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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Portuguese Whisperer

First, the positive: I think our group is having a marvelous time in the "Marvelous City," as the locals call Rio. We have such a fun blend of people, 16 in all, mixed in ages from teenagers to grandparents. We arrived Friday morning and arrived at the institute around 11:30. It always takes a while to claim all the luggage, since we have so many wonderful donations of children's clothes and toys donated by the congregation.

I was one of the last ones to arrive in the hospitality center. Eliete and Fabiana were in the kitchen and started to shout with excitement in Portuguese. "You ARE here! We started to think you weren't coming this year!" They work 12 hour days cooking and caring for our team. I call Eliete "Mamae," which means Mommy, and we joke that Fabiana's daughter Adrielle is my Brazilian daughter. It made me really, really happy to see them again.

Later in the afternoon, I got to see my godson, Pedrinho. All the teenage girls are absolutely charmed by him and think he is the cutest baby ever. He is sixteen months old and has long, curly eyelashes. The group went for a walk in the hillside community that the institute serves (Providence Hill is the oldest favela, or hillside slum, in the city). It was a gorgeous sunny day, so they got some great views of the city. I stayed in and took a two-hour nap with the hopes of curing the laryngitis that had set in on the plane (I'd been sick with aches and fever since Monday). It was a national holiday, so the institute was closed and we'd have to wait a few days to see the kiddos.

Saturday we toured Rio, including some places we'd never been able to take our groups before. We saw some super-cool tiled steps in Lapa and got to take photos with the artist. He was QUITE a character and likes to stick out his tongue in photos. We were going to visit Corcovado (the Christ statue), but the crowds were insane due to the holiday. So, we ended up spending the afternoon in Santa Teresa, which is a lovely part of the city (lots of happy memories from time there with friends during my extended stay in 2002). In the 1800s, it was a popular neighborhood for the affluent, but it fell from favor, in part because it is surrounded by six or seven slums. It became popular with artists, so it has a very bohemian feel. A couple of the bars and restaurants were packed with young hipsters spilling out onto the sidewalk and enjoying the beautiful day.

That night, everyone else did homestays with local families (mostly from the Methodist church...other families work here at the institute). I decided to take advantage of the chance to rest my voice and stayed here with our trusty guide Neil.

It really seemed to help that I laid low until everyone returned at noon on Sunday. I felt much better, even though my voice still sounded awful. So, I tried not to talk as we went to Ipanema for the Hippie Fair (outdoor market) and time on the beach. We had dinner (at the usual "plate by weight" known to past trip participants) went to an evening service at the church attended by another one of my Brazilian mothers, Dilma, who let me stay in her home for three months in 2002. I have a lot more to say about the service, which was predominantly led by an American missionary who runs retreats for evangelicals. It was way too Pentecostal for my taste, and I didn't enjoy being yelled at. On the bright side, there were several hymns that we knew in English, especially my favorite, "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord." Marie sang a solo and did an amazing job. Everyone LOVED their time with the families, some of whom attend that church.

Today was a low point. I woke up and still felt awful. I went into the kitchen to ask Eliete to make me some tea, and I just started to cry. She insisted I needed to go to the doctor, but I really felt like I was sabotaging my recovery by not talking and simply needed to rest my voice. But everyone else agreed I should go, so Anita and Sergio took me in Marion's car. After paying 204 reais (about $135, I think), waiting about an hour and a half, and having my temperature taken via armpit, I was diagnosed with an infected throat and given a couple of prescriptions, including an antibiotic. (Azitromicina once a day for five days and Nimesulida every 12 hours for seven days.) The doctor looked at my throat for about five seconds and said it was absolutely covered with white cells. Anita couldn't think of the English word, and we're not sure if it's exactly strep throat, since it has not really hurt that much (it has gradually started to hurt more, and I was coughing a lot last night). I slept for a lot of the afternoon and hope the drugs are starting to do their thing.

