature on your document confirming it as honest, true, and legal.

And it goes beyond just authenticating random documents. From the information I've received, the cartórios keep up with registering birth certificates and death certificates. They officiate weddings and issue marriage certificates (even if you have a church wedding, you aren't legally married unless you go have the civil service (and, of course, pay) at the cartório.) Ownership of everything from land to businesses is registered with the cartório too, from what I understand.

Yesterday Eric waited over 40 minutes to have 14 pages authenticated. It was totally packed in the hot, stuffy, un-air-conditioned, slightly run-down cartório office. There were roughly 30 people ahead of him in line. Once his number was finally called, it took, literally, 3 minutes for a woman to "authenticate" the 14 copies he had. (We needed authenticated copies of our visas, driver's license translations, and some other documents. 14 pages which each needed a sticker, a stamp, and her signature, all done in 3 minutes: you can guess at how closely she compared the copy (which Eric had previously made and brought in with him) to the original before signing it as legitimate.) And then he was told the charge would be R$56.

So based on the fees they charge, how busy every cartório we've ever seen stays, how many things must go through the cartório to be legal, and the actual amount of time/work that goes into what they do, Eric and I decided we should move here permanently, open up a cartório for several years, and then retire young and be beach bums for the rest of our life.

Oh, but here's the thing. Just any ol' person can't open up a cartório. Only certain families are given that privilege.

Now, my understanding of the whole system (which admittedly isn't that great) is that it started back when Brasil was a colony of Portugal. The king at that time granted permission to certain families to open up these cartórios to manage record keeping of things like births, deaths, marriages, land ownership, etc. Eventually, Brasil was granted independence from Portugal. But the cartório system (and the list of families allowed ownership of these very lucrative businesses) remained. Or rather, remains.

I think it's a little mafia-like, with the whole "family" thing and all. But when we've discussed the similarities with friends down here, they tend to laugh, shake their heads at the silly gringos, and agree that the system is kind of crazy, but assure us that it is quite "necessário". To which we, in all of our American challenge-the-system thinking, ask "por que?"

I think people get really, really tired of us always asking why!

(Of course, like I said in the beginning, my understanding of the system isn't exactly perfect, and maybe I have some facts wrong - in which case I welcome clarification and correction!)