Monday, December 28, 2009

As sweet as Canela

Canela (cinnamon) is a small town west of Gramado.  There a numerous attractions for tourists to visit but my personal favourite is the Parque da Cachoeira - the waterfall park.  We descended 650 steps to see the Cachoeira do Rio Cará which is 8 metres deep.

It was definitely worth it, but we nearly died on the way back up!

Also in the park is a cable car, an obsvervatory, picnic and camping areas and trails.

It is well worth a visit if you love nature or if you just want to relax in an unspoilt landscape.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Down south

Like England, it's the south of Brazil that is wealthier and more developed.  More specifically the state of Rio Grande do Sul - the country's southern most part - is rich in industry and is famous for being culturally rich, for Churrasco, Gaúchos, Chimarrão and for manufacturing great shoes. 

The inhabitants of this region are known as Gaúchos although these days they don't all go round on horseback. 

The climate is very similar to England in the winter and the locals also drink a lot of tea. 

The cultural influence is heavily Italian and German and this can be seen in most towns and cities within the state. 

My favourite stop on our tour of this state was Gramado.   For me it was the jewel in the crown of this visit. 

Imagine Bavaria South American style, brushed over with lots of Disney and you are somewhere close to imagining how pretty and quaint this city is.  The place thrives on tourism and is famous for chocolate.  Penguins, personalised hearts and eggs and Father Christmases in varying shades of brown and white welcome you to the practically cocoa-paved streets of Gramado.  Everything you could need exists here it's just that it's usually made of chocolate.  The novelty of the items is inevitably seductive for the passing tourist, although I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed by the actual taste and quality of the chocolate.  Nevertheless, this city is a must-see if you ever find yourself in Rio Grande do Sul. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The simplicity of happiness

As an update to this post I wanted to add this link a news story about a man who lived for a year without money and said it was the happiest of his life:

The longer I live here the more I come to understand that the human spirit needs very little to be happy.

Understanding the poverty that exists here has been a journey for me.  At first my snobby first world head was appauled and kept complaining about how awful it is that people live like this and I must help them.  But getting to know these people I have realised that they are some of the happiest people I know.  They never complain and seem to be very accepting of their lot in life.

Last Friday my husband and I went to help his father organise an event for teenagers at their church.  There were quizzes, dinner and a sleepover - which luckily we didn't stay for.

My mother-in-law (centre) with the women volunteers - the sisters are behind

The whole thing went really well and on the way back we gave a lift to two sisters who had voluteered their time to cook the dinner - which was for about 50 people.

They live outside Maringa, in Sarandi which is know as a 'favela' (a slum) and where most of this city's poorer workers live.  These two women were so happy and full of stories about their lives and how wonderful it was to be alive etc.  I felt so humbled seeing how simply they lived and I was glad to have had the opportunity to get to know them first-hand.

I am looking forward to many such encounters in the future.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On the street where I live

If you have ever wondered where all the 'Rag 'n' Bone' men went, well they packed up all their things and moved to Brazil. 
Brazilians have street vending down to a fine art.  Whether it's street fairs and markets or cars, carts and bikes driving down residential streets hocking their wares.  Even on the beach it is possible to buy practically everything but the kitchen sink, but I will do a separate blog on that when I am there as it is quite a sight to behold and there are many characters to be captured on film.   
Over the few months that I've been here I've slowly been compiling a list of my favourites, much to the surprise/shock/shame/horror/amusement of my husband and his family.  Naturally they think I am totally mad whenever I hear the familiar cries of whichever street seller happens to be driving by but I have to rush out and click away with my camera. 
My street and many streets in Brazil resemble a latin-american version of the wonderful scene from Oliver's Who will buy?, when all the vendors gather in the square selling milk, roses, strawberries etc. 

Get your brooms...

Orange, juicy oranges...

And my absolute favourite - the saucepan car...

