The Rio Entries

Fall                                      Moon of Thanksgiving

Reentry.  Business meeting this am.  Funds look good.  Calendar less crowded for the next couple of months, though there is that Denver trip in January.  Another Stock show with the grandkids.  Groceries in a bit.

Here are the Rio entries:

Spring           Moon of the Southern Cross

Rio port

We were supposed to debark a half an hour ago but the process has gone slowly.  We’re still aboard, waiting for yellow 1 to be called.

It doesn’t matter to me much, though our car will come at 10:30, it’s now 10:15, and will wait an hour.  We have to debark then clear Brazilian customs.  Hopefully we can that done in an hour and fifteen minutes.  We’ll see.

Our bags have debarked, except for those we’re carrying, but we sit.

Brazil, as a BRIC nation, will have a different flavor than the others we’ve visited, a flavor accented by indigenous, African and Portuguese gene pools.  The music, the celebrations, the general psyche reportedly has a different feel.  I’m ready to find out for myself, but bureaucracy must have its due.

This will be my last post from onboard ship.  Next will be the Ipanema Plaza Hotel.  I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to carry Ancientrails around South America and report on our trip.

Spring             Moon of the Southern Cross

Rio de Janerio   The Ipanema Plaza Hotel

We debarked according to an odd pattern.  The Brazilian customs folks set up shop in the Veendam’s showroom.  We had to fill a customs declaration form, a Brazilian immigration form and a health clearance form.

We finally just showed up, went in and got processed.  The processing consisted of a Brazilian customs official putting our passport (with our very expensive visa) into a little machine, then stamping our immigration form.  That was it.

In the port we had our customs declaration ready.  We got a porter for our bags, USA heavy, and he ushered us through the customs process.  Which was.  Hand the customs declarations to a smiling Brazilian woman and Welcome to Brazil!  It was the damndest combination of bureaucracy and nonchalance I’ve ever experienced in a foreign country.

Our porter also helped us track down the Rentamar folks from whom we had already purchased taxi service to the hotel.  This turned out to be somewhat difficult.  The porter said,”Taxi?”  I said, “Yes.” because my voucher said to go to the taxi area.  No, I did not want just any taxi, I needed the one I’d paid for already.  This proved difficult to communicate.

Eventually we figured it out and Ferdinand picked us up.  On the drive to the hotel he and Kate had a language lesson in Portuguese via Kate’s modest, but extant, Spanish.  Ferdinand showed us his family, named the various favelas through which we drove, taught us thank you, good morning, good afternoon and good night.  It was fun to see Kate working through the combination of English and Spanish with Ferdinand’s Portuguese, Spanish and limited English.

The hotel had its puzzles, too.  The room lights, for example.  To operate the lights you have to put your room key in a receptacle on the wall and leave it there.  Since it was dark in the room, I thought the receptacle was the temperature control.  Got that figured out.

A bit of rest and then a tour to the biggest Jesus in the world on Corcovada, hunch-back hill.

The tour consisted of a long ride up a cog railway, an elevator almost to the level of Christ the Redeemer, then escalators the rest of the way.

Jesus Christ is muy grande. 30 meters tall plus an 8 meter base.  He ways in at 120 tons, one hand alone weighs 8 tons.  From Corcovada it is possible to see much of Rio and that’s why this tour is on the first to do list.

What you learn from Corcovada is that Rio is on the ocean, you sort of suspected that with the beaches—Ipanema and Copacabana among many others—but what I didn’t suspect was that it is also very hilly, stony hills, small mountains really. That means Rio is a blend of ocean and mountain in topography with a huge, vibrant city tucked into and on the mountains and up against the beaches.

The woman who gave our tour, a Gray Line  tour, spoke English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese on this tour alone.  Her linguistic skills were impressive.

After we returned, Kate and I took a quick jaunt in our hotel’s immediate vicinity, located a typical Brazilian restaurant and had a very interesting time ordering, again using a blend of Spanish, English and our very new Portuguese.

This area has a large gay population and a large young population, some singles and some young families.  It makes for vibrant street life, fun to see after a ship that felt like a floating retirement community.

