Monday, May 5, 2014

Manicure, Tennis and Sungas – we have officially arrived

The last 2-3 weeks saw us finding the places to do things important to us – like, getting a manicure and playing tennis. As many of you now know, the Diplomat cannot function well if there is no tennis in his life. And as he was getting rather pale without whacking the addictive green ball back and forth, despite the gorgeous Rio weather and the alluring sights of the Rio beaches, we took the matter in our hands and signed up as members in a local sports club that offers 8 splendid red clay tennis courts. Balance in nature has been restored. As a result, we are also now officially fans of Flamengo, a boisterous and winning Rio soccer team. 

I also had to face the music that my nails were starting to rival those of Angelina Jolie in her latest, high caliber, intellectually stimulating movie about some evil lady with massive nails. The problem was that I was wearing a special kind of nail polish from the U.S., which was pretty much bullet proof and also rather unknown in Brazil. I had to spend 3 nights at home, slowly chipping and melting it away with nail polish remover in order to be ready to visit a local nail salon. In the process, I managed to knock the polish remover twice, which left some amusing spots on the night stand as well as caused my blackberry screen to look like a three-dimensional lava lamp for a while. Sadly, I must report, the polish remover has been drying off inside it so the effect is all but gone by now – it was giving my dull office emails a rather exciting new look.

Another exciting development in our lives is that both the Diplomat and Son acquired exotic new clothing pieces – a so-called sunga, the bathing suit that all Brazilian men wear on the beach. There is zero tolerance towards swimming shorts, the kind used by the vast majority of men in the U.S., and wearing them, we were warned, would quickly ensure that all hot Brazilians sunning themselves attractively at the beach would promptly identify the man wearing them as a foreigner and ridicule him among themselves for such tasteless display of excess fabric. We could not have that! The sunga comes in several forms and the variation is mostly in the level of shortness of the leg sleeves. The Diplomat opted on the more conservative side and he now officially owns Brazilian beach briefs. Due to Son’s extremely skinny body, his sunga mostly billows around him. Both of them were quite a vision at the beach this weekend and were immediately recognized as foreigners by a group of perceptive beachgoers who, however, were delighted to see them blending in so well.

I am happy to report that work has really picked up and I am truly enjoying myself. My day begins with a refreshing morning ride on a local bus, which takes about 30 mins to get to the consulate with a beautiful ride along the Rio beaches. I have reached the conclusion that Rio bus drivers have either a childhood dream to follow Ayrton Senna (I wonder I they are aware of how he died), have a death wish of some sort or are simply one mad bunch of people in a hurry. I have never, ever, in my life, seen such suicidal driving as I observe daily on the Rio bus network. Their speed is uncalled for in the twisting streets of this city and the turns are so abrupt and fast that last week I actually fell off my seat. I tried to be graceful, but there is nothing graceful about falling flat on your butt in public transportation at 7 am while wearing 5 inch heels and an A-line dress. They find stopping to let passengers on or off clearly distasteful and a waste of their time. As a result, I have missed my stop several times. Yes, my morning commute is a great start of the day and certainly helps to make feel alive. The truth is, I still find them fun and love reading during the mad careening.
The U.S. consulate here is terrific – my colleagues are a great team, everyone is lighthearted and quite collegial. I must admit though that I was a bit unprofessional this past week as I had another encounter with a fat, shiny, slick cockroach (remember this?). As I was interviewing a lovely family of 4 at the visa window, my peripheral vision registered quick neurotic motion on the floor below my high chair. Reluctantly, I looked down and was faced with the above-mentioned cockroach. Now, I admit that it was probably quite unnerving for the nice family on the other side of the interview window to see their calm, possessed and highly competent American officer suddenly jump a few feet up in the air (causing her pen and their passports to leap high into the air from her hands), while she shrieked with zero dignity and diplomacy and ran out of the area. Half a minute later, I returned and inspected the floor with suspicion but it appeared that the shiny beast had disappeared under the carpeting somewhere so I made back for the chair. At which point I saw the blasted animal again, heading straight for me! I yelped in horror, and ran away again. I must point out at this point that I was interviewing from a part of the consulate where there were no other officers so my antics were not observed by anyone. Well, except for the nice Brazilian family who noted every single move I made during this scarring ordeal in my line of duty. Given that they had no idea what was going on, I can safely assume that they deduced that I was a lunatic. When I finally returned and approved their visas, I did mention apologetically that there was a cockroach there, while smiling pleasantly at the wife. She gave me a very odd look back which I took to mean that she herself was a fearless woman and cockroaches are nothing to her.

And speaking of domestic pets, as I was getting, let’s say water, later last night from the kitchen, I saw a portly lizard running around on the ceiling. Upon seeing me, he freaked out and tried to sandwich himself between two high cabinets. He was stuck there for a while and every time I would go into the kitchen he would be wiggling around frantically trying to unstuck himself. Sadly, he was gone this morning – I have always wanted a gecko for a pet and had already named him! Come back, Jonathan!

Overall, life here is fantastic. We live in the poshest area of Rio called Leblon, two measly blocks from the beach, which we try to visit almost every day. I have a large terrace where we eat every single meal, even in pouring rain (we just close off the awnings and pretend not to notice all the drops on our heads). The apartment boasts 3 bedrooms, a large kitchen, and an inexplicably long entrance corridor. We have two bidets! Another delightful  contraption are the delightful little metal doors for the toilet paper, which is placed into recessed compartments in the wall and closed off with miniature doors. Albeit admittedly annoying, it does give me no small joy to open the little door and pull paper, and then close off the door again neatly. And the one in the guest bathroom? It is gold plated, along with the soap holder (also hidden behind a tiny door) and the water flush button. My guest bathroom, folks, is fancy!

Rio is a wonderfully noisy city, whose citizens happily live in cafes and bars all day long. Weekday lunches in the business district are often complimented by beer towards the end of the work week. People here scoff at food brought prudently from home and prefer to lunch in restaurants or the “per kilo” places where there is usually a vast array of great food, which you pile greedily on your plate. After work, the bars and street pubs swell with chattering cariocas, drinking “chopp”-es (draft beer) galore, eating excellent grilled meats and yelling at the big TV screens inevitably showing soccer from some part of the world if not from Brazil itself. The walkways are covered beautifully with small white uneven stones, a wonderful remnant from the Portuguese colonial times called, logically, Portuguese pavement. While aesthetically quite pleasing, the walkways are murder for my shoes whose stilettos happily wedge themselves between the small pavement stones and often trip me.

The beaches of Rio are lined up with beach shacks selling delicious and overpriced food, as well as various beverages and Son’s favorite coconuts. It is the most common sight to see friends sitting there, each one with a giant coconut with a straw in it, chatting the sunshine away. If you need a chair, there are numerous entrepreneurs on the beach renting out chairs and umbrellas, as well as fetching you drinks, food and coconuts at your whim. Trust me, there is nothing like sitting on Copacabana beach, on a chair right at the tip of the ocean, under a pleasant umbrella, sipping a caipirinha and reading a good book. Until, of course, Son drags you out to see the massive pile of sand he had compiled which is supposed to be a castle. You pat him on the head, saying, “very nice, darling, very nice” absentmindedly, and then sit back under the umbrella, take a sip from the caipirinha to make sure it hasn’t gone warm and then spend a few scientific moments observing the local lifeguards prance about in tiny red sungas (see above) and very emphasized pectoral and abdominal musculature. You then lean back assured that they are there for you lest anything happens in the water, take another pensive sip of the darn addictive beverage and go back to your book. Yes, life in Rio de Janeiro can be quite enviable…