Yes, you did read right, I did say Saucepan car, which I have literally translated from the Portuguese - O Carro da Panela.  This is a car that comes round about once a fortnight to mend saucepans.  I don't expect you to understand but over here pots and pans are really expensive and so people tend to keep them forever - about 20-25 years.  Over this time period they get battered up and dented and this is where the Saucepan Car comes in handy.  This handyman will come round and bash your cookware back into shape and offer a six month guarantee. 

For those who share my fascination I have also captured this wonderful advert on film. Don't judge him by the state of his car though!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'm an alien

Since moving here in December 2008, I have been on the long road to gaining permanent residence here, i.e. a legal alien.  I made my first visit to the 'Policia Federal' in Maringa, in April of last year and was told to await a home visit, which sounded to me like they were going to approve where I lived and deem it suitable 'alien accommodation'. 

A couple of weeks ago after returning to Brazil from my honeymoon, I finally had a visit from the PF representative.  Of course she came on the day when I was still in my PJs, with honking morning breath, gossiping with my mother-in-law, yes she is that nice.

I had slept in, left my bed unmaid.  It's always good to make a great first impression when your future is at stake.  Or maybe it's better that it was messy, more realistic, who knows.

Simone, a tall blonde, came through the door and introduced herself.  "Hi", I said hoping that my Portuguese would see me through all the answers I was about to give.  She asked me all these questions about how I'd met my husband Paulo, and it began to feel like a scene from Green Card, remember that awful 90s movie with Andie McDowell and Gerard Depardieu?

Soon enough I had turned it into a scene from MTV's Cribs when she asked to see our bedroom.  I apologised for the unmade bed.  "Don't worry, it's the fifth one I've seen today", she said slightly miffed.

Unfazed I proceeded to show her through my entire wardrobe, explaining how I categorised our clothes, which were my favourites and which ones I couldn't wear here as I thought they were too chic.  I realised almost immediately that my capsule collection of Issa, McQueen, Basso & Brooke and Vivienne were hardly going to see the light of day in this small town, where popular brands are Guess and Tommy Hilfiger, but at least I could look after them!

Aside from giving a lesson in British fashion I managed to learn a bit about the other foreigners living in Maringa.  Apparently we are some 3,000 strong and consist mainly of students who attend the University of Maringa, where my brother-in-law works as a physical education teacher.  Also working there is an Englishman called Peter who has lived here for about 20 years and is married to a Brazilian woman.  I know that there are several other English and some American citizens living here, but as yet I have yet to meet any of them. 

All in all it was an interview that I will never forget.  I now have to wait up to six months to know whether my apllication has been successful. 

Fingers crossed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

First meets third

For some time now I have been wondering what really makes the difference between a person from the first and a person from the third world, I mean in real terms. 

Personally, as someone who was born and raised in the so-called first world, I believe for better or worse that my expectations are higher, I am more spoilt if you like and I find it harder to put up with things that don't work in the way that I am accustomed to.  In plain English this makes me a pain in the arse around here. 

That being said, when we are outside of our comfort zone, are we victims of are own success, so dependent on modern technolgy, so able to buy practically all the things we desire that we have become incapable of surviving on our own.

I have lived in Maringa, a small city in southern Brazil on and off for six months now and I am supposedly living in what counts as part of the third world as my family jokingly reminds me when I complain about things and constantly compare them with my own city or country. 

I realise that this is unfair but it seems fairly instinctive and also vaguely patriotic.  Why do we feel the need to wax lyrical about the benefits of our own country, especially when we are living in someone else's?  Is it because we are homesick?  Is it because we regard ourselves as superior?  Or is it because we enjoy boasting about a higher standard of living?

At this point I still don't know the answer but all the expat blogs that I read inevitably make comparisons between their native country and their new place of residence.  So based on this evidence I can only assume that it is human nature and nothing more.

Hopefully one day I will find out what the answer is. 

blog abroad

Friday, October 9, 2009

Japan Brazilian style

The islands of the Japanese archipelago were formed from the tears of a goddess.  Where each tear fell into the Pacific ocean, an island arose or so goes the legend.

Today, Japan has grown into a land of contrasts where uber-modern gadgets, buildings and culture go hand-in-hand with time-honoured traditions and rituals. 