Anyway, sorry that this is such a Debbie Downer post, but it has been incredibly frustrating to be unable to speak Portuguese and help the group cross the language barrier. (Fortunately, there are several bilingual Brazilians with us, plus the Way family.) Plus there are so many things I love to tell people about the history, culture, food, etc. I have worked really hard to find deeper meaning in this situation -- thinking about all the ways we communicate nonverbally and trying to focus on those. But today it really started to get to me, so I am very glad they made me go to the doctor. I am also very glad that we had another fearless leader for this trip anyway...since I moved to New York in April, my friend Donna agreed to take on the trip planning this spring. She has done a fantastic job, and I can't even think of how hard it would have been to be sick and be in charge of the group. Letting go of control is definitely not one of my strengths, but I have really had no other choice, and I know that is a good thing.

Sorry that this blog does not really explain a lot of the back story of who's who and what's what. This is really more of an email to my mom and my sister in a public form, so thanks to you if you made it this far! Hoping to have MUCH more interesting things to tell you next time I post.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Off to see Pedro!

I am leaving tonight for my annual volunteer trip in Brazil. If you are new to this blog, you can read the entry I posted last year to explain what this is and why I go.

One of the best parts of the trip will be seeing my godson Pedro, who celebrated his first birthday in February. Last year, I got to be there for his baptism, and I wrote this entry to explain my friendship with Pedro's father Sergio.

In March, my friend Carey went to Rio and the surrounding beaches for spring break. Her trip fell in the midst of my packing to move to New York. I was cleaning out my condo and allowing myself to keep only the bare essentials. Sitting on the bed in my spare bedroom was Ted, my childhood teddy bear.

I decided it was time for Ted to have a new home.
Carey took him to Rio for me, and I almost cried when I saw the pictures of Pedro cuddling with his new prize. It's fun to hold on to sentimental possessions that remind us of our past. But isn't it even more fun to see them being put to good use today?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Learn from my stupidity...please

I cannot say I got anything less than what I deserved...nevertheless, I want to save you from this dumb mistake. So, here goes.

This weekend, I was goofing around on the computer, trying to find more photos from the amfAR gala. Suddenly, my screen went nuts with virus warnings. It looked VERY official. Microsoft was clearly trying to tell me something was wrong. Alert! Alert!

Not sure if it was exactly this screen, but it was something similar.
Again, VERY official looking. But still, I was concerned. What was this "Security Protection" thing? Why had I never heard of it? Was it really a Microsoft product? I tried to do a quick search to find out, but the virus had disabled my Internet access. Whenever I tried to open Internet Explorer, I got an error message.

"Hmm," I thought. "It has been a while since I updated my virus protection." I absolutely detest my crappy Compaq computer, purchased in fall 2008 and a lemon from day one. I'd been so loath to spend one more dime on it that I'd avoided updating my Norton subscription or fixing my flickering screen.

Stupidly, I decided it was time to buy some long-overdue virus protection. How thoughtful of Microsoft to offer it to me just when I needed it! It seemed logical that they'd have a product that would become available at the moment your system was compromised.

I typed in my credit card number and pressed enter. The next screen told me to download the software. If I had any questions, I could contact them at WHAT? Billingpayonline? What kind of bogus address is that? Who knew what might be in the file they wanted me to download. I smelled a rat.

I shut down my computer and headed immediately to Best Buy, where I learned my best option was to purchase their $199 yearlong subscription to tech support. The screen issues would cost at least $79 to evaluate, but the clerk wasn't sure if they'd be able to fix it. So, basically, I was at $300 to keep using my crapo Compaq. Meanwhile, a new Dell was on sale for $379, but it was out of stock and would have to be ordered.