Tomorrow we rest, then go on to the Plataforma show at 8:30 pm.  This show recreates the ambiance and costume of Carnival.  Supposed to be amazing.  We’ll see.

Rest, now.

Spring               Moon of the Southern Cross

Ipanema Plaza Hotel, Rio de Janiero   11/23/11   afternoon

We meandered.  When we woke up it had rained hard, then continued to rain a fine mist the rest of the morning.  Cooled things down to 22 degrees centigrade.

First stop.  The breakfast buffer (sic) promised on our hotel information.

This was as good a buffer as I’ve had.  I started with two Brazilian sausages, think big Vienna sausages, added some B. cheese bread and ovos mexido, scrambled eggs, and got some tea, a roll and a preserved fig. I found Kate outside on the Opium’s deck and we had our desayunos.

I noticed many of the Brazilians had salama, boiled ham, a roll and some fruit.  In my experience breakfast is the most culturally specific meal of the day, the one most given to habitual menus.

After changing some more money, at today’s favorable rate of R$1.75 to the US dollar, we walked out into the rain.  The front desk had pointed us toward an internet cafe a couple of blocks away, so we headed toward it.

This is a late night town, so in spite of the fact that it was 11:00 am, businesses were being opened, a few folks were having a late breakfast or an early lunch, Ipanema was still waking up.  Shops here tend to be narrow and not too deep, though businesses on the main retail street seem to have larger stores.  A hardware store, for example, had concrete stacked in sacks at its front, shovels and other digging implements hung on the wall and a crowd of 5 men gathered around a cash register, maybe 30 feet inside at the back.

A small grocery was the same, with a meat counter at the back, a cooler on the right as you face the store from the street and goods like laundry soap on the left while fruit and candy dominate a narrow row that broke the store into two short aisles.  I bought a minalba for R$2.59, a bottle of water con gas.

On the main street there were two larger grocery stores that, even though they extended further back, still had an open front with cashiers almost on the sidewalk.

The LGBT community comes to Ipanema for vacation, or so says the mini-guide to Rio in our room.  Not hard to believe from the street traffic.

Tonight’s the big Carnival show that begins at 8:30 pm.  I canceled the Sugarloaf tour we had tomorrow since it started at 8:30 am and frankly we’re toured out.

Something I’ve not mentioned, but has been a constant theme since Santa Marta is futbol. All of the countries feature futbol teams and players though Buenos Aires and Rio seem obsessed.  Our guide in Rio, Marita, explained that there was Boca, her team and Tio, “the enemy team.”  She said this tongue in cheek, sort of.

She also said, and I’ll end with this for now. “Travel makes us bigger people.”

Spring               Moon of the Southern Cross

Ipanema Plaza Hotel, favela Ipanema   Rio   11/23/11   late afternoon

Dogs barking outside. Sounded like dogs facing off on either side of a fence.  A sound Kate and I know well.

Ferdinand, our taxi driver from the port, said that keeping dogs has become a craze throughout the city.  Veterneria have sprung up all over, too. We’ve seen a lot of them.  There are also dog walkers, though none with the 8 to 10 doggy charges common in New York.

The dogs we’ve seen here are far away from the dogs of Ecuador, where Paul, our otherwise sensitive said dogs were just “small animals.”  Our visit there to the Hacienda Castella emphasized this since the owner was “unusual” because he buried his dogs.  “We just throw them away,” Paul said, meaning, I took it, that dogs were to them as raccoons are to us, animals on their own to whom we owe no special allegiance.

Carioca’s (Rio citizens) seem to have approached a USA pole on the small animal to beloved pet spectrum with their dogs.

In both Chile and Argentina we were told, appearances matter.  To have respect you had to dress for it.   My sense is that Cariocas are different, though business is still formal and our bus driver yesterday did have on cuff links.  Here the attitude toward life seems to matter more.

It’s too simplistic to call it hedonistic, though here too the beach scene, the extravagant night life and the sale of bling might argue otherwise.  My sense is that Cariocas relish their life, their city and want to live their life fully in their beautiful city.  This is different from hedonism where pursuit of pleasure trumps morality and a work ethic.