My first visit to Japan was great.  Although I didn't travel through this country as much as I would have liked to, I did spend time getting to know some members of my husband's family that I otherwise would not have met.  We were the first family visitors they had had since moving to Honjo, a small town about an hour away from Tokyo, ten years ago.  I couldn't help feeling sad that most of the family will never be able to afford to visit them as travel is so expensive in Brazil - never mind that it is practically the otherside of the world, but I was glad to be able to relay news and show videos. 

My Japanese Brazilian family at Mount Fuji

Japan and Brazil have an immigration partnership that dates back over a hundred years when Japanese farmers arrived to work in coffee plantations in 1908.  I have always been fascinated by the Japanese population that in exists in Brazil, mainly in Parana and Sao Paulo.  They make up the largest concentration of Japanese descendants outside Japan, beating the US.  Despite some initial problems and ill-treatment during the second wolrd war, similar to what happened in the US at the time, the population recovered and today has become one of the more successful groups of immigrants within Brazil.

The beautiful Japanese countryside

Conversely in the 1980s and 90s Japanese Brazilians started to migrate to Japan, the approximate population today is 450,000.  Tokyo currently holds the largest carnival outside Brazil and communities of Japanese Brazilians remain Brazilian from a cultural perspective.  Portuguese is the third most spoken language there after Chinese and Korean and is also among the most studied languages in Japan.  

Japanese Cultural Festival in Maringa

In 2008 a census was conducted on Japanese Brazilians from the city where I live, Maringa.  It revealed among other things that 15% of the 15,000 strong population was working in Japan; that 6.61% were born in Japan, 40 was the average age, 47% can read and write Japanese and that 52%  are women. 

Everyday I am learning more about Brazil's culture and its past.  I have come to love the racial diversity and fascinating history that surrounds this giant of South America, the country that has now become the first in its continent to host the Olympic games. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beijing - Imperially modern

Temple of heaven

Beijing is powerful and imposing, you can tell as soon as you arrive that you are visiting a city assured of its own significance.  The sheer scale of the structures here immediately makes you realise that this land knew it was going to be powerful, influencial and densely populated - how's that for planning ahead.

This city is also a hybrid of themes and styles; soviet-inspired communist monuments and buildings merge with imperial temples and palaces.  Beijing seems improvised yet it is perfectly organised and has traditional elements fused with quirky modern touches.

I loved hanging out trying some traditional cuisine whislt enjoying the view in Houhai, Beijing's lake area.  Walking around in general took its toll as everything is huge but at least my legs were toned by the end of it.  Shopping was a lot of fun here, from the smart boutiques of Wangfujing to the crazy hassling and haggling of the Silk Market - you can't walk by a stall without the vendor shouting out "You want to buy _________?  I give you best price, very good quality."  It is a sight to be seen and is wonderfully exhausting. 

Houhai at night - the only time to go

Part of our brief trip was a visit to the great wall, which was an added bonus and a life-long dream.  We chose the Simatai region as it is unrestored and untamed, the ideal location for a great  hike.  Another benefit of this area is that it is virtually empty, we must have seen no more than 10 people for the few hours we were there, an absolute contrast after the crowded, bustling streets of Beijing.   

The Great Wall - practically deserted

After the Taj Mahal, I thought nothing could ever leave me in awe again but the wall has her own breathtaking tricks.  Being able to amble through the watch towers practically alone gives you an idea of the vastness of this epic structure and of China as a whole.  The wall weaves over a patchwork blanket of green, extending as far as the eye can see for some 6,000 kilometers or 4,000 miles. 

I was happy to return to China after having lived in Hong Kong in 1997 just after the handover back to the Chinese (wow was it that long ago?).  It remains a fantastic destination and Beijing in particular sells you memories you are happy to pay for. 

Next week:  Japan

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A passage through India - more photos

Incredible, indelible India

"So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked." Mark Twain

For me this quote sums up India better than I ever could.
India is unique, unlike any other country I have ever visited. She enters your soul, gets under your skin and steals a piece of your heart all at first glance.