Unwilling to deal with a major purchase right before a major international trip, I decided to table the issue until I return from my vacation in Brazil. I've had some good times trying to get the $59.99 charge taken off my credit card statement. Turns out it's not considered fraud if you type in your credit card number yourself. Huh! Imagine that!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The "Mother" with the Hat

After watching the fantastic Tony awards broadcast on Sunday night, I was so happy to have tickets to a show on Saturday! My colleague Noelle and I both wanted to see "The Motherf**er with the Hat." It was expensive but completely worth the splurge.
In the play, Tony-nominated Bobby Cannavale plays Jackie, whom the Times described as “a recovering addict fresh out of prison and struggling to stay clean in a toxic relationship.” The show opens with Jackie’s girlfriend, Veronica, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, on the phone berating her mother for staying with a real loser. Between sentences of her profanity-laced tirade, she snorts lines of coke off a mirror on the bed.

A few minutes later, Jackie arrives home, flush with pride that he has finally – finally – gotten a job! He showers Veronica with cheesy gifts, but before they can consummate his accomplishment with a round of celebratory sex, he notices a strange hat on the table.

I’ll stop there, because I knew very little about the play going into it, and I honestly think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. All I knew was that Chris Rock plays Jackie’s sponsor in a 12-Step program. (Not sure if it was A.A. or N.A.; by all accounts, it looks like this group needs to be in both.)

Jackie and Veronica are one of those “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” cursed couples in the vein of last year’s Blue Valentine, the (terrible) movie with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams – or, even better, the “but officer, I luv him” domestic drama spoofs on Saturday Night Live.

It was fast-paced and riveting, with no intermission, so it was just 90 minutes of non-stop energy. I missed a few lines because the audience was laughing so hard (mostly at Jackie's effeminate Puerto Rican cousin, played by Yul Vázquez). The play is easy to follow, but it also leaves you with much to ponder about  addiction, honesty and fidelity. I loved this review Neil sent from the New Yorker:

As the play goes on, we watch the very notion of rehabilitation unravel, too. [The playwright] isn’t anti-A.A. or anti-N.A., but he doesn’t shy away from the reality that exists offstage, as it were, in a world that isn’t protected by anonymity and trust. He knows enough about life to ask the right questions: What is recovery? And who, if anyone, can recover from the brutal high of a love hangover?

Seeing Chris Rock in his Broadway debut was fun, but it was definitely not his show. Cannavale’s Tony nomination (he lost to Mark Rylance in “Jerusalem”) was hard-earned. We noticed people lingering on the sidewalk after the show was over; Cannavale and Rodriguez both came out to sign Playbills. It was funny to see Rodriguez wander off down the street and get lost in the crowd once she’d finished signing a few autographs.
Before the show, Neil met Noelle and me for lunch at one of his favorite West Side restaurants, 44 & X. It's located on -- guess where -- 44th Street and 10th Avenue. They had a lot of decadent comfort food to offer, but I'm trying to detox from my Mom's visit and all our eating, so I just had this very colorful (and scrumptious) salad.
Other than that, the weekend was pretty low-key. I hit the gym hard on Friday night and Saturday morning and did church on Sunday, followed by a bagel and a marathon newspaper session. I took a walk and made some pesto for dinner. I'm leaving for Brazil on Thursday, so I thought it was good to let myself rest a bit.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

amfAR Gala at MoMA

Just another Tuesday night in New York, all dressed up and hanging out with a bunch of Hugo Boss underwear models...
Kurt's company was catering the amfAR gala at the Museum of Modern Art. He was able to invite a couple of friends in to check out the scene. The theme was "Hot Metal," so he thought my blue cocktail dress and silver shoes would be perfect. James Franco was one of the honorees, so Kurt and I were both pretty psyched to see him up close. 
We weren't sure if we'd be able to take photos inconspiculously, so I snapped a pic of my dress in the mirror before I left the apartment to meet Kurt's friend Tony and share a taxi to Midtown. I left my camera at home but pulled these photos from the web. Pretty sure it was the first time I went to to see if they'd posted any pics from an event I'd attended!