This is a Latin American city, in a Latin American country, that wants to break out of the boom and bust cycle of Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina.  They want a stable, growing nation, one well-governed and respected internationally.

In 2014 they host the World Cup of Futbol, the largest sporting event in the world, and follow it with the 2016 Olympics.  These events will push Brazil into the global consciousness in a way they have not yet achieved.  They want to be seen and heard.

What the world will see, based on my two days here, yes I know that’s way too small a sample of way too small a chunk, is a nation that both knows how to work and how to play, a nation that has mixed Portuguese, indigenous, African and Spanish cultures into a blend not visible anywhere else, a musical, colorful, fun-loving people.

My feeling is that the world could use a world power not wedded to the grim work ethic of the United States or China, a world power that could inject a little salsa into our Beethoven.

Spring            Moon of the Southern Cross

Rio de Janerio    Ipanema Plaza Hotel  11/23/11  favela Ipanema

Rain here this morning.  Surprisingly for this spring journey, it’s the first rain I can recall on land after we left Ft. Lauderdale in tornado conditions.  We had rain—oops, Puerto Montt had rain—during the Chilean fjords, but otherwise, nada.

Rio, though, has abundant and tropical vegetation, including the Tijuca Rain Forest inside the city limits.  We’re going to wander today, check out the beach and the neighborhood.  Maybe get wet.

The folks here range from the very muscular, beach boys literally, with very small bathing suits that leave little to wonder about, and muscular human mules pulling or pushing large carts through the city, small trucks, to women, some stunning, others merely pretty, few of us well-aged types, all tourists, I think and a smattering of middle-aged folks mostly running small groceries, waiters and waitresses, hotel employees.

The buildings, at least the newer ones, were, unfortunately, built during the modernist era and are large rectangles of concrete and glass with little to recommend them to the eye.  There are, here and there, remnants of a colonial or late 19th century era.

Spring             Moon of the Southern Cross

Ipanema Plaza  Rio de Janerio   11/24/11

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea muy grande culpa.  Last night I knew our pickup for the Plataforma Carnival Show was 8:30 pm.  We waited and waited.  No gray line tour.  We gave up and Kate got ready for bed.

Then, I called gray line and let them know.  Only Spanish & Portuguese said the gray line person.  “I don’t believe you,” thinking this was a convenient excuse to get the crazy gringo off the line.

I went out to the internet cafe to e-mail our travel agent.  But. Surprise.  Totally.  It had closed.  An internet service closed at 9:30 pm?  It seemed a crime against nature.

Back to the hotel.  In the lobby the grayline guy.  Hmm.  We waited and we waited. Yes, but, 9:15 is the pickup time.  The show doesn’t start until 10:00.  Still convinced I was right, I went back to the room.

Then it occurred to me, a bit late in the process, to recheck the confirmation e-mail.  Which read:  9:15 pickup.

So, I had talked myself into an 8:30 pm pickup and stood doggedly by it in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  Not only did this cost me $210, the ticket charges, but it cost me in a coin much more dear.

Self-confidence.  Over the last year I’ve done this same thing 3 times.  That is, I’ve either forgotten something completely or had the time solidly wrong.  This is new behavior for me.  And not pleasant to   experience.  The question is, why?

It doesn’t feel neurological since I don’t experience this same phenomenon in other parts of my life.

It has something to do with appointments and times.  In part it is an odd combination of not enough going on in my life to make me check very carefully as I used to do, each day, and too much going on, that is, too much to remember easily, but enough to make me very careful about it.

I don’t think that’s the whole of it, only, perhaps the symptom.  A funny thing to have hit me at 65, but it may be time for me to retire.

My life has been one of agency: political, work, creativity, volunteer work.  Agency is a key part of who I am, who we all are, and continuing to matter in the world is not only important; it can be an obsession.  It may be for me.

