Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rio Shakes it Up and Son Grows Up

This has been a rather intense past 2 months, where our usual relaxed, beachy Rio lifestyle was pleasantly shaken up by a series of parties, receptions, dinners, weekends away and friends visiting. I have also been on an inexplicable kick to cook Asian food, which has understandably deeply excited the Diplomat. I also managed to fly back to the Motherland for a weekend to furnish our newly-acquired house and rent it out. In the midst of all that, the Diplomat played more golf than a retired military colonel and Son began to ask all sorts of grown-up questions about babies and their origin.

I do not even remember when it all started. In the beginning of April, deciding to delight the Diplomat with a befitting present for his birthday, I took him out of town to a bed and breakfast in the former mountain retreat for the long-extinct Brazilian royal family nearby Rio, in pretty Petropolis. Now, you should know that Petropolis boasts a gorgeous golf course and for weeks on end before that I had to endure hints, random mentions, loud thinking and not so-subtle suggestions that a weekend in the immediate vicinity of that golf course would be a rather acceptable gift for the Diplomat’s birthday. I rallied a bunch of our good friends and we spent a beautiful weekend there, during which the Diplomat and his golf buddy J spent 75% of their time at said golf course. To be fair, the 75% included them being badly lost on the way to and back from the golf course until it became clear that there were not one, but TWO courses around. Such are the perils of that game.

The weekend was followed by a series of parties and late nights out dancing in downtown Rio as some of our closest friends and colleagues here were getting ready to leave Rio while others came to visit us. We also attended a swanky party honoring a famous journalist in a gorgeous mansion belonging to one of the oldest families in Brazil, where the champagne was pouring freely while all kinds of intellectuals were deciding the fate of the country in theory.

I do not know if you have heard, but Rio is about to host the summer Olympics and much of our professional lives have been deeply steeped into preparations for the hordes of Americans coming to Rio to support the teams and to get in trouble in general. To that effect, we have been attending receptions and events with various representatives of the local security authorities and Olympics-related folks (it’s staggering how many people are involved in planning these Games), making sure we are all set for the eager Olympics tourists. We talk with diplomats from the other foreign missions to compare plans and exchange brilliant ideas. We take Brazilian officials to the U.S. to have them observe how we prepare for big sporting events like the Boston Marathon or even Superbowl. We plan for emergencies, prepare contingency plans, write secondary contingency plans and overthink outreach to our fellow compatriots. We listen to grim predictions about the state of the infrastructure and impending Zika apocalypse on CNN. And so I think you will understand me when I tell you that, as far as I am concerned, these Games cannot come any faster. Or could move to Newfoundland for all I care.

While the Diplomat and I have been thusly busy, suddenly, Son began to ask many a profound questions on the subject of girls and babies. I would like to remind the kind reading audience that the child is at the ginger and impressionable age of 7.5 years. He is a lanky, tireless kid obsessed with all gross things little boys are obsessed with. He laughs to tears when he farts in front of my disapproving gaze and can make paper planes till he is lost under the pile. In other words – Son is a little kid. I think. That is why I get startled when in the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon, I am suddenly being asked pointed questions about how to make girls like you. Wait, what?? Didn’t you just spend an entire afternoon trying to eat ants? What girls?

We have also ventured into the land of babymaking. While we still have not had the conversation with the technical details, at this point Son is fairly clear that both mommy and daddy are somehow part of the exercise. Rest assured, it was all presented very nice and romantic to him, with long discussions about love and inner beauty. Which is why I was a tad taken aback when last week Son came to me pensively, looked me dead in the eye, and asked me, “So, how do you NOT make a baby when you love someone?”

Last weekend I finally managed to motivate myself and the family to go climb the iconic Two Brothers (Dois Irmãos) mountain adjacent to where we live. Dois Irmãos are those two peaks that you typically see behind the beach with a serious sunset lighting every time someone talks about Rio on TV. Told that the peaks are not really challenging to climb (in fact, an elderly couple’s blog said that they had done the hike many times in flip-flops under an hour!), I rushed the excited Son and underwhelmed Diplomat out of the house on a pleasantly overcast Saturday morning. After a 7 min taxi ride we got dropped off into the lower parts of Rio’s safest favela Vidigal, from where we had to take some form of transport up the steep streets of the favela to the beginning of the hiking trail. One could choose a motorbike taxi or to ride in an old, rickety minivan. In a fit of misguided adventurism, I decided to get on a bike and wait for Son and Diplomat who took the van. I have never been on a motorbike before in my life. Ever. So perhaps my first ride should not have been through the narrow, broken, crawling with cars and people, steep and winding streets of a favela. One way or the other, we made it up and in a few moments, Son and the Diplomat showed up as well and off we went on our hike. I think you have gathered by now, if you are a regular reader, that we are not hikers. This was only our second ever hike in our lives after Patagonia and I have to tell you – it was challenging. At one point, as we were crawling precariously up a large rock, I wanted to meet that old lady who seems to climb it for breakfast in her peignoir and fluffy house mules while drinking coffee from a porcelain cup and give her a piece of my own mind. We made it in about an hour after all, and the views from above were fabulous. What was even more striking was the amount of Brazilians taking selfies in various state of undress, perched perilously on the slippery rocks. That is a lot of dedication for a duck-face, hair-side-swipe picture.

We are preparing to send Son over to Grandma’s in Bulgaria for the summer, from where he will go directly to the U.S. as our tour here comes to an end, and so the sad week of goodbyes for him has begun. Previously blissfully blasé about losing friends and nannies, these days Son moves around mournfully and requests sleepovers and ice-cream on a daily basis. To make him happy, I constructed a tent in his (tiny) room of a rope and a blanket, where he moved in immediately and brought with himself most of his prized possessions and some crumbly food. He refused to take the tent down for 4 days, which made moving about or cleaning the room absolutely impossible until my housekeeper tersely asked me today when we are going to get rid of the “favelinha” or the “little favela” – a perfect imagery since the make-shift tent had completely lost shape, the floors were covered I cookie crumbs and there were clothes and books strewn all over the floor. Like a grim military policeman, she swiftly took the favelinha down. I will miss her!