Hearing Jennifer Hudson perform "Hallelujah" and "Changing" from Dreamgirls was probably the highlight of the evening. She was so good, I got goosebumps!
Courtney Love's performance was quick and forgettable. Jennifer was a hard act to follow. Liza Minelli was the grand finale, but Kurt and I agreed Jennifer stole the show. We got a good look at Courtney's white lace dress during the cocktail hour.
Between the cocktail hour and dinner, there was a fashion show, which was rather outlandish and amusing at points.
Two of my favorite celebrity sightings were Andy Cohen from Bravo and Cheyenne Jackson from 30 Rock. I recognized Cheyenne's face, but Kurt had to tell me why he looked familiar.
We didn't get very close to James Franco, but we did get a good look at Heidi Klum, and that was pretty neat. We were really right by her when she walked into the room for the fashion show. She had on a super-sexy dress, made even sexier by the fact it was impossible to imagine how she could be wearing anything underneath it.  
I think this is one of the photos taken from around the time we were watching her. She was with Chanel Iman, who was probably the skinniest person I've ever seen. Her red dress was approximately six inches wide.
The food at the cocktail hour was delicious. Kurt sent me some photos from the company archive.

classic bite size French grilled ham and Gruyere sandwiches

Fresh Tuna Tartar in Sesame Miso Tuile
diced tuna, pickled ginger, scallions, wasabi soy, sesame oil and radish sprout

Miniature Filets of Beef with Horseradish Cream
bite sized medallions of filet on potato Gaufrette

There was also (not pictured)...

Buratta Crostini
oven dried tomato, crisp basil and sea salt

Pastis Smoked Salmon Tartare (my favorite!)
in mini wonton cone with crème frâiche and fresh chive spear

Macaroni and Cheese Square
with truffle oil

Not bad for a Tuesday night, eh?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mom's Last Day

We got a nice break from the heat at the end of Mom's visit. It was pleasant enough to take a nice long walk through Central Park. Belvedere Fountain is one of my favorite spots; a bride and groom were doing a photo shoot under the arches.
Mom really wanted to see the Bow Bridge, but I think the fact it was swarmed with middle school girls on a church retreat kind of ruined the effect.
Next we headed west. The High Line opened a new section last week, so I was curious to see the new addition myself. (I think I explained this the first time I went there, but it's an abandoned elevated railway converted into a unique urban park.)
They have various art installations and other attractions (popsicle stands!) along the way.
Now for my favorite part of the story: I wanted to get a picture of the two of us in an area I thought really showed off the full experience.
I asked a girl passing by to take a photo of both of us, but when I saw it, I didn't think she'd done a very good job. So, I took another one of Mom walking.

But I still wasn't satisfied, so I made Mom turn around.
"Oh, how funny," I thought. "Wonder why that random dude is amusing himself getting in my picture." 

Take a closer look. Recognize anyone? 
IT WAS KURT!!!! He was walking home from work and thought he too would check out the new attraction in our neighborhood.
We were beside ourselves. What fun! Kurt joined us for dinner at the taco trucks.
Mom's fish taco was probably the best -- really spicy, but an awesome blend of flavors and textures.
I ordered a sampler from Kimchi Taco: one each of chicken, pork, beef and tofu. I had never before had kimchi. Mom was turning up her nose at first, but she gave it a go and agreed it wasn't as spicy as she expected...the fish taco was actually hotter. And we're fans of the crunch you get from cole slaw, so I guess kimchi has a similar appeal.
Dessert was plantains...I know they look a little charred, but they were actually perfectly caramelized.
When we got back to the apartment, I made the boys some banana pudding as a welcome home treat.
Mom contributed some homemade pimento cheese...our way of saying "thanks, y'all" for letting us stay in their place.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sunday Brunch at Barbara's