This ancient country is a sensory overload of colour, taste, sound and smell and is so rich in custom, history and culture that it takes you on an unforgettable journey with enough tales and fables to fill a lifetime.

It is the vast contrasts that make India so incredibly memorable.  Decadent structures, monuments to endless wealth and ancient dynasties stand alongside crippled children walking on their hands begging for change, dragging their mangled legs behind them.

The unbelievable Taj Mahal

Beautifully adorned women in jewel-coloured saris decorate the streets and goats and cows stroll along as if browsing the markets and running errands.

A goat out window shopping in Jaipur

I have wanted to visit India for so long and now that I finally have, I can't think of anything else but going back.   India didn't disappoint on any level, all the years of waiting only made me wish I had discovered her sooner. 

Even though I only visited four locations on my trip, it was enough to make me want to renounce my worldly possesions to roam free. 

Arriving at the airport in Delhi, bound for Beijing, I was left in tears as we said goodbye to our driver, I didn't want to be parted from my new found friend India. 

Gandhi Smriti - touchingly simple

With our driver Aadesh at the airport

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Comfort food

Sharing food with my Brazilian family is always a rewarding experience. So much energy and emotion is invested in cooking, eating and discussing food; life literally revolves around food here and I have to say that I absolutely love it.

Although I am by no means a cordon blue chef, I love cooking and I am always looking for typical English dishes to introduce them to. So last weekend I decided to take on the mammoth task of making my Mum's apple crumble.

I was quite nervous as I had never cooked it before, and I had also decided to make custard from scratch which was an added challenge and again something I had never done before. Knowing that my efforts will always be rewarded with praise and that I will never experience a Gordon Ramsay-style tirade gives me the confidence to try new things. So more often than not I am cooking dishes for the first time.

To my surprise the crumble turned out really well, not quite like my Mum's but close enough. The only thing I regretted was that she wasn't there to taste my first apple crumble and custard. I was able though to tell her about it during our weekly call the very next day.

My first apple crumble

Mixing the custard - service with a smile!

Ready to eat!

Miranda's Mum's Apple Crumble
Serves up to 6

300g Plain flour

Pinch of salt

170g unrefined brown or demerera sugar

200g unsalted butter cut into cubes

700g apples cored, peeled and cut (ideally Bramley but any kind will work)

Pinch of cinnamon
2 tbsp of water

Crumble mix

Mix flour and sugar together really well. Rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. If the mixture sticks together when pressed in your palm it has enough butter.

Apple filling

Cut the apples in 1cm slices and mix with with the water and cinnamon being careful not to break the fruit. Grease the bottom of a medium sized pyrex dish or 9" circular pie dish, spread the apples along the base so that they lie flat. Add the crumble mix over the top and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

Miranda's custard

4 egg yolks

30g Caster sugar

570ml milk

55ml single cream

1 Vanilla pod or 1/2 tsp essence

2 level tsp cornflour

Heat the milk, cream and vanilla pod (if using) over a low heat and bring to simmering point. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and conrflour in a seperate bowl. Take the pan off the heat and pour into the bowl, whisking all the time. Return to the pan, add vanilla essence and cook on a low heat until thickened. Serve immediately. To prevent skin forming place in a jug and seal with clingfilm.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Music to my ears

Since moving to Brazil I have taken up running, but this week I found myself back to square one after having a break of nearly four months.

In an effort to get motivated I decided that a new workout playlist would be just what the doctor ordered. I really want to get back to running 3k three times a week but right now it seems like a distance and soewhat unreachable goal.

After much research on the net I felt totally uninspired when I found out that the most popular workout song was Eye of the tiger - come on! That would make me burst out laughing, not at all what you need when running - oxygen is already at a premium.

I needed some serious help and input...

It's times like these when networking and social interaction sites like Facebook and Twitter really come into their own. I asked my friends for some suggestions on which tunes to add and what came out was an ecclectic selection that was a mixture of favourite songs, life references and new discoveries. I am still working on my list and I believe that it should be an ever-evolving creation as my boredom threshold is very high and I need all the motivation I can get when it comes to excercise!