I’ve chosen volunteer work that demands intellectual and political acumen.  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has given me 10 years of very interesting labor.  The Sierra Club has allowed me 4 years of playing, once again, in the political bigs.  These volunteer “jobs” have taken on just that character, lots of responsibility and an accumulation of tasks.

This will be my last season as the chair of the Sierra Club legislative committee.  In May I plan to set it aside.  Much as I like it, the time commitment and the driving required no longer make sense for me.  The MIA has other options.  I could go to sustaining status and get fewer tours or I could choose a new volunteer role since new ones will be opening up, perhaps even one I can do from home.

Lastly and this is key, too, there is my need to be right.  To know.  For sure.  This need has driven my scholarship, my political work, my search for the truth.  Though I know it is a nettlesome aspect of my personality, I’ve none the less stuck to it as a core attribute.

At a deep level the need to know is a defense against the darkness.  Understanding and knowledge can push back the strong cold hand of the void by providing pitons on the wall swallowed by the abyss.  Of course, and this is the real rub, they can only hold up the climber for a while.  Eventually the rock crumbles, a rope breaks, the climber tires and gives up and the abyss claims him, no matter how much he knew, how many pitons he’s stuck on the wall.

It’s time for me to lean into the abyss, to welcome it and realize its inevitability.  No, not suicide.  Just acceptance.  Then I can give up my need to be right.  Hopefully without giving up the wonderful benefits it has offered.

All this from one missed appointment in Rio.

Spring   Moon of the Southern Cross

Ipanema Plaza lobbty  Rio de Janerio  favela Ipanema   11/24/11  4:10 pm

Never have been a beach guy.  Fair skin.  No Arnold Schwarzenegger and, most important, no beaches in the midwestern haunts of my youth.  Kate and I have gone to Hawai’i many times, a beach place for most, but for me, a world of mountains, waterfalls, guava trees, hiking and, no tourists.  Because they go to the beaches.

The ocean is beautiful there, mysterious and ever present, but the notion of sitting ;passively on sand, waiting for skin cancer to catch up with me?  Nope.

Here in Rio, though, I’ve come to appreciate the beach.  The beach is the city’s front yard.  All the kids can come out to play there.  Beach volley ball, beach volleyball futbol rules with feet and head only, training for futbol, training for beach volleyball, physical fitness, a place to meet friends and to make new ones.  While away a half a day with a cold beer from the small huts along the sidewalk, perhaps a sandwich, then back to the blanket.

It’s still not for me.  Too hot when it’s sunny and too uninteresting when the temperature appeals to me, but I get it as a city’s place to let loose.

I walked the Ipanema sidewalk yesterday in the evening, a mosaic of black and white unevenly cut tiles laid out in a wave like pattern.  Rio had not spoken to me as a city until then.

Out there, though, Sugarloaf in the distance clouds over its peaks and the mountain range behind it also enclouded, the sun breaking through on its way down, the surf coming gently onto the tannish sand, carioca’s sweeping by on bicycles, skate boards or on foot, the beauty of the place was too obvious to miss.

This is a gorgeous city with beaches, ocean, mountains and even a rainforest.  Favela’s with brick colored roofs and white walls climb the sides of the mountains while modernist Rio lines the beaches.

Even with all these pluses, Rio still doesn’t make it to the top of my list because it’s not in the stream of culture that really fascinates me.  Give me an old European city like Vienna, Budapest, Istanbul or Singapore, Bangkok, Beijing.  Or a place like the Chilean fjords, or the temples of Angkor, the Rocky Mountains or northern Scotland.  These pull me, will make cross oceans, continents.

Beaches and salsa, even the beauty here in wonderful city, will probably not pull me again.

Spring    Moon of the Southern Cross

Ipanema Plaza Lobby Rio de Janerio  favela Ipanema   11/24/11   5:15 pm

Liminal zones.  Beaches are the original liminal zones, places neither ocean nor shore, a place where things of the water can try out land and where things of the land can try out water.  The liminal zones in freshwater lakes are often hunting grounds, predators taking advantage of other animals need for water.

Here, too, the beach is a liminal zone, places where the various tribes of the city can stake out temporary territory, meet, thrash out new arrangements.  Places where a thief can create the liminal zone between law and chaos.