My mom is great at keeping in touch with people...but as she points out, it takes two. Since the early 90s, she has corresponded with a friend who lived in Tallahassee before moving to New York. Barbara invited us to visit her apartment for brunch. What a treat!
She's a wonderful cook and made us scrambled eggs with roasted peppers, sausage, a green salad, fruit and assorted pastries. As you can tell, I couldn't wait to taste some of Barbara's rhubarb preserves.
Barbara even put a candle in Leigh Ann's lemon muffin -- so thoughtful!
After our meal, we got to stroll around the beautiful neighborhood that Barbara gets to call home. She has an easy commute to Columbus Circle on an express train but gets to enjoy this view in the evenings and on weekends.
It felt like quite a long way from the asphalt jungle! The weather was cool and overcast, so it was pleasant to be outside. We strolled through Fort Tryon Park to the Cloisters museum, a branch of the Met featuring Medieval art, including some famous unicorn tapestries.
I felt like I was in Spain! So peaceful. You'd think this was an old monastery, but it was actually built to be a museum.
The area has great views of the George-Washington bridge and the Palisades cliffs across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
It was a perfect Sunday outing. We returned to the Upper East Side for a late afternoon rest (yes, that's a theme in our family), but we were roused by the air horns of the National Puerto Rico Day Parade down Fifth Avenue. It was an all-day event that turned the subway station near us into an exit-only facility because the crowds are so massive.

After our yummy brunch, a light dinner was in order, so we visited Luke's Lobster for lobster rolls, chips and pickles.

When we got home, Mom and I watched the Tony Awards so she could pick out the shows she wants to see on her future visits. And there went the weekend!  

Birthday Brunch at Asiate

Here we are at Leigh Ann's birthday brunch at Asiate in the Mandarin Oriental. Getting there was quite a saga. I am a bit of an obsessive planner, and an event like a birthday really throws me into overdrive. I made and canceled two other reservations before I settled on this one (and that's not counting my attempt to go to the Boathouse, which was booked for Saturday brunch).

Since my sister is not as much of a foodie as I am, I knew atmosphere would really count. After much Googling about which of the city's finer restaurants are open for Saturday lunch (not many of them, it turns out), I reserved a table at The River Cafe in Brooklyn. Then I realized Leigh Ann would want to sleep in and go for a jog, and we wouldn't want to be rushing over to Brooklyn. I found out Jean Georges has a prix fixe lunch that's considered one of the best deals in the city. I booked that, but Neil and Nate said they thought the atmosphere at Asiate was a much better choice, with its views of the skyline and Central Park. So, I changed the reservation, and I do believe the boys once again guided us to an excellent location, although it would have been even more delightful on a sunny day.
Hilary was in town for work, so I asked if she'd like to join us, since Leigh Ann always enjoys her company.
The prix fixe menu started with a gourmandaise tasting plate. I forgot to take a copy of the menu with me, so I'll have to wing it. I believe this is tuna sashimi, a mini goat cheese and roasted tomato fritatta, cream of asparagus soup with truffle oil, and a chicken lollipop.
For our main course, we all got to select two dishes from a list of eight or so smaller plates. I had the poached egg BLT on brioche (so good -- one of those dishes I think I'll be savoring in my mind for ages) and hand-cut pappardalle with pancetta, mushrooms, peas and Parmesan.
Leigh Ann had the steak and the arctic char.
Dessert was some sort of carrot cake with a really delightful citrus filling (where is my menu?!?) and a Milky Way tart with whipped caramel.
We chilled out for the rest of the afternoon. I'd decided there was no need to plan any post-brunch activities, since nothing would make my sister happier than having a free afternoon for a birthday nap. I was able to meet up briefly with my friends Anne and Christina, who were in the city with another one of their college buddies for a girls' weekend.

That night, we saw "Love, Loss and What I Wore" at a small theatre on the west side. The play is performed by a rotating ensemble; our cast included Susan Sullivan of Falcon Crest, Dharma and Greg and The Castle, along with Emme, the famous plus-sized model. There was also this woman. I couldn't figure out where I knew her from, and it was driving me bananas.
Her speech pattern was so distinctive...I knew I'd seen her somewhere. Where was it?

I pulled out my program to look, which was kind of rude since we were on the front row of the tiny theatre.  And then I found it!

Hint #1: Rydell High.

Hint #2: Beauty School Droput.
It was Frenchie! Also known as Didi Conn.

The play has lots of funny lines about clothing-related topics such as what mothers say to daughters about their outfits, so Mom called it the perfect mother-daughter outing. She also loved the fact it lasted only an hour and a half!