My new playlist, with a little help from my friends now looks something like this:

Start Me Up - Rolling Stones

Mina Do Condominio - Seu Jorge

Oh (Plugs Remix) - We Are Band

A Galera - Ivete Sangalo

Without Words - 4hero

Everybody - Martin Solveig

Should I stay or should I go - The Clash

Running up that hill - Kate Bush

Feeling for you - Cassius

Dance - ESG

(You're love keeps lifting me) higher and higher - Jackie Wilson

Put your hands up for Detroit - Fedde Le Grand

Enter Sandman - Metallica

Fame - Irene Cara

Needy Girl - Chromeo

Magic Love - Bent

Donkey Ride - Mr Scruff

You can't turn me away - Sylvia Striplin

Cool out - Leroy Houston

What are your favourite workout tunes?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fly me to the moon or not

So I've just got back from my round the world honeymoon, which why I've been absent from blogging for a while.

We chose to have a really small wedding and spend on our honeymoon, which I have to say I feel was a very wise option.

By the time I arrived in Maringa, I had taken 17 separate flights, visited innumerable cities in 5 countries spanning 3 continents. Enough bragging...

During this considerable time in the sky I experienced some of the terrible and wonderful ways in which airlines operate. In honour of this I would like to nominate some of those airlines for my special awards, The Mimis.

First nomination is for outstanding service, beautiful cabin crew and the coveted best uniform:
And the winner is...
Singapore Airlines
I can't applaud this airline more for understanding what it means to be part of the service industry. I was so well looked after on all 4 flights that I felt like I had my own personal cabin attendant. Not to mention that the cabin crew are all immaculately presented even after a 12 hour flight and their uniforms are so chic that they could launch their own collection. No surprises that is it regarded as one of the world's best airlines. Three cheers for SA!

Second nomination is for the most over-hyped airline
And the winner is...
Virgin Atlantic
Well let's just say that I don't fly with them that often and now I know why. We had to pay £50 each to sit in the emergency exit row. Fair enough as you get more leg room, the only problem is that if there is a problem they will be relying on you to help. So effectively you are paying them to work for them. Richie B sort it out love!

Third and most talked about award is for most ridiculous rule made by an airline:
And the winner is...
I have been a fan of TAM since discovering them only last year on my first flight to Brazil. They seem to have a fresh, modern approach to air travel. The planes look shiny and new and the food is delicious, no really. So it was to my horror that I discovered this airline was guilty of something akin to racism or selective exclusion, if you like. While checking in, my husband asked if we could sit in the emergency exit row, his seat of choice as he is over 6foot tall. "No", replied the stroppy check-in woman. "Only people whose first language is portuguese can sit in this aisle." CAN YOU IMAGINE?? Just a word of warning if you ever plan to marry a Brazilian and travel on TAM, you won't be able to sit together in the Emergency Exit! I am still awaiting clarification as to why this rule exists. Should I be calling race relations?

As an update I also wanted to post this link from a great article I found online today:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Anyone for Tennis?

This week is my annual foray into the world of professional tennis.

Once a year for the past eight I have worked at the Stella Artois Championships. However this year there is a new sponsor, AEGON - an insurance company.

I have to say that my first impressions are that the tournament has lost a lot of its character and of course heritage, which in a way can't be helped. You simply can't replace a 29 year partnership overnight.

I know some of you reading this will think 'wow, that sounds like a glamorous job', but in fact it's far from it. The whole team here work incredibly long hours to make sure that the tournament runs as smoothly as possible and all of us are dedicated to our jobs. It's a great feeling to be part of such a fantastic team and to be able to come back year after year and see the same faces once again, ready to put their hearts and souls into the event.

A few people in particular make it a great week:

Fraser Russell, who runs; he takes care of all the players' needs and is definitely the person anyone would need if they ever got stuck on a desert island. When he is not busy taking care of all the guys he finds time to make me laugh which always puts me in a better mood.