The prominence and beauty, bonita, of these beaches has made liminal zones a complex  and integral part of this culture.

Dreams, too, are liminal zones, lying between the waking world and the sleeping world.  Life could be said to be a liminal zone between non-existence and the abyss.

Dawn and evening are also liminal zones, marking the transition from light to dark, day to night and back again.

Liminal zones have an important spot in magic, powerful spots where veils can be rent, energy stolen or transferred, thus Celtic magic, for example, often calls for rituals as the day fades into twilight or as two seasons change, like Samain Eve, or Hallowe’en.

Spring       Moon of the Southern Cross

Rio de Janerio  Juan Carlos Jobin International Airport  11/24/11

A Thanksgiving to remember.  Our thanksgiving dinner, for right now, is an empanada apiece, a large cheese bread and a beer for Kate, agua con gas for me, in the elegant setting of gate 11, the international terminal.

It’s also our first thanksgiving in the southern hemisphere, below the equator and celebrated in the spring.

Thanksgiving in Rio.  Could be a family tradition I suppose.  Pricey, but it could be fun.  Still, Lutsen’s a hell of a lot closer.

We had the assistance of a porter here at JC Jobin International.  We needed it.  I’m not sure what we left back home, but it was bolted down, I’m sure.  We were not poster children for traveling light this time, occasioned in large part by the 40 day length of our trip, plus the journey from equatorial climates to sub-Antarctic.

You might wonder, as I did, who JC Jobin was.  He wrote the Girl from Ipanema (we met her in here wheelchair) and was a big guy in tango and bossa nova music.  Sort of like having Cole Porter International, I guess.

We learned on the ride out to the airport that our cruise made Brazilian TV for its long suffering.  I thought they were interviewing the woman I saw because she was a willowy blond with supermodel good looks.  Turns out they were, they just asked her questions about the virus and how she managed to survive it all.  Looking good, I’ll say.

Now for a ten hour flight to Atlanta, US Customs while sleep deprived and another of four hours or so back to MSP. Then the super shuttle, then home.

Hope the turkey was good, the relatives survivable and your team won the football game.  We’re coming home.

Samain               Moon of the Northern Sky

Delta flight 060   Over the Caribbean near Haiti 33955 feet  3451 miles from Rio

We’re back in the clockwise drain cycling Northern Hemisphere after 4 weeks plus below the equator.  I can’t tell what time it is because we are neither here nor there, between time zones, between destinations, headed for Atlanta.  It’s early morning, still dark and I can see the big dipper out my window.

Cabin lights are off, but Kate’s watching a movie.  I just woke up about a half an hour ago.  My seat is right next to the engine, which makes a lot of noise and I can’t hear the movies, so I’m writing.

I left my kindle in the Rio airport.  This is a bummer, but not terrible. I’ll have to buy another one, but all my books are still in my library on Amazon.

International flying, fast travel, we’re moving at 547 miles per hour far above the surface, is the counter  point to cruising where the Veendam’s top speed was 18.2 kph while moving on and through the world ocean.  Fast travel has its obvious advantages.  It won’t take us a month to get home, for example, but I  would only call this travel in the loosest sense.

In international air travel, the journey is from one modern airport to another modern airport, with blue skies or darkness as the medium through which you move.  There is no, or very little, reference to the physical and cultural changes occurring beneath plane. Then you land.  Somewhere else, in that modern airport.  It’s not until you leave the airport that the journey once again takes on physical and cultural specificity.

Slow travel, whether by train, car or ship, moves us through changing physical and cultural landscapes at a pace the mind and body can absorb.  This is travel.  Leaping from one spot, say Rio, to another, say  Atlanta, in ten hours requires the abandonment of all the pleasures of travel to speed.

Yes, this same speed shrank the world, and makes reachable virtually everywhere, but the traveling can only begin after the airline ride is over.

Slow travel makes the means a part of the journey.  The car on a road trip.  The train on a trip across the country to New York City passes through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland at ground level. A cruise ship goes from port to port by necessity.