My good friend Charlotte who deals with a whole variety of stuff and is the ultimate professional and of course Chris Kermode, the tournament director, who has been a family friend for many years. I love popping into the office at the end of the day for some funny stories and anecdotes.

I have never been far from tennis as my Dad has been a fan for much of his life. My introduction to the sport came one year at Wimbledon when I was a teenager. A good friend of his was a pro so we got to spend the whole day there feeling very special wandering round all the VIP areas. I have to admit that I loved seeing all the top names like Sampras and Rafter, relaxing in the Player Lounge reading a newspaper or chatting with friends.

Now, as I look towards a decade of working behind the scenes, I have to say that not knowing how the magic trick is performed is definitely better.

As a final thought though, I will say that I have had some really great times here and I will always try to come back and work here; if only for the great sense of team spirit that this place seems to give me every year.

PS - Andy Roddick to win!

Friday, June 5, 2009

In memory of Flight 447

When I started thinking about my next post, I imagined it would be based on all my thoughts and feelings about coming home to London for a visit after spending five months in Brazil. But I knew as soon as we called home once we had landed, and heard my mother-in-law's tears that somehow those things weren't important.

We took off from Sao Paulo 45 minutes after the Air France flight, which means that we were flying through the same area only 1hour and 45 minutes later.

Despite having a wonderful time and enjoying being back in my hometown and seeing all my friends, the passengers on that flight who lost their lives are never far from my mind.

I cannot imagine how tangibly painful it must be to have had a relative on that flight but I do hope that the French nuclear submarines that are being despatched recover some clue as to how and why the flight went down.

In remerberance of flight 447 and all who perished aboard, I have selected a poem by an anonymous author.

Poem of Life

Life is but a stopping place,
A pause in what's to be,
A resting place along the road,
to sweet eternity.
We all have different journeys,
Different paths along the way,
We all were meant to learn some things,
but never meant to stay...
Our destination is a place,
Far greater than we know.
For some the journey's quicker,
For some the journey's slow.
And when the journey finally ends,
We'll claim a great reward,
And find an everlasting peace,
Together with the lord


Friday, May 22, 2009

Why oh why Paraguay?

I have been wanting to go to Paraguay for some time now. It's where many Brazilians go to buy their electronics, alcohol and cosmetics and to me it's a chance to explore a bit more of this fascinating continent. Unlike Brazil, Paraguay has no import tax so things are much cheaper.

Yesterday was the day I crossed over...

We started out before dawn and a few hours later we crossed the Parana river, something so vast that a poor little English girl could hardly grasp.
(This pic only shows about half as my camera couldn't take it all in).

The border seemed pretty standard apart from the huge pile of rocks in the middle of the road which ripped a hole in one of our tyres! Luckily replacing a tyre is half the price of doing it in Brazil and there were even armed guards there to help persuade us to pay the bill.

New tyre in tow we headed straight to Queen Anne shopping centre to start gathering the supplies on our extensive list.

The city of Guaira is rather strange and desolate place. It consists of one main street, which is filled with shops selling mostly blankets and socks. Children follow you down the road trying to sell you fake branded sports socks for $2 US. Around this street are smaller streets sporadically filled with small houses and intertwined with the malls.
We spend the next five hours hunting down a watch with large numbers for my mother-in-law, a usb hub and mic for my father-in-law, a backpack laptop carrier for my brother-in-law and various fishing items for my husband. This is all very boring and basic stuff I hear you all saying.
The problem is that in Brazil things are subject to a 60% import tax and what with the average monthly salary being $500RS (about £155 or $246US) and over 65% of the country's population earning this wage it's a bit tough to buy things. A trip to Paraguay is like a trip to a shopper's paradise. Border checks are not that thorough but the guards look for people with number plates from Sao Paulo who will buy much more than the $300US allowance per person and sell it on the famous rua vinte e cinco de marco (a kind of down market Oxford St where you can buy clothes and jewellery at discounted prices). We don't get stopped as we go through and drive off into the sunset nearly crashing into a stupid mule who is standing in the middle of the highway at night (he obviously forgot his high vis vest!).
We arrive safe and sound at home and I realise how lucky I am that I have the freedom to go home to London and buy pretty much anything I need.
So that's why they go to Paraguay.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Straight Gait

There is one thing in particular that Brazil's women, or at least the women in Maringa are obsessed with...and that's their hair...and I mean OBSESSED!

Every shelf of every hairdresser, pharmacy and beauty store is filled to the brim with the latest lock lotions. Even the local supermarket, seen below, has both sides of a whole aisle devoted to masks, shampoos, leave-ins and serums - there are so many that I feel like I've been named and shamed and everyone knows I have been neglecting my hair all these years.

As I walk down the street I have to remind myself that these women aren't growing their hair to sustain Jordan's hair extension addiction or Cher's wig collection - long hair in Brazil is of course a sign of beauty and femininity and hardly ever do you see a girl with a funky crop strut down the street.

I find myself filled with hair envy for these girls with their long, lustrous, poker straight locks tumbling down practically to their ankles! Not surprisingly over the past few weeks I have been thinking that my own barnet just isn't up to par. So, after consulting various Brazilian Oracles I decided it was time to take action against this unidentified mass of mess sitting on top of my head.

I went to right the wrong that nature and genetics had dealt me yesterday, by spending six hours in the salon, yes that's right six hours! There were times when I wondered if I would ever see daylight again...

I booked in with Rodi at Stilo (one of Maringa's top hair salons) for my 'escovar japonesa' or japanese-style permanent straightening. The procedure is basically an application of a chemical hair relaxer and then various applications of masks, proteins and keratin. Also involved are various trips to and from the basin, gossiping sessions with the hairdresser and a short break for lunch. Phew!

After those long and torturous hours were over and I was released back ino the wild, I felt so chuffed when my husband came to pick me up and said that I looked 10 years younger. I wondered what Myleene would have to say about that...

Everyone has been admiring my 'cabelo liso', here is my self-portrait so you can see the end result, and on Saturday I am going back for my post-wash treatment, where they will wash my hair and put on a nourishing mask so that it stays forever straight and shiny, well almost.

When it comes to hair in Brazil, national pride is at stake and now at last I feel I can walk tall with the rest of the hair harem.

Walk like a Brazilian...

Friday, May 8, 2009

In search of Gisele...

Last year when I told all my friends I was moving to Brazil, they all thought I was crazy. I think they thought I would be dancing around doing the samba, wearing Havianas, exposing my bum in a revealing bikini!

The fact is that most of us think that that is what Brazil is like.

Not that it has 10 of the world's best companies or that it's the world's third largest emerging economy or that there are more natural resources here that humans need to survive than in any other country on the planet and most of those haven't even been tapped yet.

I love spending time with my friends here having a Churrasco (Brazilian bbq, see pic) at the weekends but no matter what we talk about, if there is a new guest, the inevitable question comes up. 'What did you think Brazil was like before you got here?'

I have to admit that I was one of those people. I mean of course I have read The Alchemist and I've got Bebel Gilberto's album, except she's not famous in Brazil - you'd be better off swatting up on Marisa Monte or Jotta Quest if you are trying to impress a Brazilian.

The fact is that when I arrived in Brazil, and got to the small town of Maringa, Parana, (pop. 331, 412) I half expected to see Gisele, Adriana and Alessandra there to greet me. I was of course quite relieved to see that Brazil is full of ordinary looking women as well as very beautiful ones.

My Brazil has been a breath of fresh air. It's been about funny stories of me confusing Portuguese words, it's been about learning a new culture, and about getting to know my new family.

Brazilians have, in my opinion, an unrivaled sense of hospitality. They are incredibly warm and inviting and have the purest of party spirits. The whole way of life here is about food and family and family and food. Hardly a day goes by that I don't get invited to some one's house to just hang out and have some delicious food and talk about anything you want.

After four months here, I am starting to find out that we still have a lot to learn about Brazil.